Iron Shoes for Rough Roads
by J. R. Miller
The matter of shoes is important. Especially is this true when the roads are rough and hard. We cannot then get along without something strong and comfortable to wear on our feet. One would scarcely expect to find anything in the Bible about such a need as this. Yet it only shows how truly the Bible is fitted to all our actual life to discover in it a promise referring to shoes.
In the blessing of Moses, pronounced before his death upon the several tribes, there was this among other things for Asher: "Your shoes shall be iron." A little geographical note will help to make the meaning plain. Part of Asher's allotted portion was hilly and rugged. Common sandals, made of wood or leather, would not endure the wear and tear of the sharp, flinty rocks. There was need, therefore, for some special kind of shoes. Hence the form of the promise: "Your shoes shall be iron."
Bible words, which took the most vivid local coloring from the particular circumstances in which they were originally spoken, are yet as true for us as they were for those to whom they first came. We have only to get disentangled from the local allusions the real heart of the meaning of the words, and we have an eternal promise which every child of God may claim.
Turning, then, this ancient promise, into a word for nineteenth-century pilgrims, we get from it some important suggestions. For one thing it tells us that we may have some rugged pieces of road before we get to the end of our life-journey. If not, what need would there be for iron shoes? If the way is to be flower-strewn, then velvet slippers would do. No man needs iron-soled shoes for a walk through a soft meadow. The Christian journey is not all easy. Indeed, the Christian life is never easy. No one can live nobly and worthily without struggle, battle, self-denial. One may find easy ways—but they are not the worthiest ways. They do not lead upward to the noblest things. One reason why many people never grasp the visions of beauty and splendor which shine before them in early years, is because they have not courage for rough climbing. We shall need our iron shoes—if we are to make the journey which leads upward to the best possibilities of our life.
But the word is not merely a prophecy of rugged paths; it is also a promise of shoeing for the road, whatever it may be. One who is preparing to climb a mountain, craggy and precipitous, would not put on silk slippers; he would get strong, tough shoes, with heavy nails in the soles. When God sends us on a journey over steep and flinty paths—he will not fail to provide us with suitable shoes.
Asher's portion was not an accidental one; it was of God's choosing. Nor is there any accident in the ordering of the place, the conditions, the circumstances, of any child of God's. Our times are in God's hands! No doubt, then, the hardnesses and difficulties of any one's lot—are part of the divine ordering for the best growth of the person's life.
There was a compensation in Asher's rough portion. His rugged hills had iron in them. This law of compensation runs through all God's distribution of gifts. In the animal world there is a wonderful harmony, often noted, between the creatures and the circumstances and conditions amid which they are placed. The same law rules in the providence of human life. One man's farm is hilly and hard to till—but deep down beneath its ruggedness, buried away in its rocks, there are rich minerals. One person's lot in life is hard, with peculiar obstacles, difficulties and trials; but hidden in it there are compensations of some kind. One young man is reared in affluence and luxury. He never experiences lack or self-denial; he never has to struggle with obstacles or adverse circumstances. Another is reared in poverty and has to toil and suffer privation. The latter seems to have scarcely an equal chance in life. But we all know where the compensation lies in this case. It is in such circumstances that grand manhood is grown, while too often the petted, pampered sons of luxury come to nothing. In the rugged hills of toil and hardship—life's finest gold is found!
There are few things from which young people of wealthy families suffer more, than from over-help. No noble-spirited young man wants life made too easy for him, by the toil of others. What he desires is an opportunity to work for himself. There are some things no other one can give us; we must get them for ourselves. Our bodies must grow through our own exertions. Our minds must be disciplined through our own study. Our hearts' powers must be developed and trained through our own loving and doing.
The best friend we can have, is not the one who digs out the treasure for us—but who teaches and inspires us with our own hands to open the rocks and find the treasures for ourselves. The digging out of the iron—will do us more good than even the iron itself when it is dug out.
Shoes of iron are promised only to those who are to have rugged roads—and not to those whose path lies amid the flowers and soft meadows. There is a comforting suggestion here, for all who find peculiar hardness in their life. Peculiar grace is pledged to them. God will provide for the ruggedness of their way. They will have a divine blessing which would not be theirs—but for the roughness and ruggedness. The Hebrew parallelism gives the same promise, without figure, in the remaining words of the same verse: "As your days—so shall your strength be." Be sure, if your path is rougher than mine, you will get more divine help than I will. There is a most delicate connection between earth's needs—and heaven's grace. Days of struggle get more grace than calm, quiet days. When night comes—stars shine out which never would have appeared, had not the sun gone down. Sorrow draws comfort—which never would have come in joy. For the rough roads—there are iron shoes!
There is yet another suggestion in this ancient promise. The divine blessing for every experience, is folded up in the experience itself, and will not be received in advance. The iron shoes would not be given until the rough roads were reached. There was no need for them until then; and besides, the iron to make them was treasured in the rugged hills, and could not be gotten until the hills were reached.
A great many people worry about the future. They vex themselves by anxious questioning as to how they are going to get through certain anticipated experiences. We had better learn once for all—that there are in the Bible no promises of provision for needs—while the needs are yet future. God does not put strength into our arms today for the battles of tomorrow; but when the conflict is actually upon us—then the strength comes. "As your days—so shall your strength be."
Some people are forever unwisely testing themselves by questions like these: "Could I endure sore bereavement? Have I grace enough to bow in submission to God, if he were to take away my dearest treasure? Or could I meet death without fear?" Such questions are unwise, because there is no promise of grace to meet trial—when there is no trial to be met. There is no assurance of strength to bear great burdens—when there are no great burdens to be borne. Help to endure temptation is not promised—when there are no temptations to be endured. Grace for dying is nowhere promised—while death is yet far off and while one's duty is to live.
There is a story of shipwreck, which yields an illustration which comes in just here. Crew and passengers had to leave the broken vessel and take to the life-boats. The sea was rough, and great care in rowing and steering was necessary in order to guard the heavily-laden boats, not from the ordinary waves, which they rode over easily—but from the great cross-seas. Night was approaching, and the hearts of all sank as they asked what they would do in the darkness—when they would no longer be able to see these terrible waves. To their great joy, however, when it grew dark they discovered that they were in phosphorescent waters, and that each dangerous wave rolled up crested with light which made it as clearly visible as if it were mid-day.
So it is that life's dreaded experiences, when we meet them, carry in themselves the light which takes away the peril and the terror. The night of sorrow, comes with its own lamp of comfort. The hour of weakness, brings its own secret of strength. By the brink of the bitter fountain itself, grows the tree whose branch will heal the waters. The wilderness with its hunger and no harvest, has daily manna. In dark Gethsemane, where the load is more than mortal heart can bear, an angel appears, ministering strength which gives victory. When we come to the hard, rough, steep path—we find iron for shoes! The iron will be in the very hills, over which we shall have to climb.
So we see that the matter of shoes is very important. We are pilgrims here and we cannot walk barefoot on this world's rugged roads. Are our feet shod for the journey?
"How can I get shoes, and where?" one asks. Do you remember about Christ's feet, that they were pierced with nails? Why was it? That we might have shoes to wear on our feet, and that they might not be cut and torn along the way.
Christ's dear feet were wounded and sore with long journeys over thorns and stones, and were pierced through with cruel nails—that our feet might be shod for earth's rough roads, and might at last enter the gates of heaven, and walk on heaven's gold-paved streets!
Dropping all figure, the whole lesson is that we cannot get along on our life's pilgrimage without Christ; but having Christ we shall be ready for anything which may come to us along the days and years!