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A Lesson from History: Damascus Steel

May 2, 2016

Centuries ago, from as far back as 500 AD to as recent as the 1700s, the best swords in the world were swords made from legendary Damascus Steel or Wootz steel, imported from southern India. These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of mottling in the metal reminiscent of flowing water. Damascus steel swords were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering, capable of being honed to a sharp resilient edge, and able to slice a falling feather in two, even after being dulled in battle. With Damascus Steel, Alexander conquered the world.

Today archeologists have found remnants of that steel, but they cannot replicate it. The best scientists, chemists and metallurgists in the world cannot replicate Damascus steel. Under close study, it appears that the steel was made by adding woody biomass and leaves as carburizing additives to the iron, forming nanotubes in the steel. How this was achieved remains unknown.

The mystery of Damascus steel has been lost to humanity. The secret of making something effectively used for centuries forgotten, because (with the advent of the rifle) it was no longer considered necessary.

The same is often true in the spiritual realm as well. Skills and methods employed by spiritual giants of the past are lost, or forgotten, because, with the advent of modern society, they are no longer considered necessary. Why pray, when we can go to the doctor? Why intercede for someone, when we can send them a smiley face through Facebook – that should be enough? Why wage war against demonic forces, when we can take a pill?

Now don’t get mad at me. I am not saying that you shouldn’t see a doctor, send a short note on Facebook, or take medication. I am simply saying that our social engineering has produced a Christianity that has often lost the knowledge of living in the Spirit. Paul warned that such was possible when he identified a people who had a “form of godliness but denied its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

In Genesis 26, we read where Isaac re-dug the wells of his father. “Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.” (Genesis 26:18) After the blessing of the Lord threatened Isaac’s neighbours, he was asked to move. To avoid the conflict, Isaac settled in the region which had belonged to his father Abraham, but which had been devastated by the Philistines. There, Isaac re-dug the wells, which the Philistines had since filled in. Twice he re-opened a well only to have locals claim it as their own, but eventually he persevered. After opening the third well, he knew he would prosper once again. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

As the church of Jesus Christ, is it possible that we have to re-dig some ancient wells? Is it possible, we need to rediscover spiritual practices and disciplines performed by the giants of previous generations, but are largely lost to the modern church? This month as we acknowledge that “His presence is my vital need,” let’s go on a journey together to rediscover the power of Pentecost and the joy of the Lord, as we advance His Kingdom for the glory of God.