We know from Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” And, as we often say, “It is not the case that all things in life are good, but all things in life can be used by God for good.”
And I want to suggest to you this morning that that’s true of the coronavirus, COVID-19. I think we can all certainly agree that the virus is not good. It has killed over 10,000 people so far and affected the lives of hundreds of millions of others. Because you are sitting at home watching this video right now, I know that it has affected you. So, the virus is not good. But God can use it for good, and that’s what I want us to try to explore this morning.
I think the coronavirus has reminded all of us of some things that we have a tendency to forget. Living here in the United States, I will confess to you that I tend to live my life with a great deal of confidence. I’ve often heard preachers compare the United States to ancient Rome which was destroyed because of its immorality. And I’ve heard some warn that the same thing will happen to this country because of its immorality.
But it’s always been hard for me to imagine how that could possibly happen. We’ve always had a strong economy. Yes, it has its ups and downs, but, all in all, we are a prosperous nation. We have a strong military and it’s hard for us to imagine being conquered by another country. And while life in the United States has undergone some changes (especially after 9/11), it’s hard to imagine life being much different, certainly not in our lifetime. And so, six months ago, I felt confident and secure. Not because of God, but because of the strength of this country.
And, if six months ago, you had come to me with a prediction that in the year 2020, our country would be brought to its knees, with all professional sports being cancelled, schools being shut down, restaurants closing, causing an economic meltdown, I would have told you that you were crazy. Our country is way too strong for that. And if you further told me that all of this chaos would be brought about by a 55-year-old peasant man in China, I would have been ready to commit you to an institution. And yet, here we are.
And we are reminded of two things: (1) First of all, the absolute uncertainty of life. No matter how secure things around us may appear, they have the ability to crumble in the blink of an eye. And if you’ve never believed this before, you have good reason to believe it now. (2) Secondly, we are reminded of the need for us to put our full trust in God, who will never crumble.
I want to make a statement that may be the most important thing I say in this entire lesson, so if you don’t listen to anything else, please hear this – If the only time you trust God is when things are going good in your life, then you don’t really trust God. Your trust is somewhere else. If the only time you trust God is when things are going good in your life, then you don’t really trust God.
For our text this morning, I want to turn to one of the psalms that I believe provides a real challenge to all of us, especially at this time of crisis — Psalm 20. It’s a psalm written by David.
the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help
from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
3 May he remember
all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!
4 May he grant you
your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
5 May we shout for joy
over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
6 Now I know that
the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
7 Some trust
in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They collapse and
but we rise and stand upright.
9 O Lord,
save the king!
May he answer us when we call.
I want you to first notice the context. Right away, we see that this psalm was written by King David, who was chosen by God to be king over his people, Israel.
So, why was this psalm written? What is its purpose? This particular psalm would have been sung by the people of Israel right before David led his armies out to war. You might say this was Israel’s fight song. It’s a song that they would have sung during their pep rally.
I’m sure most of you have been to a school pep rally. It’s usually held right before a big game. Maybe held in the gymnasium, with the band playing, and cheerleaders getting the crowd all excited. And some schools have a fight song they sing before their team heads off to battle against their bitter rival. And that’s basically the purpose of this psalm. All of the Israelites would gather together and they would shout this song of victory before the battle started.
The place where they would gather to sing this song was the tabernacle in Jerusalem. If you look at verse 2 it says, “May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion!” Zion is the name of the mountain that Jerusalem was on. The sanctuary was the inner part of the tabernacle. The sanctuary symbolized the presence of God among his people. So, picture a couple of million people gathered together around the tabernacle preparing to send the army out onto the field to do battle.
As they gathered at this tabernacle, they did more than just sing a song. In verse 3, “May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!” Right before battle, with all of God’s people gathered, an offering was made to the Lord. And this offering was a sacrifice from the king.
Now, why would David need to offer a sacrifice? Because he, along with all of Israel were sinners. Sacrifice was done in order to receive forgiveness. And prior to going off to war, it was the desire of David, and Israel, to be right with God.
The congregation blesses David in prayer: “May the LORD answer you…May he send you help…May he remember all your sacrifices.” It’s one of those moments that brings to mind the preparation for battle in movies like The Lord of the Rings. Everything is quiet, but you know the battle is coming and you’re filled with anticipation. You can almost hear and feel the battle that’s about to begin. But then the psalmist says something surprising:
In verse 7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)
Which is a nice thought – unless you’re actually about to go into battle. It’s one of those things that’s easy to say as long as it’s merely theoretical. But remember that the setting of this psalm is before a real, actual battle and armies were about to clash.
Chariots and horses are not just figures of speech. They represented the most powerful military resources at that time. Back then, the war chariot was as powerful a weapon as a battleship or a fighter jet is to us today. It was an incredible war machine.
And, of course, the chariots were pulled by the most powerful horses, as many as four horses per chariot. Lined up side by side on the battlefield, these fighting machines caused fear and intimidation at their very sight. Once in motion, they sped along at breakneck speed and slaughtered the enemy in their path.
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)
The people who trusted in chariots and horses were the nations that Israel was fighting against. It was a reference to the other nations’ military strength.
But here’s what’s interesting. Even though their enemies used horses and chariots in battle, the Israelites did not. In fact, God told the Israelites that they weren’t allowed to accumulate a lot of horses! Forget about having chariots — Israel wasn’t even allowed to have many horses!
In Deuteronomy 17:6, God told the people of Israel, “[When you get a king,] he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses..”
And so, imagine the terror the people of Israel must have felt whenever they looked across the valley and they saw their enemies lined up in these fierce pieces of machinery, ready to attack them! But here’s what God had to say when they went out to face their enemies on the battlefield:
Deuteronomy 20, beginning with verse 1, “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’” (Deuteronomy 20:1-4)
You would think that not having horses or chariots would have made Israel extremely vulnerable against her enemies. So why in the world would God forbid them to gather an army of horses? Psalm 20 tells us why:
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7).
God wanted Israel to trust in him, not in their horses and chariots. When they faced their enemy on the battlefield, they were to remember how the Lord had delivered them in times past.
Israel was not like the other nations of the world. Instead of putting their faith in the size of their army, they put their faith in the size of their God. Israel was to look to their covenant-keeping Creator and place their full confidence in him.
And we see examples of this time and again. It wasn’t Israel’s horses or chariots that destroyed the armies of Egypt, because Israel didn’t have any. It was their God who parted the Red Sea and destroyed the army of Pharaoh with the water when it came crashing back down.
It wasn’t horses that stormed the mighty fortress of Jericho that caused the walls to fall. It was trusting in God’s word and literally walking in his way.
We see it again in the story of Gideon. Prior to war with the Midianites, God commanded the leader of Israel’s army, Gideon, to take his troops from 32,000 men and trim it down to only 300 men. And God said the reason was this, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” (Judges 7:2)
Even David could testify of this pattern in his own life. The beginning of his military career began with Goliath, a strapping nine-and-a-half foot warrior, who wore heavy armor and carried a spear with a tip that weighed 15 pounds. David, on the other hand was just a boy with a sling shot. But he said, “I’m not worried. I will not be afraid, and I will not panic, because I have God on my side!”
God often intentionally stacks the deck against his own people, so that God gets all the glory. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7).
Let me share with you a few thoughts about this passage:
1. Those who put their trust in chariots, in essence, are placing their confidence in what man has the ability to do.
Man is absolutely amazing. Our ability to invent and build has taken us to unimaginable levels. Just consider some of our modern-day chariots, such as the light bulb, automobiles, airplanes, rockets, computers, smartphones, and the marvels of modern medicine, just to name a few. God has given us an incredible ability to create and invent. It’s no wonder that we’re always trying to solve and fix our own way out of problems.
But here’s the danger for those of us who are Christians. We often lean upon our own ability to fix things. We say in our hearts, “I can do this.” Or we put our trust in other people who we think can fix things for us. And so, we may not be concerned about the coronavirus because we trust the doctors who are working on a vaccine, or we trust the government to solve this problem.
But when we put our heads together and seek earthly wisdom rather than putting our hands together to seek heavenly wisdom, we end up squeezing God totally out of the picture. And that’s trusting in chariots.
We all have a tendency to trust in our own abilities, not God. Time and again, I come up with a plan, and then I find that my enthusiasm rises or falls depending on whether my plan seems to succeed or not. And when that happens, we’re trusting in our plans, not trusting in God.
Many times—if not in word then through our actions—we tell God, “I’m going to do this, and if you want to come along, you’re welcome to do so.” Instead, we ought to get down on our knees before God and say, “God, please show me what I need to do, and I will move forward only when you tell me to move forward.”
We ought to say, “God, you have given us the ability to think. You have given us the ability to make decisions. We ask that you please help us to make the best decisions, because we don’t want to do anything outside of your guidance or your direction.”
We need to learn to trust in the Lord and his infinite wisdom rather than trusting our own ability to fix and solve problems.
2. Those who put their trust in horses are, in essence, placing their confidence in the resources that have been made available to us by our Creator.
Think about this: Man makes chariots, but horses were created by God. He’s the one who put life into the nostrils of that horse, not man. But, then, man put a saddle on the horse’s back and a bit into its mouth, and started to use the resource that God had given him. And, before long, man began to put his confidence in this God-given resource to help him win victories on the battlefield.
I think about the time when Moses came down from Mount Sinai and he found that the children of Israel had taken all their gold and silver and tossed it into the fire to make a golden calf. That gold and silver was made by God, but the Israelites began to put their trust in it, trusting something that was created rather than trusting the Creator.
And we still do the same thing with silver and gold today. We tend to have plenty of confidence as long as we have plenty of that stuff. And, in the process, we place our confidence in what God has created instead of trusting the God who made it all.
Someone has put it this way: “Use means, but don’t trust in means. Trust God.” Or, as the wise man Solomon put it, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD” (Proverbs 21:31). In other words, if you have horses, then use horses, but don’t put your trust in horses, trust God. If you have scientists capable of coming up with a vaccine for the coronavirus, then use those scientists. But don’t put your faith in them, put your faith in God.
Yes, God wants you to use the gifts and abilities that he has given you. Yes, he wants you to use the natural resources he’s created. Yes, he wants you to use your mind. Just remember where it all comes from.
We need to learn to trust God instead of trusting those things that God has made or provided for us.
3. We must put our trust in God.
“Some trust in chariots, and some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7-8).
In Isaiah 31, there was a similar situation. Judah was being threatened and it was a threat that was real and was approaching Jerusalem fast. It was the mighty Assyrian army, known for their cruelty and destruction. Because of this threat, the leaders of Judah felt that they had to do something, but unfortunately, they did the wrong thing.
Their first mistake was the sin of trusting Egypt and their military might. Their second mistake was the sin of not looking to God for help. God had called the people of Israel into a very special relationship with him, and he promised to protect them in the land of Canaan as they trusted in him. But this time, the leaders of Judah found it easier to go down to Egypt for help rather than trust in God who was already with them.
And, to be fair, Judah felt like they had a good reason to trust in chariots. They looked at Egypt and they saw how many chariots they had. Surely, that many chariots could fortify their armies and save Judah from Assyria!
They also felt like they had a good reason to trust in horses. They looked at the horsemen of the Egyptian army and saw that they were very strong. Surely the strong horsemen of Egypt could save them!
From their human way of thinking, at all made perfect sense. But, unfortunately, they couldn’t seem to find a good reason to trust in the Lord. In a sense, you could say they didn’t give up their faith. In fact, you might say that everybody lives by faith. In this case, the leaders of Judah had plenty of faith, but they put that faith in the chariots and horsemen of Egypt.
And so God said in Isaiah 31, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!” (Isaiah 31:1)
Now, I understand that we don’t put our trust today in literal chariots and horses. But as we look around, we see all sorts of things that we are tempted to put our trust in – things like our military, our government, our job, our savings account. There are so many different things in this world that shout to us, “You can trust this, you can trust that.”
And David says here, “I don’t put my trust in any of those things. My trust is in God.” And David says this at a time when he could use some military help in battle. He could use some chariots, he could use some horses, but he realizes the battle is not ultimately won by chariots or horses. The battle is ultimately won by God.
Matthew Henry once said, “We, the Israelites, have neither chariots nor horses to trust in, nor do we want them. If we had them, we would build our hope of success upon them. But we will remember and rely upon the name of the Lord our God. We will depend upon the relation that we have with the Lord and the knowledge we have of Him by His name.”
We all have faith in something. We all trust that something or someone is going to get us out of the mess that we are in right now. The question is, where does our faith lie? Sometimes we think that we need more faith when the truth is, we have plenty of faith; we just put our faith in the wrong things. In our own way, we trust in the chariots and horsemen of Egypt instead of trusting in the God who made a covenant promise to be our God, if we would follow him and be his people.
A good way to figure out what you’re truly trusting in is to ask yourself the question, “What has the ability to really destroy me? What is it that, when it happens, really brings my world crashing down around me?”
For example, if the stock market takes a nose dive and suddenly your retirement fund loses 25% of its value, if that causes you to lose sleep at night, then that’s a pretty good indication that your trust is in the financial leaders of this country.
Or if you seeing the rising number of cases of COVID-19 and the mounting number of deaths, and you begin to panic and live in fear, that’s a pretty good indication that your trust is in not in God.
And that’s not to say that if we trust God, we’re trusting that we won’t get sick. It doesn’t work that way. Our trust is that whatever happens, God will be with us, and he will get us through it.
And, as I said earlier in the lesson, if the only time you trust God is when things are going good in your life, then you don’t really trust God. You’re trusting in something else. So, where does your trust lie?
Would you pray with me:
“Father, as we live in a world where fear and panic are growing, we deliberately make the choice today, to turn aside from trusting anyone or anything in this world but you. You ultimately are where we place our trust. We know that as long as our trust is in you, we need not fear because you are all-powerful, you are all-wise, you are all-good, you are all-loving, and you are totally worthy of all of our trust.
And so, God, we ask you to help us to trust you fully. Help us to trust you completely. Help us to trust you wholeheartedly, even with things in our lives right now that we don’t understand why this or that is happening. God, help us to trust in you, not to put our trust in anyone or anything else. Some trust in chariots, some trust in horses. But, God, we look to you and we trust you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
May God bless you all this week and fill your life with peace, with joy and with love.