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Standing on the Ancient Battlefield

WEDNESDAY September 13

Standing on the Ancient Battlefield

Read through Ephesians 6:10–20, noting each time Paul uses some form of the verb stand. Why is this idea so important to him?

We must understand Paul’s military metaphor in the context of the ancient battlefield. What did it mean to “stand” (Eph. 6:11, 13, 14)? Does the verb suggest a defensive-only posture? Battle speeches included in the writings of Thucydides, one of the great classical authors of battle literature, highlight three successive actions that must occur if a side is to be victorious: (1) soldiers must “close with the enemy,” which means they must march to meet their foes; then, (2) they must attack and “stand fast,” or “stand our ground,” fighting hand-tohand with their foes; and finally, (3) they must “beat back the enemy” (see Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War [New York: E. P. Dutton, 1910], 4.10.1–5).

The key moment of an ancient battle occurred with the second of these three actions, when the two opposing phalanxes came crashing together in “a terrible cacophony of smashed bronze, wood, and flesh,” which ancient author Xenophon refers to as that “ ‘awful crash.’ ”—Victor Davis Hanson, The Western Way of War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 152, 153. Standing firm, holding one’s ground at this strategic moment, was the great challenge of ancient battle. In the close combat that would ensue, each side would seek momentum for “the push.”

Paul’s call to arms reflects combat in which soldiers were “bunched together, giving and receiving hundreds of blows at close range.”—Victor Davis Hanson, The Western Way of War, p. 152. This is confirmed by Paul’s depiction of the church’s battle against its foes as a wrestling match (Eph. 6:12; see Thursday’s study) and in his use of an intensive form of the verb “to stand” in verse 13: “that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (NKJV, ESV; emphasis added).

This is no relaxed stance! To “stand,” then, is to be vigorously engaged in battle, employing every weapon in close-order combat, a point obvious from the military imagery in Paul’s earlier exhortation to be found “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27, ESV).

Read Hebrews 12:4. How does this verse help encapsulate what it means to stand in the Lord? What is the corporate nature of this standing, as well?

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