“And it came to pass on the morrow that the people went out to the fields and it was reported to Abimelek. And he took the people and divided them up under three heads and he laid in wait in the field and he beheld the people coming out of the city. And he rose up over them and slew them. Abimelek and the head that was with him charged and stood at the entrance gate of the city. Two companies charged upon all who were in the field and struck them down. Abimelek fought in the city all that day and he overthrew the city and he slew the people who were in it. Then he razed the city and sowed it with salt.”
And so, the siege of Shekem goes into the second day and there is a group of people that seek to enter the fields. Some suggest that this is the leaders of Shekem trying to break through Abimelek’s lines. Others might suggest that these are people who think that, since they have given Ga’al the boot and evicted him from the city, life can go back to normal. The best answer, though, given the context, is that these people were likely trying to flee the city now that it is clear that the city is under the judgment of Abimelek. Yet, at this point, they have made their bed with Shekem, it is time for them to sleep in it. Thus Abimelek counters by dividing his forces again and attacking them in the fields while also rushing the gate of the city and holding it (standing in the gate is a figure of speech referring to holding it and keeping it open for the rest of Abimelek’s army to flood in. After the people in the fields are slaughtered, the soldiers rush into the city and lay waste to it, burning it to the ground and executing the people..
Having torn down the city, he now takes salt and scatters the earth with it. The tradition in the middle-east was that salting the earth was a sign of curse on the land. While one has to bring in a lot of salt to do any long-term damage to the ground, the principle of the matter is that it was meant as a reminder to those who would pass by that the city had been judged.
This passage makes me think of Jesus’ statement that Christians are salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Typically we speak about salt as a preservative for meat (which it is) and as a seasoning for food (which it again is). But perhaps we also ought to think of salt in the context of being a judgment on the earth, that the presence of believers is to be a reminder to the world that they are under the curse of God unless they repent and believe. Indeed, this even helps to shine light on Jesus’ statement that if salt loses its saltiness that it is not good for anything (and the saltiness cannot be restored — Matthew 5:13, plus Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34). In other words, if we become so worldly that we are no longer a reminder to the world of God’s wrath upon them, what good have we done? And oh, in refusing to preach on the need for repentance, but only on grace, how many churches have ceased to be salty?
In the battle of Gibeah (recorded in Judges 20), the armies of Israel drew the defenders of Gibeah out toward the highways and away from the city by a feigned retreat. As Israel fell back, appearing to route, the heart of Israel’s army lay in ambush around the city, thus defeating the city while the city’s defenders were chasing after a decoy.
As I meditate on what is typically called the culture war, lately it has been occurring to me that we (the conservative evangelical church) may be acting a lot like the defenders of Gibeah. As we look around us at the broader culture, it is clear that the church has been losing influence. In many segments of society, the voice of the church has been relegated to the irrelevant and thus we find ourselves speaking only to ourselves and thus not influencing the culture around us as salt of the earth and light of the world.
Maybe we have been duped — duped into thinking that we are still fighting a legitimate war and as we pour out all our resources and energies against our perceived enemy, they have been gladly giving ground because they are nothing more than a distraction and the real battle has already been lost.
Before you get all angry and storm off, just hear me out because I am not a defeatist — in fact, if anything, I usually am called a “triumphalist” by people who don’t like what I am saying. Just bear with me for a moment.
What if we have been duped? What if the culture war was something that was lost a generation ago when people began allowing prayer and Bible instruction to be taken out of our schools? What if the culture ware was lost when evolution and situational ethics began to be accepted as the norm instead of a divine creation and absolute morality? What if the church’s acceptance of “Tax-Exempt” status (as if the Government ever had the right to tax a Church) upon the promise that the church would not play an active role in politics was the point where we lost the war? What if the cultural belief that “religion is a private matter” is where we lost the war? What if we have been fighting decoys while the enemy lay in siege and infiltrated our congregations and our homes, leading the next generation to stray from the church? What if the creation of the “Christian sub-culture” has been nothing more than a colossal failure whereby we have removed our own influence from the wider world? What if we are doing nothing more than fighting ghosts that don’t need to win because the real war has already been won? What if?
Do I have your attention? Just maybe? If we have lost the war, then that changes the whole paradigm and approach, doesn’t it? It has been said by many, the world around us today is more like the world of Paul’s day than the world of Luther’s day. If so, how do we react? How do we think differently?
What if the change in paradigm means no longer fighting a culture war that has been lost but instead, consists of building a new culture. No, not a sub-culture like we see around us today — that has not proven compelling (sorry, folks, my intent is not to hurt feelings). What if we let go of the whole Christian sub-culture thing and began really competing on the same footing and level as secular artists, writers, musicians, and dramatists? No, not in a preachy way, but what if the most compelling stories, music, books, ideas, etc… came from people who happened to be Christian and their Christian worldview informed what they produced (but was not what they produced). What if the best book, work, video, etc… in every field just happened to be produced by a Christian whose worldview was again, below the surface, informing what was thought.
What if, by building a new culture that was more compelling than the old culture happened to be (even to the non-Christian), was our tactic and approach. What if we realized that this is also not a new idea, but that others, like C.S. Lewis, were arguing for this kind of approach nearly 60 years ago — yes, when many of those things I mentioned at the beginning were lost! What if we approached this world as builders…though not unlike the builders of Nehemiah’s day, with spears in one hand while work was being done by the other. We need to defend agains the attacks that the enemy will really bring when they realize that we realize that their feigned retreat was a ruse. Something to think about…