War in the Old Testament

God commanded the Israelites to go to war and capture the Promised Land he had given them.  He punished them when they refused to go to war (Numbers 32:6 – 15).  Some nations were left in the Promised Land rather than being completely defeated so that future generations would have experience of war (Judges 3:1 – 2).  He also sent other nations to make war on Israel and punish them.

As well as God commanding Israel to go to war, he is recorded as fighting for Israel a number of times, including:

  • Drowning a pursuing Egyptian army in the Red Sea (Exodus 14)
  • Destroying the fleeing Canaanite army with hailstones (Joshua 10:6 – 14; Job 38:22 – 23)
  • Causing a river to flood to disable the enemy chariots (Judges 4:12 – 16; Judges 5:19 – 21)
  • Marching ahead of David’s army in the balsam trees to defeat the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:22 – 25)
  • Killing 185,000 of the army of the Assyrians while they slept (Isaiah 37:33 – 38)
  • Making the enemy army attack each other and so destroy themselves without Israel needing to fight (Judges 7:15 – 22; 2 Chronicles 20:13 – 30)

He chose many people specifically to lead Israel in war, even when they objected they were not suited to the job (Judges 6:14 – 18).  David in particular credited him with training him for war (Psalm 144:1 – 2, Psalm 18:34 – 50).  There is no doubt that God chose David to be a warrior king and to lead and save his people Israel (2 Chronicles 6:5 – 6; Psalm 89:19 – 24), and that he fought for God from the time he killed Goliath because Goliath was at war with God (1 Samuel 17:45 – 47).

However, God also said that because David was a man of war he could not build a house for him, so clearly war was not the end of God’s plans.  Even in his instructions to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 20 there were some interesting guidelines as to how they should conduct war, including:

  • Letting many soldiers completely avoid the war (including those who were afraid and those who were engaged to be married).
  • Offering peace to their enemies before attacking them (though this did not apply to the nations in the Promised Land God had given them).
  • Not destroying fruit trees or using the wood from them.

The Christian and war

How does God expect his followers today to act?  There are a few things that give us an indication:

  • Christ blessed peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
  • He commanded us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43 – 48).
  • As much as you can live at peace with everyone, and leave vengeance to God.  Attempt to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17 – 21).

These things are completely against involvement in war as it is now.  When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, he stated that he was not aiming to set up a kingdom then, otherwise his servants would have fought:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

However, there will be a future time when God will intervene to set up his kingdom, and people who resist God will be destroyed.  Then God’s servants will be expected to fight for their king.  There are pictures given of God and his army going to war against those who attack Jerusalem, and that war is described as a righteous war (Zechariah 14:1 – 5, Revelation 19:11 – 16).  Psalm 149, which appears to talk about a time of future judgement, commends the godly people for fighting for God against the nations God has judged.

After that God intends the world to be at peace, learning God’s law and learning about God rather than having different nations fighting against each other (Isaiah 2:2 – 4).  Finally, after all rebellion against God has been crushed, death and sorrow and pain will be abolished, and there will be no war, but God will dwell with men (Revelation 21:1 – 5).

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