In his epic The Odyssey, Homer tells the story of the hero Ulysses leading his men home after the Trojan War. Along the way, they must survive a variety of challenges, including the dangerous Sirens. The Sirens were monsters who wooed men to their deaths with mesmerizing and beautiful songs. Warned ahead of time, Ulysses places wax in the ears of his men and orders them to bind him to the mast of the ship.
But when with rapid course we had arrived
Within such distance as a voice may reach,
Not unperceived by them the gliding bark
Approach’d, and, thus, harmonious they began.
“Ulysses, Chief by ev’ry tongue extoll’d,
Achaia’s boast, oh hither steer thy bark!
Here stay thy course, and listen to our lay!
These shores none passes in his sable ship
Till, first, the warblings of our voice he hear,
Then, happier hence and wiser he departs.
All that the Greeks endured, and all the ills
Inflicted by the Gods on Troy, we know,
Know all that passes on the boundless earth.”
So they with voices sweet their music poured
Melodious on my ear, winning with ease
My heart’s desire to listen, and by signs
I bade my people, instant, set me free.
But they incumbent row’d, and from their seats
Eurylochus and Perimedes sprang
With added cords to bind me still the more.
Ulysses’ solution to temptation and overwhelming odds is ear wax and strong ropes. What is our solution?
In Joshua 1, God tells Joshua that he will lead the Israelites into the Promised Land which God is giving to them. On three separate occasions in the first 9 verses, God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” In light of Joshua’s marching orders and the story laid out in the rest of the book, we would assume that strength and courage is about how one carries oneself on the battlefield in war. However, when we read chapter 1 a little closer, what we see is that strength & courage is not about fighting battles but about walking by faith.
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7)
God knew that Israel was facing giant enemies with tall walls and mighty weapons. God knew that the Promised Land was a blessing but also could present a temptation: abandon God in fear or forget God in success. As a solution, God recommends something much better than ear wax and strong rope. God says, “Be strong and very courageous; keep moving forward in the commands Moses gave you.” In other words, strength and courage is found in God’s words.
Centuries later, Jesus (whose name, by the way, is derived from the name Joshua) found himself facing 40 days in the wilderness. During that time, Satan himself shows up to test and tempt Christ, trying to get Christ to submit to his will. Jesus is hungry, and there are no crowds around to offer help. Satan thinks he is getting Christ at his most vulnerable moment. How does Christ respond to Satan’s temptations? By quoting Scripture, each time rejecting Satan’s plans and advancing forward according to the will of His Heavenly Father. “One does not live by bread alone,” Jesus says, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Why is it that we study the Bible? It is not just so we can answer trivia questions or brag about how much of the Bible we have read through. It is not just so we can be informed. It is because we will face our own giants in life, and we will be tempted to veer off course by seductive promises. It is not enough to try to shout louder than Satan “I will not listen! LA! LA! LA!”. Strength and courage to keep moving forward in the face of adversity and temptation comes in the promises, the grace, and the hope that God has spoken into our world through His Word and revealed through the incarnate Christ.