When David became king, God gave him a series of sweeping military victories. After one such victory we are told that David hamstrung all but a hundred of the horses he had captured (1 Chronicles 18:4). This practice seems unwise. Horses and chariots were a major military advantage. Iron was the revolutionary military technology of the age. Why cripple these horses when they could have been used to further advance the military might of the nation of Israel? And in our civilized age, it also seems to be a cruel practice. Why is David inflicting unnecessary harm on these helpless animals?
As we look further, David was simply obeying God in maintaining this practice. God had specifically commanded Israel not to multiply horses (Deuteronomy 17:16). Horses and chariots represented military might and God wanted the people to depend on him – not on horses or the latest military technology. David knew that this was to be a distinctive mark of God’s people. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalms 20:7).
We should also note that hamstringing a horse merely rendered the horse incapable of speed. It did not maim the horse or cause it ongoing pain. The horse could perform work functions but would not be suitable for military use.
I find it interesting that God did not forbid the use of horses. And David did not hamstring a hundred of them. Horses were not inherently bad. But David knew that there would be a subtle tendency to rely on his military might. This is the trick isn’t it? How much is too much? At what point am I depending on things instead of depending on God?
Jesus taught on this very issue when he addressed the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). This farmer harvested an extraordinary crop. Instead of keeping enough to provide for his needs through the winter, he wanted to keep it all. Saving turned into hoarding. Planning ahead turned into prideful self-reliance. How are you doing in this area? What would it mean to hamstring the horses in your life? Are you taking practical steps to guard against self-reliance?
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