Then I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. (Ezekiel 39:3; ESV)
When I was a child, I loved playing sports, ice hockey in particular (in case you weren't aware, I am from Canada). I wasn't very good, but that didn't stop me from being out on the ice as much as possible. For some reason, there's an incident that I remember as if it were yesterday. I don't recall most of the details, including where or when it happened or with whom I was playing, but it was the first time I encountered a very common tactic on the part of an opponent. I was in possession of the puck and the other player wanted to take it from me. Up to that time, in this kind of situation, I would have expected my opponent to focus on the puck and try to pry it out of my control. But instead he slid the blade of his stick under mine and knocked my stick in an upward motion, causing my blade to rise off the ice, easily allowing him to take away the puck. I felt so frustrated by the lack of control I sensed. It was as if I was disarmed. I was rendered helpless.
According to this week's Haftarah portion, this is how God sometimes handles his enemies. He renders them powerless by disarming them. I don't know about you, but I prefer it when God devastates them. In fact, I sometimes wish God would go back in time and prevent the bad things in my life from happening at all. Really! When I first experienced the hockey move above, I felt so ripped off, I wanted to curse the experience out of existence. The problem is life doesn't work like that. Instead God calls us to face challenges as we learn to trust him. Genuine faith only occurs when our circumstances suggest that God is not in control even though he is.
One reason why we lose touch with God's power and presence when facing difficulty is that we assume that if God is real, then he will deal with evil a certain way. But God isn't limited by our expectations. We can't predict how he will handle situations. But the more we are exposed to the whole breadth of Scripture and how it reveals God's various tactics, the less surprised we will be when facing difficulties.
As I think about God striking the bows and arrows out the hands of his enemies as described in this passage, I envision evil well-equipped and engaged in the battle. Remember, in those days military conflicts were far more intimate than what goes on today. Often you could smell your opponent's breath. The sound of swords clanging in your ears. The mighty on both sides are falling dead at your feet. At times God's people on their own don't have what it takes to defend themselves. In this case Israel's enemies, for good reason, are confident of victory. But then an unseen force knocks their weapons out of their hands, rendering them helpless. Victory then comes easily and quickly.
Sometimes God puts us in situations that look absolutely hopeless. Our problems are so big and so far reaching. We are powerless to make any difference at all. But then, at the last moment, God slips in, gives the problem a little knock and completely changes the situation.
It's so important not to lose heart when facing great difficulties. We need to entrust ourselves to God continually, allowing him to resolve our challenges in his way in his time.
However, in order to have confidence that God will come through for us, we need to make sure that we are on the right side of the battle. Perhaps you have been finding yourself in a situation like the one I was describing at the beginning. You think you are in control of your life, but your stick keeps getting knocked away. Could it be that you are on the wrong team?