Like ancient Israel, today's churches need more 'blacksmiths'


Ronnie Woolard


By Ronnie Woolard

Saturday, October 20, 2018

“Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel …” (I Samuel 13:19)

The famous poem by Longfellow entitled “The Village Blacksmith” reads in part:

“Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands; The smith, a mighty man is he, with large and sinewy hands; and the muscles of his brawny arms are strong as iron bands.”

When that poem was written, the blacksmith profession was a centerpiece of life in every American town. Modern advances have turned this trade into one more relic of a bygone age. But in the past, transportation depended upon the blacksmith’s custom-made horseshoes, farmers depended upon his carefully designed plows, lumberjacks depended upon his axes and saws, and builders depended upon a variety of his hand tools.

The blacksmith worked behind the scenes, pounding away on his anvil, sweating from the heat of the forge and the strain of the labor. But his diligent, careful work behind the scenes provided services which enabled others to do their work more efficiently.

The same was true in ancient Israel. In fact, the blacksmith’s role was even more important because he provided not only essential tools but also the weapons of war — swords and spears.

These facts should help us understand a crisis situation which arose in ancient Israel. Yet again the land of Israel was invaded by their arch-enemies the Philistines (I Samuel 13:5-7). The situation was so desperate that King Saul made one of the worst mistakes of his reign because rampant desertions had decimated his army (I Samuel 13:8-14). What made this situation so terrifying that most of Saul’s soldiers deserted?

“Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel....” (I Samuel 13:19).

One of the secrets of the Philistine stranglehold over Israel was the elimination of the blacksmith trade. Although the Bible does not tell us the details, we can assume that all the Israelite blacksmiths were either killed, captured, or forced to stop practicing their trade.

The worst consequence of this restriction was the impact on the military. On the day of battle, there were only two swords in the entire Israelite army (I Sam. 13:22). They must have been armed with only shepherd’s staffs, clubs, maybe some bows and arrows. No wonder they were terrified. By human standards they didn’t stand a chance against the well-armed Philistines.

This situation existed because there were no blacksmiths in Israel. They were the unheralded servants who worked behind the scenes in hot, sweaty, dirty, tiring jobs. Yet without their services, the army of God was poorly equipped for battle.

There is a devotional truth here with direct application to the church. The “army of God” still needs blacksmiths today.

Those who serve on the front lines of the church’s army constantly depend upon the supportive ministry of those who serve behind the scenes. In every congregation there are countless difficult and sometimes thankless jobs which must be done. These jobs aren’t as noticeable as preaching a sermon, singing a solo, playing in the praise band, or teaching a Sunday school class.

But if those jobs aren’t done, the impact is dramatic. You know the type of jobs: cleaning the church building, mowing the yard, picking up trash, weeding the flower beds, painting walls, waxing floors, setting up tables and chairs, taking them back down later, preparing communion trays, decorating areas for special occasions, keeping classrooms stocked with supplies, staffing the nursery, etc.

In addition, there are behind-the-scenes jobs done out in the community: visiting the elderly or the sick; taking food to families in need or during times of grief; providing transportation to the doctor; performing household jobs (plumbing, carpentry, electrical, or yardwork) for free; donating to those who have suffered from a fire or flood. The list of such behind-the-scenes ministries is long and multi-faceted.

Years ago “The Lookout” magazine ran an article entitled “The Silent Saints.” The author told about numerous godly men and women he had known who had spent their lives in such “behind-the-scenes” ministries. He closed the article with “Did I read somewhere about the first being last and the last being first? I suspect the Father will be at Heaven’s door, waiting to hug every one of them. I hope He’ll let me pass out the corsages!”

Ronnie Woolard is a professor of Bible at Mid-Atlantic Christian University. The opinions expressed in this column belong to the author and may not be those of MACU.