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And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32

Contending With Horses

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

"If thou hast run with footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and though in a land of peace thou art secure, yet how wilt thou do in the pride of the Jordan!" (Jer. 12:5).

Jeremiah was born into privilege. He was of the priestly class and that gave him standing and influence. He was reared in the quiet little town of Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. This was one of thirteen cities Joshua assigned to the children of Aaron when Canaan was occupied by the Jews and the land was divided among the various tribes of Jacob (Joshua 21:17-18). The city was occupied by priestly families as they waited their turn to serve at the tabernacle, and later at the temple. It must have been a very peaceful town. The citizens of Anathoth devoted themselves to a study of the law of God so they would be able to officiate at the temple, or perform whatever the Mosaic Code required of them. The people of the town, therefore, would be scholarly and mainly interested in matters of the spirit. Jeremiah grew up in that kind of atmosphere. When he was still a very young man (he says he was "a child") God gave him a commission to prophesy doom and desolation to the land of Judah. He was appointed to "pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant"(Jer. 1:6-8).

Jeremiah did his work with valor and vigor. He went up and down the land condemning the people for indecent behavior at their idolatrous feasts, festivals and functions. He accused them of playing the harlot under every green tree and upon every high hill. He condemned their backsliding as unexampled. His preaching caused the people to feel shame because their conduct was so shameful.

Jeremiah opened his mouth to rebuke a sinful nation. And they hated him for it! People like to be complimented and encouraged, but Jeremiah saw nothing to praise. He spoke only stinging words of condemnation. The people of the land despised the bold but weeping prophet. They wished him dead. Even the priestly families of Anathoth regarded him with heartfelt loathing. They, too, cherished a death wish for the brokenhearted prophet. They wanted Jeremiah to keep his mouth shut; and if he must speak, they wanted to hear only charming and positive things from his lips.

"Therefore thus saith Jehovah concerning the men of Anathoth that seek thy life, saying, Thou shalt not prophesy in the name of Jehovah, that thou die not by our hand" (Jer. 1 1:2 1). The message was plain; stop rebuking us or die! That must have been tough for Jeremiah to take. To be detested by one's own people and to be abhorred by one's own class is an uncomfortable and unbearable plight. Jeremiah's situation was made even more insupportable when his own family turned against him and joined the howling mob as they hounded the prophet and demanded his death. "For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee: believe them not though they speak fair words unto thee" (Jer. 12:6).

Jehovah forewarned his servant, Jeremiah, that the days ahead would be far more difficult and his sufferings far greater than the misery already endured. The Lord said to his prophet, if running with the foot soldiers has made you tired, what will you do when you have to contend with horses? Jeremiah would find the coming days to be darker and the burdens to be borne heavier and the opposition more fierce than anything he had encountered up until now. God wanted him to get ready.

Preaching To Be Popular

It is nice to be accepted. It is agony to be rejected. The desire to be popular, approved, praised, celebrated and in demand has caused more than one preacher to tremble and compromise his message. There is nothing wrong with being popular. Jesus, at one stage of his earthly career, was immensely popular. It is one thing to preach and be popular and a very different thing to preach in order to be popular.

The preacher who makes popularity his ambition is sure to be a traitor to God and the gospel. Paul said those having "itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3,4). The price for popularity is preaching fables instead of truth. The herald of the King of Glory who would curry the favor of men must descend to the level of a court jester. He must make of himself nothing more than a joke teller and a dealer in vain human philosophy. He has so much to tell yet tells so little: that, having eternal truth to deliver, he spews perishable nonsense.

The truth of God has never been popular at least, not for very long. It is usually with the remnant; error and evil are with the majority. Only Lot's family was saved when Sodom was destroyed; only eight human souls survived the flood; only two of the adults who came out of Egypt entered Canaan. Most people are like the Hellenistic Jews who heard the truth from the loyal Stephen and "cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; and cast him out of the city, and stoned him" (Acts 7:57, 58).

Unto this second and third generation of the heirs of the mighty plea to restore the ancient order "is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; and by seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed" (Matt. 13:14,15).

"Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it" (Matt. 7:13,14). Jesus ended the parable of the marriage feast and the slighted invitation by saying, "Many are called, but few chosen" (Matt. 22:14).

Sad! Heartbreaking! Tragic! But it has ever been true that the minorities have been on the Lord's side while multitudes bow down to Baal. "Truth forever on the scaffold; Wrong forever on the throne." It is the unwelcome and hard task of gospel preachers to ring out words that cut and pierce. For the discerning few who fall prostrate in the dust and confess their sins, there is hope. The good news is that the lamb has been slain and there is salvation for all (Titus 2:1 1). The salvation, however, is conditional. God forgives if we confess (I John 1:9). The salvation offered in the great commission is contingent upon belief and baptism (Mark 16:16). We must be born of water and spirit, or we cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5). We must be willing to die for the cause of truth and righteousness, if we would wear a crown in heaven (Rev. 2:10). God's spiritual blessings have always been given on condition. No man was ever blessed on account of his faith until that faith manifested itself in an overt act of obedience. Those who obey receive overflowing joy and deep inner peace. The gifts of God are marvelous and thrill the soul. The majority of the people of earth will never bow before the King of Glory until they are compelled to do so in the time of final judgment (Phil. 2:9-11). But their confession and obeisance will come too late and will work to their everlasting shame and loss.

What the world needs is more prophets cut out of the same cloth as Elijah and John the baptist. "Ring out the watchword; silence it never!" We must have preachers who care more for right than they care for popularity. Ezekiel was sent to the chosen people of God; he was not sent to men outside of the house of Israel. God said to the prophet: Behold, I have made thy face hard against their faces, and thy forehead hard against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I speak unto thee receive in thy heart, and hear with thine ears. And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear" (Ezek. 3:8-11).

God said to the courageous Ezekiel, You are going to have to be hardheaded and tough. Do not be afraid of these sinners. They will look at you through their eyebrows, but be not dismayed. They may cast baleful looks in your direction, but don't let that deter you. You do what you are sent to do and say what you have been told to say. It does not make any difference as to whether they hear you or refuse to hear you, you speak the words that I have given you. Your message is, "Thus saith the Lord Jehovah." "Whether they hear, or whether they forbear" they will at least know that there has been a prophet among them. Jeremiah and all the prophets had the same commission. It may be as hard as contending with horses, but it must be done. As the cup of the world's iniquity reaches the brim and overflows, God will be the more denied and ridiculed and his truth dragged in the mud. The few who hold to unadulterated truth will be scorned and laughed at; the minorities who cling to the old paths and walk in the narrow way will have to contend with horses. Friend, the cavalry of the enemy is coming! Get ready! Stand fast! Watch ye! Be strong like men!

Encouragement and Help

The servant of the Lord has the unfailing assurance that he will be gathered to his grave in peace. He has the encouragement of knowing that God bends a loving eye over his chosen people. They therefore can cast all their cares upon him (I Pet. 5:7). Nothing will be too hard for them to endure and no sacrifice too great. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above which ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10: 13).

This verse does not promise some kind of fantastic and supernatural assistance to children of God who are tempted. The passage is not saying that when temptation has boxed you in, and cornered you, that you will be given some kind of marvelous relief and that a door will unaccountably appear through which you can flee to safety. Paul is teaching that Jesus defeated Satan at Calvary, and when the Living Hope of a lost world went back to his home in glory, "he led captivity captive" (Eph. 4:8). Jesus bound the Devil and will keep Satan in chains until the end of this age (Rev. 20:2). In the first century, the supernatural power of God was demonstrated to be greater than the supernatural power of the devil. Having won the contest, God named the terms of surrender. He restricted and limited himself to working within the confines of natural law and placed the same restriction and limitation on Satan.

God will not allow you to be tempted supernaturally today so that supernatural power would be required to overcome the temptation. "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which ye are able." No temptation will come upon you that is greater than you can bear. That is, you will not be tempted supernaturally, but will only have to face and deal with temptations such as other men have faced and defeated by use of their natural powers. You can handle it! That is the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13. You may have to contend with horses, but you can do it! We may sometimes, like Cain, cry out, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." But the answer is, "No! You can bear it! And you must bear it! Be strong!"

Paul wrote, "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). This is a much abused and often misunderstood statement. Paul is not saying that he could do impossible things. There are some things even Almighty God cannot do. He cannot lie! He cannot deny himself! He cannot violate the limitations he has imposed upon himself! He cannot destroy the world by a flood! He cannot do anything that contradicts his nature, or that is self-contradictory. Omnipotence may have its limitations. Otherwise, it is not omnipotence. If one says God cannot limit himself, what does that do to God's power to limit himself? How sad that well-intended people have taken this verse to mean that we can pay debts without money and have therefore contracted obligations they could not possibly discharge. How tragic that these words have been used to promote some impossible dream or grandiose, impractical scheme. Visionaries point to Paul's words in order to beat a drum for some absurd exaggeration.

No, friend, the apostle is not saying that we can leap over tall buildings at a single bound, or that we can outrun on foot a speeding train. All Paul is saying is that he could endure what he had to endure, and to suffer what he had to suffer. Notice the context, "I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: In everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want." And then he said, "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:12,13).

To acknowledge that some things are unrealistic or even impossible is not to be without faith in the promises of God, but is to admit the obvious. Still, whatever burden we have to bear, whatever cross we have to carry, we shoulder it wordlessly and march on. God gives sufficient strength for us to do what we have to do. We can contend with horses, if we have to. Trouble is fearful only to the extent it strikes fear into us. "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9). Make no mistake about it. God does not promise us exemption from disappointment, misery, sickness, persecution, pain, dissolution and death, if we follow him. But to the profound reverse, he does promise that our faithfulness will bring down on us grief and suffering.

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher, and the servant as his Lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household! Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak ye in the light; and what ye hear in the ear, proclaim upon the housetops. And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:24-28).

John may have to languish in prison and eventually have his head cut off, but God lives and his promises have not failed. Peter is released from jail and from danger, but James suffers martyrdom. Stephen is stoned to death, while Paul is stoned and lives. The Bible is telling us that it matters not at all whether we live or whether we die -- the important thing is how did we live and how did we die. If for you to live is Christ, death is gain (Phil. 1:21). If you die without a tremble and in the assurance of a confident faith and living hope, then death is not death, but is victory. No matter how you die, you are gathered to your fathers and to your grave in peace. "Christ hath abolished death."

Here is a precious promise: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father: but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven (Matt. 10:29-33).

That gives us power to contend with horses and to endure what must be endured! Notice: the sparrow falls; God's love does not prevent that. Jesus is simply saying that God knows about it. He doesn't keep it from happening. He knows everything about us, even the number of hairs on our head. He knows if we are faithful and true; he knows it we suffer and are mistreated and abused; he knows if our hearts are breaking within us; he knows if we must contend with horses; he knows about it all! he knows! And his promise is, "Confess me and I will confess you before my Father who is in heaven and before all his holy angels." And that promise gives us peace, both in life and in death.

God does not promise us that if we will follow him he will put us under a glass and never allow any bad thing to happen to us. If that was the promise, then many people would follow him for the loaves and the fishes. God does not promise that we will never be stoned and left for dead, nor beaten with forty stripes save one, nor beaten with rods, nor suffer shipwreck, nor be hungry and thirsty, nor be sick, nor suffer, nor have to be in peril among false brethren, nor have to contend with horses. He only promises that "our strength will be as our day, and the toils of the road will seem nothing, when we get to the end of the way." The trials and tribulations and frustrations, the disappointments and defeats, will pale into nothingness when we stand before the King and hear him say, "Father, this is my brother; he lived for me and thereby confessed me before men; I confess him now in your holy presence and will that he should have a fadeless crown and a translucent robe." And we shall hear him say, "Come up here, my child, and sit down with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne."

H. A. "Buster" Dobbs, email:
P. O. Box 690192
Houston, Texas 77269-0192
(281) 469-3540

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