Too Many Horses

Delivered April 2, 2000 by Dr. Paul Borden.

Sermon Text:
2 Samuel 8:1-14
1 In the course of time, David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and he
took Metheg Ammah from the control of the Philistines.
2 David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and
measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put
to death, and the third length was allowed to live. So the Moabites became
subject to David and brought tribute.
3 Moreover, David fought Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah, when he went
to restore his control along the Euphrates River.
4 David captured a thousand of his chariots, seven thousand charioteers and twenty
thousand foot soldiers. He hamstrung all but a hundred of the chariot horses.
5 When the Arameans of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck
down twenty-two thousand of them.
6 He put garrisons in the Aramean kingdom of Damascus, and the Arameans became
subject to him and brought tribute. The LORD gave David victory wherever he went.
7 David took the gold shields that belonged to the officers of Hadadezer and brought
them to Jerusalem.
8 From Tebah and Berothai, towns that belonged to Hadadezer, King David took a great
quantity of bronze.
9 When Tou king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the entire army of Hadadezer,
10 he sent his son Joram to King David to greet him and congratulate him on his
victory in battle over Hadadezer, who had been at war with Tou. Joram brought
with him articles of silver and gold and bronze.
11 King David dedicated these articles to the LORD, as he had done with the silver
and gold from all the nations he had subdued:
12 Edom and Moab, the Ammonites and the Philistines, and Amalek. He also dedicated
the plunder taken from Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah.
13 And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand
Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
14 He put garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David.
The LORD gave David victory wherever he went.

It’s been good for me to come back and be at Central. I was here back in 1990, right after Pastor Ron Scates came, and did a consultation with the church. At that time the 8:30 service was meeting in some little room someplace else in the church and that beautiful new building you now have erected of course wasn’t here. So it’s been great to see all the good things and then to look at the material that was sent me, the survey that you filled out shows that you really like the ministry that God is doing here at the church. So it’s been a good weekend for me, and I have really enjoyed being back at Central.

When I was in school I was the kind of student that when the teacher wanted something done I was always raising my hand. Whether it was to erase the chalkboards or carry some kind of message or, particularly, if I could get out of the classroom, I wanted to be picked. I think that was because I knew that if the teacher picked me it said she liked me, it said she cared about me, said I was important. Now what surprises me is that as I’ve gotten older I really haven’t changed: I still want to be picked. And I don’t know about you but if you have certain backgrounds, certain experiences, certain things you like, certain things you’re good at and if there is a task to be done, you want to be chosen. We want to be chosen, because if somebody chooses us it tells us what they think of us. Now could you imagine this morning if God were to come to you and God were to say to you “I want you for a very special task,” or if God were to say to your family, “I want to use your family in a very special way.”

What if God were to come to Central Presbyterian Church to say, “Out of all the churches in this part of the country, I want your church to be a very special church to do something for me,” how you would feel? It would really make you feel good. And what I’d like to talk about this morning is what it takes to be that kind of person, that kind of family, that kind of church — to be the kind of person God wants to pick.

To talk about that I want to talk about a Bible story that’s kind of tucked away back in the Old Testament. In fact it’s found in 2 Samuel chapter 8, pg. 220 in your pew bible. But it’s a story we don’t know much about. You see in 2 Samuel chapter 8 David has become the king of Israel; that’s good news. The bad news is, the nation he has become king over has been conquered by other nations. It’s like learning in 1943 that you’ve just been appointed the king of France, sounds good, until you realize that France is dominated by the nation of Germany and the Axis forces. Well that’s what happened to when David became king; his nation had basically been conquered by other nations. 2 Samuel chapter 8 is the Reader’s Digest version of all of David’s military campaigns. It tells how he defeated this nation, and another nation, and another nation, and tucked away in the story is a very interesting phrase. If you look at the last sentence in verse 6, it says, “The Lord gave David victory everywhere he went.” If you look at the last sentence in verse 14 it says, ” The Lord gave David victory everywhere he went.” Now, one of the things I’ve learned is that when the Bible says something twice, that’s important.

It’s like when Jesus would look at his disciples and say, “Gentlemen, verily verily, truly truly.” What He was saying is, “This is important, you listen.” When the phrase is there that the Lord gave David victory everywhere he went, what it’s saying is God thought enough of David to pick him to be the one to give his nation freedom and power and influence in the entire world. God wanted to use David.

Now some of you have been in church long enough that you say, “Well, wait a minute, when David was a teenager the prophet Samuel went down to David’s house, he poured oil over his head, and Samuel said, ‘You’ll be Israel’s second king.’ Obviously God’s going to give David victory everywhere he goes, he was picked by God.” Well, I would invite you to remember that the prophet Samuel went to a man by the name of Saul, poured oil on his head and said, “You will be Israel’s first king.” The night before Saul died, the prophet Samuel reappeared to him and said, ” Saul, you have become God’s enemy and because you are God’s enemy tomorrow you and all your sons will be killed.” So just because God picks you to be a king doesn’t mean that God’s going to ask you to do something very special for Him.

So what was it that was different about David? Well, part of what’s different is that when you read 2 Samuel chapter 8, David does two strange things for a military general. In David’s day when army’s went to fight, the ultimate weapon of warfare was the horse and the chariot. If you’ve watched movies about World War II – now some of this congregation actually lived through it – but if you’ve watched movies of World War II you know that three soldiers with three rifles could do a lot of damage. But one soldier with one tank could do awesome damage, because in World War II that was the weapon until we dropped the atomic bomb. In David’s day, the horse and the chariot was equivalent to the tank. And so as armies would rush in the horse would often hurt and kill and maim people but the chariot was a moving military platform from which archers could pick off other soldiers. And normally the army that had more horses and chariots won the battle.

Now David’s army didn’t have a lot of horses, and they didn’t have a lot of chariots. And so as David defeated nation, after nation, after nation they began to gather a lot of horses and chariots. But David did something very strange. One day the order came down to the Sergeants, “Take those horses and cut the hamstrings in their legs and makes those horses incapable for battle,” – over a thousand horses. That’s like in World War II capturing the enemy’s tanks and pouring sugar in the fuel line: it’s making them incapable for battle. I’ve often wondered what the sergeants thought, “Is this order correct? Well, I got it from the Lieutenant, Lieutenant got it from the Captain, the Captain got it from the Colonel, the Colonel got it from the General, and the General got it from the King.” In essence David said, “Make most of these horses incapable to fight now.”

The second thing David did that was strange was that as he defeated nation, after nation, after nation he began to collect a lot of gold, a lot of silver, and a lot jewelry. Now you know it takes a lot of money to fight wars. Many believe the reason the North really defeated the South in the Civil War was that the North had more money. They could afford more soldiers, more bullets, more guns. But David took most of the money that he collected from other nations and he put it in an irrevocable trust dedicated to God.

I’ve often wondered what David’s cabinet meetings were like. You can just imagine the ministers getting the first page of the financial report, “Oh we have this many thousands of dollars in gold, and this many millions in silver, and this many thousands of millions in jewelry, looks good.” Then David passes out the second page of the financial report and these cabinet members realize that most of that money cannot be used to fight future military campaigns because David’s dedicated it to God. Two strange things for a General to do.

Now if you were to go to David and say, “David, why’d you do that? What was the purpose?” Well David would tell you, “When I read my Bible”. Now his Bible was Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy. So he read Deuteronomy chapter 17, and it tells him there are certain things the kings are to do and certain things kings are not to do. And two things God doesn’t want kings to do is to collect a lot of horses and a lot of money. Because God says, “If you have a lot of horses and a lot of money when you go into battle, you’ll trust in the horses and the money and you won’t trust in me.” So what David was doing was obeying God.

Now some of you, if you’re still awake, I know you missed an hour of sleep last night are saying, “Paul, wait a minute: you started out by saying what would it be like for God to pick us for a special task, or my family or this church. Are you telling me that if I want to be that kind of person, if we want to be that kind of church, we need to obey God? I think I knew that before I came to church. Right, I mean you’ve just wasted ten minutes of my time. You’ve been telling me what I already know.”

Well, let me suggest this morning that God does want us to obey Him, don’t misunderstand. But there is more to it than obeying God. Every famous general or military leader gains their fame usually because of one battle: Nelson for the battle of Trafalgar; Wellington at Waterloo; Eisenhower at D-Day; Schwartzkoff in the Persian Gulf. Well, David became a famous general; he became a famous general over the Valley of Salt battle.

Let me tell you about that battle. As David was defeating nation, after nation, after nation he saved his most fierce enemies for the end. To the North were the Arameans. The Arameans were not only fierce, they were smart. They formed some treaties with other nations and said, “let’s make David fight us all at once.” They did that. To the South were the Edomites. The Edomites also formed some treaties and said, “Let’s make David fight all of our nations at once.” But then the Arameans and the Edomites made a treaty. On the day that treaty was formed, David was confronted with a military campaign that he had to fight on two fronts.

On December 8th, 1941 the United States declared war against the nation of Japan. On December 9, 1941, the United States declared war against Germany and the Axis forces. Now the United States was faced with a two front war. But the United States had two allies David didn’t have. Those allies are called the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It’s one thing to fight a two front war when you’ve got three thousand miles of water between you and your enemy. But David didn’t have that luxury, the Arameans were at the North of his border and the Edommites were at the South.

When you read Psalm 60, which is the song of that military campaign, David says, “In the midst of that war I thought we were going to lose.” He said, “It was like the ground was shaking.” It was a 10.0 Richter Scale earthquake and the ground was going to open up and swallow the nation. He said, “I felt like a boxer up against the rope ready to go down for the third time.” Then came the Valley of Salt battle and David took his forces that were: out numbered, out horsed, and out charioted (because David had cut the hamstrings), and he went down there near the Dead Sea and the enemy surrounded him and against all odds David won the Valley of Salt battle. The Lord gave David victory everywhere he went. You know why? Because David just didn’t obey God – David obeyed God to the point of risking everything. David wouldn’t have been in that predicament if he’d kept the horses and the chariots. He wouldn’t have been in that predicament if he’d had the money. But he obeyed God and in the process of obeying God he put himself, his army, and his nation at risk.

I pastored for a number of years in Denver, Colorado. We had a man in our church who was an electrical engineer, his name was Jim. In the early 1980’s Jim began to put together his own electrical engineering firm. And for the first three or four years everything Jim touched turned to gold. They were building power plants and lighting for stadiums all over the United States and things were going well. But in the mid 80’s there was a down turn in the economy. It was worse in Colorado. And the contracts that Jim had were coming to an end and there were no new contracts coming. Jim understood that if he did not get some contracts his business wouldn’t stay afloat. He heard of a major project in another part of the United States and he said, “If I can get that project, it will keep my company a float through the recession.” Jim told me later, he said, “Paul, I spent two months preparing to bid on that project. We got down to the deadlines and the bids had to be turned in by noon Monday, it was Friday morning. So I walked into my office, the phone rang, the man on the other end to the line introduced himself. He said, ‘Jim you know the project you’re going to bid on, my family is behind that project.’ Jim said, ‘Nice to meet you.’ This man said, ‘You need to know some stuff about me. First of all you need to know my bank.’ He gave Jim the name of his bank. ‘The second thing you need to know is my savings account number, write it down.’ Jim said he copied down the savings account number. Then the man said this, ‘Monday morning, I’m going to check the balance of my savings account. If there’s $10,000 more in my savings account, Jim it doesn’t matter what you bid, the project is yours. If on the other hand my savings account balance on Monday is the same as it is on Friday, no matter what you bid you will not get the project.’ Jim said that was the worst weekend of his life. He said, “I had over 300 electricians, apprentices, and journeyman dependent on me for paychecks to feed their families, for clothing, for insurance, and to pay their bills.” He said, “They were dependent on me.” He said, “I needed the project to keep the company afloat.” He said, “I knew I could add $10,000 to the bid, nobody would know. I could put it in that man’s savings account and be done with it. But I also know that what he was asking was not only unethical, but because of some government involvement it was illegal.” Jim said “I turned the bid in at 10:00 on Monday morning. I had not put a dime in that man’s savings account.” He said, “4:00pm that Monday afternoon a call came, he said, ‘Jim, it’s a great bid, but you didn’t get the project.’ Jim said, “The next three years were horrible.” He said, “I had to lay people off, and take money out of may own savings account to keep the business afloat. We almost went into bankruptcy.” I remember saying to him, “How’s that make you feel?” He said, “On one hand it makes me angry. Angry that a man would play with my life and my company and the lives of the people who work for me, because of his greed.” But then Jim looked at me, ” But Paul there’s something else, everyday when I walk into my office and I sit behind my desk, I know I’m a man of integrity with myself and with God.” That’s the kind of person God’s looking for: a person who will obey Him to the point of risk.

Because I ministered in Denver for over 20 years, I know many of the pastors who had young people in their youth group who attended Columbine High School. I even know pastors who had young people who were killed in the massacre at Columbine High School. Most of us will never forget the events of that day. Of how those two young men walked into that school and began to shoot, wound, and kill high schoolers. How they walked into one room that could not be locked where students were hiding under desks and trying to scurry away; and how they walked up to one young girl, put a gun in her face and asked, “Do you believe in God?” And when she said, “Yes,” they pulled the trigger.

Two years ago my wife and I lost an adult child. We have some idea of what those parents feel like. But we have no idea what it’s like to send your daughter to high school only to find out later that she has been senselessly killed. Do you know what those parents do now? That the blood of their daughter has joined the blood of the martyrs of the church for 2,000 years. And on that day when the angels ushered that young girl into the presence of her heavenly father, he looked at her and said “You obeyed me to the point of risk. Welcome home.”

Your church is a great church. It stands in a very significant point in its history. You’ve had a pastor whose been here for 11 years and God has done great things. But your church is in a position to take this community and turn it upside for Jesus Christ. To penetrate the college campuses, to effect universities and young people and young couples and senior adults and to touch the inner city of Baltimore. Your church has the potential to do great and mighty things. But that will only come as you as a church say, “We will obey the great commission God gave to his church and we will obey it to the point of risk. We will risk the way we worship and we will risk the way we’re structured and we will risk the way we develop leaders and we will risk the way we refine leaders and we’re willing to go out and take risk.” For God honors those who obey Him to the point of risk.

David cut the hamstrings. David took most of the money and gave it to God and in the process he almost lost. But the Lord gave David victory everywhere he went.

Every month I work with a group of 10 pastors. Churches that are turning around, churches that are starting to get serious about reaching their communities for Jesus Christ. And as I met with those pastors, there was one pastor about a year ago who didn’t show up for a meeting. It wasn’t like him, because if he wasn’t going to come he normally called, he just didn’t not show. We ate lunch and we began the meeting. About an hour and a half later he showed up and said, “I’m sorry I’m late but,” he said, “I’ve got to tell you what happened.” He said, “I was leaving the church this morning to come to the meeting and a young man of our church called and said, “Pastor I’ve just got to meet with you, can we have a quick lunch?’ We met. When we sat down to lunch the man told me this story. He said,

“My wife and I started coming to your church nine or ten years ago and we were just out of college. I had a brand new job in the bay area, we had bought a big house, we had a massive mortgage, two new cars, and we bought new furniture. In fact the week before we had got to church we had sat down and counted up all of our debt payments and each month our debt payments were bigger than my take home pay. We came to church and you were doing a series on stewardship. And in the sermon you told us that we were supposed to tithe, that that’s what God wanted. On the way home I told my wife, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.’ But we liked the church, we kept coming back, and you kept doing a series on stewardship; and you kept telling us God wanted us to tithe. And every Sunday on the way home I’d say, ‘That’s stupid.’ About three months later we got down on our knees in our living room in front of the couch and we prayed to God and we said, ‘God if that’s what we’re supposed to do, we will obey.’ I remember standing up with my wife and saying, ‘That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life.'” He said, “Pastor you need to know the next three or four years were horrible. I had to moonlight, my wife had to get a job, we had to downsize, and we had to get rid of some of our cars. It was hard, but we kept tithing. The last five years have been pretty good. And I just got a bonus and I want to give you my tithe.”

So the pastor said, “He handed me a check,” and the pastor had the check in his pocket. He pulled the check out and held it up for us all to see. The amount of the check was $320,000. That was the tithe on his bonus, not his salary. Now don’t miss the point folks. Don’t think if you tithe you’re going to get $320,000. In fact I invite you to remember the young teenager at Columbine High School.

The point is this, that God honors individuals, God honors families, and God honors churches that are willing to obey Him to the point of risk. David got rid of the horses, he got rid of the money, and the Lord gave David victory everywhere he went.