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Fiddle or Fight?

By Wayne Coats

religion, articles, christianity

There is a time to fiddle, and a time when fiddling is a horrible sin. Fiddle, as a colloquialism, means "to fritter time away."

A sad story in the Old Testament relates how two and one-half tribes of Israel wanted to fiddle while others fought the enemy. It is no time to fritter away precious moments when an enemy needs to be conquered.

When Israel stood on Jordan's eastern bank, prior to crossing over into enemy territory, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh desired to settle down and raise cattle (Num. 32:1-42; Josh. 1:12-18). For them, a feathered nest had been found. A lap of luxury had opened up with a large tub of butter.

All of the territory west of Jordan must be conquered, but cattle, milk, and butter were more inviting to these two and one-half tribes. Conquering Canaanites was more difficult than grazing cattle. Feeding fat cows would pose no risk compared to fighting strong bulls of Bashan.

The impregnable Amorites were entrenched in the mountains, and the fighting Canaanites occupied the plains. The inhabitants of the land previously caused 10 of the 12 spies to be frozen with fear (Num. 13:1-22). They looked, began to shake, and said, "It is impossible," and indeed it was impossible for every one of those cowardly spies to enter the promised land. Courageous Caleb and Joshua refused to capitulate, and walked the hallowed ground of a promised land.

Moses asked, "Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?" (Num. 32:6). It was not commendable for the two and one-half tribes to sit on the east side of Jordan while their brethren fought hard battles on the farther shore. Such behavior is beyond comprehension, besides being a dirty shame.

The failure to be ready to fight the enemy was sinful. Moses had said, "If ye will go armed before the Lord to war, and will go all of you armed over Jordan before the Lord ... but if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the Lord: and be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:20-23).

When there is an enemy to be subdued, it is sinful to sit silently with folded hands. It can be discouraging to valiant warriors when the cowardly ones refuse to act like soldiers.

Moses asked, "And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them?" (Num. 32:6). The final judgment will certainly try the hearts of people who have fiddled to the discouragement of others during times of battle.

After being faced with the "word of the Lord," and the future results which were promised, the recalcitrant tribes decided to change directions. With their lack of faith in God's instructions to go across the Jordan. they could be very pessimistic as to victory; however, if Israel were defeated, Reuben would also be rubble.

Would to God the fiddlers of today could see their cowardly and shameful selves just sitting when others encounter the enemy. Men can change. Brethren need to see the eternal results of their fears and face the situation with integrity.

What a change was wrought in those tribes. They said, "But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place" (Num. 32:17).

The enemy is cunning and strong, but when the people of God "go ready armed," there is no enemy who can stand before good soldiers equipped with God's armor (Eph. 6:10-18). If the silent brethren think the enemy is safely entrenched and his fortress impregnable, Satan has successfully deceived them. There is no dart of Satan that cannot be broken.

The fiddlers were turned into fighters and they declared, "We ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel" (Num. 32:17). There is a difference in going before and tagging along behind.

Suppose the battle between conservative brethren and the liberal element could be won in a short while; can you stretch your imagination to the point of thinking how many fiddling elders, preachers, professors, and church members would begin to whisper, "I have been opposed to liberalism for years"? Some would even get on a soapbox and hawk their product with great courage.

Time marches on and leaves fiddlers to be forgotten. Soldiers of Christ who have strength, courage, and valor will be remembered.

It is interesting that the unflinching prophet Elijah later came from Gilead on the eastern banks of Jordan. When Gilead was attacked by Syria and Ammon, those fighting tribes from the west rushed across the river and joined in the battle to help their besieged brothers.

With all the innovations, apostasy, digression, weakness, fear, fiddling, silence, division, discord, and change which is in the brotherhood all across the nation, which direction can we look to find brothers who will dare to cross the river and join in the fight as we contend for the faith?

Memory Lane will surely be a fretful, disturbing event for old fiddlers who can only wait for the grave to close above them and be forgotten.


Published September 1995