After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am your shield…
There are two main things that man needs in this world: he needs protection and the fulfilment of his desires and labours, a negative and a positive, a shield and a reward, something to protect him while in the battle, something to reward him when it is over. This promise is silently keyed to the note of struggle as underlying life, the conception of life that the wise have always taken. Life is not mere continuance or development; it is not a harmony, but a struggle. It continues, it develops, it may reach a harmony, but these are not now its main aspects. It is this element of struggle that separates us from other creations. A tree grows, a brute develops what was lodged within it; but man chooses, and choice by its nature involves struggle. It is through choice and its conflicts that man makes his world, himself, and his destiny; for in the last analysis character is choice ultimated. The animals live on in their vast variety and generations without changing the surface of the earth, or varying the sequences wrought into their being; but man transforms the earth, and works out for himself diverse histories and destinies. It is this nobler view of man, as choosing and struggling, that makes it needful he should have protection in the world. If he were only an animal he might be left to nature, for nature is adequate to the needs of all within her category; but transcending, and therefore lacking full adjustment to nature, he needs care and help beyond what she can render, He finds himself here set to do battle, life based and turning on struggle; but nature offers him no shield fit to protect him, nor can nature reward him when the struggle is over. She has no gifts that he much cares for, she can weave no crown that endures, and her hand is too short to reach his brow. There is a better philosophy back here in the beginnings of history, the beginnings also of true, full life. Abram is the first man who had a full religious equipment. He had open relations to God; he had gained the secret of worship; he had a clear sense of duty, and a governing principle, namely, faith or trust in God. It starts out of and is based on this promise of God to be his shield and reward. His sense of God put his life before him in all its terrible reality; it is not going to be an easy matter to live it. Mighty covenants are to be made; how shall he have strength to keep them? He is to become the head of a separate nation; how can he endure the isolation necessary to the beginning? He is to undergo heavy trials and disappointments; how shall he bear them? He is promised a country for his own, but he is to wander a citizen of the desert all his days, and die in a land not yet possessed; how can he still believe with a faith that mounts up to righteousness? Only through this heralding promise: "I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." When you are in trouble I will protect you. When you fail of earthly rewards I will be your reward. But Abram's life, in its essential features, was not exceptional. I do not know that it was harder to live than yours or mine. I do not know that his duties were more imperative, his doubts more perplexing, his disappointments and checks severer than those encountered by us all today. He needed and we need two things to carry us through, protection and fulfilment of desires, shield and reward. Let us now look at the first of these two things with something more of detail.
1. We need protection against the forces of nature. In certain aspects nature is kind to us and helps us; she strives to repair any injury she may do to us; she is often submissive and serves us with docility. But in other respects she is cruel and unsparing, and her general aspect is that of a power over us rather than under us. I confess that I should be filled with an unspeakable dread if I were forced to feel that I was wholly shut up in nature. We are constantly brought face to face with its overpowering and destroying forces, and we find them relentless. We may outwit or outmaster them up to a certain point, but beyond that we are swept helpless along their fixed and fatal current. But how does God become a shield against them? Only by the assurance that we belong to Himself rather than to nature. When that assurance is received, I put myself into His larger order; I join the stronger power and link myself to its fortunes. It makes a great difference practically, which side we take. If the material world includes me, then I have no shield against its relentless forces, its less than brute indiscrimination, its sure finiteness or impersonal and shifting continuance. Then I am no more than one of its grains of dust, and must at last meet the fate of a grain of dust. But if spirit has an existence of its own, if there is a spiritual order with God at its head and with freedom for its method, then I belong to that order, there is my destiny, there is my daily life. My faith in that order and its Head is my shield when the forces of nature assault me and its finiteness threatens to destroy me.
2. We need a shield against the inevitable evils of existence. Sooner or later there comes a time to every one of us when we are made to feel not only that we at. weaker than nature, but that there is an element of real or apparent evil in our lore There dawns on us a sense of mortality peculiarly real. The tables are turned with us. Heretofore life, the world, the body — all have been for us; now they are against us, they are failing us; the shadow of our doom begins to creep upon us. How real this experience is every thoughtful person of years well knows. It has in it, I verily believes more bitterness than death itself. It is the secret of the sadness of age. And there is every reason why this experience should be sad. It is necessarily so until we can meet it with some larger truth and fact. Along with this decadence of powers comes a greater evil — an apprehension of finiteness. In our years of wholeness and strength there is no such apprehension. Life carries with it a mighty affirmation of continuance, but when life weakens it begins to doubt itself. But the idea of coming to an end is intolerable; it does not suit our nature or feelings; it throws us into confusion; we become a puzzle to ourselves; we cannot get our life into any order or find for it any sufficient motive or end, and so it turns into a horrible jest, unless we can ground ourselves on some other conception. But the sense of finiteness presses on us with increasing force; it seems to outmaster the infinite, and even to assert its mastery in the process at work within us. It is here that we need a shield to interpose against the horrible suggestions of this last battle of life. And it is just here that God offers Himself as such a shield — God Himself in all the personality of His being — the I Am — Existence. The name itself is an argument; existence is in question, and here is Existence itself saying to a mortal man, "I am your shield." Between ourselves longing for life, and this devouring sense of finiteness, stands God — a shield. "I made you," He says, "but you shall not perish because I put you into a perishing body. Because I made you you cannot perish. Because I am the ever-living God you shall live also."
3. God is a shield against the calamities of life. It is rarely that one gets far on in life without seeing many times when it is too hard to be borne. For vast multitudes life is unutterably sad and bitter, for many others it is dull and insipid, for others one long disappointment, for none is it its own reward. It will always wear this aspect to the sensitive and the thoughtful unless some other element or power is brought in. Man cannot well face life without some shield between. He may fight ever so bravely, but the spears of life will be too many and too sharp for him. And no shield will thoroughly defend him but God. The lowest, by its very condition, demands the highest; the weakest calls out for the strongest — none but the strongest can succour the weakest; the saddest can be comforted only by the most blessed; the finite can get deliverance from its binding and torturing condition only in the eternal one.
4. God is a shield against ourselves. It is, in a certain sense, true of us all that we are our own worst enemies. It is the last and worst result of selfishness that it leaves one alone with self, out of all external relations, sealed up within self-built enclosures. A very fair and seemly life may end in this way. If self be the central thought, it ends in nothing but self, and when this comes about we find that self is a poor companion. One of the main uses of God, so to speak, is to give us another consciousness than that of self — a God consciousness. It was this that Christ made the world's salvation, not breaking the Roman yoke, not instituting a new government or a new religion, not revealing any formal law or secret of material prosperity, or any theory of education or reform, but simply making plain a fact, assuring the world that God is, and that He is the Father, and breathing a consciousness of it into men, opening it up to the world's view, and writing it upon its heart as in letters of His own blood; thus He brought in a God consciousness, in place of a world consciousness and a self-consciousness, this only, but who shall measure its redeeming power! And there is no more gracious, shield-like interposing of God than when He comes in between us and self as a delivering presence. It is the joy of friendship that we are conscious of our friend, and that he draws us away from ourselves. It is the joy of the home that each one is conscious of the other; home life reaches its perfection when parents and children not only love, but pass on to the highest form of love — a steady and all-informing consciousness of one another. It shadows forth the largest form of the truth, God dwelling, not amongst but in men, a shield against themselves.
(T. T. Munger.)
Parallel VersesKJV: After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.