Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4, verse 12.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. That’s the part of this verse I’ve heard most often. It almost sounds like a quote from Confucious or some other Eastern philosopher. That it’s true is beyond ridicule. That it’s wise is beyond compare. That it’s from the book of Ecclesiastes may be the part you (and certainly me) may not have known before.
It’s a very true thing though. In the context of defending yourself or even going on offense, there is safety in numbers. A good football team is one where the entire line acts as one to execute a play. Each person does their part, moving forward, moving in position, blocking and tackling and doing what is planned & required to advance the team as a whole. When they do that, their cord, their line, is not easily broken. Like in a football game, life hits us back, though. There are always other teams playing against us, or working to advance their goals, their plays, in the same manner.
The key is faith. As a coach directs the quarterback to lead the offense, so God also directs you and I to go on offense in our lives even as it seems like we’re always playing defense. His Word is our guide, our playbook. It tells us not only how to live our lives and make our choices, but it also actively engages us and changes how we act, who we are, and what we believe. God is always powerfully at work in us doing these things, yet none of them can happen without our having faith in Him to do them. When that happens, we are invincible. To quote Isaiah, no weapon formed against you shall prosper. Your cord of three strands will not easily be broken.
But let’s not forget the first part of the verse, the one that talks about overpowering and defense. If you read the Bible in the order in which the books are presented, by the time you get to Ecclesiastes you’ve already gone through Genesis, Exodus, Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, Psalms and a number of other books. One of the recurring subjects in those books is war, man’s inhumanity (and un-Godliness) to man through war. In some cases, the stories talk about how Israel smacked down its enemies and overcome great odds through faith in God. In other cases the books outline how Israel got its collective clock cleaned.
In all cases, the books talk about how there is strength in numbers. Israel never fought alone: it always fought with God at its side. When its motives were wrong or its faith misplaced, God turned Israel over to its enemies; smackdown. When they stuck by their God and let Him take the lead, Israel consistently overcame. It did so because it learned that an army of one is useless where an army of two can be impenetrable.
That army of two needs to include, at least, your God and yourself. I think of David standing alone against the Philistines. They had threatened, ridiculed, mocked and amassed against the best Israel could muster when out from the crowd walks this puny shepherd boy who boldly proclaims that theirs is the army of the living God and that they will fall to Him. You know the story: you know what happens next. Hence, an army of your God and yourself can overcome any odds, even the hordes of darkness and evil.
A Godly defense is a Godly thing. God doesn’t say we’ll be sheltered in this world. Indeed, he throws us in the deep end of life to teach us to swim, to rely on Him. God doesn’t tell us to give up: He tells us to trust Him. God has been fighting battles for the people who revere him since the beginning of time. There is zero reason to think that anything has changed despite our oh so primitive but modern inventions like nuclear weapons, the internet, smart bombs, or anything sold at Walmart. Just like the Israelites of old, when we rely on Him we are not easily overpowered.
On Monday’s flight to Minnesota, I watched “300.” It’s hardly a Godly movie, and it’s hardly a movie I’d recommend to build up your faith…except…except that there are great lessons of faith to be learned from what the real Spartans did there at Thermopylae. Two are indeed stronger than one; two (or in this case three hundred) can hold out against a much larger army. The Spartans weren’t easily broken. They were, in fact, slaughtered in order to buy time for the other nation-states of Greece to rise and meet the Persian threat, which eventually they did. Through training, determination, and faith (in each other) their army held out much longer against an army vastly superior in numbers. In doing so, they saved the budding Western civilization.
And, living in Texas, I can’t help but think about the defenders of the Alamo, how just over 250 trained, armed and determined Texans held off the thousands-strong national army of Santa Anna. The Texan patriots there died to buy time for another army to gather, regroup, and await an eventual battle of liberation. A few weeks after the slaughter at the Alamo, that’s exactly what happened when Texas won its independence at San Jacinto.
This isn’t to say that Scripture endorses warfare. Indeed, I believe God must have been just as grieved by every death, Persian or Greek at Thermopylae and every death, Texan and Mexican, at the Alamo. Yet where one side would fight for right in God’s name and the other wouldn’t, I believe God is not impartial. The lesson of the verse, then, is to rely on God as our stronger partner in living life as in waging battle.
When we do that – when we live and wage our lives in faith – we see how we can always defend ourselves through God, how He is always working in us for the best. And when that happens, our cord is not quickly broken.