By the Way With Joel Meeker
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It’s Just an Idea…

The lopsided outcome of an ancient battle underscores the power of ideas.

Colorfully painted villages perched on steep mountainsides, sunlight reflecting off an azure Mediterranean, a sinuous road leading from one stunning vista to another. The Amalfi coast in southern Italy offers one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

As I drove, however, my thoughts drifted to a stunning event that had occurred just across the peninsula. On Aug. 2, 216 B.C., outside the town of Cannae, as many as 90,000 Roman legionnaires and cavalry faced an army half its size, cobbled from among peoples that didn’t even share a common language. The outcome seemed obvious.

But the commander of the smaller army was Hannibal Barca of Carthage, who had something the Romans did not: a brilliant idea. He well understood relative strengths and weaknesses. He foresaw how the Romans would deploy. And he thought.

It’s just an idea?

Many people today underestimate the importance of how and what they think. There is not as much direction and discipline in their cognition as there could be. Because thoughts and ideas are not always deemed very important, we may allow ourselves to harbor negative, even destructive thoughts and incorrect but pleasant theories.

After all, it’s just an idea, right?

The Bible on thinking

But the Bible underscores the potency of the ideas we retain and the thoughts on which we dwell. They are immensely powerful.

This present evil age (Galatians 1:4) began with a wrong idea, an alluring lie: “You will not surely die” if you eat the forbidden fruit, the serpent promised, but “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:4-5). Our first parents liked that idea, treasured it and acted on it. The result is our suffering world.

Our thinking reveals to God how we truly are: “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, but the words of the pure are pleasant” (Proverbs 15:26). Avoid the man of evil thoughts, the Bible says, “for as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).

Conversely, the Bible gives a list of positive, constructive thoughts and says, “Meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

For good or for ill, our ideas, on which we will eventually act, can radically change events and us.

A perfectly deadly idea

Hannibal’s idea was to put his lightly armored troops in the center vanguard, with heavy infantry behind and on the wings. When the eight Roman legions made contact in a deep column, Hannibal ordered the controlled withdrawal of his center, while both flanks maintained their positions. This slowly drew the apparently victorious Roman formation into a pocket, with less and less room to maneuver.

At Hannibal’s signal, his heavy infantry attacked on three sides. Carthaginian cavalry, having routed the Roman horsemen, attacked the legions from behind. Completely surrounded, they were so tightly packed that many troops could not wield a sword.

The battle became a slaughter. The ancient historian Polybius wrote that 70,000 Roman and allied infantry were killed and 10,000 were captured. Only 3,000 escaped, most to be themselves captured the next day. Less than 400 of the 6,000 Roman cavalry survived. Only some 6,000 Carthaginian troops died.

Waged against overwhelming odds, it is the most crushing military victory ever recorded and is still widely studied.

And it all started with a thought.

So, when you have an idea, recognize its potential, for good or for ill, and take care.

–Joel Meeker


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Discern Article Series

Christ Versus Christianity
Walk as He Walked
Christianity in Progress
Wonders of God's Creation