LCN Article
For Want of a Nail

November / December 2019

Roger Meyer

Many stories, proverbs, and wise sayings teach that small matters can bring serious consequences. One proverb I read early in life was titled “For Want of a Nail.” It shows the difference a little thing can make—even the difference between life and death! There are several versions of the proverb, but a basic one is as follows:

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 kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail!

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, said, “Life is a great bundle of little things.” Indeed, our life is a series of little daily events and decisions.

Proverbs 30 describes four small creatures that are “exceedingly wise”: ants, which prepare their food in the summer; rock badgers which, though feeble, thrive in safe homes among rocks; locusts, which have no king but act in organized ranks; and spiders, which even dwells in kings’ palaces (vv. 24–28).

Jesus Christ compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a small mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32). Yet, He told His disciples that if they only had “faith as a mustard seed” they could move mountains (Matthew 17:20).

Christ tells us that “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17–18). A jot is a small Hebrew letter resembling an apostrophe, and a tittle is small stroke of the pen. Though small, each is preserved until all is fulfilled.

After Jesus chose the Twelve Apostles, He spoke to the multitudes, making an often-overlooked statement: 

But why do you call Me “Lord, Lord,” and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great (Luke 6:46–49).

Today’s Christianity has much to learn from the mindset Christ described! For “want of a nail”—lack of attention to small and seemingly insignificant details—the very knowledge of God’s soon-coming Kingdom was lost to most professing Christians, along with many other important truths! But you can be different! Rather than blindly and haphazardly going along, you can look into your own Bible—mindful of the small and often overlooked details—and see what Christ says to do.