Out of Zion’s hills salvation comes

Peter Jackson’s 2003 film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, features a major battle known in the literature as the Battle of Pelennor Field.  The “good guys”, humans in the fictional kingdom of Gondor, came under a massive attack by the “bad guys” from Mordor made up of monsters of various sizes and species (I am over-simplifying things, I know).

At one point in the battle, things were going badly for Gondor.  The enemy had breached the outer defences and were in the city itself.  Gondor was on the verge of defeat when suddenly, a horn was heard.  I assume that this was a common practice in medieval times.  When one heard a horn, it often means there is an impending attack.

In the battle of Pelennor Field, the horn was not sounded by the enemy, but by an ally of Gondor, another kingdom called Rohan.  As the horn was sounded, the Rohan army materialised on a nearby slope.  Shortly afterward, the Rohan army began attacking the enemy, relieving the pressure on Gondor.  It was a majestic scene.  For the besieged Gondor, this was a welcome sight of salvation.  The tide had turned against the enemy.  Defeat was no longer certain.

I was very moved by that scene.  To me, Gondor was on the brink of defeat and destruction.  The arrival of the Rohan army turned the tables on their common enemy.

That scene reminded me of a song that I’m told WAC often sang, years before—Days of Elijah.  This was one of those “Top 10 hits” equivalent of Christian praise songs, if there was even something like that.  We sang it every other week.  I can understand why, myself.  Just like the battle of Pelennor Field, Days of Elijah struck a chord in my heart.

I remember once, while driving, I was grappling with despair (my memory is now fuzzy as to what it was that caused me despair).  I happened to be playing Days of Elijah on the CD player.  Suddenly a line caused me to weep.  This was terribly inconvenient because I was driving to visit a cell group.  That line in question was the closing line of the chorus:

And out of Zion’s hills, salvation comes.

It doesn’t sound especially triumphant.  Yet it touched me because it paralleled the scene where the Rohan army started charging down the slope to attack the enemy’s flank (i.e. side).  I was very moved, because in my despair, I felt besieged.  I felt there was no way out.  I had run out of ideas (strange, isn’t it, that I don’t remember what caused the despair, but I remember the thoughts going through my head).  And suddenly when that line played, I felt as if God was suddenly on the horizon, charging in to help me.  I was no longer alone in my fight.

You know the feeling too, don’t you?  There were moments where you thought there was no way you could go on.  For some reason, you decided not to give up.  That in itself is a victory, but you didn’t feel particularly victorious.  If at all, you probably questioned your decision and even your sanity.  Just when you could sink no further, suddenly God manifests His presence.  It could be something you thought impossible, and therefore miraculous.  It could also be something unnoticeable but you knew it could only have been God.  It could be that nothing changed, but you just felt that the challenge before you were no longer as impossible as you initially thought.  Whichever the case, you knew God was there.  That’s what we mean by a visitation from the Lord.

The tough part is that the moment of visitation is not in our control.  We don’t get to dictate to God when He should come and what He should do when He does.  That’s what “Sovereignty” means.

Well, since we can’t control when and how God manifests His presence (and power), let’s focus on what we can control:  Our response.

While waiting for God to show up, we grit our teeth and continue fighting or slogging away.  Going back to the film, the army on Gondor had to continue fighting desperately.  They had no idea when the Rohan army would turn up, if they did at all.  They had committed all their reserves and there was nothing more to throw into the fight.  All they had to do, and all they could do, was to go on fighting, against all adds, against hope. 

A critical difference between the battle of Pelennor Field and God, is that Gondor had no idea whether Rohan would come to their aid.  Christians, on the other hand, have the sure and steadfast hope, that God would never forsake them.

That is our hope.

In His Majesty’s Not-So-Secret Service,

Bertram Cheong

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