Even after a resounding victory, fear can come to oppress us when we focus our attention on what our defeated enemies can do in retaliation. This can quickly dampen our celebratory mood and turn it into dread. Abraham experienced this when he succeeded in rescuing his nephew, Lot, from the hands of four powerful kings who had taken him captive. With only 318 men from his household and the help of some friends, Abraham defeated these four kings who, incidentally, had just won their battle against five other kings. Realizing that these four kings could regroup and attack him in retaliation, Abraham was gripped with fear. It is at this juncture that God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). With Abraham and his household living in the open country, with no walls and fortresses to defend them from the attack of the enemies, Abraham’s fear was justified. Living in tents spread across the open field, they were ‘sitting ducks’ for their well-armed and numerous enemies, with no place to run to for cover.
It was a comfort for Abraham to know that God is his shield—his protector. He need not build walls around him to protect him from the enemies’ fire. It was enough that God would watch over his coming and going. While Abraham, a man of faith, was able to live with this promise from God, his descendants needed more a concrete evidence of this shield and a better illustration of how God protects his people. For this reason, God commanded Moses that when he partitioned the Promised Land and distributed these to the children of Israel, cities of refuge should be designated. He said to Joshua, “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood” (Joshua 20:2-3). For as long as the person was in the city of refuge, no one could touch him until he stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest serving at that time. A person who seeks sanctuary in the city of refuge is safe and secure in the hands of God. Six cities were designated as such, to provide easy and quick access for anyone seeking protection from the avenger of blood.
When God said that he was Abraham’s very great reward, he was commending Abraham for his faith. Because of his faith, God himself blessed him with his mighty protection. In effect, God was saying to Abraham that “if you have me, you have it all; if you don’t have me, you are nobody.” The faith of Abraham was clearly described this way: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:8-10). Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Every step he took was a step of faith and brought him closer to God. Initially, all he had was God. Eventually, God poured out his blessings in reward for his faith and made him the father of many nations.
Today, the children of Abraham, the Israelis, are experiencing the same fear their forefather had. With a small ragtag army, they were able to win the War of Independence against the bigger and well-armed countries that surrounded them. However, these enemies never accepted defeat and they are bent on erasing Israel from the map of the world. The Israelis are like sitting ducks for the enemies that surround them as they are bombarded daily with kassam rockets. Where will they run for cover when there are no cities of refuge around? Well, they have God, who said, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” But while they have faith, they need something visible as a shield, like the cities of refuge. It is for this reason that Operation Lifeshield (www.operationlifeshield.com) embarked in the project of providing bomb shelters (made of strong concrete) in communities that are attacked around the country. They provide a shelter that people can quickly run to for cover when an air raid warning is sounded. Friends, it is time to pray for our Jewish brothers, who are living in constant fear day and night, that God may continue to shield them just as he shielded Abraham during his time. Meantime, may God be our personal shield against the wiles of the Evil One and may we have the faith to run to him for cover in times of trouble. By having faith in him like Abraham, may God also be our very great reward. Hallelujah!