"Thy shoes shall be iron and brass."—Deut. 33:25. In the backwoods of the Appalachians where I was born, the sixth of my father’s sixteen children, shoes were not necessarily worn at our house for style or comfort. Sometimes I wore shoes that didn’t fit because they had been purchased and worn by others. Walking those rugged hills barefoot or poorly shod was often a painful experience.
The Christian life is portrayed in Scripture as a dark and difficult journey over treacherous terrain. The Bible informs us we can’t ever see where we are going because we walk by faith and not by sight. David described man’s final journey by saying, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death."
Like a huge cluster of luscious grapes, the most beautiful promises of the Old Testament are grouped in Deuteronomy 33: (a) "as thy days, so shall thy strength be"; (b) "the eternal God is thy refuge"; and (c) "underneath are the everlasting arms."
These promises are not situated by accident. The reason for their location is clearly stated: "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass."
God says essentially the same thing to all believers today. So treacherous and trying is the human trail, you will need shoes of iron to walk through the hot-beds of fiery coals on your journey between the cradle and the grave. Sooner or later, God will hand each of us a pair of iron shoes, and by faith we must fasten them on our feet and keep on walking.
It’s good to know, however, that God never puts us in iron shoes without accompanying them with three precious prom-ises:
"As thy days, so shall thy strength be";
"The eternal God is thy refuge";
"Underneath are the everlasting arms."
The Question "Why"
The question "why?" is as old as mankind. Moses, Job, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Habakkuk all asked God why the iron shoes, without ever receiving a satisfactory answer.
When the secretary to the United Nations was on an airplane that crashed in Sweden some years ago, powerful potentates from around the world gathered to pay their final respects. As they filed by the casket in reverent procession, they were greeted with a heart-rending question. Formed in huge gold letters on the spray of flowers resting on the casket lid was "Why?" The question mark was a large one. All the brilliant minds assembled that day could not pool their intelligence and come up with a logical answer as to why things had to be that way.
My youngest son was born with twisted bones in his feet and legs. While yet a baby, he was analyzed by a group of orthopedic surgeons. Following the diagnostic procedure, my wife and I were taken to a consultation room. It was explained to us that our son would have a metal band around his waist; steel cables encased in plastic would go down the outside of his legs and be connected to metal shoes on his feet. While the bones were yet tender and pliable, they would, through a long, gradual process, force the bones into proper position.
The good doctor candidly explained that our baby would have to endure excruciating pain. For some days to come, he would not eat; and for nights to come, he would not sleep. He then explained that the temptation to remove the iron shoes would be great when our sleepless nights dragged on like an eternity. Then with brutal frankness, he said, "If you want your boy to walk straight, keep the iron shoes on his feet."
When God puts His children in iron shoes, He surely doesn’t intend to hurt us. He only does it so we will walk straight.
A preacher in Miami was invited to deliver the baccalaureate address in a local high school. The graduating class, school officials and the preacher met in an assembly room to go over lastminute details. The preacher was anxious to get the program behind him so he could get back to the church for his Sunday eve-ning services.
Finally, the long procession began moving at a snail’s pace toward the auditorium. Walking beside the school superintendent leading the procession, the preacher looked behind to see why they were moving so slowly. To his amazement, he saw a little girl in braces from chin to feet. Her whole body jarred with each difficult step, and the braces clanged like shackles each time a foot hit the floor.
Halfway on stage, the crippled girl’s cap slipped down over her eyes. She nudged a 200-pound athlete beside her and smiled while he adjusted her cap.
After the scholarships and honor awards had all been given, the high school principal said, "There is yet one matter of business to be transacted before the benediction is pronounced, and our superintendent will do the honors."
The superintendent stepped to the podium and said, "I’m going to relinquish my right to this great honor in behalf of our worthy football team captain." When the big athlete stepped forward, the preacher recognized him as being the crippled girl’s escort. He removed a huge medallion from a plush case and held it up for the audience to view, then said:
Since you can’t read the inscription, I’ll read it for you. On one side it says "Miss Inspiration," and on the other side, "Christine." When the going got rough on the gridiron and it appeared our opponents would grind us into the dust, the mere mention of "Miss Inspiration’s" name caused us to knuckle down and give our dead-level best. We have a championship team because "Miss Inspiration" brought out the best in us all.
Sometimes God allows us to walk in iron shoes in order for us to inspire others to give their best.
Jesus walked the cobblestone path to Calvary in "iron shoes," with hurting feet. It was hard walking. However, when from the isle of Patmos John saw Him in Glory, He was walking in the midst of the seven churches, and His feet were like fine brass, "as if they burned in a furnace."
Iron is a crude, porous material. Brass is a finished product and can be polished to a blinding high luster. The temple gate Beautiful (Acts 3) was made of sparkling Corinthian brass. Its beauty defies human description.
Some wonderful day all believers will be able to exchange the iron shoes of this crude, coarse world for polished brass, to walk on streets of gold.
The Wise Man said a threefold cord is not easily broken. Deuteronomy 33 offers us three promises which can never be broken.
There is in all of us, I would suppose, a degree of cowardliness. Like Simon Peter, it’s easy for us to say, "Lord, I’ll go to prison with You or even die with You." It’s a different story, however, when we are suddenly hurled into the combat arena of life.
I wonder what the martyrs for Christ would say about the subversion, compromise, boycott, denial and wholesale sell-out of the Christian Faith today. I can almost hear their blood cry out from the grave, "Stand by the Faith once delivered to the saints."
What would Ignatius, pastor at Antioch and doubtless a martyr for the Christian Faith, say? He refused to bow or bend to the ecclesiastical dogmas of Rome. Consequently, he was fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. His blood surely cries out from the grave against our current Christianity of convenience.
How about Polycarp, the brave bishop of the church of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John? Without question, he was the mainstay of Christianity of his time. He was not denied the privilege to preach. He was, however, required to say, "Caesar is lord." He too died a martyr at the hands of Rome because, without equivocation, he constantly cried, "Jesus Christ alone is Lord!" From the grave his blood cries, "Stand by the Faith once delivered to the saints."
How about Roger Williams, the great pioneer Baptist preacher, who went out in the dead of winter into a wilderness frontier where no white man had ever set foot? His home was ransacked. He and his family were brutalized for their faith in Christ. Surely his blood cries from the grave, "Stand fast in the Faith wherein ye are called!"
The iron shoes of Christian living may pinch our feet, cramp our legs and tire our bodies, but we dare not cave in now. We must keep on walking because we are promised, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be."
My grandfather was rugged, durable, prolific and of a tenacious character. He was as rugged as the hills from whence he came. He was of Scotch-Irish descent. After working in timber sixty years, he could boast of the fact that no man had ever been able to put his knuckles on the ground in log-rolling contests. Physically, he was a brute of a man.
One early April morning in 1943 the Death Angel touched him. Suddenly pride, power and purpose passed from his possession, leaving him prostrate and powerless. Six grandsons carried him to a lonely hilltop where he was lowered into a deep, dark, dismal hole in the ground.
Granddad had great physical strength, but it was temporary. But the promise God gave through Moses is, "Underneath are the everlasting arms." Even death has no power over God’s powerful, everlasting arms.
My dear wife has undergone thirty-three major surgical procedures. She is a survivor of fast-spreading, advanced abdominal cancer. She has endured excruciating orthopedic pain. Her entire bone structure has low density from a deteriorating disease. She is often asked, "How can you tolerate such physical agony?" Her only answer is, "When my extremities give way and my bones break, I have beneath me His everlasting arms." She leans heavily on Him "that is able to keep you from falling" (Jude 24).
When my darling daughter was only forty-eight years old, I held her in my arms until Jesus transferred her from my arms to His. I stood over her casket, surrounded by ninety-six floral arrangements, with a confused head and a crushed heart. As I looked out to a large audience, I realized it was my responsibility to comfort the bereaved with the Word of God. My efforts were made possible only by having beneath me His everlasting arms.
I must constantly remind myself, "What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the everlasting arms?" As I hobble along over steep hills and deep valleys in iron shoes on this uneven journey between the cradle and grave, His everlasting arm sustains me.
Storms are not new to Christians, but God has always provided them a shelter. Isaiah, the great prophet, preacher, poet of the Old Testament, wanted God to rend the heavens and come down in judgment upon his oppressors. He felt that no one had believed his report and that his preaching had been in vain. God said, "They that WAIT upon the Lord shall renew their strength."
Habakkuk watched the enemies of Israel make their forays into his homeland, raping their women and kidnapping their children. The victims were taken to the desert and buried in hot sand up to their chins. The captors held a trident against their heads and watched them die in wild convulsions from dehydration.
Habakkuk told God His eyes were pure and holy, so how could He sit by, watching and doing nothing? God told Habak-kuk He was doing something. "We walk by faith, not by sight." "The eternal God is thy refuge."
At the end of World War II, the temporary barracks at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky were moved for public housing to the town in northern Ohio where I was living. The buildings were prefabricated. Consequently, they were easy to disassemble, transport and reassemble. I was hired as a carpenter’s helper with the intention of going into a carpenter apprenticeship program.
A retired Army Corps of Engineers captain named O’Maley was the job superintendent. He wore a green suit, a mint green shirt with a hunter green necktie. (Obviously, his dress gave no hint he was Italian!) O’Maley used a very limited vocabulary on the construction site—just two words: "Nail it." It mattered not if the material was warped, walls out of plumb, or floors uneven; in a typical military voice, he shouted, "Nail it!"
O’Maley worked on salary, plus a bonus that increased with each day he shortened the construction time. All helpers had to be on the job then for sixty days before being eligible to enter the apprenticeship program. O’Maley made sure no helpers lasted sixty days, so there could be no pay increase.
One day he appeared on the jobsite carrying a pink slip in his hand. As he approached me, one of the workmen named Victor Hoosier stepped between us. Vick, as he was known, had grown up in the same county in West Virginia where I grew up. He said, "O’Maley, if you try to give that kid his walking papers, I will wallow you in a mudhole like a fat sow on a hot day."
Vick Hoosier became my hero. I stayed on the job longer than O’Maley himself. Anytime I encountered problems at work, Vick was my refuge. He was tough, and he delighted in defending me.
When God’s people encounter difficulties, we have a God who is our Eternal Refuge. He stands between us and the evil bullies.
Dr. George McDaniel drove home the blessed truth of our refuge in a most unforgettable way. He and a friend were fox hunting on horseback. The dogs had chased a big red fox all night but couldn’t get near it. As the new day was breaking, they decided to seclude their horses in a thicket and try to get a glimpse of the fox that had eluded the weary, exhausted dogs the long night through.
Sure enough, the fox appeared and sat down in the entrance to its den. It sighed deeply and began to groom its fur. When the dogs got near, it moved back into the den where it was safely out of the dogs’ reach. Dr. McDaniel leaned over, placed his hand on the horn of his friend’s saddle and whispered, "With God as our refuge, we don’t need to fear even when the hounds of Hell are on our trail."
Several years ago when I toured the mission fields of South America, we scaled the towering Andes, navigated the amazing Amazon, and penetrated the jagged jungles inhabited by naked savages.
Before leaving home we contacted one of the missionaries by radio. I asked for a final word of advice before departing. He said, "Bring durable, comfortable walking shoes. Otherwise, you’ll be extremely limited in your travels."
For the believers in Christ, iron shoes never go out of style. "Thy shoes shall be iron and brass."
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