35 He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. 36 You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great. 2 Samuel 22:35-36, Psalm 18:35
Last night I went to a wedding reception for my nephew and his bride. They actually got married during the Covid shutdown, but couldn’t do a reception until now. It was a sweet time with my siblings; the first time we had all been in the same room since our mom’s funeral last year.
And as we were talking around the table, I learned for the first time, I think, that my dad was a Marine Corps drill instructor. If I had ever been told that, I had forgotten it.
I was frankly shocked, because while my dad was a firm disciplinarian, I never thought of him as the drill instructor type. If you’ve seen any military movie, you know the stereotype I’m talking about. Hard, demanding, frightening. Think Full Metal Jacket, An Officer and a Gentlemen, or Forrest Gump.
In HBO’s Band of Brothers, there is a scene near the end of the series in which two officers in Easy Company are reflecting back on their journey from boot camp to the end of the war. Their drill instructor, played by David Schwimmer, was cruel, almost sadistic. He was despised by his men. But the officers realize that their hatred of Captain Sobel made them stronger as a unit. I couldn’t find the exact quote, but one says something along the lines of, “We hated him, but we hated him together, and that’s what made us great.”
Much of the language of 2 Samuel 22 (which is repeated for the most part in Psalm 18) describes what a boot camp drill instructor wold do:
- For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall (v. 30)
- He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze (v. 35)
- For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me (v. 40).
But unlike a human drill intructor who gets results by intimidation and breaking down the individual, God gets results through gentleness. He delights in us (verse 20); shows mercy to us (v. 26); and hears us when we cry to Him in distress (v. 7).
This doesn’t mean God is a pushover. There is also plenty in David’s Psalm that is terrifying. When God gets angry, the earth quakes (v. 8). Smoke goes up from His nostrils and devouring fire from His mouth (v. 9). The foundations of the world are laid bare at the rebuke of the Lord (v. 16).
But it is God’s gentleness that makes us great. God’s steadfast love, more than any other attribute, is God’s defining characteristic. He leads us with cords of kindness and ropes of love (Hosea 11:4). His kindness leads us to repentance (Romans2:4). And the same kindness that leads us to repentance led His Son to the Cross so that we could repent.
Learning that my father was a drill instructor helps me understand this chapter better. My dad could get angry. I saw that at times. And I can imagine him as a demanding drill instructor with high expectations for the men under his command. ButI can never imagine him as cruel.
It’s gentleness that makes us great.