Twenty-one Devotional Studies for Men in Preparation for the Men’s Night , The Fighter
by Steve Staten
Spiritual: For holy and selfless reasons or divine calling. Nerve: Personal risk in trying circumstances; standing in a gap, taking action, leading or speaking up.
The following stories in Scripture are about men who exhibited spiritual nerve. They involve men who were brave, from a broad range of ages, and in some of the most unusual places and manners.
The first cases from the early Old Testament era involve men who were willing to act bravely in or near violent circumstances. We will read about those who bravely dissented with cowering peers, or who were the first to act upon unpleasant directives from heaven, or who staunchly disobeyed evil directives. You will meet someone who entered a cruel enemy’s palace, killed the king, got away and led an overthrow. There were others who went against common statistical military sense and trusted God to bring about their victories. You will read of leaders who successfully navigated through dark and dangerous times and a prophet who initiated a life-risking showdown on behalf of God, against all odds.
From the times of the first kings of Israel until the time of the Jewish Captivity, there were both young and old men with spiritual nerve in a variety of scenarios. There is the story of young man who singlehandedly ended a standoff when older soldiers were paralyzed by fear. And three young men refused to make a simple symbolic gesture that would have compromised their godly convictions, risking their very lives in the process. One aged statesman would not stop praying for 30 days, even to save his life. There was a lonely prophet who accepted the call to say hard things to hard-headed people about hard times ahead, and he did it for most of his life.
From the times of Captivity throughout the New Testament era, there were men whose daring acts took place in public venues. Jeremiah the prophet sent a messenger to deliver a severely negative message to a cruel, ungodly and pagan nation in a public arena. And then there was a courageous man who openly paved the way for the Messiah and was murdered because he called a king’s ungodly actions to account. And consider a rabbi’s courageous act in turning over the tables of corrupt “mafia” practices near the sacred temple. There were others who we will read about who were not afraid to state their essential convictions in public. Finally, we will read of a man who looked for opportunities to share his convictions with a hostile audience in Rome.
As you read these stories, stay open to the scenarios in your own life that require spiritual nerve. For each story, think of someone, past or present, who acted similarly. Be sure to read the cited Scriptures for yourself. Look for the stories that most resonate with your need for spiritual nerve. And pray about finding inner strength, implementing the lessons and changing your outlook. Together, as men, let’s pray for spiritual nerve.
- Moses and Aaron (Exodus 5:1-21)—An 80-year-old man and his brother are “persuaded” by The Lord (chapters 3-4) to go and appeal to Pharaoh to let the Israelites have a three-day rest. This matter failed and the Pharaoh only made matters worse for the Israelites, expecting them to make bricks with less straw. As a result, the Israelites became angry with Moses and Aaron. These brothers are hedged in between The Lord, the Israelites and Pharaoh of Egypt. Imagine how this predicament would feel and how you would respond. You can continue reading Exodus to see how Moses and Aaron responded.
- Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 13-14)—Twelve men were sent to explore the land that The Lord was giving the people of Israel. However, 10 of the hand-selected team cowered. They invented a connection of people they saw there to the giants (the Nephilim) and offered dissuading opinions rather than mere observations. They failed to do their job because they acted out of emotion, not conviction. By creating a mythical impression of these people, they caused a spirit of fright to lead the nation into panic. Joshua and Caleb dissented from their “group-think” and came close to being stoned. Both men were noted for their great example and given specific promises concerning their entrance to the Promised Land. Caleb was even singled out for having a model spirit (14:24) and Joshua was promoted to lead after the death of Moses. The other 10 died in a plague, and those infected by their fear-mongering suffered in multiple ways for years to come.
- Phineas (Numbers 25)—Lustful and adulterous followers of Baal were originally frightened by Israel, but they were somehow able to seduce some Israelite men into sexual immorality (Numbers 22:1-2). This sin had disastrous consequences, including the offering of sacrifices to Baal of Peor. As a result, a plague was initiated by The Lord. He also directed that the leaders of this rebellion be killed, presumably because their example was infecting the entire camp. So when one man flagrantly brought a Moabite woman into camp while Moses and the whole assembly were weeping over this matter, Phineas acted swiftly. He speared both the man and woman during “the act.” A plague was stopped and only 24,000 died. This story prompts a beleaguering question: “What would a modern-day Phineas be doing in our congregation?”
- Ehud (Judges 3:12-30)—When Eglon, king of Moab, obtained support of the Ammonites and Amalekites against Israel, they became subjects of the king for 18 years. After crying out to the Lord, “God gave them a deliverer—Ehud, a left-handed man.” All by himself, this man entered Eglon’s palace with a hidden weapon and created a ruse to get time alone with the king. When they were completely alone in an inner room of the palace, Eglon said, “I have a message from God for you,” just before putting an 18-inch sword all the way through the big-bellied king. Ehud was shrewd in making his escape as the king’s servant thought the king was “relieving himself in the inner room.” Ehud made it back to camp, blew the rallying trumpet and led Israel to strike down 10,000 Moabite men.” That day, Moab was made subject to Israel, and the land had peace for 80 years.” One brave deed can influence two generations.
- Gideon (Judges 7:1-22)—A godly warrior with 32,000 men was called by the Lord to lead a battle, but he was told to trim his army to a size that would not allow them to think they brought the victory themselves. After coming down to 10,000 in size, Gideon was told, “There are still too many men.” After an interesting method of sorting the army was devised and put into place, there were 300 men through whom Gideon would defeat the Midianites. We know from a later reference that there had been about 120,000 Midianite fighters during this time (8:11). These were huge odds against Gideon’s army. Undeterred, he divided his men into three companies, each with trumpets and clay pots. Gideon was so confident that God was with him and that his military approach would succeed that he told the men to, “Watch me, follow my lead.” In a short time, the men approached the Midianite camp, blew their trumpets, crashed their jars and began shouting, “For the Lord and for Gideon.” Then “the 300 trumpets sounded, and the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords” (7:22). Two prominent Midianite leaders were captured and decapitated, and the ordeal ends. God gets the credit, yet the story was written in such a way to inspire respect and admiration for Gideon and his fellow soldiers, brave men who were willing to go up against great odds and trust in God.
- Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-21, 7:2-14)—A young man was chosen to succeed his mentor. Eli’s family was deteriorating and disgracing Israel when his pupil Samuel began to hear from the Lord that he would be unfavorable to Eli. Initially confused by the voice that he was hearing, when Samuel finally figured out what was being told to him, he acted with grace and temperance. Upon his succession of Eli, it was said that none of his words would ever fall to the ground during his life. But he was not yet a leader. After two decades of Israel’s paralyzing fear of the Philistines following the tragic loss of the ark, Samuel stood up. In a first-things-first approach, he led Israel to abandon their idols and begin praying for God’s help. Second, he led Israel to fight the Philistines in a victory battle that is reminiscent of Gideon’s victory—“But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.” If not for the fact that Samuel developed a long habit of listening to the Lord, being careful of every word that he spoke and choosing the right spiritual priorities for God’s people, this crucial moment would have played out differently. This story ends with an extension of peace that lasted through Samuel’s rule as the last judge of Israel.
- Elijah (1 Kings 18)—There was a king in Israel who did more to provoke God’s anger than any other up until that time, and his name was Ahab. After marrying the Sidonian temptress Jezebel, he made Asherah poles involving a ritual that paid homage to Baal’s lover, Asherah. This god and goddess were antagonistic to the biblical God, sometimes called El, Elohim or Yahweh. In time, he set up a Baal temple in Samaria, and our story opens up with his wife Jezebel killing off the Lord’s prophets. A servant of Ahab hid 100 of them in two different caves. Elijah asked Obadiah to tell Ahab that he was coming for a showdown. This story proceeds with a contest between the prayers of Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. Intoxicated by his own delusion of 850 to 1 odds of victory, Ahab gets as many people to the event as possible. However, Ahab and his wife suffered a most humiliating and denigrating loss when their appeals to their god (Baal) and goddess (Asherah) were unanswered. They even practiced self-mutilation as their embarrassment peaked. In the end, the great crowd proclaimed, “Yahweh—he is God! Yahweh—he is God!” (vs. 39). One man’s faith went a long way.
- David (1 Samuel 17)—The most prominent story of nerve in the Old Testament involves a young boy who had not been serving in Israel’s army. His older brothers and all the other soldiers had become so overwhelmed by the nine-foot size of the Philistine champion that they couldn’t even think straight. Goliath, a giant, dares King Saul and all of his soldiers, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” When young David came to the camp with food provisions, he observed the standoff as well as the fear of Israel’s leading men, and he began to inquire into the rewards for bringing down Goliath. Eliab, his older brother, began accusing David of conceit. Undeterred, David said, “Let know one lose heart on account of this Philistine. Your servant will go and fight him.” David, as we all know, fought on his terms, with his weapon of choice and without conventional, clunky armor. He brought down Goliath as easily as he did the predators of the sheep that he tended. In some ways, it doesn’t even seem all that amazing that a young, agile and skilled slinger could bring down an over-confident warrior. This story should be carefully dissected for its many lessons, one of those lessons being that it inspires modern Christians to break away from the pack of mediocrity and standing still.
- Jonathan (1 Kings 18:1-4, 19:1-20:42)—The son of an envious and murderous king seeks to protect David, his best friend, from his father Saul. An overview of this era shows that David and Jonathan both proved themselves to be the same kind of warrior. They both demonstrated courage when others were shrinking back. Early on, they sensed a kindred spirit and the two made a covenant. At times, Jonathan had the nerve to argue with his father on behalf of David and undermine his plans to kill the future king. “Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” The eldest son of Saul was in line to be king, but Jonathan acted selflessly. He openly dissented from his father’s selfish ways of running the monarchy, and his actions saved David’s life. This is an amazing story of covering the back of a friend out of noble motivation and spiritual conviction.
- Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:1-30)—The greatest secular king in the world at that time was King Nebuchadnezzar. He learned from Daniel, a Jew, how to interpret a dream he had about a four-colored statue. He learned that his kingdom was greatest until that time, but that it would come to an end. The Babylonian kingdom, referenced among three other kingdoms, was represented by a head of gold, superior to the other elements represented by the statue in the dream—silver, bronze and an iron/clay mix. He apparently resisted this interpretation and had a 90-foot gold statue built, and he expected everyone to come and pay homage to this image at the sound of pipers. Soon thereafter, Jews were being targeted in an inquisition to coerce them into giving accolades to this new statue, thereby affirming its meaning. Three were singled out—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The consequence for disobedience was a fiery furnace. Their response was amazing—“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” They were miraculously saved, but their unwillingness to cave into pressure is an example for all believers for all time. And even the king later vindicated and honored them.
- Daniel (Daniel 6:1-28)—A new king in Babylon exalted Daniel above the governors and 120 new satraps. However, he was unaware of the legacy of David, the preexisting rivalries and the spiritual lessons learned by previous kings of Babylon. The entourage of King Darius encouraged strict and irrevocable death sentences for anyone who prayed during a 30-day period to any god or man other than Darius. Darius unwisely assented to this in writing and came to regret the bind that he and Daniel were in as a result. Technically, Daniel could have completely stopped praying altogether for 30 days to avoid crossing the decree. Nonetheless, without breaking routine, Daniel went to his room and prayed three times a day by the windows that faced Jerusalem. His adversaries were counting on this, and upon seeing Daniel pray, they used it as leverage before King Darius. Now distressed, the king sent Daniel to a den of lions, expecting to lose his most noble government asset. In a surprising twist, the lions did not even open their mouths. Daniel was released, to the joy of the king. His accusers were thrown to the open-mouthed lions and Daniel was declared innocent.
- Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:1-3:27)—Over and over again, this prophet in exile was given some of the hardest things to communicate to some of the hardest-hearted people. He became bitter, angry and overwhelmed by his mission (3:14). Nonetheless, Ezekiel proclaimed some of the most severe and ominous warnings in the Bible. Ezekiel chapters 7 and 23 are examples of gloomy and vulgar descriptions that awaited Israel. Over and over again, Ezekiel was being told what to say and where to say it. This was a rough assignment and required nerve and spirituality. Nonetheless, there is no record of his backing down, taking a Jonah-styled flight or falling away.
- Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:1-32)—Known as “the weeping prophet,” Jeremiah was the most persecuted person of the Old Testament. Fellow Jews cursed him, beat him and imprisoned him (15:10; 20:1ff; 32:2-3; 37:15). Jehoiakim, king of Judah, sought to stop Jeremiah from calling the people of Jerusalem to repent. Additionally, the king ignored warnings that the Babylonian armies were marshaling against them and that the Egyptian defenses were retreating to Egypt. The Lord was using Jeremiah to initiate a standard fasting process for repentance. But Jehoiakim was too interested in comfort and tended to deny reality. After Jehoiakim was eventually extradited to Babylon, his son Zedekiah and his officials placed Jeremiah under house arrest. Then he was put in vaulted cells in a dungeon and eventually in a cistern (Jeremiah 37-38). Throughout Jeremiah’s life, he spoke boldly to various kings of Judah and wrote strong words to Egypt and Babylon. And he maintained the same principles throughout his life, regardless of the circumstances.
- Seraiah the Scribe (Jeremiah 50:1-51:64)—The brother of the equally courageous scribe Baruch, Seraiah was called to publish an open letter to Babylon. Seraiah was a staff officer who was going to deliver this message himself in Babylon— “When you get to Babylon, see that you read all these words aloud. Then say, ‘O Lord, you have said you will destroy this place, so that neither man nor animal will live in it; it will be desolate forever.’ When you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it and throw it into the Euphrates. Then say, ‘So will Babylon sink to rise no more because of the disaster I will bring upon her. And her people will fall’” (Jeremiah 51:61-64). We don’t know the precise details of how this mission was carried out. Seraiah was to carry this long memo from Jeremiah to Babylon. If he was ever searched anywhere along the 450-mile journey between Jerusalem and Babylon, this letter and instructions could have lead to grave consequences.
- John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-19, Mark 6:14-29)—There was a man, roughly six months older than Jesus, who fulfilled the role of a scout or guide for would-be followers of Jesus. There had not been anyone, at least well known, who was trying to do what John set out to do since the time of the Old Testament prophets. John was calling people to repent in anticipation of the Messiah, the coming kingdom and the age to come. Some of the things that were unique to John (besides his clothes and diet) were the specificity that he gave to people in describing repentance and his unwillingness to overlook the hypocrisy of leaders. John offended Herod who admired the prophet (Luke 3:19-20). John’s stance against the king did not itself cause a problem (Mark 6:17-20) because Herod feared John and “liked to listen to him.” But Herodias, the ex-wife of Herod’s brother Philip, nursed a bitter grudge towards John. She tricked Herod during a party with a promise he made to seek the head of John the Baptist. John was the archetype Jew until Jesus came, paving the way for others to respond to the Messiah. John’s nerve and spirituality came at a cost, but it became a blessing to Jesus and his later followers.
- Jesus (John 2:12-25)—The practice of high fees in money-changing and the restriction of controlling the sales of certain animal providers involved corruption. According to ancient tradition, the priestly family of Caiaphas and Annas besmirched Jerusalem, turning the Passover holy days into profitable bazaars. In some ways, it was an ancient form of mafia. Jesus saw these practices right in front of the temple and took no time at all to confront this establishment of greed, cronyism and nepotism. Of course, Jesus did not make friends among the power brokers, the same ones who later had him killed. But Jesus often took these kinds of stands, and his name means something today to billions, whereas the names of the family of high priests members are a derogatory byword to Jews of following generations.
- Nathanael (John 1:43-51)—One Galilean man seemed like the kind of man who spoke what was on his mind even if it wasn’t cordial. It was not as if Nathanael was intentionally being hurtful—but real. Being from Cana (21:2) but frequenting Bethsaida during this scene, Nathanael openly stated his prejudice against the people of Nazareth. His wisecrack probably reflected general attitudes of other Galileans towards the citizens of Nazareth. But Jesus saw a quality in Nathanael in that he wasn’t false because he was an open book. When this Jew heard Jesus describe the exact details of where he was when Philip reached out for him, Nathanael expressed amazement. Amazingly, early on in Jesus’ ministry, well before anyone else, Nathanael was the first person to recognize that Jesus was the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel.” This was an act of courage because it would have sounded blasphemous to conventional Jews.
- Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-53)—As a member of the high council, Joseph had been a secret disciple. However, when the decision came to the Council that Jesus would be tried and executed, Joseph openly dissented. Apparently, he was not obnoxious about it. He went to ask Pontius Pilate for Jesus’ body, and his request was granted. By preparing Jesus’ body for burial, there would never be a chance to re-enter the “upper establishment.” When Joseph identified with the scandalized Christ, he showed that he had left the pack. This story is preserved in all four Gospels. This act of nerve prefigures baptism, identifying with Christ in his death. Joseph had the spirit of a first-responder, being the first male to be affectionately and devotedly associated with Jesus after his death.
- Peter and John (Acts 4:1-22) —A short time before this event took place, two disciples of Jesus saw their friend and Teacher horribly mistreated, unfairly tried and executed. The same authorities who were part of this conspiracy were now going after them. The instability, if not craziness, of the ruling authorities was showing. Simon Peter had been involved with the healing of a beggar and this was being used against both him and John. Peter boldly defends them—“If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” Peter and John continued their defense and said, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” The apostles were aggressive in their defense, unwilling to back down and seemingly eager for any talking-point that would allowed for them to share about Jesus.
- Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:60)—His candle burned brightly but briefly. We don’t know much about this Grecian Jew except that Stephen was selected among six others for an honorable task. After the apostles laid their hands on him, he was performing miracles. Once when he was presenting effective arguments relating to Christ, some of the men who felt humiliated secretly began to stir up the people. They even “produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’” Standing before the Sanhedrin, Stephen, whose “face was like the face of an angel,” proceeded to explain himself using Scripture, beginning with Genesis. He drew pertinent lessons from the stories of the patriarchs, Moses and the trials of the Israelites in the desert, and the first temple period associated with Solomon. His closing points were both true and provocative. This stiff-necked audience offered Stephen up in a scapegoat ritual, placing the shame of their lives onto him with each throw of a stone. One gets the impression that Stephen saw it coming. He was a man with amazing spirituality and nerve.
- Paul (Acts 23:1-22, Chapters 24-26)—The apostle to the Gentiles initially had a poor and defensive response to being abused by the high priest Ananias. This happened in the middle of a mock trial determining Paul’s fate. He owned up to it immediately and then diverted attention to longstanding debates held between the Pharisees and Sadducees. This ruse took the heat off of him and even the Pharisees concluded, if momentarily, that Paul had done nothing wrong. A “dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them.” Paul was given protection, but only for a time because there was a plot afoot to kill him. Whether it was false accusation, death threats or questions about his beliefs, Paul stood firm. He even leveraged Roman law in order that he could stand before Caesar in Rome. At each turn, Paul did everything he could to insure that he could get to Rome on the back of his Roman rights as citizen. It is interesting that Paul eventually was tried in Rome and stood before the emperor, according to early Christian traditions. By that time, it was the cruelest emperor of them all—Nero. It is not as if Paul had not heard of some of the Caesar’s well-established maniacal behaviors. This was an act of spiritual nerve that must have encouraged other saints to openly embrace their faith to the highest authorities.