“For Want of a Nail”

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,

For want of a shoe, the horse was lost,

For want of a horse, the rider was lost,

For want of a rider, the message was lost,

For want of a message, the battle was lost,

For want of a battle, the war was lost,

For want of a war, the kingdom was lost,

For want of a nail, the world was lost. 


The poem illustrates an important truth. Something that seems insignificant at the start, like a blacksmith’s lack of a horseshoe nail, can set in motion a series of events that lead to an egregious outcome, like losing the world. This chain of causality always seems clear in retrospect but far less so in the moment. Historical events are complex and intertwined but in hindsight it seems that if X had not happened then Y would never have happened. And if Y had never happened this present reality wouldn’t be the same.

Suppose the British never decrypted the Enigma code during WWII. Would they have starved as the German U-Boats blockaded the British Isles? Would the Allies have even won the war? It’s enough to make your brain hurt!

Let’s approach this from a spiritual angle. Why did Jesus die? Peter meets this question on two levels. In his sermon in Jerusalem he points out certain historical events that took place and, as a consequence to those events, Jesus died. Yet at the same time, he does not give the impression that if those things had not taken place Jesus would not have died. Peter saw God’s hand working behind the scenes to bring all these things together to accomplish his eternal purpose.

In Acts 2:23 Peter says, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” In this statement we see the sovereignty of God working in concert with the freewill of man to bring about God’s eternal plan. God orchestrated events to bring about his purpose but he still held the Jews who condemned Jesus and the Romans who crucified him to account.

Luke also meets the same question on the same two levels. When Jesus took his last Passover meal with his apostles he said, “But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Lk. 22:21-22).

We see both the “hand” of man and the ‘hand’ of God at work to bring Jesus to the cross. So why did Jesus die? Because he was “betrayed” but also because God had “determined” it. Judas’ personal responsibility is not mitigated in any way by God’s providence. But we notice that it would not have been possible for Jesus to die if Judas had slept in that morning or got run over by a horse or was in any other way delayed. God’s control over all things is such that he can “determine” something to happen while allowing Judas freewill to make his choice.

How does the issue of God’s power and control shake out with us, his new covenant people? We have a special role to play in God’s work. He is no less in control of the world today as he was two thousand years ago. His will is to work in and through us but even if we drop the ball, our faithlessness in no way nullifies his faithfulness, “for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).

But God’s control does not absolve us of our responsibilities as his redeemed children. If his will is not brought to bear through us he will still accomplish his purposes, we just won’t be part of his purposes. His Kingdom will not be lost for want of a Christian but for want of a Christian a soul very well may be lost! On the positive side, just think to what effect the Lord could use us in his service if we showed him the loyalty and trust he deserves!