Ben-Hadad: Boastful Beginnings and Bitter Endings
1 Kings 20:11
And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girds on his harness boast himself as he that puts it off.

I. A GOOD START DOES NOT GUARANTEE A RIGHT ENDING. The good start is not to be despised, but it is not everything. There are many who, out of defeat, have carved victory. Those very men might have been ruined by premature success, or might have fostered an overweening confidence which would have been disastrous. Those who are conquered by first repulses are weak, but those who gird on their harness again and again, who clutch the sword all the more grimly as they are crowded upon by numbers, are among the noblest of earth's sons. Without boasting they dare to go down to the battle to brave death; yea, and to drive it into the enemy's ranks. When returned they ungird themselves, they rest and recount their dangers with humility. Ben-hadad found that to boast and begin was not everything. Yet we find many to-day who think that if they can only make a stars in anything they will be sure to succeed. They boast of what they will do and can do. Again, a man thinks that if he can only get a start in business he is sure to make it pay. Hence, he may borrow money at a high rate of interest, may incur heavy responsibilities by the purchase of goods, in fitting up of premises, in advertising, in engaging assistance, and he feels sure that customers will patronise him. We see the same thing illustrated in the spiritual sphere as well as the commercial. What sort of armour are you buckling on? What principles are you taking with you? Are you going in your own strength into the battle of life? Such questions we might ask. You have girded on the harness. You intend to make the best of life. You have no desire to find yourself crushed and defeated. You say you will not be beaten, that however others may have missed their mark, you mean to gain a real success. Well, and what shall be the character of the success. Shall it be transient or permanent; worldly or spiritual? Will you simply live for self and the present, or for truth, righteousness, Christ and eternity?

II. IN EVERY UNDERTAKING THERE ARE UNANTICIPATED DIFFICULTIES OFTEN MILITATING AGAINST SUCCESS. In striving for a livelihood there are difficulties. Others crowd us out. Fortune is no kind mistress tumbling always her gifts unearned into the lap of the indolent and thoughtless. Competency is not generally gained without assiduity and care. Honour comes not naturally to the unprincipled, nor do laurels usually deck the brows of the lazy. Eminence is not reached by the emasculate. A general wins not the battle, saves not his country, without some risk and difficulty. Long voyages, toilsome marches over dreary desert, or rocky mountains, harassing dangers, shortness of provisions, the attacks of disease, the desertion of the trusted, the changing of plans, sharp conflicts and heavy losses, lie in his path and must be taken into account.

III. OUR GREATEST DIFFICULTY IN THE BATTLE OF LIFE MAY COME FROM SOME LITTLE TILING WHICH IS ACCOUNTED AS UNWORTHY OF NOTICE. Some trifling bit of steel is loose, or buckle unfastened. It is said that the Germans beat the French in their last campaign because the soldiers were better shod. The heavy boots of the Germans protected the men, enabling them to bear the cold and wet better and to march longer. This was not all, but it was one of the things that had not been calculated upon by their opponents. So our defeat in life and failure in spiritual steadfastness may come from some apparently trifling cause, something we even affect to despise. The temptations that beset us may be apparently trifling, but they may nevertheless cause our ruin.

IV. THE GREATEST DANGERS IN THE BATTLE OF LIFE ARE OFTEN THE SUBTLEST AND MOST CUNNINGLY CONCEALED. Young Christians are sometimes deceived because at this day it seems much easier to be a Christian than it was formerly. True, no dungeon yawns now for the persecuted; no Smithfield smokes now for the saintly; no cold act of uniformity drives to foreign inhospitable climes, or Armada invades our liberties. Other means are taken to check vital Christianity. It is sometimes strangled by proprieties and slain by prosperity. Christians are not now so anxious as formerly to keep far off from the practices of the world. In many things they act very questionably. Like children, who seem to delight in walking along the side of a precipice and seeing who can go nearest the dangerous edge without slipping over, so many Christians walk as near to the customs of the world as they can without, as they think, endangering their salvation. This practice spreads. Its effect is most prejudicial. When the late American war was ragtag, I was told, by one who had had to endure the horrors of a frightful military prison, that canisters filled with fragments of clothing taken from the bodies of those who had died of yellow-fever or of small-pox were shot into the camp, in the hope that some fragment might spread infection to the enemies' ranks. Whether there be any truth in the report or not, at any rate it illustrates the fact that there are many subtle temptations that are thrown into our souls that enervate and hinder our final triumph vouch more surely than those that are open. Hence our need to remember that it is not the guiding and starting but the ending and "putting off" that is of the highest importance.

V. The warning given to Ben-hadad is as applicable to THOSE WHO HAVE LIVED CONSISTENTLY FOR YEARS as to the young men just starting. If we have fought through a long day unwounded, we must not be elated. The arrow might lay us low even as the battle is just closing. Many a soldier has perished by strong shots fired after the bugle of the enemy has sounded a retreat. So it might be with some who seem strongest in Christian faith.

VI. THE SPIRIT OF BOASTFULNESS IS DANGEROUSLY LIABLE TO GROW UPON THOSE WHO INDULGE IT. Ben-hadad's first invasion had but a poor ending, spite of his boasting. He who had been flushed with past successes, who with his generals and men were given up to revelry and drunkenness, had to flee. While all are carousing in their tents, Israelitish hosts are dashing into the battle and dealing deadly blows on the helmets of their adversaries. Even with this check to his boasting, Ben-hadad learned nothing. On the contrary, he only needed revenge and repeated the following year his invasion. Again he was repulsed. Again he had to flee. Look to the ending then. Pleasures, business, life must end. We must all put off the harness of this mortal life. Oh that we may put on immortality! Believe in Him, trust in His sacrifices, trust in His love, His help, and His presence. Begin life with Him and end it with Him. Charge any sin or temptation that besets you with the same earnestness that the Scots Greys showed when they dashed against the columns of Napoleon the First, making him exclaim, "How terrible are these Greys!" Let there be no hesitancy in our blow when we strike at any sin in ourselves or the world. Then, when as good soldiers we reach the city of our God, we shall have a welcome that will make us forget every weary march, every painful wound, and every bitter sorrow.

(Fredk. Hastings.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.

WEB: The king of Israel answered, "Tell him, 'Don't let him who puts on his armor brag like he who takes it off.'"

Veiled Mercies
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