The Charge of the Light Brigade was a failed military action involving the British light cavalry led by Lord Cardigan against Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854 in the Crimean War. Lord Raglan had intended to send the Light Brigade to prevent the Russians from removing captured guns from overrun Turkish positions, a task for which the light cavalry were well-suited. However, there was miscommunication in the chain of command and the Light Brigade was instead sent on a frontal assault against a different artillery battery, one well-prepared with excellent fields of defensive fire. The Light Brigade reached the battery under withering direct fire and scattered some of the gunners, but they were forced to retreat immediately, and the assault ended with very high British casualties and no decisive gains. The battle has been immortalised in Tennyson’s poem of the same name:

“Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.”

The military life is all about what some would call blind obedience to the chain of command. Tom Wright comments on this when writing about Acts 23:23-35, saying of the Roman deputation transferring Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea that they went from tying him up and preparing to flog him one day to mustering 200 soldiers, 70 horses and 200 spearmen to escort him to safety the next, but ‘soldiering is about doing, not knowing, and doing is what the Romans do best.’ (P 177)

Such blind obedience may be considered laudable or foolhardy, depending on one’s perspective, but there is no doubt that obedience to God is a key element of any disciple’s journey. God told the first king of Israel that ‘to obey is better than sacrifice’ (1 Sam 15:22), and walking in obedience is a key element of success in the Christian life (see Deut 5:33, 2 Cor 9:13). It’s not always easy for us to obey God when we do not understand His ways or see the point of what He is asking us to do, but we have the assurance that He is in sovereign control and, unlike the officers who authorised the Charge of the Light Brigade, is never going to command something which will ultimately harm us.