In July of 1977, I went with my home church on a mission trip. We went to the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, Montana. I was fresh out of high school and anticipating a good week teaching Native American children about Jesus Christ. It was a hot week and a great deal of effort went into it.
On Friday we finished the week by going to the small village of Birney, Montana on the Tongue River. We went down there and taught some of the really poorer children on the reservation. At the end of the time together, we decided we’d go down to the river and go swimming. It was a hot day so we all went down — the kids and us. We went into the river. It was about waist deep. We were swimming and playing there together.
I said to my friend Donnie, “Why don’t we float down the river a bit.” I was a bit of a water rat as a kid. He said, “No, I don’t think so. Let’s don’t.” After a few minutes, He said, “Yeah, let’s go!” And so, we started floating down. We were having a blast. I was out a little bit in front of him and all of a sudden I heard him scream my name. And I turned around and I saw him sucked under the water. It was the kind of day that an 18 year old would never expect — would never see coming. It was the kind of day that placed on me demands that were beyond any strength I could have. It raised questions about what I could handle.
The text says this: “About Asher he said, ‘Most blessed of sons is Asher. Let him be favored by his brothers. And let him bathe his feet in oil. The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze and your strength will equal your days.'” Sometimes I think the reason days like that shake us so hard is because we really haven’t heard the Bible message.
I was preparing this message yesterday and a man pulled into the driveway. His name is Jim Hunter. He knocked on the door. He’s not a member of my church but we visit together sometimes. He’s just recovering from a surgery on an aneurism that very nearly took his life. We were sharing together. Most of his present problems might be a result of grief. In the last couple of years, he lost a teenage daughter to a tragic shooting accident. He told me something he had never told me before. He said, “The church lied to me. The church gave me the understanding that if I gave Jesus my heart and if I was faithful, if I did whatever He wanted me to do, then bad things wouldn’t happen to me. Everything would be okay.”
I had the understanding that being faithful, leaving home to go tell Indian children about Jesus — bad things would never happen! And yet, the text doesn’t say that. It doesn’t comment on the kind of days we have; rather, it tells us about the strength to meet the challenge of such days. Do you remember how Jesus closed the sermon on the mount? Do you remember the story? You sang it when you were a little child. Jesus closed by telling about two men: two men who built two homes on two very different foundations. The one man built the house on the rock and the other the house on the sand. Then the storms came and one house fell.
Sometimes we run so quickly to the truth about the foundation, the solidness of living on God’s word, that we neglect the truth along the way. You see, the storm came to both houses. The fact that one house was built on the rock gave it no storm exemption. Perhaps the first thing is to hear what the text does not say. It doesn’t say that all your days will be sweet and rosy and easy. It doesn’t say that no problems will come.
There’s something else the text doesn’t say. It doesn’t tell us we will win all our battles. The tribe of Asher may have had that on their minds — battles on the east bank of Jordan. And yet, the blessing does not say they would always win. In fact if you read Judges 1:31, it tells us that Asher didn’t run out all the Caananites. They lived with them — they ran out some of them, but some of them stayed. It makes me think about the text in Ecclesiastes 9 where Solomon says, “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happen to them all.” We don’t know what tomorrow holds. Some of us may enjoy victory and some defeat, and some a mixture thereof. The blessing didn’t promise victory. The blessing didn’t promise life to turn out the way we thought it would. What is promised is strength.
I think sometimes we don’t utilize the strength that we have at our disposal. Sometimes our strength is diminished because of that. I was watching T.V. with my boy one day. We were watching some body builders. One of them was up there, doing all this stuff and muscles bulging, and my son looked at me and said, “That guy has more muscles than you, Dad.” And I looked at my son and said, “He does not.” I have the same number of muscles that body-builder has — the same number. It’s true isn’t it? Well, I’m not that bad! The only difference is, he uses his. And as he uses his, as they are challenged, the strength increases. Sometimes the strength at our disposal is diminished because it is not exercised. And yet the promise is there: “..strength to meet the days.”
Where does the strength come from? I really think the text gives us one hint, and then perhaps another from the context. He said, “…Let him be favored by his brothers.” We had a youth choir come to our church back in May — and we’ve been using every nook and cranny for Sunday School — so there is no place for a choir to practice. They had to come down early and I went down about 9:00 o’clock in the morning and opened the church so they could come in and practice.
The director was standing there with the choir before him and he was directing them. He had some senior high but many junior high, and especially in the tenor section he had a lot of young boys. As he was trying to direct them, they began to spread out along the side. He looked at them and he said, “Fellows, don’t do that, you’ve got to get back together.” And then he said, “You lose power when you do that.” He was right. Many times when we’re facing demanding days we get all spread out. Have you known people in tough times, and that is when they quit church? It’s when life gets toughest — the most difficult. We spread out and we lose power when we do that.
The context gives us, I think, maybe even a greater truth. Do you remember the call of Moses? We should remind ourselves that Moses is the one speaking here. He is 120 years old. He is with his people on the east bank of the Jordan. They’re about to cross over and yet he will not cross. He will climb Mount Nebo and look over and die there, short of God’s promised land. And Moses offers the blessings to the various tribes.
When he was called, the Lord said, “Moses I want you to go and confront Pharoh and tell him to let my people go.” And Moses began to ask questions. He said, “Who am I that I should go?” And the Lord said, “I will be with you.” “Who are You?” “What’s your name?” “What if they don’t believe me?” “Lord, I can’t talk good.” Moses asked all the questions and he skirted over what was the most significant thing — the very first thing that God had told him — “I will be with you.”
Later on in the Deuteronomy 33, Moses comes down with the tablets and the people had fallen into idolatry. They made the calf and they were worshipping it. The Lord gets so incensed and angry. He says, “Moses, you take the people and I’ll send an angel, but I’m not going.” Do you know what Moses says: “If you don’t go, I’m not going either!” Before he was concerned about his own eloquence and the truth of faith of the Hebrews and the name of God and all of those things — but by 30 chapters later all that matters to Moses is the presence of God.
Now he stands before the tribe of Asher and he doesn’t give them a sugar coated blessing. He does not say, “Everything will be okay. You will win the battle. You will never struggle. You will never have problems.” But he does say, “As your days demand so shall your strength be.” Your strength will meet the demands of the day.
Moses knew it to be so. He had confronted perhaps the most powerful man in the world and won. He confronted him in the court and he confronted him pinned against the Red Sea with no hope. He took 2 million people out into a parched desert, and God fed them there, and God provided. And though the demands of the day were great, so was the strength to meet the demands. Moses knew it to be so. I found it to be true, too.
That day on the river, I struggled against the current for a while trying to get back to where my friend had gone under. And I struggled for what seemed to be an eternity. The realization grew that he wasn’t coming up again. Finally, as my legs began to cramp, I pulled in to some limbs near the place where he had gone under. There I prayed and cried, and there I found strength. Moses found it be true, and so did I, and so will you.