Sermon: Should a Christian Go To War? (Part 1)
Supremacy, Obedience, and Faith
Martin G. Collins
Given 01-Feb-03; 66 minutes
An article titled "The War Against Life" by Butler Shaffer, who teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law, appeared on the LewRockwell.com website on January 7, 2003. The article asked an intriguing question about war.
What would be the likely consequences to the state of a condition of universal peace, wherein men and women no longer lived under state-induced fears of one another? That question was the subject of inquiry for a book, published in 1967, titled Report From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. This book purports to have been the results of a secret government study, begun during the Kennedy administration, on the effects that peace would have on political systems. It is now generally regarded as having been a work of fiction, but that should not distract our attention from its importance. Let us recall that the fictional works of Orwell, Huxley, Kafka, Rand, and even Shakespeare, have told us more about the nature of political systems than have most political science Ph.D. dissertations!
"War," the report informs us, "Is the basic social system," and "the end of war means the end of national sovereignty." Because "allegiance requires a cause," and "cause requires an enemy," the "war-making societies require—and thus bring about—conflicts." A condition of universal peace, in other words, would be fatal to political systems. This is the same meaning one finds in Randolph Bourne's observation that "war is the health of the state." But the health of the war-making system, the report goes on, "requires regular 'exercise.'" It is not enough to just have the capacity for such systematic violence; deadly force must be employed with sufficient regularity to keep a nation's subjects in awe of the powers of life and death held by the state over their lives.
I do not totally agree with what he says, but Mr. Shaffer points out a very interesting connection between peace and its effect on this world's political systems, although he has the connection reversed to what I think it should be. He quotes the report as saying—"War is the basic social system, and the end of war means the end of national sovereignty and, a condition of universal peace would be fatal to political systems."
But war is a result of disobedience and unfaithfulness toward God that develops from the pride of the individuals and nations involved. Change the character of rebellious human beings to righteousness, and the corrupt Babylonian political system that strangles the world today would collapse and the wars it instigates would be eradicated. The point is that it is at the individual level where the problem should be solved—not necessarily in the political systems. The political systems are merely a result of the disobedience and sin of the individuals.
Take a glimpse at where this Babylonian world political system has taken the United States. Paul Kennedy put it best in his emphasis of America's power:
Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power, nothing. Charlemagne's empire was merely Western European in its reach. The Roman Empire stretched farther afield, but there was another great empire in Persia and a larger one in China. There is, therefore, no comparison. We tend not to see or understand the historical uniqueness of this situation. Even at its height, Britain could always be seriously challenged by the next greatest powers. It had a smaller army than the land powers of Europe, and its navy was equaled by the next two navies combined. Today, the American military exceeds in spending the next twenty countries combined. Its Navy, Air Force and space power is unrivaled. Its dominance extends as well to every other aspect of international life—not only military, but economic, technological, diplomatic, cultural, even linguistic, with a myriad of countries trying to fend off the inexorable march of MTV English.
Most Americans take this massive power for granted—feeling quite safe in this affluent society. Until the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers, most Americans gave little thought to their own harm from war. Even since September 11, the United States has demonstrated political, economic, and military resilience unlike any nation before it.
The military campaign in Afghanistan for the last year, and the massive military buildup in preparation for war with Iraq, has most of the world poised for possible escalation to world war. Some editorials have gone as far as to state that World War III began with the destruction of the World Trade Center. With this cloud of escalated war hanging over the world, all Christians, especially those of military draft age, must be able to answer this question: should a member of God's true church fight, bear arms, kill in war, or enter military service?
With regard to war, God does not allow the individual to decide what is right and what is wrong. God determines and reveals what is righteousness and what is sin. But He compels the individual to decide whether to obey or to sin. Even though we think we may know the answer, if we were put in front of a draft board, would we be able to give an intelligent answer as to why we believe we shouldn't, as Christians, go to war?
The whole question is one of our relationship and our responsibility to our God and to our country. Which has precedence?
God and His law are supreme, and have precedence over the laws of any nation. Through Isaiah, among others, God gives us a comparison of the relative power and authority between Him and any or all nations of the earth.
Isaiah 40:9-18 O Zion, you who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, you who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!" Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span and calculated the dust of the earth in a measure? Weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as His counselor has taught Him? With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of justice? Who taught Him knowledge, and showed Him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales; look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless. To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?
God rules supreme! Every national government on earth rules only by God's permission. Human governments are like human individuals with free moral agency. God allows governments to obey and receive blessings, or disobey and suffer consequences. It's simply human acceptance or rejection.
God's master plan calls for a duration of 6,000 years for human beings to choose voluntarily whether to accept and obey the rule of God, or to rebel and suffer the automatic penalty. God has given humankind individually and collectively 6,000 years to choose either to govern himself, or voluntarily accept God's government.
Romans 14:11-12 For it is written: "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
The basis of God's government is His spiritual law—the Ten Commandments. The penalty is the absence of God's blessings, and the penalty of eternal death—which is the absence of the blessing of eternal life.
In the days of Moses, after all nations had rejected God's rule, God emancipated the Israelite slaves from Egypt. He led them to a country He had prearranged to give them, and set them up as His nation, ruled by Him, with His government. But God didn't interfere with their prerogative of free moral agency. The people had to make their own decision to accept it or reject it.
Right from the beginning, they griped, they grumbled, they complained, they doubted, and they rebelled. After a while, they decided they wanted to switch to human government, like the other nations around them.
I Samuel 8:4-7 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." So Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.
So God gave them a human king, Saul. But they still remained bound by their covenant with God as His Kingdom—even though He allowed them to have a human king. Later, God removed Saul and chose David and then He chose Solomon. When Solomon's son King Rehoboam refused to relieve the burden of taxes that his father Solomon had levied on the Israelites, the people rebelled and rejected him as their king.
Solomon's assistant, Jeroboam, was set up as their king. Then the tribe of Judah seceded, in order to retain Rehoboam as their king. The tribe of Benjamin sided with and joined Judah. Then Jeroboam rejected the Levites, whom God had chosen as the priests. They were the top men of the nation in education and leadership. Jeroboam placed uneducated men in the priesthood he could control, people that would do his bidding. The Levites also became part of the kingdom of Judah. And, as you know, this kingdom became known as the Jews.
We see the contention and the warring even among the tribes throughout much of their history. After 19 kings in the nation of Israel, God caused Israel to be driven into captivity by the Assyrians. The Israelites were moved out of their farms and cities, and taken as slaves to Assyria. This was after a history of war of their own choosing.
Later, when the nation Judah refused to obey God's Laws or live God's way of life, God caused King Nebuchadnezzar of the Chaldeans to invade and conquer them. Then the Jews were removed from their homes and their land, and taken as slaves to the land of the Chaldeans.
God used Daniel to reveal to Nebuchadnezzar that God reigns supreme over human nations.
Daniel 2:19-21 Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said: "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.
Daniel 2:36-37 This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king. You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory;
God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that He gave the king the power to govern, and that nations govern only by God's consent. Daniel 3 again references Nebuchadnezzar's stubbornness in recognizing God as supreme over all nations. So he had to learn the lesson all over again. Nebuchadnezzar had made a golden idol—between 75 to 140 feet in height. Then he summoned all government officials from everywhere in his kingdom to attend the dedication ceremony. At the ceremony he commanded that everyone bow down to the golden image.
Daniel's three Jewish friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, knew that God's spiritual law forbids idol worship. They were determined to obey God and refused to break God's higher law by obeying a lesser human government.
This was government authority commanding these people to take an action that directly violated the higher law of God. King Nebuchadnezzar was furious and he commanded that the young Jewish men be brought personally before him.
Daniel 3:14-18 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? "Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?" Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."
This obedience to God, as the Supreme Power, higher than human government, required true active faith. Their faith remained firm, not knowing if, in this instance, God would protect them or allow them to be martyrs to show His sovereignty. Either way they were witnesses to the supremacy of God. These young men staked their lives on the fact that whatever God decided was for their ultimate good.
You remember the story; the king was furious at this defiance of his authority. So he gave orders to heat the large furnace seven times as hot as usual. Soldiers quickly bound Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego and threw them into the furnace. It was so hot the flames leaped out and killed the soldiers who flung them in. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were unharmed.
This frightened Nebuchadnezzar, to say the least. He saw four men, "quite free, walking in the middle of the fire, unscathed! The appearance of the fourth is like an angel."
Daniel 3:26-27 Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here." Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire. And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king's counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.
Again, this king was forced to acknowledge that God is the Most High, and that God rules over human governments! But even though he acknowledged this fact, he didn't yield to obey God, nor accept voluntarily God's rule over him and his nation. He couldn't see God for what He really was—the ultimate, supreme, sovereign power of the whole universe! Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had faith. Nebuchadnezzar had none. There we see one of the major differences between them.
We have to have a true conviction that God exists and is a rewarder of those who obey Him. Faith is paramount to understanding the true sovereignty of God. Faith is the confidence we have in possessing the things we hope for because of the promises of God. We hope for peace and safety and eternal life.
Faithfulness is adhering unswervingly to God and His covenant. Consider, for a moment these five elements of faith:
To be faithful we have to be obedient—humbly submissive.
To be faithful we have to be loyal—consistently affectionate and allegiant to God.
To be faithful we have to be conscientious—scrupulous in doing God's will.
To be faithful we have to be dedicated—zealously devoted to God.
To be faithful we have to be truthful—true to God's Word and standard of righteousness.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were all these things. But, of course, Nebuchadnezzar was none of them.
The matter of obeying God, above obedience to a law of human government that would cause us to sin, might even become a life-and-death matter, as it was for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. Faith without works is a dead faith. But their active faith was one that enabled them to stand steadfast in the face of death. And that is one of the reasons I am giving this sermon, especially for those who will become conscientious objectors later on if that should so happen, that you too can have the faith that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had.
But, at the same time, no Christian should have a rebellious attitude toward his country. We should not have a defiant attitude toward the government of our nation, but rather an obedient attitude to God first, and then, loyalty and willing subjection to the laws of our country. This may even require submission to whatever penalties the government may assess. Our attitude should be one of love of country, not hostility against it.
This positive attitude is going to be harder and harder to maintain as our countries continue to become more wicked here in the end time. But God is very clear that He sets up leaders and we are in subjection to them, unless they try to force us to go against God's instructions, as spelled out in His written Word.
The issue is that each individual must decide for himself that obedience to God must come first!
Christians, especially young Christian men, should realize the seriousness of the subject of war and conscientious objection. We must pray for God's guidance, leading us into a right personal conviction to God's Truth. None of us knows when and what God may call on us to do, to be a witness to His Sovereignty. These things just seem to all of a sudden come up. We have to prepare now for them.
In the months following September 11, some Republicans introduced proposals suggesting the military draft be resumed. Just a few weeks ago, two Democratic congressmen introduced legislation to revive the draft. Although the administration is not calling for a draft at this time, the recent proposals show that while conscription has been buried for 30 years, the idea is not necessarily dead and could reappear at any time.
How are you young men going to handle it, if the military draft is reinstated?
Just as a quick scenario, what if we send troops to Iraq and the Iraqis use their weapons of mass destruction and kill 30,000 men at one time? Would the United States then need immediate replacement forces for them? Hopefully this would not happen. But people of draft age should certainly think about it.
The whole question of the right or wrong of military service, bearing arms, and killing, revolves around the question: Is it sin? If not, we must submit to such service if so ordered by the government. If its sin, then God says in Acts 5:29 we must obey Him rather than man, although still in subjection to the human authority by submitting to penalties, if imposed.
Let me give you a real life example of this. Back in the early to mid-'70s, a man who later became a friend of mine skipped the country when his draft time came. He went to Canada. Later, he came upon God's truth and he came into God's truth, was counseled and was baptized. He counseled further with the minister at that time because there was a warrant out for his arrest by the Federal Government. So the minister seriously advised him to think about his conscientious objector's status at that time and if he was truly dedicated to God's truth then he should turn himself in and accept the penalty that the government had to place on him.
He did that and ended up spending six months in Leavenworth Federal Prison. When he came back, he would not talk about it because he said was the most horrible time he had ever had. Yet he did the right thing. He relied on God. He turned himself in as the laws of the country dictated, spent the six months in prison, and became a free man. He was later able to marry and have children and get on with his life. Otherwise, he would have been a hunted man for the rest of his life.
This is just one example of what a minister in Worldwide gave as counsel. I am aware of it happening in several other situations. The reason I give you this example, partly, is to make you realize that if you think you will just skip out on the draft, it is not that easy. You have to make your stand right from the beginning on what your beliefs are having to do with killing and war.
Sin is the transgression of God's spiritual Law. Sin began with Adam because the Law God gave to Moses has existed through out all of human history.
Romans 5:12-14 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
Sin was imputed at the time of Adam. The law was in full existence and force from Adam. The law of God is the way of life that causes peace and happiness. Rebellion, on the other hand, is disobedience of the law of God. It causes war and unhappiness—directly contrary to obedience to God's law.
God Himself determines that disobedience of His Law is sin, because it brings harm and evil upon humans whom God loves. So violation is punishable by capital punishment—the death sentence—eternal death.
Regarding war, military service, and killing, God's basic law is the 6th commandment recorded in Exodus 20: "You shall not murder." The principle is clear. The Ten Commandments are the ten basic principles of righteousness for all human beings, both individually and nationally.
The New Testament magnifies this principle in I John 3:15.
I John 3:15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
Matthew 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
So we ask a question: How can a person go to war and still bless, do good and pray for his enemies?
The basic foundation of the government of God is love. God's way of life shows love toward others in equal balance with love of self. It's impossible for military service, bearing arms, killing, and war against other human beings to be characteristics of true Christians because they are contrary to the foundational principle of God's way of life—love!
Human reasoning tells us that for all nations to obey the 6th commandment is not practical, nor will it work. The argument goes something like this: If our nation obeys the 6th commandment, and is disarmed—having no military force—it would be attacked and beaten by some other nation that ignores, disregards and disobeys God's law, and believes in war. We would lose our freedom, our land, our homes, and probably our lives!
On the human level, that seems like a good argument, but in Proverbs 14:12, God says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." The Omnipotent God provides for the protection of those who are godly, against any ungodly enemy. Almighty God is not impractical—He doesn't leave those who obey and trust Him—who accept His government—helpless! That is a fact.
One of the basic responsibilities of any government is to protect its own subjects. Many fail miserably in this area. We see this in the suffering of those in many countries. One example is how Saddam Hussein treats his subjects. Also the nations of Africa and how they treat their subjects
Is the government of God so impotent that it cannot protect the individual or the nation it governs?
God took Israel, a family of several million people, to be His nation and offered to set them up as a nation under His government.
Exodus 23:20-22 "Behold, I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him and obey His voice; do not provoke Him, for He will not pardon your transgressions; for My name is in Him. But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries."
God promised to supernaturally fight any invading enemy to protect the nation and people under His government. It's not wrong for God to fight an invading army, and if necessary, take human lives. God is the Molder, Shaper, and Creator of human life. He gave it and He has the right to take it away if He chooses. All life, including human life, belongs to Him. He has the power of life and death over humanity without blame.
God gave us a set of laws that regulate the relationship that we must have toward God and toward other humans. In that law, God has made it a capital sin for a human being to take the life of another human being. He forbids the people, or the nation as a whole, to kill others. Almighty God renders war and killing unnecessary for any people or nation, because God Himself will do the fighting if fighting is necessary. So for a nation to go to war is unnecessary if they are willing to obey and have faith in and reverence the sovereign God.
A few years ago, I heard a Protestant minister describe the major difference between Islam and Christianity. He said, "The Muslims believe that they must fight for their god. We Christians believe our God fights for us."
There's a lot of truth in that statement, if those "Christians" are true Christians and not the professing mainstream Christians of today, who do not obey God. There is definitely obedience involved in regard to God's protection.
The people, individually and nationally, must obey God and leave the fighting to Him! He's able—He's powerful—He has the right—He has promised and He can't lie! To doubt that He will do our fighting for us is sin! Because, as Romans 14:23 says, lack of faith is sin.
Therefore, it is sin to fail or refuse to trust God to do whatever fighting is necessary for us, because He has forbidden us to kill, and has promised to do any necessary fighting for us. The duty of the people is obedience and faith! That's the way of peace—not to go to war!
God instructed the Israelites to break down the idolatrous images of the pagans—not break down, fight, or kill the people. God said He would drive them out.
Exodus 23:27-30 "I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beast of the field become too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land."
God said He, not an Israelite army, would put fear in their enemies and drive them out, but not all at once—little by little. God is very careful in His care for His people. He does it carefully and systematically and with great organization. He knew that if the animals were allowed to proliferate without human beings being in the area that there would be a danger to the Israelites, in the form of anything from bobcat type of animals to lions and such.
God has promised that, when we obey and trust Him, He will fight our battles for us. The principle applies to both physical and spiritual warfare, and both personal and national enemies.
When the people of Israel crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land, God delivered their idol-worshipping enemies into their hands, and the Israelites were to drive them out of the land.
Numbers 33:50-53 Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 'then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places; you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess.
Numbers 33:55-56 'But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall be that those whom you let remain shall be irritants in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land where you dwell. Moreover it shall be that I will do to you as I thought to do to them.' "
Nowhere in this passage does God say the Israelites were to use military weapons and kill these people. God had already promised He would deliver them into Israel's hands, with their backs to the Israelites. Driving them out is not killing. They were to destroy idolatrous pictures and idols, but in this situation not the people.
These passages give God's teaching for humanity. God doesn't have one way for one time and a different way for another time. He is not a respecter of persons. He says, "I change not."
Why, then, did Israel go to war and kill their enemies? Did God even command them to? Yes, He did! But, in no way does this alter or nullify God's earlier command that people obey Him and have faith in Him to fight their battles for them. The Israelites should never have gone to war and they sinned in doing so.
God never intended for Israel to ever need to go to war. In delivering them out of Egypt, so they would not see war, become discouraged or fearful, and want to return to Egypt, He took them on a round about way to the Promised Land. This was just so they would miss confrontation!
Exodus 13:17-18 Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, "Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt." So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.
God performed many miracles in freeing them from slavery in Egypt: protecting them, blessing them, fighting their military battles for them, leading them miraculously by a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. And even before they had reached Sinai, these people began to gripe and complain, grumble and disobey God. Right from the beginning the children of Israel lacked faith, and even with all the miracles that followed, the Israelites continued to lacked faith.
God's purpose was not to be defeated, but to deliver them out of Egyptian slavery—to show them—and all nations and all humanity—that He would fight their battles for them. So, in spite of their faithless complaining in this initial example of God's faithfulness—in spite of their lack of faith—He was determined to fight this battle and save them.
Exodus 14:13-14 And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace."
The Israelites were not to fight—but stand still. They were to remain in peace and watch God fight their battles for them. For a short time the Israelites were in awe of God and actually believed God. They even expressed a little temporary faith. Part of that expression was in the Song of Moses.
Egypt is a type of sin. God was, figuratively in type, delivering these people out of sin. They were starting out on God's way of life, which requires faith. It's a life of obedience to God. Obedience requires faith. We are saved by grace through faith, and not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.
The Israelites would not be saved by a dead faith. It's a living faith that makes obedience possible. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego obeyed God's command against idol worship—but their staunch refusal to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's idol was possible only by their reliance on God to protect and deliver them. They trusted God, exercising living and active faith!
Just believing that God exists is not the faith that saves because it's dead and produces nothing.
The newly freed Israelite slaves, still in awe of God after experiencing great miracles, expressed faith and sang with thankfulness and hope. But they didn't believe very deeply or very long. When they came to Marah, they found the water too bitter to drink. This one little problem in their path brought them again to complaining and doubting. Again, by a miracle, God made the waters sweet.
He gave them a test of obedience, along with miraculously providing food. In Exodus 16, the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron about where their food was going to come from in the wilderness. So God gave them manna with specific instructions on how to gather it. They failed that test of obedience.
They complained about not having enough water to drink. When the children of Israel journeyed to Rephidim, again, there was no water. Again they griped, complained, and lost faith in God. They just could not bring themselves to completely trust or obey Him.
They had been grumbling, disobeying, and losing faith on a regular basis, even in the face of constant miracles from God. And, as God performed another miracle, causing water to gush out of a rock, the people doubted that God was with them.
Exodus 17:7 So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
Frequently, God had given these people awe-inspiring and miraculous demonstrations of His intention to fight their battles for them. These were visible miracles, which the people witnessed with their own eyes. God had demonstrated His faithfulness, His power, and His way of life. Still, the Israelites would not believe He was truly powerful!
But, over and over again, these people doubted, complained and disobeyed. Over and over again, they lost faith. Even after all the overwhelming proof, these people doubted God's faithfulness and His power. They even doubted His existence as we see in Exodus 17:7!
Next, the Gentile king Amalek came against the Israelites in great strength with an invading army.
This time God allowed the Israelites to learn through experience. He allowed them to sin. (As we know, experience is not the best teacher, but it will teach.) Moses reached the end of his patience trying to induce the stubborn and rebellious Israelites to trust God.
Exodus 17:9-13 And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Moses feared that since the Israelites lacked the faith to trust God for their protection, they would be slaughtered. Although Moses weakened and gave the order for war, it was the people themselves who actually made the decision for war.
Their total lack of reliance on God clouded their minds to the fact that it was absolutely unnecessary for them to arm themselves and wage war. And even worse, it was wrong. It was a sin! But God let them make their own decision.
This incident was the turning point. It was after this that God promised, conditioned on obedience and faith, to always fight their battles for them—to protect them from war—to give them constant peace. This happened before they reached Mt. Sinai.
It was after this that they accepted His government over them. But already they had shown a lack of faith and trust, even during the days when God was demonstrating His power and faithfulness by so many miracles! They had experienced a taste of war and they should have turned from it and relied on God instead of themselves.
By their continuous disbelief, lack of reliance on God, and reliance on warfare, they made the decision to be a warring nation just like the Gentiles of the rest of the world. The fact that all nations have chosen this way of sin does not make it right.
World leaders today, in all nations, are so far from God and God's way of life, and God has become so unreal to them that it probably would seem ridiculous even to suggest such a thing. The scientists, the industrial and commercial leaders, the educators, and even the clergy, have departed so far from God and His ways, that such a thought could not even enter their minds. And if it did, they would not be able to comprehend the concept.
Even though God allows humans to make their own decisions, including the decision to sin, and He allows nations to go to war—God's purpose must stand! His purpose was to settle the descendants of Abraham in the land He promised to Abraham. Nothing could stop Him from doing this!
God's promise to Abraham 430 years earlier had been made unconditional. Abraham had performed his part of that agreement. He had obeyed God, kept God's Commandments and laws. Now God's faithfulness demanded that He plant the Israelites in that land, regardless of their conduct.
It was God's responsibility to place these people in the Promised Land, driving out the inhabitants. It was Israel's responsibility to decide how this would be done—whether to rely on God to do the fighting, driving out the illegal inhabitants, or to arm themselves and engage in war.
The descendants of Abraham had made their decision to be a fighting, war-waging nation. And since they had made that decision, God used them to do the fighting in driving out the inhabitants illegally possessing the land God had allotted to Abraham's descendants.
Consequently, God gave orders for them to do what fighting and killing was necessary to accomplish God's purpose of putting them in the Promised Land. But that did not make war right. It was still sin!
It was because of Israel's faithlessness and disobedience that God allowed them to sin by taking up arms. And, as a result, God used them as His instruments in driving out the nations illegally in their land.
Since God had given them every opportunity to choose to let Him fight their battles for them, they were without excuse! One sin leads to another. And since whatever is not of faith is sin, as Romans 14:23 tells us, when the Israelites committed the sin of doubt, they proceeded to commit the sin of fighting and war.
God allowed this because without free moral agency His purpose for having placed humans on this planet would be frustrated. That purpose is the development of righteous character—and it demands free moral agency. God's purpose must stand, even though God allows humans to rebel and sin. God's timetable has stood for 6,000 years, and the rest of it will stand as well.
Since Israel exercised their God-allowed prerogative of making the wrong decision for war, God gave them special laws relating to war. God's rules of war are not laws of military strategy. They don't justify or glorify war. They didn't teach the Israelites to hate, desire to kill, or become skilled in the arts and strategy of warfare or military tactics.
These laws still concerned God's fighting for them—even though they had decided to go to war. And these laws concerned military exemption for certain reasons. God allowed them to make their own wrong decision to fight. So He said, here are special war regulations. Deuteronomy 20 gives God's principles governing warfare.
Deuteronomy 20:1 "When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt."
When they approached the actual battle, it was not the army's general or military commander that would give the actual orders. It was the priest.
Deuteronomy 20:2-4 "So it shall be, when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people. And he shall say to them, 'Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them; for the LORD your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.' "
Following this encouragement, this law provides exemptions from military service.
Deuteronomy 20:5-20 "Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying: 'What man is there who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. And what man is there who has planted a vineyard and has not yet eaten of it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man eat of it. And what man is there who is betrothed to a woman and has not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man marry her.' The officers shall speak further to the people, and say, 'What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart.' And so it shall be, when the officers have finished speaking to the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people. When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. And it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace, and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you, and serve you. Now if the city will not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when the LORD your God delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. But the women, the little ones, the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall plunder for yourself; and you shall eat the enemies' plunder which the LORD your God gives you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations. But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God. When you besiege a city for a long time, while making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; if you can eat of them, do not cut them down to use in the siege, for the tree of the field is man's food. Only the trees which you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, to build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it is subdued.
In God's instruction, we can see God's care for mankind. He wants us to realize the detrimental effect that idolatrous people can have. He is trying to keep His people sanctified. It is a merciful act.
If war is wrong—if it is sin—if it is contrary to God's way of life, then why did God, on occasion, actually order the Israelites to go to war and kill?
Two primary reasons Israel was ordered to war:
First, Israel had sinned in not trusting God to do the fighting for them, and in disobeying God's commandment against war. They had chosen to be a war-waging nation. The decision was wrong. But, God compels human beings to decide whether or not to sin. If they do, they bring on themselves the penalty. The fact is that Israel refused to rely on God to do the fighting and chose to be a warring nation. In Matthew 26:52, Christ said, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword." If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
God's purpose must stand, regardless of what people do. It was God's purpose to install Israel in the Promised Land, and to drive certain people out of God's holy land, which He had promised to the children of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. These nations had taken and possessed that land illegally according to God's purpose.
Since Israel was not going to rely on God to drive out these nations, but elected to be a war-making nation, God used them to accomplish His purpose of driving out these land-poachers. Therefore, God ordered them to do what was required to make His purpose stand!
The fulfillment of the divine purpose does not depend on humans—it depends on God's action, not human action.
Even though this Israelitish nation rebelled against God's command against war and killing, even though they made their decision to become a war-making nation, like all others, and even though God used them in driving out nations from the Promised Land, it is still considered in God's Word that it is God who thrust out these foreign nations from Israel's land.
Psalm 44:1-3 We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, the deeds You did in their days, in days of old: You drove out the nations with Your hand, but them You planted; you afflicted the peoples, and cast them out. For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, because You favored them.
Acts 7:45 speaks of "the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers."
Acts 13:19 says that God destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan during Israel's forty years of wandering.
God thrust out the nations from the Promised Land in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham.
God alone has the right to take human life, since He alone is the giver of life. Because of Israel's faithlessness and disobedience, God used them as His instrument in taking life, which God had full right to do!
How much better would it have been for the Israelites if they had had obedience and faith in God to fight their battles for them? How many Israelites would not have died? How many more children would have had their fathers around to love them and teach them?
Obedience and faith in God is the duty of the people! That is the way of peace! To do whatever fighting might be necessary is God's prerogative. May God fight our battles for us!