The Ancient Struggle
What is the ‘ancient struggle’?
Let’s go back in time to when it started, and we will see readily enough what it is…
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:1-11)
Adam and Eve… incredibly… decided that the provision of God, and His promises, were not enough for them. Beguiled by the serpent, they decided to be the masters of their own destiny; they decided to usurp the divine privilege, lust after knowledge that would be equal to that of He who had created them, set aside a trust in God, and… why not? It certainly seemed innocent enough; why would God have any issue with the attainment of knowledge and wisdom?
So they thought, until the time that they laid hold of the forbidden fruit, and had their eyes opened. What Adam and Eve did not know, but sadly came to discover, was that this offense of disobedience to God’s explicit command to them was so egregious as to cause Him to remark upon, and react to, its looming and deadly consequence:
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:21-24)
In clothing Adam and Eve, animals had to die. The divinely inspired order of creation was disrupted, turning an idyllic existence into a brutal and constant struggle, fraught with anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, danger, exhaustion, envy, strife, tension, longing, doubt, regret, hard labor, lust and anger. God in His mercy spared them from also eating from the tree of life which, had that been permitted to occur, would have condemned them both to live forever in a fallen state from which they would never have been able to be redeemed.
So mankind, burdened with the curse of original sin passed to every person from Adam’s and Eve’s acts of disobedience to God, entered upon generations of birth, decay and death… each one engaged in a constant struggle with sin… which have continued to this very hour.
The ancient struggle… good versus evil.
It has not, for certain, gotten better for us. Just a few examples from Holy Scripture suffice to illustrate this.
From the book of Genesis:
Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:1-12)
From the book of Exodus:
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ (Exodus 32:1-8)
From the book of Judges:
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.” “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. (Judges 11:29-39)
From the book of 2 Samuel:
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.” So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house. When David was told, “Uriah did not go home,” he asked him, “Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died. Joab sent David a full account of the battle. He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? Who killed Abimelech son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Also, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.'” The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance to the city gate. Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.” David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.” When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord. The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.'” Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. On the seventh day the child died. David’s servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.” (2 Samuel 11:1-12:18)
As we read through the examples, we observe 2 things readily:
1) The passage of time does not benefit mankind at all in terms of either avoiding the occasions of sin, or avoiding the committing of sin (where sin is defined as rebellion against God).
2) Sin is always a conscious choice.
It may rankle some folks that I say sin is always a conscious choice, but that is purely and simply the truth of the matter. In the account from Genesis, we see that Cain took deliberate offense against Abel (resulting in pre-meditated murder) when God did not find his own sacrifice looked upon with favor… because he chose to not willingly give God his ‘first fruits’, that is, his best. In the account from Exodus, the people who had been miraculously delivered from Pharoah’s iron hand of enslavement lost faith in God and Moses… because they chose to be impatient with God’s plans for them, willfully distrusting Him. In the account from Judges, Jephthah lost his own daughter because in the flush of pride, he willfully made a vain boast before God. In the account from 2 Samuel, David lost a son because he lusted for Bathsheba, committed adultery with her resulting in her pregnancy, and planned and executed the murder of her husband that he might have Bathsheba for his own.
It is aptly proven from Holy Scripture that to sin is a willful choice:
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
The seeds of sowing our own destruction through rebellion against God were forever planted within all of us as a result of the willful disobedience of our original parents Adam and Eve. As a result, we may all be assured of this: when we make a conscious decision to walk with God, based on our conviction by the Holy Ghost that we are sinners that richly deserve an eternity in hellfire, the evil one will be right there with us. The Apostle Paul lamented this (Italic emphases mine):
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:14-24)
Paul exults in the remedy for this horrific conundrum, however! He proclaims who will rescue him from ‘this body of death’…
Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
Understand that Jesus Christ, the Son of the One, the True, and the Only Living God, has paid the penalty of death that God Almighty has justly sentenced all of us to through the shedding of His blood on the cross. Jesus Christ has taken our sin, filth and corruption, and made it His. Jesus Christ has taken our condemnation before a just, pure, holy and righteous God, and made it His. He has paid our debt in full, and it is by the grace that came by His sacrificial, atoning death that we are saved: because when we believe in the One who took our place on the cross, God Almighty sees not the worthless, wretched and rotten-to-the-core rebellious sinners that we are, but… His Son Jesus Christ. We cannot take any credit in our salvation, Jesus Christ has done it all, and it is in His sacrifice for us that we must place our faith and belief; that is what imputes His righteousness to us, and spares us from Almighty God’s wrath:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Let the notion of “works” be dismissed… works, no matter how good, no matter how many, do not impress God:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
Jesus Christ said what God’s work… which we should be doing always… is:
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
There are those who say that the attraction of sin is too great; they cannot withstand the temptations of the evil one. Holy Scripture has an answer for this:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
There is a way out… if you trust in God, and in the One that He has sent.
Understand that the evil one has one goal upon which he is single-purposed: your utter and complete destruction. Having been defeated at the cross through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, thus ensuring eternal life for all who believe in Him, the evil one is angry:
Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” (Revelation 12:12)
The ancient struggle will, but only for the time being, continue. We are God’s children, but we are also God’s warriors. The ancient struggle is a harsh struggle, but it is already won; I am not sure that all Christians understand this. It is important for Christians to understand an important concept: we have authority over the evil one. This is borne out by Holy Scripture:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
I can think of no better words to conclude with than these:
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:8-10)