Sometimes watching new films causes me to revisit older ones with a fresh perspective, and I realize I missed something the first few (hundred) times around.
In the original 300 film, there is an awesome scene where the first battle between the Spartans and the Persians begins. The Spartans, defending their homeland from invaders, are hopelessly outnumbered; a tiny force against a seemingly unending army.
The ground literally shakes as the Persians advance, their size dwarfing the 300 men spanning the narrow width of the pass at Thermopylae, which translated means the hot gates.
A Persian calls out to the Spartans, demanding their surrender. An observer might think the mere size of the Persian army would bring nations to their knees. But instead of surrender, that Persian is met with a sharp, swiftly thrown spear. The message is clear: there will be no surrender, no matter the odds.
The Persians attack, with all their momentum and fury aimed squarely at the small Spartan contingent. The pressure on the Spartans is real, but they remain fiercely confident. Shoulder-to-shoulder, the Spartans have to do little more than stand. Their formation behind their shields within the pass makes their lines impenetrable. Wave after wave of Persian soldiers attempts to break the Spartan defenses, only to be cut down. Calculated sword or spear thrusts impale the enemy; an enemy that cannot escape from charging directly into Spartan weapons. Eventually the Spartans are forced to advance because they have killed so many Persians the dead now cover the ground beneath their feet. Instead of losing ground because of the overwhelming number of Persians, they gain ground.
“But of course they gained ground,” you might say. “It’s the Spartans. They are the stuff of legend.”
And yes, the Spartans are the stuff of legend. The immense popularity of 300 — and the recently released 300: Rise of an Empire — may be in part because of their style of innovative filmmaking, but more than that, I think they are popular because the characters embody something many people strive for. Excellence. Skill. Discipline. Bravery. Selflessness. Power, for sure.
In the face of unthinkable odds, Leonidas and his 300 bravely, heroically – almost majestically – make a stand. And so moviegoers live vicariously through them. In the dim theaters or on couches, fans stand behind the Spartans and join in their fight because something within them craves that thing the Spartans epitomize.
But what if we could fight just as effectively?
In Exodus, Moses tells the Israelites “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.” (14:13)
In 2 Chronicles, a priest named Jahaziel tells King Jehoshaphat and his people, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you…”
I cannot tell you how many times people have given me these verses as counsel in the midst of a crisis, in the midst of something I would have considered a battle.
Oh, gee, thanks. That’s super helpful.
I mean, it seems rather counterintuitive, really. Standing still and fighting are dichotomous. If it’s a battle, you’re supposed to fight, to DO something. Not just stand… right?
Apparently the people in Isaiah’s time also shared my (initial) skepticism of “standing still” as a genuine battle strategy. When they sought the best equipment and fastest horses to fight the Assyrians, God told them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In returning to me and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'” (Isaiah 30:15)
And again, the direction they are given seems to be in complete opposition with any reasonable battle strategy. But God usually has a bigger picture we need to see…
No analysis of Biblical warfare strategy is complete without Paul’s admonition to put on the “full armor of God.” It’s the one most often quoted in sermons on the topic, certainly. But after studying all those verses about standing still, I suddenly had a new perspective, and saw that Paul wasn’t setting out a new warfare strategy, he was reaffirming the same one God had been giving His people forever!
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit… (Ephesians 6:10-18 NKJV)
I’m no theologian, but as far as I can tell, the passage tells us to make sure we have the armor on and then… to stand. In fact, it tells us to stand more than any other thing. The only other direct bit of instruction – once we have the armor on – is to pray in the Spirit (tongues).
Now here’s where things get fun (at least to me, but I’m a dork). Again, I’m not a theologian or a linguist, but apparently all throughout the Bible, the root words in the original Greek and Hebrew that are used for praying in tongues are the same as those for rest. Which means the only offensive weapon mentioned by Paul in Ephesians – the sword of the Spirit – is also [dichotomously] a word meaning that we rest. So when God tells Moses, Israel… or us… to “stand still and see salvation” because “rest is your salvation,” He quite literally means that. Rest is our salvation! That as we stand and pray in the Spirit, He manifests victory on our behalf. It doesn’t actually require us to fight – at least not in the sense that so many churchgoers seem to think – it requires us to rest. (I should note here that when I say “rest,” I don’t mean “sit down on the couch and do nothing.” I mean, rest in God’s promises by praying in the Spirit. By believing Him, by trusting Him. Let go of the worry, anxiety or agitation. It’s not laziness… it’s faith.)
So what does this have to do with 300 totally ripped Spartan warriors?
Well, those guys knew how to fight, no question. But as I re-watched their first battle scene, I thought it was a rather interesting picture of how we are to “fight” and how by seemingly “standing still” the Spartans were actually able to emerge victorious (albeit temporarily, but we’re just looking at this one skirmish, not the whole film.)
So there’s an enemy; we’ve all been told that a hundred million times. And he comes at us, probably taunting or intimidating, just like the Persian in the film. Our response? Unimpressed, just like Leonidas and his men. Fearless. Confident in our victory, before any confrontation has transpired.
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Cor 15:57)
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ…” (2 Cor 2:14)
But you look around and … the ground is shaking? Hmmm. Yeah, that might seem scary and foreboding, but then we remember: “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken… Truly [God] is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8, 62:6)
Then things get intense. The pressure is on. The enemy piles on, even if he cannot actually touch us, but we feel the weight. We have our shield of faith though: we continue to believe God’s promises.
And just like those Spartans did, we stand there, no matter how many enemy soldiers try to climb over our shield. We stand on those promises. We hold onto that shield, knowing that whatever we find in the word of God, we can stand on.
And [Jesus] said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:18-19)
Occasionally the Spartans would lift up those shields and get in a well-placed jab, cutting down hundreds of soldiers who ran right onto the ends of their swords and spears. It is almost laughable how easy it was for them to systematically destroy their enemy and rebut their assault – while doing little more than standing with their swords outstretched.
So picture that in a spiritual sense: if praying in tongues and declaring the Word of God is our sword, whenever we wield it, God is arranging for our enemy to run right into it and be cut down. A perfect hit, every time. We don’t have to understand some intricate battle strategy, or chase the enemy down. We don’t have to fight a long, drawn-out battle where no one is standing at the end. We don’t have to labor or break a sweat. We don’t even have to know when and where the enemy will attack. It’s our job to focus on God, not the enemy. We just point that sword of the Spirit and trust that, as one strong in YHVH and the power of His might, our sword will hit its mark. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it seems to be a whole lot more simple than some want to make it.
In the film, the Spartans eventually broke rank and began to advance, thus ending their demonstration of an army fighting by standing still. But as the camera captured the action from overhead, the audience saw that the Spartans had to move because they had destroyed all the opposition in the place where they were. Which got me thinking … Sometimes God will move us or give us other battle direction, but I truly believe that, like those Spartans, it will be because when we are standing in faith and allowing God to fight for us, the enemy will be obliterated so thoroughly in our territory that we find ourselves advancing into a place already cleared by Him… Because the truth is that we already have the victory because Jesus already won it when He died and rose again.
There are many stories in the Bible of battles where the Hebrews did not have to fight, they simply had to believe. So, given that they lived before Jesus won the final victory over sin and death through His own death on the cross, how much more should we – who live after Jesus’ victory – be able to rely on the total victory of Christ in every battle we may face?
So, yes, while there is an enemy, and yes, he may be “stalking about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,”(though he does not have the power of a lion, he’s just LIKE one) we know we have a defense that is infinitely stronger than Spartan training or an impenetrable mountain pass. That’s not to say nothing bad will ever happen in our lives, but we can stand firm on the promise that Jesus already won the victory and He will work it all for our good. And as we focus on Him and what He has done, rather than the enemy or ourselves, then we become mighty.
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ… (2 Cor 10:4-5)
No matter what, like those Spartans – or King Jehoshaphat or Moses and the Israelites – let’s stand, dressed for battle*, and be utterly confident in the outcome. Not because of our own insufficient obedience, righteousness, fighting prowess, training, size, skill – or any other personal factors we might consider – but standing strong in our faith in Jesus’ victory, His obedience and in the power of His might!
*I would like to note though, this is not my advocating any of you to dress like a Spartan… 😉
Any reaction to this film or what I shared? I welcome comments below.
Warner Brothers, 2007
Starring: Gerard Butler, Rodrigo Santoro, Michael Fassbender, Lena Headey, etc.
Directed by: Zach Snyder
Written by: Zach Snyder, Frank Miller
300: Rise of an Empire
Warner Brothers, 2014
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro, Eva Green, Lena Headey, etc.
Directed by: Noam Murro
Written by: Zach Snyder, Frank Miller