Genesis 49:19 “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.”
Gad was a true fighter and of the sons of Jacob this is the legacy he has left us. He was one of the forerunners of the church militant which fights for the faith down through the years. The inspired epistles which Paul struck forth in conflict with the opponents in his own day remain in the New Testament. They are a personal source of energy and purpose for the people of God. Augustine on the basis of the epistles, set forth Paul’s teaching of sin and grace; and then, after centuries of compromise with the natural man, the Reformation rediscovered the great liberating Pauline doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. In the last century, Westminster Seminary, and Dr. Van Til, and the InterVarsity Fellowship, and Dr. Lloyd-Jones and the Banner of Truth and the Evangelical Movement of Wales have in different places called the Western world back to historic Christianity.
The human instruments whom God uses in these triumphs of faith are no pacifists, but great fighters like Gad. The whole tribe of the compromisers, ancient and modern, has no affinity with apostolic Christianity. The real friends of Gad are the heroes of the faith, fighters one and all. Tertullian fought a mighty battle against Marcion; Athanasius fought against the Arians; Augustine fought against Pelagius; and as for Luther, he fought a brave battle against kings and princes and popes for the faith of the Bible and the liberty of the people of God. Luther was a great fighter; and we love him for it. So were the Puritans, thousands of them ejected from the Church of England because they would not surrender. We are celebrating a notable anniversary of the Great Ejection of 1662 next year and my son-n-law, Gary Brady, is even during these weeks writing a book to commemorate it. Whitefield was a fighter, and Chalmers, and Spurgeon, and W.J. Grier, and John Murray and all the rest. It’s impossible to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ and not fight.
God grant that you may be fighters, too! Probably you have your battles even now; you have to contend against sins gross or sins refined; you have to contend against the sin of lethargy and inertia; many of you have, I know very well, a mighty battle on your hands against doubt and despair. Don’t think it strange if you fall into various temptations. The Christian life is a warfare after all. John Bunyan rightly set it forth under the allegory of a Holy War; and when he pictured it in his greater book, under the figure of a pilgrimage, he portrayed it as full of battles. The Christian faces a mighty conflict in this world. Pray God that in that conflict you may be good soldiers of Jesus Christ, not willing to give ground to your great enemy, not easily cast down, and seeking ever the renewing of your strength in the Word of God and the ordinances and in prayers.
“Oh yes, let us propagate Christianity,” the adversary says, “but let’s not always be engaged in arguing in defence of it; let us make our preaching positive, and not negative; let us avoid controversy; let us hold to a Person and not to dogma; let us sink small doctrinal differences and seek the unity of the church of Christ; let us drop doctrinal accretions, and interpret Christ for ourselves; let’s look for our knowledge of Christ in our hearts rather than a book and a confession of faith; let us not impose rationalism on this Western mindset in which we live. Western man lives in terms of sound bites and ten minute concentration spells. So let us use pictures and drama and singing to communicate with him. He cannot understand a letter like Romans!” Such are some of the shibboleths of agnostic Modernism which is the deadliest enemy of the Christian religion today. The modernist doesn’t want us to pick up the sword of the Spirit and fight! What does Gad the warrior have to teach us?
- THE CONCEPTION OF GAD.
You will see from the passage before us in Genesis 49 that the next three brothers, Gad, Asher and Naphtali are given by Jacob steadily shrinking prophecies. The briefest of all, Naphtali’s, contains a mere ten words. There is not a lot in the Old Testament concerning the history of these three men and their tribes, and yet a light shines from what is recorded about them in various parts of Scripture which comments on and encourages us in the Christian life that we must live.
Gad was the son of Jacob, but he was not born to either of his wives; he was illegitimate, a son of a slave girl of his wife Leah. He had none of the advantages of Joseph or Benjamin, coming from a marriage of people who loved one another deeply and who longed for children and were thrilled when God gave them babies. Gad was well aware of the unfortunate circumstances of his conception, and why his father was rarely around, and so from the very beginning he had to fight his way in the world. Leah, his mother’s mistress, was now older and was no longer sleeping with her husband Jacob and so, with advancing years, she had no hope of bearing him more children, but Leah determined to do what her sister Rachel had done, and she gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob, and then Leah could receive Zilpah’s children as her own. Zilpah was not consulted. She did what she was told. Only in the number of sons Leah raised for her husband Jacob was Leah ever going to surpass Rachel. That was the motive for the birth of Gad. It was an unworthy motive. Gad was a bribe. But Jacob took Zilpah into his bed and in time she gave birth to Gad, and that was the means of Gad being included in Israel, becoming as much the leader of one of the tribes of Israel as any of the other sons of Jacob. When we look at the list of the names of the leaders of the tribes – those who are sealed in Revelation 7 – there Gad is, third in line, after Judah and Reuben.
It was by ungodliness that Gad had been born, through the envy and frustration of his mother and the weakness of his father. There was a deceit there, never acknowledged and confessed by any of the parties concerned. The begetting of this boy in this way was used by his mother that her own purposes could be fulfilled. She thought that by giving her husband so many sons that perhaps he would look more favourably on her. She hoped that this would be the case, and so Leah chose the name for this child, calling him ‘Gad’ meaning ‘success.’ “What good fortune,” she said (Genesis 30:11). In other words, “the maid Zilpah has given birth to a healthy boy. I am very fortunate again; fortune is smiling on me. I’ve gained another son. I may yet have success in this competition with my sister. We are competing for love from our husband Jacob.” That is the way she looked at Gad, that he would be a device that would fulfil her forlorn desire to gain Jacob’s affection.
When Leah cried, “What good fortune!” and she named the child ‘Gad’ she was not being the mouthpiece of God. She was not a channel by which the word of God came to the family and to us. What Jacob was speaking in our text in this
prophecy years later about his son Gad, then these words before us in verse 19 were from God. I am emphasizing this, maybe over-emphasizing it, because many in the professing church claim to speak directly from God, even to speak infallibly from him. You have no obligation whatsoever to receive those words. Imagine a person claiming to have a prophecy from God and she says something like this, “A tree is going to flourish in Cardiganshire and bear fruit, but a man with an axe is even now walking toward it to cut it down,” and then she gives an interpretation of that picture. That interpretation only has any authority for her, and not for anyone else at all. I’m not denying that she had that dream, but I deny the authority of her own interpretation of it over her friends or over her family or her church or even herself. It ahs no authority at all. It is not a sin to shrug at it. As Martin Luther stood on trial before the Roman church at the Diet at Worms he heard the arguments that were brought up urging him to recant what he was teaching and accept the dogmas of the Roman church and this was his reply; “I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the councils, because it is clear as the day that they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the word of God, I cannot and I will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me. Amen.” His conscience was bound to the Bible.
A woman may claim to be delivering a prophecy coming hot from the throne of the universe, but that claim binds no one else to believe her. It is not a sin to hear what she says and reject it as a prophecy. Even words of Scripture themselves, quoted and interpreted falsely, have no authority over the Christian. We know how Satan could quote Scripture to Jesus Christ. Our Lord did not accept those words. There were words of the friends of Job that are found in Scripture that in other circumstances might have been true, but spoken to suffering Job were neither true nor helpful. Job argued against them. That patriarch wasn’t suffering because he’d done something very wicked and he knew that was the case.
So Leah held baby Gad in her arms and she said, “The birth of this child Gad means good fortune for me and good fortune for him.” She felt that hope had been restored again by the birth of another boy. Things were going to get better between her and her husband. She was whistling in the dark. She was wrong. They never got better. If two sisters marry one man and he loves one more than the other then nothing can mean good fortune for any of them, especially the rejected sister. But decades later, when Gad was a middle-aged man, and it was not his father’s wife speaking but his father Jacob himself, then on that occasion Gad was going to hear the true word of God (as well as all his brothers standing around). They would hear what was Gad’s true destiny, and Gad would hear theirs. Father Jacob gave them all the definitive picture of their futures and Gad’s future because Jacob was speaking in the spirit of prophecy. The words of God were laid on his lips as Jacob told them all, “Gad will be attacked, but he will attack in return.” Attacks and counter-attacks from beginning to end would characterize Gad. His history was not going to be one of fair sunshine. Leah was wrong. Gad had good fighting not good fortune. Jacob sets the record straight.
Jacob prophesies, “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels” (v.19). It has the ring of true prophecy about it, doesn’t it? “Blessed are you when people . . . persecute you because of me” (Matt.5:11). The time will come when they will throw you out of synagogues and you will be put on trial for my sake. These are all foretastes of the apostolic warnings of the future: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of heaven . . . Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” It is not, “Revival is going to come soon and there are going to be great blessings on this congregation” – that has been the constant theme of what are called ‘prophecies’ given in churches over the past fifty years. Words that truly come from the Spirit of God are tough words and are given to tough us up. Of course God continues to bless every gospel congregation and every Christian above and beyond all our deserving. We are all blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ but we have to stand in the complete armour of God.
So when it is Jacob’s turn to bless his son Gad then he tells him, “It’s going to be a fight for you from the word go.” You find that with some Christians, that this is a portrait of their lives, that their providence is to experience one battle after another. Others Christians are so different. They have the most peaceful of pilgrimages, but for Gad, as later for John Calvin and Martin Luther it was battles in youth and middle-age and old age, and it never ended. It was like that also with J. Gresham Machen. He was under attack from the world and also the professing church, from modernists and from fundamentalists. So warfare was going to be the ethos of Gad’s life, hard pressed on every side. Enemies were going to attack him; the watchmen would be sounding the alarm and Gad would be running into the towns for safety and the gates would be closed. His life was going to be one of skirmishes, battles and total warfare. On top of that God would allocate to Gad a territory particularly vulnerable to aggression. Gad would have to stand and deliver for his own survival, but at the same time, he would rise and fight back chasing his enemies, swinging his sword at their heels. There would be no surrender and no compromise. He would be on the offensive as well as on the defensive all his life.
Let me explain about the portion of the land that was allocated to Gad. His farms and villages, his olive groves and vineyards, his pastures for his sheep and cattle were all on the east side of the Jordan River. That was the fair land of Gilead – a most fertile place – “There is a balm in Gilead;” there was bound to be some ointment there because it was a place of herbs and spices, of honey, flowers and fruit and the song of the turtle dove. That fertility was allied to the important fact that it was border territory; the Golan Heights were down to the south. Still today that geography of Israel and the Jordan valley can make the headlines.
The east side of the river – Gad’s land – was good farming land, for grazing and for cultivation. Gad was a big tribe; his numbers were enormous. He had mighty herds of cattle and sheep, so the Bible says, and for the nations to the east, looking hungrily at Israel Gad was the first land they saw, the buffer state lying between the Ammonites and the heart of Israel, there north of Jerusalem. Many of the invaders must cut their way through Gad first. It was a very challenging place to live. Every man learned how to use the sword, and the boys quickly became skilled with the slingshot because the Middle East is ever full of strife and military expansion. Gad was always the first to be invaded, and it was attacked again and again. The peo
ple of Gad thought in terms of invasions, and battles fought and victories won, and plunder, and the grief of fathers who were killed defending their land, and bodies brought home from these conflicts to be buried. That was their mentality. Each generation of the tribe of Gad had had to fight to live. They knew times of national danger and they were on the front line. “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.” You see the picture of Gad routing the invaders, chasing them away like a pack of corgis snapping at the feet of cattle.
- THE CONTINUING LIFE OF GAD.
The Israelites entered the land of Israel from the east. They had left Egypt, had gone through the wilderness and then circled round in an anti-clockwise movement and they came to the Jordan river and crossed it and headed west for the Mediterranean into the heart land of Israel. That is, nine and a half tribes went over the Jordan but the other two and a half tribes were asked by Moses to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan. You didn’t need to plead with Gad to stay over there. They were ready. Gad was the ‘Pontypool front row’ of the tribes of Israel, or you could call it the Grenadier Guards. They’d be your first choice in the toughest conflict. You’d always want them. Without them you’d feel vulnerable; with them you felt victory was within your grasp. They were at the forefront of every battle. If any tribe was ready to drive out the Lord’s enemies and settle the land it would be Gad. There wasn’t an atom of cowardice in their souls. They were always in the heart of the battle, where the strife was the thickest they would be there. They would gain, as it were, far more Victoria Crosses than all the other tribes of Israel put together. So let us see their history . . .
i] At the beginning of the conquest under the strategy of Moses. When he exhorts all Israel and lays out before them the conquest of the land (as it is recorded in Deuteronomy 33) he speaks of the tribe of Gad in the most respectful and glowing terms. We read, “About Gad he said: ‘Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain! Gad lives there like a lion, tearing at arm or head. He chose the best land for himself; the leader’s portion was kept for him. When the heads of the people assembled, he carried out the LORD’s righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel’” (Deut. 33:20&21). Moses acclaims these lion-hearted men. How many were there? We are told in the opening chapter of Numbers “All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Gad was 45,650” (Nums. 1:24&25). So that was the regiment of Gad.
ii] At the final triumph over the Canaanites under Joshua. We are told of the total victory God gave the people. How does God keep his promises? To the very letter. This is what we are told “So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled” (Josh.21:43-45).
What then does Joshua do? He demobilizes the warriors from Gad and he sends them home. He declares some great commissioning words. The war is over and home they go with the praises of their leader sounding in their ears; “Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, ‘You have done all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. For a long time now – to this very day – you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the LORD your God gave you. Now that the LORD your God has given your brothers rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.’ Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes” (Josh. 22:1-6).
So they marched home together and when they came to the river Jordan they stopped and a most interesting episode took place. We are told that they “built an imposing altar there by the Jordan” (Josh. 22:10). When the news of this action traveled west and reached the ears of the other tribes there was alarm, and a delegation was sent immediately to protest – how could Gad do such a thing as this? They said, “How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the LORD and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? . . . And are you now turning away from the LORD? If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel” (Josh. 22:16& 18). Then came the magnificent reply of Gad. It shows you that these were not simply country yokels who could fight but not think, lacking any theological brains or ethical sensitivity. This is how they replied: this was the authentic voice of Gad; “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, do not spare us this day. If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the LORD himself call us to account. No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you – you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD. That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar’ – but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices. On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the LORD.’ And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the LORD’s altar, which our fathers built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you. Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle” (Josh 22:22-29). What mighty men they were, mighty in their grasp of the glory of God and the importance of doing his will. There was one altar of sacrifice alone, and that was in the o
iii] At the time of the Judges under Jephthah. Here was a man who had every disadvantage of home and upbringing. He was illegitimate, like Gad. You could say that his whole environment destined him for failure, that he would end up on the streets as a beggar. His mother was a prostitute that his father had gone to, and when the baby boy was born the father had pity on his son, had taken him in and raised him in his home. He could have been a statistic, but what is important about him is that he was a Gadite from Gilead and so he was a fighting man. He wasn’t prepared to lie down and become a victim. We are told about him in the eleventh chapter of the book of Judges. It begins with Jephthah; his name is the first word in Judges chapter 11. He is in your face from its outset. “Look at this man,” the Holy Spirit is saying. “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. ‘You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,’ they said, ‘because you are the son of another woman.’ So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him” (Judg. 11:1-3). What a thrilling start to his story. It goes on and tells us how the Ammorites invaded Gad and the elders were helpless in finding a leader and so off they travelled to the land of Tob and said to him, “You are the only one who can help us. Come . . . be our commander, so we can fight with the Ammorites” (Jud. 11:6). There was no question of surrender or a truce. The only issue was finding the right leader whom they could fight under, and he was Jephthah; they were sure. Out from the wilderness he came like Churchill in 1939. They promised him that he would become their head, but he queried their sincerity, “after the way you have treated me?” They assured him that he would be the judge in the land. So Jephthah got things humming! He sent a message to the king of the Ammonites asking him what did he think he was doing in invading their land. The king told them, “You once took our land. Now give it back peacefully.” There is an astonishing reply to the king from Jephthah. That reply again shows us that the men of Gad were not simply fighters but they were men who knew their Scriptures. Jephthah formulated a reply, a letter which he gave to his messengers to deliver to the Ammonite king. It is a storming letter full of names, and history and theology and an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty. It begins in verse fourteen of this chapter and goes on and on to verse 27. When the king of the Ammonites chose to ignore it then we are told that the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he attacked the Ammonites, invading them and devastating twenty towns. Jephthah subdued Ammon. The Bible and the sword:- that is what this theocratic tribe of Gad took to defend themselves against their enemies. They were manly and God-fearing warriors. Just as Jacob prophesied; “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.”
iv] At the war to make David king after Saul. A group of men from Gad came and fought for David. We are given a very lively description of these eleven soldiers; “They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains. Ezer was the chief, Obadiah the second in command, Eliab the third, Mishmannah the fourth, Jeremiah the fifth, Attai the sixth, Eliel the seventh, Johanan the eighth, Elzabad the ninth, Jeremiah the tenth and Macbannai the eleventh. These Gadites were army commanders; the least was a match for a hundred, and the greatest for a thousand. It was they who crossed the Jordan in the first month when it was overflowing all its banks, and they put to flight everyone living in the valleys, to the east and to the west” (I Chrons. 12:8-15). What men to have on your side in a battle. They were ready to give their lives for David, to endure hand to hand combat and strive for the kingdom of God.
The men of Gad did not fight for survival; that takes you nowhere. I hope that none of you are thinking in terms of, “we hope we can survive as a gospel church here . . .” The men of Gad fought for conquest and triumph, and so it is with our fight. We are here to take the fight to the gates of hell, to watch them tremble as they see us drawing near, as fierce a sight in their eyes as an army with banners fluttering before the conflict. Greater is he that is in us than the legions that are consigned to the pit. We need to be far more aggressive. If you get a ‘no’ from one person and it’s really a ‘no’ then go on to another person, and then another, until you get a ‘yes.’ The follower of Gad keeps asking. He makes a pest of himself. It doesn’t bother him. He has a divine agenda and a routine to follow: ask until you get ‘O.K. I will come with you to church.’ Focus on biblical priorities, on what you really want because this is what God wants. Then pursue the ‘yes.’
- THE CONFLICT IN GAD, SON OF JACOB AND SON OF GOD.
Gad was a brave man and a warrior, and Gad was also a holy blessed man, but the Lord Jesus has told us blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God. So in Gad we find these paradoxes, but, remember, we meet these paradoxes in Christ himself. When he came into the world he said, “Think not that I am come to bring peace. I have come to bring the sword.” And the world is never the same again, and our own lives are totally overturned, and a woman argues with her husband about the gospel, and parents are worried about their children’s zeal, Christ has caused conflict, and yet at the same time he says, “Learn of me for I am meek, and I am the Prince of Peace.” One man looks at Christ and he says, “What a militant figure!” and he is right, and another looks and he says, “What a figure of meekness. He turns the other cheek; he loves his enemies” and he too is right. Those qualities seem mutually exclusive, but they are there in the same man. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is always both. It is the Lion of the tribe of Judah who hangs as the Lamb on the cross and cries out, “It is finished.” That is the model for the church. That is the solution of the paradox. He is both and so must we. We overcome through suffering. When the church becomes militant without meekness, without being the lamb then we are no longer the church. When she becomes meek, a dispenser of love, and loses the characteristics of a lion, then she is no longer the church. If it is all meekness then it is the doormat of the world, and the world will use us to promote its own agenda. But if it is preeminently militancy, with the stake and the rack and the hanging, drawing and quartering then the church has lost sight of itself. It is no longer the body of Christ.
You read the life of the apostle Paul and you find that at times he speaks sharply. He addresses the Galatian Judaizers who
insist that every Christian man be circumcised and he is angry. He says, “I wish they would get their knives out and do a good job of it!” He berates the apostle Peter to his face for compromising gospel unity. Yet he is so meek that the Corinthians stumble at him. He is one who glories in affliction and suffering. He is the very model of gentleness, and yet he is the most militant figure in New Testament times.
That is the very place we have to stand. We preach not ourselves; we minister to the needy; our message is of the primacy of love and yet we are to contend earnestly, fervently and valiantly for the faith. And the church is never stronger than when she is both of these. The church was stronger meeting secretly in the catacombs of Rome, than when Constantine made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Paul says, “When I am weak then am I strong.” He who loses his life shall find it. He who dies lives!
So the militant are not the church, and the meek are not the church. Both together are the church, and both love one another and pray for one another. Gad did not fight for survival; Gad fought for the faith of Jehovah, the worship and obedience of serving him and not idols. Gad contended for the faith once given to the saints. God save us from neutrality, affecting an appearance of generous acceptance of everyone’s opinion. How cruel to the little ones who are looking to the church for some clear message from God! God save us from being so heartless, and so unloving, and so cold. God grant that in all humility, and in all boldness, and in all reliance upon our Lord we fight the good fight of faith, like Gad.
6th November 2011 GEOFF THOMAS.