Sunday, August 22, 2010
"Woe to the bloody city, all lies, full of plunder, whose looting never stops! The flame of the sword, the flash of the spear, the many slain, the heaping corpses, the endless bodies to stumble upon." Nahum 3:1,3
From a religious perspective, watching The Expendables is like listening to darkest warnings from the Hebrew prophets like Nahum, Joel, and Zephaniah or the Book of Revelation: the blood, the bodies, and the warfare are incredibly intense and truly harrowing.
This film, directed by and staring in the lead role Sylvester Stallone (as Barney Ross), is an ensemble of Hollywood's most infamous action heroes: Jason Statham (as Lee Christmas) with Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, and camero appearances by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Most of these characters are members of The Expendables, a covert team of operatives hired by government agencies to do their "dirty work" so that those same agencies can claim plausible deniability for such actions.
From the outset, realizing such a set-up, audiences should realize how bloody things can get. If a job is too much for the CIA, the Navy Seals, or the Green Beret, then anything we see is not going to be pretty.
The primary mission in the film is to overthrow the military dictator (David Zayas) of Vilena, a small island country, and free its people from death and destruction. On a reconnaissance mission there, Ross and Christmas discover that a rogue CIA agent (Eric Roberts) and his henchman (Austin) are behind all the mayhem, hence the reason for the secrecy of their mission.
But while there, the two meet Sandra (Giselle Itie), the leader of the resistance and also the daughter of the murderous general controlling the island. When given an opportunity to escape with the Expendables, she decides to stay and continue to fight for her people. This selfless act is a wake-up call to Ross, who has - up until now - never really understood what he was fighting for on all his crazy missions.
He begins to realize that his job should not be about killing the bad guys, but saving the innocent and helpless. The end result may be the same, but Ross understands that one is the route to emptiness while the other can give him purpose and direction in his life. By acknowledging this, he also becomes more determined to set the captives free.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, God was not just angry with the rich and powerful for their actions but also incredibly concerned for the plight of the poor, oppressed, and the downtrodden. For God's love of people - not for the anger against their enemies - were the prophets inspired to speak out in such strong language:
"Woe to the bloody city, all lies, full of plunder, whose looting never stops! The flame of the sword, the flash of the spear, the many slain, the heaping corpses, the endless bodies to stumple upon. For all this... I will come against you." Nahum 3:1,3,5
"Because you have trampled upon the weak... oppressing the just, accepting bribes, repelling the needy at the gate... there shall be lamentation in every square and every street... when I pass through your midst, says the Lord." Amos 5:11,12,16
"Because of you who abhor what is just and pervert what is right, who built up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with wickedness... Zion shall be plowed like a field and Jerusalem shall be reduced to rubble." Micah 3:9-10,12
So, with an increased sense of purpose in the mission, Stallone's character and his crew are a force to be reckoned with. To save a persecuted people, embodied by their selfless leader Sandra, is the new and improved reason for their actions. Like the Babylonians, Persians, or Assyrians, the Expendables rush in to punish those who rule with corruption and hatred.
While the body count in the movie might be quite high (and sometimes unnecessary), so too were the battles and the destruction in the Bible. And when studying the Scriptures, one might question why God allowed the Babylonians and others to crush the Jewish nation - doesn't that seem a little overboard?
But such violence was not done out of a joy of destruction, but a severe concern for the poor and the persecuted. God is ultiumately the good shepherd, doing everything in His power to save the lost sheep from harm. "I have heard my people's cry," God announces to Moses (Ex. 3:7) before he sends him forth to set the people free from slavery.
So when we feel abandoned, hurt, or mistreated by others, let us trust in God - for He will do everything to save us and set us free. God sends prophets and leaders to work on our behalf; let us be open to seeing those messangers when they arrive to take us home. Perhaps those God sends will be a loving friend, an inspiring mentor, or - just maybe - Sylvester Stallone.
No matter who or what the Lord sends, let us always be thankful for God's love of us.