It is amazing how some very powerful little stories, simply because they are little, just a verse or two, slip through the net when you are reading the Bible in a year, three or four chapters a day.
One of my favourite characters who just gets the one verse, not really a story at all, is Baruch in Nehemiah 3:20. I just love the enthusiasm he displays in building his bit of the wall around Jerusalem. I am not sure that I would like to be building next to him. I am not sure that I wouldn’t find his enthusiasm just a little bit daunting. It makes me wonder when I am in an enthusiastic phase of life whether I make people feel that way. You don’t get the impression that he slowed things down or toned things down to make the people around him happy.
On Sunday we were introduced to another enthusiastic man. 2 Samuel 23 identifies some of David’s mighty men and v11-12 has a little tale of Shammah.
"Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel's troops fled from them. But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory.”
If someone climbed over my garden fence and pulled up stalks of rhubarb – that’s the only edible thing growing in my garden – would I take a spade and hit the man over the head to protect my rhubarb patch? Probably not! It’s just rhubarb. It’s not people. It’s something that I wash, chop up, stew with a touch of sugar and serve with my porridge for breakfast. It’s not something to fight over…or is it?
My step father had an allotment, a strip of land in a field that he grew vegetables on. There was nothing exotic growing there, and there were no prize winning marrows. It was just vegetables to feed the family and what we couldn’t eat, he gave away. There was a locked gate into the allotment field, but very often someone would take a wrench to the lock and then help themselves to the crops. It had taken time to clear the land of rock and stones, weeds and slugs. It had taken time to dig, and hoe, and plant and water, to debug and protect the baby plants from frost. And then someone breaks the lock, enters the field and steals the harvest.
The Israelites were continually being raided by the Philistines. This was the Promised Land, given to them by God. Everything they planted and nurtured was being stolen by raiders. This time the field wasn’t a big one, the crop wasn’t a precious one…but Shammah had had enough. So he drew a line in the lentils and challenged the Philistines to cross it!
The rest of the Israelite army had fled, but Shammah stayed and fought over a field of lentils. The rest of the Israelites didn’t think the field was worth fighting over, but Shammah did – it was part of the land God had given them and should not be surrendered no matter how small. How big does it have to be before it is big enough to fight for? How small does it have to be before it is surrendered? Every square yard mattered to Shammah and he made his stand.
There were bigger things beyond the lentil field – the vineyards, the fields of grains, family homes, wives and children. Let them take the lentil field and they are much closer to the bigger, more valuable stuff. Stop them at the lentil field and all the rest is secure.
The enemy wants to steal my harvest! He wants to rob me of my fruit! He was to see me spiritually under-nourished. He wants to take the land off me that God has given. He want to get to the bigger stuff, the more valuable stuff.
Fight for the lentils and the rest is secure.