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The Dirty Dozens


1967 saw the release of the WWII movie The Dirty Dozen. A rather recalcitrant U.S. army major (Lee Marvin) was given the task of recruiting, training, and leading twelve men on a suicide mission behind enemy lines. The dirty dozen were all convicted felons, slated for execution. But if the mission was successful and if they survived it, they were promised a pardon. I won’t reveal any more, except to say that the great football running back Jim Brown was given the “run-for-your-life” role.

Centuries before this, Scripture recorded the first version of the dirty dozen. David had been chosen by God to be Israel’s second king. But Saul was still on the throne and, despising David, tried to kill him. David escaped to the cave of Adullam. And there he recruited and trained his own band of misfits. The inspired record reports that “everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.” (1 Samuel 22:2) Indeed, they were a veritable battalion of sad-sack losers.

But David trained them. And others joined up, and they were trained until they became “a great army, like the army of God.” (1 Chronicles 12:22) The band of losers was no longer a rabble of discontented misfits, but an amazing array of “mighty men.” In fact, some who joined had faces “like the faces of lions, and were as swift as gazelles on the mountains.” (1 Chronicles 12:8) No band of losers now!

As we know, David was a type (that is, a prefiguring) of Christ. His life as a shepherd pointed ahead to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. And his life as a captain and king foreshadowed his much greater Son Who would appear on the scene a thousand years after him. This Christ Jesus would be Commander of the whole army of God, Whose kingdom would be everlasting.

But to be a commander, one needs an army. And the Lord’s army is constructed of filthy and miserable sinners who have come to Him for spiritual cleansing, rest, and service. By their very nature, they are discontented. As they have sinned daily, they are great debtors to God. As they are heavy laden with a guilty conscience, they are greatly distressed. But by God’s grace they have been recruited, for “the foolish things . . . the weak things . . . the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen.” (1 Corinthians 1:27,28) For Christ’s sake they all have been forgiven and declared righteous, sanctified and trained. Each one has been called “to endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” and to please his Commander (2 Timothy 2:3-4).

Is this chosen army on a suicide mission? It might appear that way, since we live behind enemy lines in this evil world. And we certainly deserved to be executed for our lawless rebellion against our Creator.

But our Captain is gracious and merciful. Thus we have a full pardon in our hands, not because we earned it, but because He earned it for us on His cross. Motivated by His love, we fight the good fight of faith with all our might. We run as gazelles and soar like eagles. We share in the spoils of our Captain’s victory over sin, Satan and the grave. And when He returns to visibly claim the kingdom for Himself, all His troops—once weak but now strong, once dirty but now clean, once distressed but now rejoicing—will march in His train to the heavenly kingdom. And there the once dirty dozens will forever live and reign with their King as the glorious, victorious and happy dozens!

David Fuerstenau is pastor of Holy Truth Lutheran Church in Ketchikan, Alaska.