Psalm 33 “Old War Horses”
This morning I would like to start with verse 17: “The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.” Today we do not think so much about horses any more in our daily lives. If we do talk about them, it is in terms of how much horsepower is in an engine. Horses in biblical times were incredibly important.
I was reminded of our past dependence on horses when I was at Ruth Cassel’s house on Thanksgiving. I had made a strudel and offered the apple peels and cores to the horses there. So, they also had a little sweet something at that Thanksgiving meal.
Three stories came to mind when I read this in Psalm 33 about the old warhorses. The first story is of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez who came to Mexico in 1519 and was able to conquer the mighty Aztec Empire. He had about six hundred regular soldiers with him but also fifteen (15) cavalry riders on horseback. The Aztecs had never seen horses before—much less men riding atop of them. They did not know what they were fighting against. The fear and confusion caused by the horses won the battle for Cortez.
The capital of the Aztec Empire was Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), it is estimated to have had about 300,000 people living there when Cortez came to conquer. That made Mexico City larger than any European city of the day. How did 600 stand against 300,000 and win? You can read La Historia de Nueva Espana by the priest Bernal Diaz, and see for yourself if it was not the cavalry—just fifteen horses!
The second story that came to my mind immediately was that of General Custer and the battle of the Little Bighorn. As you all know your American history, I do not have to tell you how it was that George Custer and his men were completely wiped out by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Nobody of the 7th Cavalry unit came out of that battle alive. Or, at least that is the accepted story.
The truth is that there was one survivor. One horse from that cavalry unit survived. No man survived—just one old warhorse. Four years later that horse died of natural causes and was given a full military burial. That horse, though, could not save Custer and his men.
Do not pin your salvation to an old warhorse! The third story comes from the Bible and is actually from that part that we have been studying in the Sunday evening Bible Study group. Remember that these Psalms that we read, these songs, are from King David who united the Israel and built the original temple in Jerusalem. In II Samuel 2, we read, “David inquired of the Lord ‘Shall I go up to any of the cities of Judah?’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Go up.’”
King David always asked for the Lord’s blessings before making any kind of a military move. By the time we get to II Samuel 8, we see how it is that King David’s army has been successful against every adversary. He is able to expand the kingdom all the way to the river Euphrates—that would be the Assyrian area that we know as Iraq today. This is the height of the power of the State of Israel that at that point really encompassed all of the Middle East.
Then, King David does something quite unexpected. The bible tells us that he took the Assyrian chariots and disassembled them. He did not incorporate them into his own army. Instead, it seems that he wanted the metal and the horses for something else.
We turn now in our Bibles to Isaiah 2, a passage that reflects this establishment of the Davidic Kingdom in Jerusalem: (Verse 3) “Come let us go up to Jerusalem to the mountain of the Lord to the house of God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, He shall judge between the nations and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
While King David was busy expanding the physical size of the new nation of Israel, he was very consciously demilitarizing it at the same time. God did not want King David to have more horses and chariots. Israel needed horses for farming and commerce. Israel did not need more chariots. They needed more plows! Israel did not need more war. It needed peace.
The world did not need another military emperor. As the prophet Isaiah says, “the word of the Lord and the law shall go forth from Jerusalem.” The people of God need the word, not the sword. The war horses need to pull the plow, not the chariot.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, when we celebrate the bounty of God’s harvest and the fact that we here in this country have always had enough to eat and to share with our neighbors, I want to lift up a very important piece of news that comes from Bloomberg Newsweek that did not seem to make the news cycles of any major network. For the first time this decade, global food production has fallen. In 2018 we have seen fewer exports of food and less homeland production of wheat and other grains.
At the same time that Russia has been touting its new stealth fighter and hypersonic missiles, North Korea develops new nuclear ballistic capabilities, and Iran is able to hit US bases in the Middle East with its new missiles, et cetera; the world’s food production decreased. There will be less food for the starving peoples of our planet in the coming new year.
Reading again from our text for this morning: (vs 13) “The Lord looks down from heaven, he sees all of humanity; from where he sits enthroned he looks forth on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes their deeds.”
I imagine my Lord Jesus up in heaven. He does not need the Bloomberg Newsweek reports. Jesus sees it all. Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thought and intentions of the heart, and before no creature is hidden. But all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Jesus must just be looking at us and wondering where we are headed again with massive increases in weapons and decreases in food production.
We are so blessed here on Kauai! I still have bags of frozen mangos from last summer. Everywhere I go people are pushing bananas and kale at me. Oh Lord, thank you that we have enough here always to eat. We pray for the rest of your creation this day! Help your children to have enough to eat. There are already a billion people on this planet going to bed hungry everyday. Give us the insight to find ways to help.
I think about this and I wonder if we are not all the old warhorses that need to be re-purposed in God’s kingdom. Maybe it is time that we let go of all those futile battles we been fighting in our lives and just get down to the simple business of tending our own gardens? We need to just turn the soil, plant the seeds, and let the harvest come! Psalm 33:4-5, “For the word of the Lord is upright; and all his work is done in righteousness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”
I hope you all remember that novel you had to read in high school by the French writer Voltaire. It was called Candide. That was the name of the main character in the story of course. He goes out into the world looking for happiness, that is he is searching for the famed city of gold called “El Dorado.” Somewhere in the Amazon jungle he finds it. There is a massive city with golden streets and houses that look like temples. Everything there is gold. (As an aside, I think this is why the on-line retailer took the name Amazon!) It is there that one finds “El Dorado.” (By the way, this was also the name of a truck built by Chevrolet.)
Candide is not able to carry the gold back out of the Amazon. He has to let it go in order to save his own life—such as the story goes. At the very end of the novel by Voltaire, we see Candide with his true love Cunegunde whom he has deeply loved his entire life on a small farm not far from where his perilous life’s journey began. He is there with his friends whom he met along the journey to El Dorado simply tilling the ground, sharing in the bounty of the harvest, and finally finding peace and contentment in his life.
What do we really want in this life? Or, more importantly, what does God want for us in this life? Jesus is looking down us. Is it not just what King David wrote in this Psalm? That we should love God, be upright, and work in all faithfulness! Let us take our enemy’s warhorses and disassemble his chariots so that we can plow our gardens in peace.
The last lines of the Psalm: “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield; Yea, our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let thy steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in thee.”