a serious study of war - without a game
practical theology for better thinking and living
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH ABOUT WAR?
War is a serious subject. So although the Bible Top 55 cards and list are often used in educational games, this time they are not. The simple procedure is to go through the Bible Top 55 cards or list, taking note of people like Joshua, Saul, David, and Jeremiah and discussing how the various aspects of war shown on the WAR 101 worksheet below are present or absent in their lives.
The studies on war below are not just to be read. Nor are they to be used as sermon points. They are intended to help Bible study leaders prepare to lead interactive discussions on war using the Bible Top 55 list and cards. The Top 55 Booklet also should be referenced concerning lesser-known characters.
THE THREE LEVELS
The most important aspect of the summary sheet on war in the history of Israel above is that there are three levels. It is easy to overlook the root-cause aspect of Satan's hatred of Israel. When this is done, some wrongly blame God for wars.
In Genesis 13:5-12, Abraham, the peacemaker, promoted peace by suggesting that he and Lot go separate ways in order to end strife between their shepherds. Later in Genesis chapter 14, however, Abraham (#7) led a small army of his servants against those who had taken Lot and others captive. Detail in the short account (Gen. 14:14-15) show that trategy was important. Abraham knew how to fight, though he, of course, wished to live peaceably.
Job (#38) who probably lived during the time of Abraham suffered the loss of his livestock at the hands of nomadic robber bands (Job 1:13-15, 1:17). This was a primitive form of war. Perhaps the most important things to notice in this is that although God allowed this to happen it was Satan who was behind it all. Job was caught in the middle. Thus there were three levels involve as shown on the War 101 diagram above.
The multiple attacks upon Job, including the verbal ones by his three friends were like a long siege. It was finally lifted by the Lord at the end of the book.
One of the greatest victory in the Old Testament was the destruction of a huge Egyptian army in the Red Sea. More importantly, it is clear that God himself rather than Moses (#3) was key to this victory. There was no grand strategy put together by Moses and Aaron. Rather, they simply believed and did as they were told (Exodus 14:13-31, Hebrews 11:29).
Another interesting but lessnown scene in Moses' life regarding war is found in Exodus 17:8-16. The victory over Amalek depended upon the intervention of God and was not just the result of Joshua's courage and skill as a military leader.
Some authors have studied Joshua in order to point out the wisdom of various strategies. However, the fact that Joshua (#12) was often directly instructed by the Lord must not be forgotten. Sending two spies to Jericho may have been the wise thing to do, but it was God who gave the victory as clearly seen in how the walls collapsed. This fact was demonstrated through Gideon (#48) as well. The Bible does not glorify men as military geniuses. (Ahithophel in 2 Samuel 16:15-17:4) may be an exception.)
One of the most important things to remember about all the fighting in Joshua is that it was God's means of judging the Canaanites rather than genocide. God had been patient with them (Gen. 15:16), but judgment came in the fullness of time.
Famously, God said that Gideon's (#48) army of 22,000 was too large. So it was cut down to only 300. This was classic instruction on the need to trust the Lord rather than trust in men and numbers. (See Judges chapter six.)
Early on God gave victory to Israel through Saul (#4) to save the city of Jabesh Gilead (See First Samuel chapter 11.), but because of his sin the Lord's favor was removed. This son, Jonathan (#25), was courageous and victorious in a special way in First Samuel chapter 14. Yet, for the most part Saul's life was characterized by poor leadership and selfish fighting against the Lord regarding David. Consulting a witch near the end in First Samuel chapter 28 shows how far he fell.
Saul's military leader, Abner (#42) was on the wrong side regarding David for most of his life. Yet, along with Joab (#18), David's commander, he shows that leadership in war is important. After the death of Saul and Jonathan, Abner became the real leader of Saul's faction, rather than the weak king that he sat up. (See Second Samuel chapters two through four.)
Abner's attempt to avoid fighting and killing Joab's younger brother, Asahel, is an important part of this story. Moreover, Joab's revengeful killing of Abner was murder since it wad done after the war had ended. This story helps show the difference between murder and killing during war.
Various things about war can be learned from David's (#2) one-on-one victory over Goliath. First, the fight was defensive, since the Philistines had attacked Israel. Second, David demonstrated the importance of faith-based courage. Third, the importance of leadership was shown through Saul's lack of such. Fourth, It was good that David did not trust in the armor that Saul could provide. Fifth, David's victory was God-given.
David's refusal to fight against Saul shows that it is often best to avoid fighting and war. However, his participation in may battles shows that there were (and are) wars that must be fought.
Three of David's greatest failures involved fighting and war. First, he should have gone out with the army to fight in Second Samuel chapter 11. Staying in Jerusalem led to his sin with Bathsheba. Second, he should not have used Joab (#18) and the fighting to kill Uriah. The command structure in armies can be misused for evil purposes. Third, he should not have counted the army in Second Samuel chapter 24. The counting showed trust in men rather than trust in the Lord.
The civil war between between Saul and David was bad, but the one between David and his own son, Absalom (#23), was in some ways ever worse. The only good thing that could be said about it was that it did not last nearly as long. For David, it was more painful because it was so close to home.
War was common in Israel's history. So Solomon's (#5) reign was unusual. The nation was blessed with peace. Therefore Israel at that time foreshadowed the future peaceful kingdom of the Messiah during which the nations shall come to honor the King of kings in Jerusalem. (For more on this, see the Solomon studies page.) On the negative side, however, Solomon's preparations for war were excessive, as also were his foreign alliances that involved marriages to many Gentile princesses. So in the end his united kingdom was divided and defeated in that sense because of his sin.
Solomon's son's (#39) proud leadership nearly led to full-scale civil war, but a prophet named Shemaiiah was sent by the Lord to prevent such (1 Kings 12:21-24). This is one of many examples, of God preventing war and bloodshed. Another example of this I found in Second Samuel chapter 20. A wise woman spoke to Joab in order to save her city.
Elisha (#29) often helped the king of Israel against Gentile enemies. Yet Elisha told the king of Israel to feed and release the many Syrians who had been blinded by the Lord in Second Kings 6:1-23. So this was peacemaking and the avoidance of war. As with the healing of Naaman, a Syrian general, the ultimate goal was to show that the Lord was the God of all the earth (2 Sam. 5:15) rather than to simply defeat Gentiles.
The interaction between the northern kingdom of Israel and Syrian in the time of Elisha illustrates how terribly unstable international relations often are. There was peace for a time after the incident mentioned above (2 Kings 6:23), but then later the Syrians came besieged Israel's capital of Samaria (2 Kings 6:24). Peace is a special blessing from the Lord and should never be taken for granted.
The Assyrian siege of Jerusalem during Hezekiah's (#17) reign is one of the best known war story in the Bible, since it is recorded in three different books, in Second Kings chapters 18 and 19, Second Chronicles chapter 32, and Isaiah chapters 36 and 37. The Assyrian's king's boasting was overruled by the Lord, showing that God was in control rather than the proud leader of the strongest nation in the world at the time. Similar things will happen in the future during the tribulation period. (See Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 and Revelation chapter 19.)
Josiah (#30), the last good king of Judah, was killed in battle while fighting against Necho, king of Egypt (Second Kings 23:26-27). Earlier, King Saul (#4) and King Abab (#15) were killed in battle, but their deaths clearly were divine judgement. This probably was not be the case with Josiah. His death in battle is impossible to understand with certainty. Perhaps it was the result of pride and misjudgment, but, then again, maybe it was not. Many things in and about war are unclear.
Some may be surprised to learn that the king of Babylon is the ninth most mentioned person in the Bible, even outranking Paul (#10), Joseph (#11), Joshua (#12), Peter (#13), and Isaac (#14). Why is this? One reason is simply because the Old Testament is longer than the New Testament. A more important reason is because the successful (i.e. allowed by God) Babylonian invasion and the Babylonian captivity were a great turning point in Israel's history. Jeremiah (#19) also is highly ranked because of this. As the greatest of the prewar and wartime prophets, his long, emotional, record clearly shows that it was the sin of the Israelites which led to the invasion, destruction, and captivity.
Along with Nebuchadnezzar (#9), Jeremiah (#19), the weeping prophet, is highly ranked because of the importance of the war with Babylon and its aftermath. The seventy years of captivity as a whole are usually the center of attention today, but let's not forget that there was an invasion and a war. Wars have causes. So what caused the Babylonian one?
Was the root cause of the invasion Satan's hatred for Israel? Certainly, Satan must have been pleased, but that is not what Jeremiah wrote about. His long, emotional, and personal writings show that it was the sin of the Israelites which led to the invasion, destruction and death (Jer. 4:1, 17:27). Also more specifically, he showed that King Zedekiah's (#34) refusal to repent and surrender to the Babylonians led to the destruction of the city and the temple (Jer. 38:17-21).
The transition from the kingdom of Babylon to that of the Medes and Persians is referred to in Daniel chapter five, but the focus is on the proud and sinful king of Babylon who was killed and the role God played in the change rather than on the milararistc details (5:30). The Bible does not glorify war.
The four great ancient empires of Babylon, Memo-Persia, Greece, and Rome are described in chapter seven as four different kinds of beasts, a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a beast with iron teeth. None of these beast-like analogies are complementary though they seem to depict their military characteristics to some extent. These kingdoms with powerful armies were not to be admired. This was especially true of the final one, in whose final form the Antichrist (#55) will arise.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
It is probably significant that John the Baptist (#22) did not command the repentant soldiers who questioned him to find different work (Luke 3:14). They merely commanded to refrain from misusing their authority.
Some might argue that John's instructions were really to police officers since the distinction between the military and law enforcement was not clear in that day. This is partly true, of course, but it can also be argues that the local community need for police protection is evidence in support of a national need for a standing army (Rom. 13:3-5).
THE LORD JESUS
The world will not know true and lasting peace until Jesus (#1), the Prince of Peace, returns (Isa. 9:6). In the meantime, there will be wars and rumors of wars (Mat. 24:6). This does not mean that all human efforts to avoid war and end wars will be in vain, however. As noted above, Elisha was a peacemaker at least once, and Jeremiah spoke for God when he called for Judah to surrender.
Jesus' instructions to Peter regarding the hasty disciples' unwise use of the sword (Mat. 26:51-52) also is instructive. Peter's lack of skill with the sword showed that he was not a professional soldier, and the Lord' corrected showed that he should not try to be one. It is probably not a blanket rejection of all military service for everyone, however, for that would be contrary to Romans 13:3-5.
As mentioned above, Paul's (#10) instruction in Romans 13:3-5 show that the apostle supported the proper use of force by governments. In addition, he used militaristic imagery to illustrate spiritual truth. (Ephesians 6:14-17 and 2 Tim. 2:3-4 are two examples of this.) Passages like these lead to the question of why Paul used militaristic analogies if he was totally against Christians serving in the military. Obviously, he was not. That said, it is also important to note that Paul never wrote about churches rather than governments raising army and fighting literal wars. The Crusades were not biblical.
The Antichrist (#55) will come to power by promising to bring peace (Daniel 8:25), but he will actually be an evil military commander whom the Lord Jesus (#1) will defeat when he returns to the earth (Rev. 19:19-21). His love of power and murderous anti-Jewish campaign (Rev. 12:13-17) will be reminiscent of Haman (#54) and Hitler.
© 2022 by Jon F. Mahar, Hakusan City, Japan