The word of the day is “horse.” What strength can we rely on when we face temptation? In our reading of Proverbs 21:23-22:4, the wise sage of Proverbs writes, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the Lord” (NKJV vs. 31). If temptation engages us in a battle, we might depend on our strength as ancient peoples counted on their chariots. However, the sage states that rescue from our foes is in the hands of God, not warhorses or human power. Today we highlight the importance of trusting the Lord and not our own devices.
The ancient Israelites did not have horses or chariots until the reign of Solomon. Therefore, to the Chosen People, the warhorse was a source of terror (Joshua 17:16) and oppression (Judges 4:3). The Lord had to remind them not to put their trust in horses or chariots but to trust in the name of the Lord your God” (Psalm 20:7). For instance, the Prophet Isaiah warned, “Woe to those who… rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong but who do not trust in the Holy One of Israel, nor seek God (Isaiah 31:1).
The Deliverance of the Lord
In this vein, the sage writes that “deliverance is of the Lord.” The Hebrew word for deliverance is the same as salvation (Strong’s Hebrew #8668, 303). The Septuagint (LXX) uses the Greek word that is derived from a “rope” or “chain.” Thus the “help” that God gives is an instrument of rescue, a rope let down in a ditch, an answer to prayer (Strong’s #996, 55).
Victory over the enemy belongs to the Lord, for the sage says, “There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord” (NKJV Proverbs 21:30). Neither is there any strength that can match His Almighty power. Accordingly, when David boldly announced that he was going to slay Goliath, he said, “Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword or spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and the Lord will deliver you [the Philistines] into our hands” (OSB 1 Samuel 17:26).
What the Horse Represents
Our battles are not against literal swords and spears or horses and chariots. Gregory, the Great applied this proverb to our struggles against temptation. He wrote, “By the name ‘horse’ is understood the preparation of right intention, as it is written, ‘The horse is prepared against the day of battle, but the Lord giveth safety’ (Prov. 21:31) because the mind prepares itself indeed against temptation, but contends, not healthfully unless it is assisted from above” (Gregory-the-Great, III. VI. XXXI).
In this quotation we see that Gregory presumed that we must actively participate in the fight against temptation. As Gregory says, our part begins with our preparation for the test to come. For instance, The Lord warned Peter that he would soon suffer the trial of the devil, saying, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat (OSB Luke 22:31). Thus, the Lord urged Peter to be ready to face the temptation that would soon come.
But for Gregory the “horse” in today’s proverb stood for the “right intention” in our training (Gregory-the-Great). The horse symbolizes strength. Accordingly, Gregory meant that we must intentionally build up our spiritual strength against our day of testing. We do this by spiritual disciplines that put the passions of our earthly body under submission (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Yet right preparation is only the beginning. Our role in contending against temptation continues with staying alert and watching for the onset of the trial. For instance, in the Garden, the Lord pleaded with Peter and the disciples, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (NKJV Mark 14:38). The spirit must be willing and ready to resist the first hint of a wayward thought or unholy desire.
We Wage the Battle but God Gives the Victory
Still, according to Gregory, the preparation that we make and the keeping watch that we do are not enough. They do not engage with the devil “healthfully,” that is, with sufficient vigor to withstand the greater power of the Evil One. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak, and so is our ability to prevail in the ordeal of temptation.
The battle is for us to wage, but the victory belongs to God. Therefore, in the time of trial, we must look to God for strength like the power that the horse once gave the ancient peoples in battle. There is no errant thought or impure desire that is greater than His mercy. And when we cry out for His mercy with all our heart, He takes away the temptation and gives relief to our soul.
So let us muster our courage and “fight the good fight” against the wiles of the devil with confidence, looking to God as our horse and chariot. As Paul said, “God is faithful who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Thus, it is God who delivers us.
Gregory-the-Great. The Book of the Morals. Vol. III: Lectionary Central.