Choose This Day Who You Will Serve—Life or Death?

Reading the news headlines these days can be disconcerting and more than a little irritating. Unfortunately, it is murder, mayhem, and negativity that sells. We read of wars, rumors of wars, and the atrocities of war. Man’s inhumanity against man is splattered across the page, as vicious words fly at us like rapiers, like bullets. So much hate speech! Is all the world truly this depraved? Are we all destined for hell with little hope of redemption? I wonder if our behavior spells God’s disappointment in us. Do you feel like me? Thrown into a war of words and feeling little power to do much about it? Are we walking blindly toward the valley of death—toward an abyss from which there is no hope for survival?

The Charge of the Light Brigade

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Written in the context of the 1854 Crimean War, The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson is one of the poet laureates most inspiring and influential poems. Composed after reading a newspaper article on the events of the Battle of Balaclava, the poem tells the disastrous story of a brigade consisting of 600 soldiers who rode on horseback into the “valley of death” for half a league (about one and a half miles). They were obeying a command to charge the enemy forces that had been seizing their guns, unaware that the Russian troops were heavily defended. The march was nothing short of suicidal.

The view Tennyson portrays of the six-hundred men who marched to their death is raw and angry. It is so real I can almost smell the gunpowder, and the stale stench of sweat and fear. Sadly, this is a familiar stench as it seems that nearly everywhere I look these days I see people who are steeped in fear—fighting to stay alive, to be seen—heard—appreciated. To me, the fear is palpable. I see it in the faces of people while shopping, driving, even just walking on the sidewalk. It’s as though many of us are taking the path of least resistance, following a trajectory toward self-annihilation from which we have no choice.

I have to ask, who (or what) are we following?

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

The poem tells the story of a brigade consisting of 600 soldiers who rode on horseback into the “valley of death” for half a league (about one and a half miles). They were obeying a command to charge the enemy forces that had been seizing their guns. History shows that not a single soldier was discouraged or distressed by the command to charge forward, even after they realized that their commander had made a terrible mistake: “Someone had blundered.” The role of the soldier is to obey and “not to make reply…not to reason why,” so they blindly followed orders and rode into the “valley of death.”

Are we like the six hundred? Following a commander who is leading us toward death and destruction? Do we believe all the fake and fatalistic news? Are we living with unrealistic expectations, seeking earthly treasures, and getting so caught up in the game of life that we’ve forgotten Who has given us life?

Dramatic and real are the wars around us; we can almost hear thunder and quaking in the heavens; the air is full of the roar of the lion—The Lion of Judah. And just as He was centuries ago with the moneychangers in the Temple, Jesus is once again angry as He faces a fallen generation of humanity.

Bombarded by the cannons of hateful words, despicable deeds, and sometimes incomprehensible actions, we’re standing on the precipice of Hell. Is there anything that can save us from falling?

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Tennyson’s profound words of riding bravely into the jaws of death—into the mouth of hell, are symbolic descriptions of the earthly journey one must walk through as part of the human experience. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

However, are we actually fearless? Do we genuinely feel comforted? Are we following a heavenly Commander who will not lead us astray—or walking blindly toward a horrific hole in the earth that will swallow us up? The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” I wonder if the words Tennyson penned so long ago are still a picture of us today? Are we like the six hundred?

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

The choice of who and what we listen to as we traverse this earthly ground is of critical importance. Do we succumb to the evil depicted in the news that floods the airwaves? Do we walk in fear as those without hope? Yes, the weight of life’s curves can hurt, and the darkness of valley experiences can blind us to the goodness and mercy around us. But do we allow the cannons of life experience to snuff out the light of God’s love?  Do we blindly walk toward the valley of the shadow of death or with eyes wide open toward the lake of salvation? We have a choice.

There is only one hope and divestment of the horrors depicted in The Charge of the Light Brigade, and His name is Jesus—Yeshua. He is the King of Glory, and it is His strength that can pull us out of the “Valley of Death.”

Cannons and valleys hurt. They are strong and can win. They can beat us unless we have God’s Hand holding us. With His love, grace, and mercy, even the most rabid of foes will fall at His feet. What legacy will we leave? That we walked in obedience to God’s Word and will? Or, that we followed the court of popular opinion and marched like lemmings head-first into a hole of hopelessness? Today, we can choose who to follow.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Although our theatre of war will not take place on horseback with cannonballs volleying around us, what will be left of us when the dust of despair and discouragement settles? What noble legacy will we leave behind as a result of the hills and valleys we have traversed?

When can their glory fade ?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

May we all be noble warriors as we honor the One who created us for such a time as this.

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