Sunday Sermon: Behind The Patriarchs There Were These Archers

A True Arrow

By Al Gray

Genesis 21:20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. 

Yesterday I spent some time in an archery shop with a friend who has a new-found interest in bows and arrows. On the wall was a banner promoting a local group of Christian archers.  Seeing it prompted me to look into the Bible for accounts of archers, their lives, deeds, and legacies.  One source indicated that “Arrow” or “Arrows” is found 57 times in 53 verses, “bow” 70 times in 66 verses, and “Quiver” 7 times in 7 verses.  Most, of course, are found in the war, wrath, and judgment of the Old Testament.

The story started out to be troubling. The verse above was about Ishmael, disavowed son of Abraham whose life as an archer began with his banishment from Israel with his mother. The Lord promised that Ishmael would be the father of a great nation.  In Genesis 17 it is said that he became the father of 12 princes.  Islamic tradition – Ishmael appears in the Qur’an – holds that Ishmael was a master archer, a prophet, devout man of worship, and patriarch of Islam.

The next encounter was:

Genesis 27:3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me [some] venison

The words were wonderful to a life-long bow hunter, but my troubles grew greater. These verses were those of an aged and weak Isaac imploring his favorite son Esau, a great hunter, to take a deer with his bow, prepare it, and bring it as father’s sought –out meal.  As it turned out, Esau’s commanded hunting trip presented an opportunity for his mother, Rebekah, and twin brother, Jacob, to trick old Isaac into conveying his blessing on Jacob. Earlier, in a bout of hunger Esau had foolishly sold his birthright to Jacob for some pottage. To use a Southern expression not relegated to just we archers, Esau bowed up. He was so angry that Jacob had to leave for exile. Esau ended up with Isaac’s estate and flocks. Years later the twins reconciled and Jacob became the patriarch of Israel.

Then there was the story of Jehoash, King of Israel, with whom the Lord had long been displeased:

14 Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!

 15 Elisha said, “Get a bow and some arrows,” and he did so. 16 “Take the bow in your hands,” he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands.

 17 “Open the east window,” he said, and he opened it. “Shoot!” Elisha said, and he shot. “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!” Elisha declared. “You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.

 18 Then he said, “Take the arrows,” and the king took them. Elisha told him, “Strike the ground.” He struck it three times and stopped. 19 The man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.

In this story, one of redemption for a wayward king, the arrow was a symbol of victory to come over Israel’s enemies. The striking of the arrows on the ground thrice was prophesy of three victories over the army of Aram.

Not enough arrows struck. Now we are getting somewhere. To achieve ultimate victory requires the use of many arrows, generally with plenty of reserves. Hunting buddies of this author can attest that the mistake that Jehoash made has no relevance at all to the author’s life. Challenges are nearly always surmountable if one looks to have plenty of sharp solutions ready for deployment and activation. Sometimes the hidden ones in reserve are even more powerful. Ultimately it is the unknown and imaginary ones that bring the adversary to a reckoning. There are many tales of overwhelming forces of archers and arrows in the Bible. Second Chronicles 17: 17 includes reference to a leader of the tribe of Benjamin named Eliada,” a valiant soldier, with 200,000 men armed with bows and shields.”  It took more than one quiver of arrows in those days, too!

Our final archer is one of this writer’s favorite characters in the Bible, Jonathan, the devoted friend of David, who readily and even eagerly subordinated his own claim to the throne of Israel to his best friend, to the point of repeatedly incurring the wrath of King Saul, his own father.

 16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.” 17And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

 18 Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. 21 Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the LORD lives, you are safe; there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the LORD has sent you away.”

33 …. Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.

 34 Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.

 35 In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, 36 and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” 38Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. 39 (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) 40 Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.

 41 After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.

 42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’”

Jonathan’s arrows that time were not of lethal intent. They were a signal, just as Jehoash’s arrow was a sign. They were symbols of present danger but a brighter future to come.  For our archers, that future was not always on of personal good fortune, as Jonathan was killed in battle with his brothers and his father, Saul, died from arrow wounds. These biblical archers might not have become the dominant figures of their generation, but they contributed mightily to what biblical patriarchs became.

Now is our time. Do you wisely store arrows of thought for times of need? Do you judiciously use them in service of God and mankind? Are you brave enough to enter the battles to come as America faces multiple perils? Could you steel yourselves to a supporting role behind a greater good, just cause, patriotic duty, or even some revolutionary leader? Doing these things are the stories of our religious past, our national legacy, and perhaps the key to our survival as a people.

Jonathan was a hero of Israel in his own right, having bravely faced down the Philistine army before David ever confronted Goliath. Yesterday, the archery specialist at that outdoors store, showed how a true arrow has no wobble and is incredibly straight. A true arrow flies straight to the target. Jonathan wasn’t just a true arrow, he was a perfect arrow. We should all strive to be that way.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them ” – William Shakespeare
Don’t bow up like Esau, be a true friend, a straight arrow like Jonathan.***

By Brother Al Gray, High Reverend of The Church of What’s Happening Now

Last Sunday’s Sermon:
Zacchaeus Sought a Vantage Point, Not an Advantage Point

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