Wars have been fought for almost every reason: land, resources, honor, greed, politics, religion…They are costly in human lives and for local economies. At times, the best the victors can hope to gain is a stronghold, a place to anchor down, to set up base and to continue their operations.
For some winning a stronghold is worth the fight.
If they win the battle, perhaps a greater gain not yet visible may be obtained. One such place is a piece of rock stretching from the sea to the sky. It boasts a total area of a little under three square miles and a population of 30,000. This is probably one of the most fought over cities outside of Rome, the city of Gibraltar.1
Gibraltar, which gets its name from the Moors, means Mountain of Tabir (Jabal Tabir) for the general who took it in 711 A.D. Although the Rock of Gibraltar is not ideal for cultivating crops, it’s a strategic vantage point because it overlooks the 7.7 nautical miles that separate Europe from North Africa and the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. It has been attacked by the Phoenicians, Catharginians, the Romans, the Iberian Visigoths, the Moors, the Spanish, the British and in more modern times the Italians, Germans and French.2 Not bad for a piece of limestone jetting out of the sea.
Today the English territory boasts of a flourishing economy based on online gambling, financial services, tourism and a refueling depot for ships going to and from Europe. Though the population is self-governed and has twice voted to remain under the Crown, this has not been without contention. Wars, embargoes, economics and politics have been forcefully used in many attempts to pry the rock from British hands to return it to Spain.3 All of these have failed; Gibraltar remains an English stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, visible from the coast of Andalusia.
A look at a map places London about 1,500 miles from Gibraltar, so how did this long fought over bolder become British? The answer is simple: war and compromise. In 1704, the aging Spanish King Charles II was childless. Europe expected him to choose an heir within his close family, the Habsburgs, and maintain the current balance of power. He, in an act of surprising independence, chose a more distant cousin, Philip of Anjou, a Bourbon, of the royal family of France. The English, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany), Austria and Holland joined forces to change his mind by pressure or all out war. The 12-year war to follow was called the Spanish Succession. Spain got their choice of king, but they lost most of their European territories and brokered a deal with England for that rock in the ocean.4
Thus Gibraltar has been in British hands ever since. In fact, there is a legend that it will remain British as long as there are monkeys roaming free on its cliffs. Oddly enough during World War II, when the monkey population dwindled to only a handful, Winston Churchill replenished their population with imports from Algeria and Morocco.5 Thus he legitimized the legend and even in this way made the stronghold secure.
This story reminds me of another one that is far too common in our spiritual lives. Although the illustration is imperfect because the English Crown is no more a picture of evil than the Spanish can perfectly represent good, it is rather a story of struggle, compromise and strongholds.
The Apostle Paul speaks of a war within our members in Romans 7. He struggled to do good but found that the willingness in his heart was thwarted by sin living within him. In the end he did the evil thing he didn’t want to do, instead of the good deed that was in his heart. At one point it almost seemed he was going to give up until the apostle moved into a whole new chapter about the victory he had in the Spirit. Romans 8:11 says, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Through the years, our own private war of succession from the flesh rages on, and our will to fight can grow dull.
The sin that so shocked us years ago can now be relativized, justified and compromised. Compromise and concession are forms of bargaining. Though I don’t think many people consciously negotiate with their flesh, compromise and concession slip into our lives without the slightest warning. Before too much time has passed, we may find that we’ve given over to a stronghold.
This is where the story of Gibraltar breaks down. The answer isn’t politics or economics. It isn’t self-help, and it surely isn’t surrender. We need a rescuer, a Mighty Redeemer who alone through the power of His Cross will come to free us. He whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36). The fresh strength to wage the war and win comes from Jesus. He is the Victorious One who defeated sin and death and gave us His Spirit. Sure, He may use different methods for different people that may inflict some amount of suffering, as we’re being sanctified through His redemptive purpose. But we must remember the source of His power, for He is seated at the right hand of all power, and He is unstoppable.
“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation,my stronghold and my refuge; my Savior, You save me from violence” (2 Samuel 22:2-3).
1 The Encyclopedia Britannica
2 The Government of Gibraltar
4 Gascoigne, Bamber. “The War of the Spanish Succession” HistoryWorld. From 2001, ongoing.
5 Alvarez, Lizette.“Where the British May Reign but the Monkeys Rule” New York Times. 28 June, 2005.