Casting Chariots | preparing to possess the promise

A video recording of this post can be found in the link below (starting at 21min).

When last have you woken from a dream where you defend yourself, but you find you have no power? Or you dreamt that you arrive at work in your pyjamas or underwear?

A widespread nightmare.

Dreams such as these are commonly associated with subconscious feelings of vulnerability, insufficiency and the fear of failure – the sense that you don’t have what it takes to do what I want to or what is expected of me.  Such feelings can leave one frustrated and hopeless – especially if the dream or promise you pursue is genuinely significant.

As believers, such a sense of powerlessness often leads to self-doubt and even shakes our faith in the Bible and God as we try to make sense of failures and the apparent lack of help from God.

The introduction to the book of Judges records such a situation in Israel’s history (1:1-19).  The book opens with the account of Israel’s failure to fully occupy their Promised Land, leading to the repeated cycle of apostasy, then oppression, repentance and God’s deliverance through a judge (2:11-16).

In this introduction, we find one of the greatest paradoxes Bible: the Almighty covenant-God of Israel “was with [the tribe of] Judah” and they tasted success in the highlands, but they could not conquer the plains because of the Canaanite’s iron chariots (1:19).

Judges 1:19 – the great paradox.

The promise, the paradox and the plain problem

The Lord promised Israel the land (Joshua 1:13) as well as a victory by the hand of Judah (Judges 1:2).  The tribe of Judah had tasted significant successes in the quest for their allotted Promised Land (1:17-18). Still, their conquest came to an end at the plains: they did not have what it takes to conquer the Canaanites in the lowlands because their enemy had iron chariots.  While having the Lord’s promise and presence, they did not have the power to possess their promise.

What was the issue with iron chariots?  Simply stated: the Canaanites had them while the Israelites did not have them.  The chariots present superior military technology and can be likened to a modern-day battle where riflemen are confronted with tanks in the open field. The outcome of this battle is decided before it begins because of superior speed, armour and firing power. Likewise, the iron chariots had superior speed, strength (armour) and height over footmen, giving the Canaanites advantage in combat.

Why bother with the plains?  Why not just live around them?  While the conquered mountain fortresses gave strategic defensive power to the Judeans, the plains offered the (essential) potential of food cultivation, access to water, trade routes and nation-building.
The open plains are ideal for pasturelands, plating grains and vineyards etc.  The plains connected the cities through routes allowing for trade and other cultural connections.  Without the plains, there would be limited agriculture, limited market economy, limited tribal (and national) coherence.  The plains were where life really happened.  Without the plains, Judah was confined to an isolated, crippling existence in the hills, cut off from the rest of society.  Without the plains, the Promised Land “flowing with milk and honey” would never be realised.  This was Judah’s big frustration.

Can you identify with Judah’s frustration?

Looking intently at this historic account one can easily identify with the disillusioned Judeans.  They grew up in the wilderness with the promise of possessing “a land flowing with milk and honey”.  The had seen God’s presence and power as they passed through the Jordan River, conquered Jericho, allotted the land to the tribes and taken the mountain fortresses.  Evidently, the Lord was with them!  But now Judah could not gain victory over the Canaanites in the lowlands, because their enemies had superior technology.

I imagine they felt frustrated at an unfulfilled promise they hoped and lived for; they have come so far!  Their defeat and inability to conquer their foes left them ashamed and vulnerable, fearful of a superior opponent.  They felt powerless and hopeless.  A sense of confusion and bewilderment would cause them to question every decision that led them here: the reason for their past successes, their identity as God’s chosen ones, the Promise of inheritance and even the One who made the Promise.  Their failure to fulfil their journey was no small thing – this defeat shook the nation.

One can easily see why the author sets this “iron chariot” dilemma as background to the cycle of apostasy-oppression-deliverance in the book of Judges. Judah’s inability to drive out the Canaanites caused Israel to lose faith in their Lord and turn to other idols, leading to their oppression and need for deliverance.  Disappointment can breed disillusionment, doubt and defection.

We have all tasted this disappointment as a dream disappeared like a promising rain cloud before the sun.  We have all felt the shame of failure, the frustration of powerlessness, the loss of confidence and conviction.  Some acknowledged a sense of abandonment when you needed God most.  We have all been plagued by the incessant doubt in one’s ability, one’s course of action, even the miracles we’ve tasted and promises we lived by.  We can all identify with Juda’s failure and the vulnerability it flings you into.

What are the iron chariots that possess your plains?  What is your unfulfilled promise? Make no mistake – to give up on this promise will haunt you all your life as it did Israel.

An unfulfilled promise: a missed stake

Running into a brick wall quickly loses its appeal.  After a few failed attempts, it might seem easier to reframe our goals or promises to try and live around the plains possessed by Canaanite charioteers.   Like the Judeans, we can try to make our living in the hills as secure and comfortable as possible, or alternatively make peace with the Canaanites, allowing some sense of freedom.  But these peace treaties with the enemy lead to the degenerative cycle of apostasy, oppression, and God’s faithful deliverance.

For Judah, giving up on their promise led to their apostasy.  Their defeat bred disillusionment, tempting them to not only reframe their purpose (possessing the Promised Land) but also alter their identity.  Judah forgot that they were God’s chosen people, saved from slavery and oppression, made into a new nation – a kingdom of priests.  They were called to inherit the promised land, live under his law to reveal his benevolent character and purpose for creation.  Judah’s Promised Land was not only meant for their own peace and prosperity – possessing their promise meant participating in God’s redemption of creation.  Israel was saved and called to be “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:3) – a sign of God’s redemption available to all the nations of the world. For this reason, we see throughout the book of Judges the Lord urging Israel to not live a life of compromise, but rather to “possess the land.” (2:6; 18:19)

If God makes you a promise, you can bet that it forms part of his redemptive plan for all creation; the promise is your invitation to partner with him.  That is why you will repeatedly hear the Spirit urging you to “Go on, possess your promise! Don’t give up!” When last did you hear this prompting of the Spirit?  Can you see how your unfulfilled dreams and promises fit into Christ’s “renewal of all things” (Matthew 28:19)?

A simple step of faith: reposition, restore

“The Lord was with Judah… but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.”   This verse speaks of the error of presumption: the forwardness of thinking that approval alone by God guarantees success.  But here we see that Judah indeed had God’s favour and company, yet lacked the proper strategy and technology to secure their victory.  The Canaanites advantage in the plain was iron chariots; the strategic equivalence of iron chariots (or something similar) would have secured their conquest of the plains.  Judah’s sin was passive presumption, the neglect of preparing to possess the plains.

The Bible teaches us that God honours passion and productivity, but that he despises passivity.  An honest reflection of our own lives would reveal that sinful humanity are prone to inaction and procrastination;  we would rather do nothing and wait on God (or anyone else) to fix our problems or fulfil our purposes on our behalf.  This account, like the rest of Biblical history, reminds us that God created mankind as a co-worker in his creation and redemption of this world.

Throughout Scripture, God calls for practical preparation as he invites us to participate in his promised redemption.  Noah had to build the ark as God directed (Genesis 6:13), and his family was saved.  Elisha commanded the widow to gather as many jars as he could to receive the miracle of the multiplying oil (2 Kings 4:1-7), and God provided in proportion to her preparation.  

For Israel, mastering the skills of ironwork and horsemanship would secure their conquest of the Promised Land.  What would secure your promise?  What practical preparation would position you to possess your promise?

On two occasions in my life, I heard the Lord say to me “reposition yourself.”  Both times I understood that the Lord prompted me to grow in a specific way, which required studying and learning from others so that I may become the person who has the competence, character and perspective to walk deeper into the purpose the Lord promised me.  What would “reposition and prepare to possess your promise” mean to you?  What is the practical response the Lord is inviting you to walk into at this time?

Judah found themselves wholly unprepared and disempowered to possess the Promised Land the Lord had allotted to them, for his purpose.   This left them disillusioned, frustrated and oppressed by the Canaanites.   May you never find yourself unprepared to possess your allotted promise, for God’s sake.



(Not) Enough!

At times I feel I need 8 arms like an octopus, just to have hands on everything that is going on.  But I don’t.

The other day I spoke to God about the moments when I do not feel the peace of God, when I feel disconnected from the God of peace.  I concluded that I feel anxious and frustrated whenever I am overwhelmed with all the people, projects and places I am unable to sufficiently connect to and serve.

I find that (my) life is simply too demanding to do everything well.  As a husband, I am at times unable to connect to and love my wife the way I want to.  As a father of two beautiful young children I find that I am at times to busy and too drained to bless them the way I would want to.  As pastor and overseer I am thoroughly aware of all the people going through hardships whom I would want to spend time with to comfort and care for – as well as the people with great potential whom I would want to coach and encourage.  What drains my peace is that in every area of my life I feel that I am falling short; I am too busy to give my wife, my children, my congregation, my friends, my community, my studies and my God the time and devotion I want to or feel I should.  As such I am always aware that I can (and should) be a better husband, better father, better friend, better pastor, better steward, and better Christian.  I am failing everyone, mostly God and myself. I don’t do (well) enough, and I am not (being) enough for anyone.

These are the moments when I am acutely aware of my inadequacy, my insufficiency to be everything for everyone. My emotions dashboard lights up with anxiety, frustration, disappointment, shame, and that familiar sense of being overwhelmed.  At these moments I am acutely aware that I am not enough, and that I just don’t do enough.

I want to be more.  I want to do more. And I feel I should.

If you can identify with these emotions, then cheer up – we’re in great company!

Joshua felt insufficient


Joshua was apparently also overwhelmed with a sense of being insufficient, unqualified, and uncertain of himself.   Moses was dead, and Joshua had to take the reins of leading Israel to occupy the promised land.[i]  Joshua certainly had the faith in God to face those giants in their fortified cities,[ii] and had shown himself competent in combat.[iii]  The Bible writes that Joshua was faithful,[iv] and full of the Spirit of wisdom, [v] and knowing God intimately.[vi]  Moses had mentored him for 40 year, and now God himself called him to step up and take the lead.[vii]

In spite of all these qualities Joshua was intimidated and for the task at hand.  He needed much encouragement, or rather, much urging to step up and lead.  It was not the giants or the combat that freaked him out.  He felt insignificant, insufficient, incapable compared to Moses whose shoes he had to fill – a mighty leader who regularly demonstrated the power of God.[viii]  And who can blame Joshua for feeling small in comparison to the man who stood in front of Pharaoh and brought down ten plagues that plummeted the mighty Egyptian empire?  Or the man for whom the Red Sea opened up, mountains shook, manna rained down and water gushed out of rock?  The man who brought identity, moral law and formalized worship for the Israelites?  Who would not be intimidated?

The irony is that, when God at first called Moses for his task, he also felt intimidated.  He declared himself incompetent and insufficient for his task.  And I’d say he had a good enough reason – this leader couldn’t speak in public, and had the bad reputation of murderer and deserted in Egypt.  Moses of all people knew where he fell short, where he was not qualified, not good enough for the role he was called to fulfill.

But Moses was not merely sent to do a job for God; he was called to do something with God.  He was not called to bring down Pharaoh and his oppressive empire for God, but with God.  He was not sent to lead the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and the wilderness into the Promised Land for God.  He was called to follow God and walk with God as he led the people.  Moses’ significance and success were not determined on his own performance and perfection but on God’s presence and power.  He just had to stay in step with God.

Yes, Moses was incompetent, insufficient, incomplete as father, as husband, as leader, as worshiper.  The Bible records his flaws on purpose.  But Moses appears larger than life in the Sacred Text because in spite of all these imperfections and shortcomings, God was with him.  All the successes attributed to Moses were God’s miraculous compensation for human shortcomings.

Therefore, all Joshua needed to hear to be brave, to be strong, to lead God’s people and to possess the land was the promise that “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.”

I’m insufficient.  God is not.

Back to my weekend encounter with God about my insufficiency to do everything well: I poured out my heart and told God how I felt insufficient, how I felt that I did nothing good enough because I am too busy, too scattered.  If I had less commitments, perhaps I could do at least a few things well.  But what can I cut from my life?  I am quite confident that I am connected and committed where God has led me.  I feel that it is in fact God’s tasks that make me feel insufficient and incompetent.  Could that be?

As I was praying, I heard God clearly answer me: “I know you are insufficient.  I called you, knowing you are not perfect.  I don’t expect perfection from you.  I don’t expect more from you.  But I am with youMy grace is sufficient.

These words were as refreshing and revitalizing as cold water on a hot day.  I felt as though weights dropped off my shoulders, a burden left my chest.  God does not expect more from me; he knows my insufficiency.

Simply the Gospel

Over against a striving culture that that celebrates performance and perfection, the gospel of Christ sounds the invitation that God’s sufficiency in Christ qualifies and compensates the insufficient and imperfect.  His invitation to the weary and incomplete is to find rest in his sufficiency.[ix]  In Christ, God does not frown upon the insufficient nor does he reject the imperfect.  Rather, God is compassionately drawn to our brokenness and weakness,[x] “because he remembers that we are dust.”[xi]

And that is the gospel: that the Perfect One redeems and embraces the imperfect ones through the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.  God is always with us.

God with me 

“I am with you,” God said to the stuttering Moses,[xii] to the hesitant Joshua,[xiii] to the fainthearted Gideon,[xiv] and the youthful Jeremiah.[xv]  The list goes on.  Yet, aware of (and even intimidated by) their insufficiency in the face of their calling, these believers were inspired to step out, assured of God’s empowering presence.

That’s how the stuttering Moses lead 4 million Hebrews out of Slavery, hesitant Joshua conquered the Promised Land, fainthearted Gideon defeated the powerful Midianites with 300 men, and young Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed God’s word in wicked times.  God’s grace proved sufficient, his strength was perfected in their weakness. [xvi]

Imperfect, but worthy

Realizing our insufficiency is a good thing.  It does not help to brainwash ourselves with Ted Talks, nor to try and persuade ourselves with “mirror-mirror” pep talks that indeed, we are sufficient and have what it takes.   Our inner and outer reality clearly shows that we fall short.  But our imperfection does not diminish our worth or our work. 

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.[xvii]


Our (in)sufficiency does not (dis)qualify us from salvation.  Quite the opposite!  The reason why God sent his son into the world was because everyone fall short of God’s perfection; therefore God in Christ has made a way to impart his sufficiency to us, that we might stand sufficient before him. [xviii]  Whoever humbly asks for this gift we call salvation will be made right before God.[xix]

Our (in)competence does not (dis)qualify us from service.  God is not intimidated or irritated by our shortcomings!  Comparing yourself to the accomplishments of others is futile.  Accomplishments does not qualify us before God, the true eternal judge: God alone calls, God alone qualifies, God alone commends us before him.[xx]  Every character in the Bible who played a meaningful role in history reminds us that God calls, qualifies, commends and empowers imperfect people to accomplish significant work with him.  That’s still his way with me and with you.

The Invitation

In those moments that I feel strong, that I feel on top of everything, I usually have courage to exert myself for concerns bigger than myself.  I have courage to stretch myself beyond my own needs.  But God challenged Joshua to do just that when he was intimidated by his own imperfections: to be strong and act courageous in the face of his incompetence.  How?  By the assurance of the Sovereign Lord’s personal presence.

Think about it: what could Joshua possibly face that is too big, too hard for God?  Not the Jordan river in flood, not Jericho with its high walls, not the seven mighty nations in Canaan.  No, not even the rebellious people God had entrusted to him!

That invitation to walk towards God’s Promised Peace today is the same:  in spite of my insufficiency, God is with me.  And that is how my heart is encouraged to act with confidence.  Today, in every place and every situation, God has my back to compensate for every inadequacy and insufficiency.

The reminder

What would I say to myself next time I am overwhelmed by my own incompetence and insufficiency.  I would remind myself that God is not irritated with my imperfections, nor is he not disappointed with my defective performance.  I will remind myself that his grace has made me both accepted in he presence and empowered by His partnership.  He has not sent me to do work on his behalf – he has invited me to live a life of service with him.  I will remind myself that God does expect perfection of me – he knows that I am dust and has perfected me in Christ.  I will remind myself to look beyond my inabilities, to discern God’s presence and trust in his God’s sovereign power.  I will urge myself to look to him and be strong – because it is not the “perfect ones” that do great; the ones who know their God will do great exploits.[xxi]

[i] Joshua 1:1-10

[ii] Numbers 13:16-14:9

[iii] Exodus 17:8-13

[iv] Exodus 32:1-17

[v] Exodus 33:11

[vi] Deut. 34:1-12.

[vii] Deut. 31:14-23

[viii] Deuteronomy 34:12

[ix] Isaiah 55:1-2

[x] Psalm 34:18

[xi] Psalm 103:14

[xii] Exodus 4:10-12

[xiii] Joshua 1:2-6

[xiv] Judges 6:12-14

[xv] Jeremiah 1:6-9

[xvi] 2 Cor 12:9

[xvii] 1 Pet 5:5-6; James 4:6

[xviii] Rom 3:23, 6:23

[xix] Romans 10:13

[xx] 2 Cor 10:18

[xxi] Dan 11:32