Friday, October 3, 2008

Bow and Arrow

Last week I watched as my son Matt practiced his archery skills in our back yard. This morning at 1:00 a.m. I picked up my son Trey at the airport, his bow case in hand. Matt and Trey are headed to the East Texas woods today to bowhunt for deer and wild hogs. No doubt that is why this morning I awoke to David's words,
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man;
so are children of thy youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
they shall not be ashamed,
but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
The Psalmist David was both a loving parent and a mighty warrior. As such, he recognized the powerful potential of his influence over his children both parentally and polemically. He expresses that potential in the memorable simile, "As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of thy youth. . . they shall speak with the enemies in the gate."

David’s visual imagery explicitly likens the child to an arrow, and implicitly portrays the parent as a bow by and from which the arrow must be strung and flung. David’s simile also presumes the parent to be "mighty," translated from the Hebrew term gibbowr, which indicates both physical strength and courage. As a former shepherd who carried a bow (and sling) to guard the flock, and as a skillful warrior by whose bow Yahweh’s enemies had fallen upon the battlefield, David knew that not just anyone could draw a bow; it took a "mighty" man. The kind of bow to which David referred was constructed of seasoned wood or horn, decorated and strengthened with bronze or copper, and the bowstring of woven ox-gut. So difficult was the Davidic bow to bend, that the archer would lower the bow to the ground, place his foot upon it, and draw the bowstring with one hand while securing the arrow with the other. In fact, the Hebrew word for archer is darak, which means "to bend or tread upon." Like bending and drawing the ancient bow, parenting also demands the strength of "a mighty man." Parents should remember that the difficult tension in bending the bow and drawing the string is necessary to the arrow's purpose, a fitting analogy to the tension parents experience in child rearing. Anyone familiar with David’s writing knows that "mighty" means more than physical strength and bravery; "mighty" also implies spiritual and moral potency. As an archer must summon his physical strength to draw a bow and string an arrow, a parent’s firm foot and steady hand must bend the bow of life to the arrow of childhood.

When David says that his children will "speak with enemies in the gate," he does not mean that his children will be silver-tongued diplomats, much less trembling cowards raising a white flag, but fearsome warriors. The image is this: If you besiege our holy city, if you threaten our beautiful gates, my sons will "have a word with you"; that is, my arrows will fly.

As David was a mighty man of war, so must we and our children be. His weapons were "carnal," but ours are "spiritual, and mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds." David understood that, even though one day his warfare would be accomplished, he had taught his children's hands to war. If enemies approached Zion's high towers or assaulted Jerusalem's beautiful gates, David's bow would yet be drawn and his arrows flown; his children, his "arrows," would "speak with the enemies in the gate."

"Oh, God, as thou hast taught my hands to war, may I bequeath the holy war and its weaponry to my children's hands as well. Make me a mighty man, my life like a strong and well-bent bow, and my children like arrows well strung, straight-shafted, and sharp to thy righteous aims."