“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
~ Ps. 27:1 (NIV)
In a letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul challenges them to be strong and bold in their daily lives, and then says this:
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (II Cor. 10:3-6)
I’ve always found that a curious verse, specifically the part about strongholds. It kind of sat there in the back of my mind for a while, until I happened to be reading something that talked about the concept of obstacles between us and God as being strongholds or walled cities, like Jericho. Then something clicked.
Strongholds are kind of a foreign concept to those of us in the U.S. because we don’t have any, but the remnants of ancient strongholds are all over the world—and in particular the Middle East and Europe. A stronghold is a strategically-located fortified structure able to resist the assault of enemy forces (Google pictures of Masada or Bamburgh Castle to get a good visual). When gazed on from the outside, they are imposing and will discourage all but the most determined and able forces. They are typically very difficult to overcome, demanding long sieges or subterfuge to breach. But overcoming them is critical to winning the war for a conquering army.
These strongholds or “walled cities” can take a couple forms—the big obstacle you see in front of you that (consciously or subconsciously) you allow to be bigger than God, and the fortresses inside of yourself that are still protecting pieces of your carnal nature from being conquered. Both types of strongholds need torn down. As I got deeper into this study it kept getting longer and more complicated, so I’ve split it into two parts for simplicity’s sake. This article addresses the first—the fortress that stands between you and the Promised Land.
Read the second part in this series here
Stronghold as obstacle – a faith issue
In Numbers 13, Moses commanded the twelve spies to go into the land of Canaan and do some reconnaissance. He told them to come back and report on the quality of the land, its fruit, its inhabitants, and their cities or settlements. The spies went out in pairs and spent 40 days in the land (symbolic of a time of testing or trial), and then reported back to Moses. The land, ten of them said, was everything God and Moses had promised them—lush, prosperous, bountiful, and beautiful. But, they continued, the people were terrifying giants inhabiting mighty strongholds, who the ragtag Israelites could never hope to defeat.
Rather than counteracting the other spies’ testimony, Caleb and Joshua simply said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” The other spies argued, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (Num. 13:30-31). And the children of Israel listened to the ten spies and were distraught and sought to turn back toward Egypt. Caleb and Joshua pleaded with them to reframe their perspective, saying:
“If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us…only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.” (Num. 14:8-9)
The confused and terrified people wanted to stone them for saying such things. Then God showed up and Moses had to intercede to keep Him from destroying the rebellious Israelites then and there. Instead, He punished them and sentenced them to wander the desert for 40 years, with all of the adults dying during the journey and never entering the Promised Land.
The Israelites didn’t trust God to be big enough, to be powerful enough to clear their path. Even though they’d experienced firsthand the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, miraculous manna every day in the desert, and the pillar of cloud and fire leading them, they could only see giants inhabiting the Promised Land and the big, foreboding walls of Jericho blocking their way. And they knew they weren’t strong enough to overcome them, so they tried to turn back to the life they’d had before, even though it was a life of miserable slavery. Before any battle was ever fought on the field, it was fought in the mind, and the stronghold—fear—won.
We say we have faith in God, but how big do we truly believe He is? When an obstacle is placed in front of us—be it a conflict between work and the holy days, financial difficulties, a little white lie that will seemingly make our lives easier—do we try to solve it on our own or cave to the more obvious worldly solution, or do we trust in God’s ability to work things out to His satisfaction? The trouble is that even if we do pray about certain situations or trials, we already have a solution in mind that we’re asking God to bring about. And our human minds can only see certain types and numbers of solutions, while God’s mind is infinite and He sees far more of the situation than we do. So while He might be working out a far better resolution for us in the long-term, all we can see is that He didn’t answer our prayer to our specifications.