10 - God is our Protection

It would be simple to read the final word in Isaiah 58:8 as re-reward, but to do so would be to miss a fabulous truth.

Isaiah 58:8
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.

Yes, of course, God rewards believers, again and again, and that is a great truth in and of itself, but to limit this verse in such a way really misses the point. Understanding what God is actually saying here helps us to live without fear. As children, our earthly fathers bought us ice creams from time to time, and we always enjoyed them I'm sure, but rewards isn't what this verse is talking about. To begin to understand this, let's look at a few other places this word is used.

Numbers 10:25
And the standard of the camp of the children of Dan set forward, which was the rereward of all the camps throughout their hosts: and over his host was Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.

Here, the usage of rereward is very clear - the children of Dan were the rear-ward, the rearguard, to protect them from attack from enemies who would have been probing their defences for weaknesses. The word is used in a military sense.

Joshua 6:9
And the armed men went before the priests that blew with the trumpets, and the rereward came after the ark, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets.

Joshua 6:13
And seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD went on continually, and blew with the trumpets: and the armed men went before them; but the rereward came after the ark of the LORD, the priests going on, and blowing with the trumpets.

Here is that same truth again. The priests bearing the ark had their backs protected by an armed military rearguard.

Isaiah 52:12
For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward.

Now we begin to get a feel for this word. Going into battle is a serious business. In war, you have to be more committed than your enemy, and strategy and tactics definitely come into play. For example, when Joshua took Ai, after the ambush had set the city on fire, Joshua and the children of Israel had no problem defeating the men of Ai. Once the city fell, the men of Ai had no rearguard to protect their backs, and they were easily defeated.

Joshua 8:21,22
And when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city, and that the smoke of the city ascended, then they turned again, and slew the men of Ai.

And the other issued out of the city against them; so they were in the midst of Israel, some on this side, and some on that side: and they smote them, so that they let none of them remain or escape.

You can see this truth in every field in life - from football teams looking to exploit weaknesses in their opponent's game plan, to businessmen looking for a bigger market share among their competitors - and war is no different. Your enemies will look for weaknesses to exploit. With God watching your back, you're protected.

In athletics, if a sprinter looks over his shoulder before he reaches the finish line to see what the others are doing, he loses forward momentum and it's likely others will pass him. Paul refers to this very truth in Philippians:

Philippians 3:13,14
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

When you sprint for the finish line you don't look over your shoulder, instead you focus your entire being on the finish line. Note that Paul says he does one thing and then lists three things. This isn't a contradiction, as some have suggested, rather, forgetting what's behind, reaching forth to those things which are before and pressing toward the mark is all one action. It's referring to a sprinter expending his last ounce of strength to reach the finish line. What's behind is of no importance to him, he's reaching forward with his entire being, pushing his chest out to reach the tape, expending everything he has to be first to reach that finish line. It's one action of the renewed mind.

Just as in athletic competition, this truth holds true in the spiritual competition. We just don't have time to look back. If we look back at the past, man, we can get beat in no time. We have a formidable opponent, and the devil is good at what he does. Stealing, killing and destroying is the air he breathes. It is what sustains him, nourishes him, it is his reason for being. Job describes him briefly:

Job 41:27-34
He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood.

The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble.

Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.

Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire.

He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment.

He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary.

Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.

He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.

How could we possibly win against such an opponent? Not on our own abilities, that's for sure. No one is going to pick a fight with the devil and beat him. Not even Michael the Archangel would be foolish enough to try something so stupid.

Jude 1:9
Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

Look at the top respect Michael the archangel gave to the devil. We have a formidable adversary and we need to have top respect for him as the god of this world. If we're going to win in the spiritual competition and live a life which is more than abundant, it can only be accomplished by putting our entire trust in God, like Michael the Archangel. What a good example to follow. Although we may not be able to stand against the devil and beat him by our own abilities, God can. And guess who is watching our backs!

Isaiah 58:8
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.

God is our rereward, he watches our backs. With protection like that, that's why we can always win. As we forget the past, reach forth and press toward the mark, God watches our backs. He is our protection. That's why we can move forward without fear.

There is no way we could possibly know what ambushes the devil puts in our way, but God knows and he protects our backs by keeping us informed. As long as we are listening, we are protected, because God keeps us wise. When we are living the word, God protects our backs by passing information to us.

2 Kings 6:8-12
Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp.

And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down.

And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice.

Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel?

And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.

Of course, the king of Israel could have scoffed at the man of God, as many do today. Could God still have protected the king if that were his attitude? What if the king had ignored the warnings, could God have protected him? Nope. Sure, God covers our backs, but only if we're listening. If we're not listening, don't be surprised if we're walking into every ambush going. God watches our backs by giving us information. What we do with that information is entirely up to us. If we ignore it and get beat, don't blame God. Look, walking through a minefield without a mine detector is dangerous. It's much more fun to avoid the mines and live abundantly.

Did God protect Paul in the book of Acts? Absolutely. How did God protect Paul? By waving a magic wand? No, he gave him information. Let's look at this while Paul was on his way to Jerusalem.

Acts 20:22,23
And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:

Save [except] that the Holy Ghost [holy spirit] witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me [await me].

Here's the background. Paul had been moving the word and teaching the Gentiles, which was what he was supposed to be doing. Then he decided to go to Jerusalem. However, God told him not to go to Jerusalem, but to stay with the Gentiles. How did God give Paul this information? Well, he was bound in the spirit for a start. To be bound means to be tied up, trussed up, chained up. Paul was in knots inside. God always tells you first and God told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Paul also received information that imprisonment and worse awaited him at Jerusalem if he went. That information was given through holy spirit which witnessed to him in every city. Everywhere he went, God told Paul through believers walking by the spirit not to go to Jerusalem.

Acts 20:24
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

Was Paul sincere? Yes. Did that make him right? No. When God tells us not to do something, we would do well to listen. God can only be our protection if we act on the information he gives us. In this case, Paul didn't listen and continued with his journey to Jerusalem.

Acts21:1-4
And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara:

And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth.

Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.

And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.

Again, Paul is expressly told by the believers through the spirit by revelation that he should not go to Jerusalem. So what was the will of God? Obviously, not to go to Jerusalem. Who was determined to go to Jerusalem? Paul was. God was trying to stop him, but Paul's mind was made up. God can only protect us if we do what he says.

Acts 21:10-12
And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.

And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews [Judeans] at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.

And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.

As a last resort, God sent a prophet out of Jerusalem to intercept Paul to stop him from going there. Did Paul listen?

Acts 21:13
Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.

No, he didn't, but look at the measures God took to try to keep Paul out of trouble. God is our protection, our rear ward, yes, but only if we act on the intelligence he passes our way. If we ignore God and his word, we have no protection.

Acts 21:14
And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.

Now this is an interesting verse. First of all, what was the will of God? Clearly, it was for Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Yet this verse seems to contradict that. From the context we see that if the will of the Lord was done, Paul would not have gone to Jerusalem. Paul refused to listen and adamantly continued on his way to Jerusalem. In the end the believers threw their arms up in the air in exasperation and said, okay, the will of the Lord be done. That makes no sense at all.

So why does this verse seem to contradict what is so clearly evident? The answer is in punctuation. In the original Aramaic and Greek texts there was no punctuation and this is another key to unlocking the word's interpretation. If a verse seems to contradict the rest of the bible, one thing to check is punctuation. Every single comma, full stop and capital letter in the bible was added by translators. Is it accurate? Not always, and in this case it is clearly very wrong. Take out the comma after the word ceased and read the verse again.

Acts 21:14
And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased saying, The will of the Lord be done.

Now the word makes sense. See how one little comma can turn the bible into nonsense? By the way Paul did go to Jerusalem and he was almost beaten to death by a mob before being thrown in prison and carted off to Rome in chains. We would do well to learn to listen to God. He has our best interests at heart and when we listen to him we remain protected and stay out of trouble.

You often hear people blame God when terrible things happen, like young children being shot and stabbed in schools. Why are you blaming God? If we would listen to God and do what his word says, we would avoid these issues. If we refuse to listen to God, for example by abolishing the death penalty, disarming civilians, making it illegal to carry concealed weapons, and allow the people who do these things to live among us, don't be surprised when these things happen. If you want protection, get your head out of the world and back into God's word. Since armed air marshals were deployed on aircraft, hijacks are a thing of the past. Guns keep us protected. Mass murder with firearms only happens in gun-free zones. If you think the world is telling you the truth about guns, you watch too much television. More on this later.

I learned this truth about God being my protection in a very real way while walking to work one morning. The wind was blowing a gale and I could feel tension in the air. Police lights flashed up ahead. The traffic was backed right up and roads were blocked off. Police were everywhere. As I approached the scene, the police had begun taking down barriers and were reopening the roads. Whatever had happened, it was over.

Curious, I strolled on through the barriers, keeping my eyes open. However, God suggested I go another way. I looked down the road he was suggesting, shrugged and carried on. My curiosity, you see, was more important than listening. God was watching my back, but I wasn't listening. He does his job. The question is, are we listening?

There was sand on the road. Lots of sand. There had been a serious accident, and sand had been shovelled everywhere to soak up petrol and oil. As I approached the scene, the blustery gales whipped up sand from the road straight into my eyes! My eyes were burning and I couldn't see.

What makes this so real for me, is that this happened while I was in the middle of researching this teaching. Talk about bringing the word to life! At that moment, I realised the truth of this whole subject and made a promise to God that I would learn to listen. I washed out my eyes when I got to work and the lesson was learned. No harm had been done and God covered me despite my stupidity. He's good that way, but it's better to learn to listen and avoid the problems. Here is Derby's translation of Isaiah 58:8.

Isaiah 58:8
Then shall thy light break forth as the dawn, and thy health shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of Jehovah shall be thy rearguard.

Rereward is translated rearguard here, and that's exactly what this word means in this context. Our backs are protected. Webster translates it this way.

Isaiah 58:8
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rear-ward.

If we listen to God and his word, he will keep us protected. Much better than ice creams, don't you think? But don't worry, God hands out plenty of ice creams too. It's all part of living without fear, and enjoying life.

Romans 8:31
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

Chapter 11 - Angels