The Lord wrought a great victory
These are the words that we read in 2 Sam. 23 concerning the exploits of two of David's mighty men: Eleazar the son of Dodo and Shammah the son of Agee (23:9-12). We are told that Eleazar "smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword: and the Lord wrought a great victory that day" (10). Then we are told that Shammah stood his ground when everyone else fled: "But he stood in the midst of the ground and defended it and slew the Philistines: and the Lord wrought a great victory" (12).
Here we see an obvious convergence of human responsibility and Divine sovereignty. A lot of folks think that if we argue that God's sovereignty extends to everything, then that makes us into robots. They argue that God cannot be the decisive actor in human history without taking away our moral accountability and freedom.
But texts like this give the lie to such reasoning. Both Eleazar and Shammah clearly were acting in the least robotic way imaginable; for we see Eleazar swinging his sword this way and that, with all his might waging war against the enemies of God's people. We see the same thing with Shammah. And yet, in the very same actions, God was acting, for we are told that the outcome of the battle was determined by God: he is the one who "wrought" - worked - a great victory.
How are we to understand this? We are not to understand it as if David's mighty men contributed 50% and God contributed 50% effort towards the victory. No; rather it is more along the lines that in the very same actions God was working and man was working. It would be perfectly right to say that the outcome depended in a very real sense upon the bravery of these men. And it would be perfectly right to say that the outcome decisively depended on God's providential working in the same events.
This is a mystery, yes. We may not be able to fully explain it. But at the end of the day, the Biblical text does want us to know that it is not man who was the decisive actor: it was God. For at the end of the day, we are not told that Eleazar or Shammah wrought a great victory, but God! In other words, it was God who made the efforts of these mighty men successful.
The same is true in the life of sanctification, and we see it in texts like Phil. 2:12-13, where we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling - "for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." And this is very encouraging, for it means that as we pursue holiness with all our might, we are not at the mercy of our own weakness and limitations, for in us God is acting. Isn't that a hope-giving reality? Thank God that we are not the decisive ones; God is! And that means two things: first, we work with all our might in the struggle against sin. And it also means that as we struggle with all our might we do so in the strength that God gives, trusting him for the outcome. We are neither fatalists on the one hand nor atheists on the other.
You see this outlook exemplified in the life and attitude of the great apostle Paul. He put it this way to the Corinthian Christians: "But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain: but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor. 15:10). May God make us more like him so that we work with all our might for the glory of God, and yet do so knowing and trusting in God's abundant and sovereign grace to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.