The Man Whose Hand Stuck To His Sword
“And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines that were there gathered together to battle, and the men of Israel were gone away: he arose,and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand stuck unto his sword: and theLORD worked a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to spoil."2 Samuel 23:9, 10.
IN David’s muster-roll we find the names of many mighties and they are honored by being found there. These men came to David when his fortunes were at the lowest ebb and he, himself, was regarded as a rebel and an outlaw. And they remained faithful to him throughout their lives. Happy are they who can follow a good cause in its worst estate, for theirs is true glory. Weary of the evil government of Saul, they struck out a path for themselves in which they could best serve their country and their God. And though this entailed great risks, they were amply rewarded by the honors which in due time they shared with their leader. When David came to the throne, how glad their hearts must have been! And when he went on conquering and to conquer, how they must have rejoiced, each one of them remembering with intense delight the privations which they had shared with their captain. Brothers, we do not ourselves aspire to be numbered with the warlike. The roll of battle does not contain our names and we do not wish that it should. But there is a roll which is now being made up–a roll of heroes who do and dare for Christ, who go outside the camp and take up His reproach and, with confidence in God, earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints and venture all for Jesus Christ! And there will come a day when it will be infinitely more honorable to find one’s name in the lowest place in this list of Christ’s faithful disciples than to be numbered with princes and kings! Blessed is he who can this day cast in his lot with the Son of David and share His reproach, for the day shall come when the Master’s Glory shall be reflected upon all His followers!
- We will now turn our attention to one particular hero, Eleazar, the son of Dodo, and see what he did for his king and country. Our text records one of his feats. It is very instructive and the first lesson I gather from it is THE POWER OF INDIVIDUAL ENERGY.
The Philistines had set the battle in array. The men of Israel came out to fight them but, for some reason or other, “being armed and carrying bows, they turned back in the day of battle.” Ignominious is the record, “the men of Israel were gone away.” This man, Eleazar, however, made up for the failures of his countrymen, for “he arose, and smote the Philistines.” He was a man of marked individuality of character, a man who knew himself and knew his God, and did not care to be lost in the common mass, so as to run away merely because they ran. He thought for himself and acted for himself–he did not make the conduct of others the measure of his service, but while Israel fled–“he arose, and smote the Philistines.”
The personal obligation of each individual before God is a lesson which all should learn. It is taught us in our Baptism, for there each Believer makes his own confession of faith and, by his own act and deed, avows himself to be dead with Christ. Pure Christianity knows nothing of proxies, or sureties in Baptism! After our profession of faith is made, the Believer is responsible for his own religious acts and cannot employ priests or ministers to perform his religion for him. He must himself, pray, search the Scriptures, commune with God and obey the Lord Jesus. True religion is a personal thing. Each man, with one talent or with ten, will, on the Great Day of Judgment, be called to account for his own responsibilities, and not for those of others. And, therefore, he should live as before God, feeling that he is a separate personality and must, in his own individuality, consecrate himself–spirit, soul and body–entirely to the Lord. Eleazar, the Son of Dodo, felt that he must play the man, whatever others might do, and, therefore, he bravely drew his sword against the uncircumcised Philistines! I do not find that he wasted time in upbraiding the others for running away, nor in shouting to them to return–he just turned his own face to the enemy and hewed and hacked away with all his might! His brave example was sufficient rebuke and would be far more effectual than ten thousand sarcastic orations!
Never let it be forgotten that
our responsibility, in a certain sense, begins and ends with ourselves. Suppose you en
tertain the opinion that the Church of God is in a very sad state? You are only responsible for that as far as you, yourself, helped to create that condition. Do you regret that many persons with much wealth do not consecrate their substance? I do not wonder that you feel thus, but, after all, the most practical thing is to use your own substance in your Master’s cause! It is very easy to pick holes in other people’s work, but it is far more profitable to do better work yourself. Is there a fool in all the world that cannot criticize? Those who can, themselves, do good service are but as one in a thousand compared with those who can see faults in the labors of others. Therefore, if you are wise, my Brothers and Sisters, do not quibble as others, but arise and smite the Philistines!
Our responsibility is not diminished by the evil conduct of other men but, on the contrary, it is increased thereby. You say, “How so?” I answer–If every man fights his best, then Eleazar may be well content to fight as well as the rest. But if other men are running away, Eleazar is called upon, by that unhappy circumstance, to rise above himself and retrieve the fortunes of the day. It will never do to allow the enemy to triumph and, therefore, if we have fought well, before, we must now gird up our loins for extraordinary battle. Dear Christian Brother, if you are solemnly impressed that the condition of the Churches is not what it should be, you must leave no stone unturned to set it right! Are your fellow Christians worldly? You should become more spiritual and heavenly-minded! Are they sleepy? Be you the more awake! Are they lax? Be you the more strict! Are they unkind? Be you the more full of love! Set your watch all the more strictly because you see that others are overcome. And be you doubly diligent where you perceive that others are negligent. Dare, like Eleazar, to stand alone and, from the shortcomings of others, gather motives for a nobler life!
Perhaps Eleazar on that occasion was the better off for not having that cowardly rout at his heels. When we have good work to do for our Lord, we are glad of the company of kindred spirits determined to make the good work succeed. But if we have no such comrades, we must go alone. There is no absolute necessity for numbers. Who knows? The friends we invite might be more hindrance than assistance. When Luther went to a holy man and told him what he had discovered in the Scriptures, the prudent old gentleman replied, “My Brother, go back to your cell, keep your thoughts to yourself, serve God and make no disturbance.” Dear old soul, he little dreamed what disturbance that Luther was going to make in the camp! I daresay Luther would not have been able to work such a reformation if he had been surrounded by a host of kind, prudent friends! But when, like the hero of our text, he was clear of all the excellent incapables, he made splendid havoc of the Philistines of Rome! When dear, good, motherly Christian men are forever saying, “Do not be too venturesome, be careful never to offend, do not over-exert yourself,” and all that kind of talk, a man is better without them than with them! A Christian should seek the help of his Brothers and Sisters, but, at the same time, if he is called to a service for his Lord and they will not aid him, let him not be alarmed, but let him consider that if he has God with him he has all the allies he needs! The mighty God of Jacob is better than all the armies of the saints! And if He shall put out His hand and say, “Go in this, your might,” a man may be content to step forth alone–the solitary champion of Jesus and His Gospel! Solitary prowess is expected of Believers. I hope we may breed in this place a race of men and women who know the Truth of God and also know what the Lord claims at their hands–and are resolved, by the help of the Holy Spirit–to war a good warfare for their Lord whether others will stand at their side or not!
II. Secondly, we have, next, in the text, A LESSON OF PERSONAL WEAKNESS.
This brave man, though he arose and smote the Philistines, was only a man, and so he fought on “until his hand was weary,” and he could do no more. He reached the limit of his strength and was obliged to pass. This may somewhat console those noble men who have become brain-weary in the service of God. Perhaps they chide themselves, but indeed there is no reason for so doing, for of them it may be said as of Eleazar, that they are not weary of fighting, though they areweary in fighting. If you can draw that distinction in your case, it will be well. We wish we could serve our Lord day andnight, but the flesh is weak and there is no more strength left in us. This is no strange thing and there is no sin in it. Eleazar’s weariness was that of bone, muscle, sinew–the weariness of his arm–but sometimes God’s people grow weary in the brain, and this is quite as painful and quite as little to be wondered at. The mind cannot always think with equal clearness, or feel with equal emotion, or find utterance with equal clearness–and the child of God must not blame himself for this. To blame himself in such a case would be to blame his Master. If your servant has been in the harvest field from daybreak till the moon has looked down upon him as he binds his sheaves, and if, as he wipes the sweat from his brow, he says, “Master, I am sorely wearied, I must have a few hours' sleep,” who but a tyrant would blame him and refuse him the rest? Those are to be blamed who never weary themselves, but those who wear themselves out are to becommended, not censured.
Perhaps Eleazar became weary because of the enormous number of his enemies. He cut dozens of them down with his death-bearing sword, but on they came, and still on! It seemed like a repetition of the day when Samson slew heaps upon heaps, and smote Philistia hip and thigh with great slaughter. Christian Friend, you have been the means of bringing some few to Christ, but the appalling number of the unconverted oppresses you till your mind is weary. You have opened a little room and a few poor people attend, but you say to yourself, “What are these among so many?” When we begin in the Master’s service, we think we shall turn the world upside down in six weeks–but we do not do it and when we find that we must plod on and not despise the day of small things–we are apt to become weary. Lifelong service under great discouragement is not as easy as mere dreamers think.
Perhaps Eleazar grew tired because nobody was helping him. It is a great assistance to receive a word of good cheer from a comrade and to feel that, after all, you are not alone, for other true hearts are engaged in the same battle, zealous for the same Lord! But as Eleazar looked around, he saw only the backs of the retreating swords who ought to have been fighting by his side, and he had to mow down the Philistines with his lone sword. Who marvels that at length he grew weary?
The mercy of it all is this–that he only became weary when he could afford to be so–that is to say, the Lord didnot allow his weariness to overcome him till he had beaten the Philistines and the people had rushed upon the spoil. We are such very feeble creatures that faintness must come over us at times, but what a mercy it is that the Lord makes our strength equal to our day! And only when the day is over does He let us sink into ourselves. Jacob wrestled with the Angel and he did not feel the shrinking sinew till he had won the blessing. It was good for him to go limping on his thigh after his victory–to make him know that it was not by his own strength that he had prevailed with God. And so it was a good thing for Eleazar to feel weary, for he would now understand where the strength came from with which he smote the Philistines. Eleazar only failed when there was spoil to be divided–and if you and I only shrink back when there is praise to be awarded, we need not be troubled, for there are plenty who have never done anything else who will be quite ready to claim the credit of all that is achieved!
Let us ask ourselves whether, weak as we are, we have given up ourselves to the Lord. If so, all is well, He will use our weakness and glorify Himself by it. He will not let our weakness show itself when it could endanger the victory. He gives us strength up to the point where strength is absolutely essential–and if He lets us collapse, as Elijah did after his great conflict was over–we must not be surprised. What a difference there is between Elijah on Carmel triumphant over the priests of Baal, and the same man on the morrow fleeing from Jezebel and crying, “Let me die, for I am no better than my fathers.” Of course that was the natural result of the strong excitement through which he had passed, just as the weariness of his hands was the natural result of the mighty battle which Eleazar had fought. And when you become downcast, as I often am after having obtained a great blessing, do not be so very terribly alarmed about it. What does it matter? The work is over! You can afford to be laid low before God. It will be well for you to know how empty and how weak you are, that you may ascribe all Glory to the Lord alone. He is almighty, however weak you may be!
III. There is a third lesson in the text, and that concerns THE INTENSITY OF THE HERO’S ZEAL.
A singular circumstance is here recorded–his hand stuck to his sword. Mr. Bunyan seems to have thought that it was the congealed blood which fastened the hand and the sword together, for he represents Mr. Valiant-for-Truth as being wounded till the blood ran forth and his hand was glued to his sword. But perhaps the better interpretation refers to the fact which has occasionally been observed in battles. I remember reading of a sailor who fought desperately in repelling a boarding attack from an enemy’s ship. And when the battle was over, it was found that he could not open his hand to drop his cutlass. He had grasped it with such force that until a surgical operation had been performed, it was quite impossible to separate his hand from his sword!
This was the case with Eleazar–this sticking of his hand to the sword proves the energy with which he gripped hisweapon. At the first, he laid hold upon it in the right way, so that he could hold it firmly. I wish that some of our converts would get hold of the Gospel in a better manner. A missionary said to me, the other day, “There are numbers of revival converts who will never be worth anything till they are converted again.” I am afraid it is so. The work is not deep, their understanding of the Gospel is not clear and their hold of it is not fast. They have got something which is of great good to them, I hope, but they hardly know what it is! They have need to come again to Him who has abundance of Grace and Truth to bestow, or they will never be worth much. Many young people do not study the Word–they pick up texts here and there as pigeons pick up peas, but they do not see the analogy of faith. But he is the man to fight for God who lays hold of the Truth of God by the handle and grips it as though he knew what he had–and knew that he had got it. He who intelligently and intensely knows the Word is likely to hold it fast!
Eleazar, having grasped his sword well, retained his hold. Whatever happened to him in battle, he never let go of hisweapon for an instant. If he had once opened his hand, there would have been no sticking, but he all the way through kept his hand on his weapon! According to some modern teachers, you are wise if you change your doctrines every week, because some fresh light may be expected to break in upon you. The advice is dangerous! O young man, I trust you will get hold of the grand old Gospel and always hold it and never relax your grip! And then what will happen to you? Why this–that at last you will not be able to relax your grip! I have frequently been delighted to observe the perseverance of earnest workers who have loved their work for Christ so heartily that they could not cease from it. They have served the Lord year after year in a particular work, either at the Sunday school or in some other useful labor. And when they have been ill and could no longer be in their places, their hearts and their thoughts have still been there! We have known them when ill with high fever, talking continually about the schools and the children. In their very dreams their good work has been on their minds–their hand has been stuck to the sword!
I delight to hear the old man talk about the work of the Lord even when he can no longer join in it. And the dying man with “the ruling passion strong in death,” enquiring about the Church and the services–his sword still sticking to his hand. Christmas Evans was known to drive his old pony from town to town in his journeys to preach the Gospel. And when he was about to die, he thought he was still riding in the old pony-chaise–and his last words were, “Drive on.” Napoleon with his dying breath exclaimed, “Head of the army,” and so do Christ’s soldiers think to the last of the grand army of the saints and of Christ their Head. When a certain good man lay dying, he had forgotten his wife and his children. But, yes, when the name of Jesus was whispered in his ear, he said, “Oh, I know Him! He has been all my joy these fifty years!” See how the sword sticks to the hand!
Years ago, we who have believed grasped the sword of the Lord with such a grip of cheerful earnestness that now there is established an almost involuntary connection between the two which cannot be severed. Every now and then some wise men think to convert us to skepticism, or what is very like it–modern thought–and they approach us with full assurance that we must give up our old-fashioned faith. They are fools for their pains, for we are at this time hardly voluntary agents in the matter–the Gospel has such hold upon us that we cannot let it go! We now believe because we must. I could sooner die a thousand deaths than renounce the Gospel I preach! The sophisticated arguments I have met with in skeptical books are not half as strong as the arguments with which the devil has assailed me! And yet, by His Grace, I have beaten him. Having run with them, the footmen cannot make us afraid. How can we give up the Gospel? It is our life, our soul, our all! Our daily experience, our communion with God, our sitting with Christ in heavenly places have made us invincible against all temptations to give up our hope! We hold our sword, it is true, but our sword also sticks to our hand. It is not possible that the most clever lies should deliver the elect, for the Lord has created such communion between the renewed soul and the Truth of God, that the Truth must hold us, and we must hold the Truth till we die. God grant it may be so with all of you!
IV. I must pass on to notice the fourth lesson. That concerns THE DIVINE GLORY.
Does the text say that his hand stuck unto the sword and that he worked a great victory that day? Look at your Bibles and you will see that I have been misquoting! It does not ascribe the victory to Eleazar, but it is written, “and theLord worked a great victory that day.” The victory was not won without Eleazar, butby the Lord! Had Eleazar belonged to a certain class of professors, he would have said, “We can do nothing, the Lord will fulfill His own eternal purposes,” and then he would not only have done nothing, but he would have found fault with others if they had been forward in the fight! If he had belonged to another class of professors, he would have said, “I do not believe in the one-man ministry. I will not go alone, but wait till I have gathered a few Brothers who can all take a turn at it.” Instead of either of these theories, Eleazar went straight to his work and the Lord gave him the necks of his enemies! And then he ascribed the victory, not to himself, but to the Lord! The right thing to do is to work as if all depended upon us and yet look to the Lord, alone, knowing that all depends upon Him. We must have all the humility and all the activity of men who feel that they cannot do anything by themselves, but that God works in them to will and to do according to His own good pleasure. You must be humbly God-reliant and personally resolute. Trust in God and keep your powder dry! Have you won a soul to Christ? Then the Lord has won the victory! Have you upheld the Truth of God against an antagonist? The Lord must have the glory of your triumph! Have you trampled down sin? Can you cry with the heroine of old, “O my Soul, you have trodden down strength”? Then, lay your trophies at the foot of the Throne of God! I am glad that my text runs as it does, or else some captious critic would have said that I was exalting man and honoring flesh and blood. No, no! The Lord has worked all our works in us! Not unto us, but unto His name give all the praise!
- The last lesson is one of ENCOURAGEMENT. It is said in the text that “the people returned after him only to spoil.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters, does it grieve you to think that many professed Christians seem more like unbelievers than Believers? Do you feel sad to see them all run away in the day of battle? Be comforted, then, for they can be brought back! And your personal prowess for God may be the means of making them return. The feeble folk, if the Lord makes you strong, will gather courage from your bravery. They may not have been able to look a live Philistine in the face, but they knew how to strip a dead one! You will get them back, by-and-by, when the spoil is to be divided. It is not a small thing, after all, to encourage the Lord’s downcast people. Eleazar was pleased to see them in the field again. I daresay he did not say one rebuking word to them, but perhaps remarked, “Well, you have come back, have you? Share the plunder among yourselves!. I might claim it all myself, but I will not–you are welcome to it.” It has sometimes happened that one man, speaking in God’s name, has turned a community in the right way. One Christian woman, too, has saved thousands. There are points in the history of England where certain individuals have been the hinge upon which our nation’s destiny has turned. If you seek of God to be faithful, and if His Grace is in you, then be firm in the day of battle and you will confirm other wavering souls. My young Sister, you will yet turn your family around–one by one they will come to seek our Savior! Young Brother, you are entering into that large house of business. It is very perilous to yourself, but if the Lord enables you to be strong in the power of His might, you may transform that whole house into a Church of God! You may hardly believe it, but you will yet have Prayer Meetings in that large room! Remember Mr. Sankey’s hymn–
“Dare to be a Daniel!
Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm!
Dare to make it known!”
Dare to be an Eleazar and go forth and smite the Philistines alone! You will soon find that there are others in the house who have concealed their sentiments–but when they see you coming forward–they will be openly on the Lord’s side. Many cowards are skulking about–try to shame them. Many are undecided–let them see a brave man and he will be the standard-bearer around whom they will rally!
Thus have I thought to say a few practical words which I hope the Lord will bless. I have finished when I have made one observation to a different class of people. It is clear that when a man gets hold of a sword, grips it fast, and holds it for a while, such a thing may happen that he cannot drop it. Has it ever occurred to you–to you especially who have never given your hearts to Christ–that the eager way in which you hold your sin–and the long time that you have held it–may produce a similar result upon you? One of these days you may be unable to get rid of those habits which you are now forming! At first, the net of habit is made of cobwebs. You can soon break through it. By-and-by it is made of twine. Soon it will be made of rope and, last of all, it will be strong as steel–and then you will be fatally ensnared! Beware in time! Young man, you are hardly yet aware how strong a hold your habits have already taken upon you. I mean your habits of prayerlessness, your practice of secret sin and your intemperance. No, I will not mention all your follies–they are best known to yourself. They are fastening upon you like huge serpents, coil upon coil. You have always intended to go so far and no further, but if you could see a picture of what you will become, you would be horrified!
Did we not read in the papers, a few months ago, the story of a man who was respectable in many ways, and gifted above the average of men, who nevertheless descended by degrees, till he perpetrated a horrible crime which made the world stand aghast? Little did he dream, at one time, that he would have plunged into such wickedness! But the path to Hell is downhill and if you descend one step, at first, you take two steps at once next time, and then you take four, and so by great leaps descend to Hell. O Man, cast away the weapon of iniquity before it glues itself to your hand! Cast it away at once and forever!
The only way of breaking with sin is to unite with Christ. No man does in heart part with sin till he is one with his Savior–and that comes by trusting Him, simply trusting Him. When you trust Him, He delivers you from sinful habits and no longer allows you to be the slave of evil. “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free, indeed.” Seek that freedom! May He bestow it upon everyone of us and then may we become heroes for Christ–and He shall have the glory, forever and ever! Amen.