Chap 5 War
Two Hebrew words are translated "war" (also translated, "fight") in the Old Testament: (1) lacham; the verb, appears 171 times in the Old Testament, and appears first in Exodus 1:10; (2) milechamah; the noun, appears 315 times in the Old Testament and first appears in Genesis 14:2. The combination of Hebrew words 'aneshey milechamah is translated "men of war" or "soldiers." In the Greek New Testament five words are used: (1) polemeo; a verb meaning, "to fight, to make war (Rev. 12:7; 13:4; 17:14; 19:11; James4:2 etc.); (2) strateuo, a verb used in the middle voice to mean "to make war" (from stratos, "an encamped army," II Cor. 10:3; I Tim. 1:18; II Tim. 2:3; Jas. 4:1; I Pet. 2:11); (3) antistrateuomai, verb, "to make war against" (Rom. 7:23); (4) polemos, a noun, "war" (related to polemeo) (I Cor. 14:8; Rev. 9:7,9; 16:14; 20:8; Heb. 11:34; James 4:1; Matt. 24:6; Rev. 11:7); (5) strateia, noun, primarily translated "a host" or "an army", the word came to denote "warfare" (II Cor. 10:4; I Tim. 1:18). The Greek words defined above have been transliterated to form our English words polemics (in English, "controversy"), and strategy (in English, "the science of employing an armed force").
The first war, as such, recorded in the Bible is the one "in the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Ched-or-laomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Golim . . . these kings made war (Hebrew word milechamah) with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king! of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar)" (Gen. 14:1,2)1 The same Hebrew word, milechamah, is translated "battle" in Genesis 14:8.
From the boasting of Lamech (Gen. 4:23) we may understand that there were "wars" before the Deluge. Certainly if "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and . . . every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually ..." prior to the Deluge, there must have been much warfare between families (clans) or tribes. That there was "strife" (Heb. riyv, "quarreling, disturbance") even between relatives and their clans is demonstrated in the disturbance between Lot's herdsmen and Abraham's (Gen. 13:7,8).
Every phase of Israel's life, including her warfare, was bound up with her God. War therefore had religious significance. It was customary for priests to accompany Israel's armies into battle (Deut. 20:1-4). Campaigns were begun and engagements entered into with sacrificial rites (I Sam. 7:8-10; 13:9), and after consulting the oracle (Jdgs. 20:18ff; I Sam. 14:37; 23:2; 28:6; 30:8). Prophets were sometimes asked for guidance before a campaign (I Kings 22:5; II Kings 3:11).
The blowing of a trumpet throughout the land announced the call to arms (Jdgs. 3:27; I Sam. 13:3; II Sam. 15:10;), and priests sounded an alarm with trumpets (II Chron. 13:12-16). Weapons included slings, spears, javelins, bows and arrows, swords and battering-rams. Strategical movements included the ambush (Josh. 8:3ff); the raid (I Chron. 14:9); the foray (II Sam. 3:22); and foraging to secure supplies (II Sam. 23:11). Sometimes when opposing armies were drawn up in battle array, champions from each side fought one another (I Sam. 17). Armies engaged in hand to hand combat. Victorious armies pillaged the camp of the enemy, robbed the dead (Jdgs. 8:24-26; I Sam. 31:9; II Chron. 20:25), and often killed or mutilated prisoners (Josh. 8:23,29; 10:22-27; Jdgs. 1:6), although prisoners were usually sold into slavery. Booty was divided equally between those who had taken part in the battle and those who had been left behind in camp (Num. 31:27; Josh. 22:8; I Sam. 30:24ff), but some of the spoils were reserved for the Levites and for the Lord (Num. 31:28,30).
When a city was besieged, the besiegers cast up huge mounds of earth against the walls from which battering-rams were brought into play against the walls (II Sam. 20:15; Ezek. 4:2). The besieged tried to drive off the enemy by throwing darts and stones and shooting arrows at them from the walls. Captured cities were often completely destroyed, and victory was celebrated with song and dance (Exod. 15:1-21; Jdgs. 5; I Sam. 18:6).
Jesus accepted war as an inevitable part of the present sinful world order (Matt. 24:6), but warned that those that take the sword must perish by it (Matt. 26:52). In the epistles the Christian is said to be a soldier (II Tim. 2:3; I Pet. 2:11). The Apocalypse uses the figure of battle and war to describe the . . . triumph of Christ ..." (Rev. 16:14-16; 17:14; 19:14).
Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, Gen. Ed. Merrill C. Tenney,
article on "War", pp. 885,886
A. THE ORIGIN OF WAR
1. War began with the devil (Rev. 12:7). At some point, because of pride and conceit (I Tim. 3:6,7) the devil, one of God's created beings, and other creatures of the angelic order, all, like man, created with the power of choice, rebelled against the "position" or "place" where God had ordained they should serve (II Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). They were hostile to God and became enemies of the sovereign rule of Jehovah. The devil was a "murderer from the (his) beginning" (John 8:44) - there is no truth in him at all - he is the "father of lies." Since the devil was only a creature, not the Creator, he was defeated and evidently banished from the presence of God into a "chained" (limited, restricted but not completely) realm of "darkness" where he awaits the execution of "eternal death" (Rev. 20:9,10). In the meantime, the devil goes about tempting and trying to seduce (apparently with much success) mankind to join him in his rebellion against Almighty God. In this effort (which the Bible repeatedly classifies as a spiritual "warfare" Eph. 6:10ff; II Cor. 10:3-5; Gal. 5:16,17; Rom. 7:15-25; 8:5-8, etc.) the devil aims his seduction at the mind of man. The battle is there - in thought, in mind, in perspective (see also II Cor. 2:11; 11:3, etc.). His strategy is to seduce man into concentrating his thinking and his desires and his energies on indulging and glorifying the flesh. He tempts man to get things, to glorify himself, as the sum-total of human existence. The devil began this in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1ff) and he has kept it up for all these millennia (Rom. 8:5-8; I John 2:15-17); he even tried to seduce the Lord Jesus Christ with the "big lie" (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). The Lord won the victory over the devil by trusting completely in the promise of the Father (John 12:27-32; 16:11; Col. 2:14-18; Rom. 12:1,2, etc.). Jesus has made his victory available to all men by his grace and our faith. But millions, yea, billions, of people are still on the side of the devil in this cosmic war for the human soul either because they have not heard that victory is available, or because they have heard and deliberately rejected it.
2. Mankind, in unbelief, perpetuates this rebellion against God (called sin in the Bible). And this constantly results in what the world calls war. James gives the clearest explanation of the cause of war when he writes:
What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4).
Several interesting Greek words are used by James in this text. The first is polemoi, the Greek word (as already discussed) most often used for "war." The next word is machai, translated "fightings," probably akin to the Greek word machaira translated "sword" (Matt. 26:47,51,52; Luke 21:24; 22:38). The most interesting word in this text, however, is hedonon translated "passions"; it is the word from which we get the English word hedonism. Hedonism is the "doctrine that pleasure is the sole or chief good in life and that moral duty is fulfilled in the gratification of pleasure-seeking instincts and dispositions." It is in direct opposition to Romans 13:14 - "... make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires" (see also Gal. 5:17,18; I Pet. 2:11). Very clearly, James states that hedonism (worldly-mindedness) is the cause of war! The desire to gratify fleshly instincts (Gal. 5:19-21) produces war - whether between individuals or nations - and that is the fundamental cause. War is not caused by circumstances, but by attitudes! It is not poverty or overpopulation or genetic makeup that causes war - it is unbelief. The cause of war is in the heart of man. It is caused by the creature's rebellion against God's call for sublimation of the physical and exaltation of the spiritual. Between the "flesh" and the spirit there is constant war (Rom. 7:13-23; 8:5-8) and that internal war in the human rebel inevitably spills over into inter-personal, social and international relationships. War against God causes war against man.
Other scriptures help us understand the causes of war:
Wars of aggression are begun by persons, individuals, who are impenitent and unregenerate in their heart. Circumstances permitting, and sufficient wicked-hearted "comrades" available, war-minded individuals grasp as much power as peace-loving (often naive, unprepared, and sometimes pacifistic) people will permit. That is when war starts. A classic case in point is the rebellion of Absalom against his father David (II Sam. 14-18).
It is no coincidence that secular thinking confirms exactly what the Bible says to be the cause of war:
In modern times no nation or group chooses war if it can get what it wants peacefully. The fighting starts when a nation wants something so badly that it is willing to go to war to get it. Sometimes war results from a disagreement between two nations, and sometimes from a desire for conquest. Some basic causes may be a desire for more land, a desire for more wealth, a desire for more power, or a desire for security.
In a nation disputes are settled in a court, but there has never been an effective law between countries. War exists where there is no law.
World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 20,
article on "War" pp. 20-22, 1964 ed.
B. THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON WAR
God is for peace. His very nature is peace (Rom. 15:33; 16:20; II Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; I Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20; Rom. 14:17,19; I Cor. 7:15; 14:33; Eph. 2:14,15,17; Phil. 4:7; Col. 3:15; II Tim. 2:22; Heb. 12:14, etc.). The Bible says that only "peacemakers" shall be called the "sons of God" (Matt. 5:9). But there are two kinds of peace in the Bible. There is first the peace which God imputes to us by divine fiat, our justification, reconciliation and salvation. That peace is a result of the breaking down of "hostility" Christ accomplished through his vicarious death and which we appropriate by faith (Eph. 2:1 1ff). It is not like the "peace of the world" (John 14:27; 16:33). This redemption at work in us through our faith produces a subjective peace that "passes understanding" (Phil. 4:7).
1. When the Bible speaks of "peace" as it relates to civil governments and physical nations (or tribes), it is speaking realistically of a peace that is maintained by the coercive powers of nations and groups of nations in alliance against aggressive, war-making foes. The Bible denounces aggressive war. War is evil. It produces evil, destructive consequences, and never settles any issues permanently. Great masses of innocent people suffer when wars are started. This suffering inevitably passes on to many succeeding generations. The Bible plainly declares that those who deliberately, without just provocation, make aggressive war, will suffer the judgment of Almighty God - it is their "due" (see Amos 1:1-2:3; Isa. 10:15-19; 14:3-27; Jer. 51:1-64; Nahum 1:1-3:19; Rev. 16:4-7; 18:1-24, etc.). God hates war, but the Bible is absolutely realistic, and acknowledges that as long as this world exists and there are unregenerate people inhabiting it, there will be wars. Jesus warned his followers to be realistic, too. He said, "There will be wars and rumors of wars" (Matt. 24:4-8). This he said in a context anticipating circumstances which would precede the destruction of Jerusalem and Judaism. But he said it as a warning that Christians should not get the idea that because the Messiah had come in the flesh and the messianic age was about to be initiated was no reason to expect a war-less society. The risen and enthroned Christ wrote the seven churches of Asia Minor (Revelation) to expect war as a result of Rome's insatiable hunger to "conquer" (Rev. 6:1-4). It would be redundant to cite all the passages in the Old Testament which present the same viewpoint. So, we must mark down first that the biblical perspective on war is candid and realistic. As long as there are unreconciled sinners in the world there will be wars.
2. The biblical perspective on war from the Old Testament, while "theocratic" or theomorphic, it is not exclusively so:
The Old Testament teaching of aggressive war has encouraged many Christians to engage in armed conflict. These individuals, however, fail to realize that Israel was a theocratic state that went to war at the command of God. In modern times there is no state whose king is God. The Israelites not only fought to take the land according to divine promise, but they also struggled to execute judgment on the wicked people who live there. The reasons for this are cloaked in mystery because it cannot be established historically that the Canaanites were more morally corrupt than other ancient peoples. It is simply stated in the Bible that they were especially deserving of punishment. God used the Israelites to conquer them as he was later to use foreign nations to bring judgment on his own people.
War, Four Christian Views, ed. by Robert G. Clouse,
pub. IVP, p. 10
The "Canaanites" are found in Egyptian history as early as 1800 B.C. They are earlier than that in Biblical history for they were already in the land of Palestine when Abraham arrived there (approx. 2000 B.C.). "Canaanite" was a term generally applied to a number of people (Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, etc.) inhabiting Palestine. In Genesis 12:6; 24:3,37; Joshua 3:10 the term "Canaanite" includes the whole pre-Israelite population, even that east of the Jordan River. They were of Semitic stock, and were part of a large migration of Semites (Phoenicians, Amorites, even Chaldeans) from northeast Arabia and Mesopotamia at approximately the same time of Abram's migration from Ur of Chaldea. These peoples (including the Amalekites who dwelt mainly in the Negeb) became nomadic marauding tribes practicing violent aggressive warfare, grossly perverted religious customs, and were generally inhuman. Peter's description of some people as "irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed ..." (II Pet. 2:12) would aptly describe the Canaanites. The Lord directed Moses to describe the Canaanites (Lev. 1:1-23) as a people guilty of pervasive incest, homosexuality, beastiality, and continual sacrifice of human beings (in the foundation of every newly built Canaanite home there was entombed the body of a child which had been sacrificed to their gods to ward off "evil spirits").
Canaanites and Amalekites were guilty of unprovoked and unmerciful warfare against neighboring tribes and nations (Gen. 20:11; 21:25; 26:12-22; Exod. 17:8ff; Num. 14:45; Jdgs. 3:13; 6:3,33; 12:15; I Sam. 30:18). There is documentation of the wars, invasions, dispossessions and atrocities which took place in the land of Canaan and its environs prior to Israel's entrance (Deut. 2:23-37; 3:1ff). While God put Israel into Canaan for theological and redemptive reasons, at the same time, Israel's "invasion" and her wars with Canaan's inhabitants were defensive (Num. 21:21ff; 31: 1ff; 33:50ff) and punitive. There seems to be a long-standing acknowledgment that the Israelites had some civil or judicial claim to the land - Rahab acknowledged it (Josh. 2:8-14).
The warfare to which the Israelites were subjected was also, in the divine purpose, to "discipline" God's people and instill within them a grateful heart (see Deut. 4:32-40; 8:lff; Jdgs. 3:2). When Israel was forming itself as a nation in the "land of Goshen" (Egypt), the Pharaoh who wanted to enslave them said, "Behold the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply and, if war befall us, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land" (Exod. 1:10). So he ordered that all the Hebrews be enslaved and worked (to death) to depopulate them. That did not work so he ordered all Hebrew males to be slain at birth. The Hebrew midwives would not do that. Ultimately, God waged war on Pharaoh with plagues, hardened his heart, and had to deliver Israel from oppression and genocide by miraculously drowning Pharaoh and his pursuing army. Israel, a nation of over one million people, wandered in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years doing battle occasionally in defense against marauding Semitic tribes. They had to have a "homeland." God had already promised Canaan to them (through Abraham). Wherever they went, there was war. Their very presence provoked war. The Hebrews were not, essentially a war-loving people. The Lord would not lead them to Canaan "by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest the people repent when they see war, and return to Egypt" (Exod. 13:17). The Lord hardened the hearts of the Canaanites "that they should come against Israel in battle" so that Israel should utterly destroy them (Josh. 11:18-20). Thus, Israel's warfare in conquering Canaan, while theomorphic, was not, from Israel's perspective, unprovoked aggression. It could be classified from the very first, in a sense, inescapable and defensive.
The New Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, by Nelson, 1948, lists the words "War(s), Warring, Warfare" 259 times; the words "Fight, Fighting(s), Fighteth" 113 times; and the words "Battle(s), Battlement" 178 times. Some few of these uses are figurative or illustrative, but for the most part they are used to record or predict actual, physical wars and battles. That is a total usage of 550 times! And, according to the same concordance, the Bible uses the words "peace, peaceable, peaceably, peacemaker" only 541 times! It may surprise even some Bible scholars to know that the Bible uses "war" words more than it uses "peace."
An important point to make about the Old Testament perspective on war is the commandment the Lord gave Israel:
When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you (Deut. 20:10-14).
In giving Israel the land of Canaan for theological reasons, the Lord did not sanction atrocities and unwarranted blood-letting. War was only a last resort in his program to put Israel in the land where their ancestors had centuries before dwelt as unwelcome pilgrims and had been exploited by its inhabitants.
There are some reasons for the use of warfare in the installation of the redemptive nation in Canaan. It is not all a mystery. If God was going to put Israel in the land that was given them centuries before he would have to either miraculously remove the belligerent and marauding tribes there, or remove them by human instrumentality. If by the latter, the tribes could either accede peaceably to Israelite occupation or resist by war. War was almost inevitable, given the sinfulness of mankind and its rebellion against Jehovah's redemptive program.
In light of the hundreds of times war is mentioned in the Old Testament, it will be impossible in this work to deal with each one of them. It is our purpose simply to focus on the overriding Biblical perspective on war. On the basis of what we have discussed, clearly, in light of human rebellion and alienation toward divine redemption - as God chooses to work it out within history through human agents - God condescends to warfare to establish and sustain and protect civil and social order. Without order, redemption's work cannot be carried out by human beings. This is graphically illustrated by the experiences of Nehemiah and Ezra when they were sent to restore the commonwealth of Israel. Ezra was told to establish order by reinstituting laws and punishments (Ezra 7:21-26). Nehemiah had to fight a defensive war to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 4:8,14,21). If the work of redemption is to be made available to mankind, and if human beings (believers) are the only instruments through which that is to be done, someone has to provide as much civil and social order as possible. Realistically, this is going to involve force, coercion, and sometimes war.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew his redemptive program and people would be militantly and violently opposed in Canaan:
And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies (Num. 10:9).
Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the power of those who plundered them (Jdgs. 2:16).
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land (Jdgs. 6:8,9).
It is clear, then, God had to institute a military power in Israel to fight preventive and defensive wars (I Sam. 23:1ff; II Sam. 5:19) if some level of order and tranquility was to exist. When Israel was accused of unjustly taking territory, God's "judge" denied it (Jdgs. ll:12ff) and pointed out that three hundred years of possession established ownership rights (Jdgs. 11:26,27).
Whatever God's reason for using military force to take the land of Canaan from the "Canaanites" and allowing Israel to occupy it, whether the foregoing citations justify it from the human perspective or not, God did it and we have no right to question it.
Inasmuch as war is the inevitable result of a sinful world, there appear to be some concepts and practices in warfare which are sanctioned in the Old Testament:
When a strong man fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.
Granted, this is not primarily about war - it is about the devil. But to illustrate his point, Jesus states a commonly known principle - strength deters aggression - not completely, but acceptably.
3. The Biblical perspective on war in the New Testament leaves us without any details but certainly not without principles by which to make ethical decisions about it. While the major uses of the words, "war" and "battle" and "fight," are symbolic and related to the spiritual struggle the Christian has against the devil and sin, the New Testament does not present an antimilitary, pacifist position.
One thing is certain - God is in control of all history (including wars). All of history will eventually serve (fulfill) the divine goal. "The Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will" (Dan. 4:25). At various times God clearly ordained the great Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian and Roman governments (Dan. 2,7-12). It is clear that God "gave" dominion and government to these Gentile cultures through war (even war upon God's "chosen" people; see Jer. 27:1-22; 29:1-14; Isa. 10:5-27; 44:28; 45:1-13 etc.). God has ordained government (since the fall of man) with a "sword" in its hand to maintain "peace and tranquility." Abraham used it, Moses used it, David used it, and, the Bible points out that many Gentile rulers used it with sanction from God. God approves wars which are for the protection of the peaceful from the aggressor. To disobey government when it is wielding its "sword" to produce "order and tranquility" is to disobey God. Jesus definitely acknowledged there were "things" that "belonged to Caesar" as "things" that "belonged to God" (Matt. 22:21). He acknowledged Pilate's civil authority (John 19:11). Paul admonishes the Roman Christians to obey civil rules (Rom. 13:1-7), and so does Peter (I Pet. 2:13-17). Paul commanded Timothy to pray and give thanks for civil authorities (I Tim. 2:2) as they carried out their duties to maintain "peace and tranquility." Titus is exhorted, "Remind them (unruly Cretans) to be submissive to rulers and authorities - to be obedient ..." (Titus 3:1). It would follow from all this that a believer (while some unbelievers may have to be coerced) would willingly be obedient to his government's call to warfare in a cause that is just and proper in restraining aggression.
Ancient philosophers (Plato and Socrates, et al.) argued (from Natural Law) that because one's government has spent years and energies, often at great sacrifice, to maintain peaceful circumstances into which one may be born a citizen, one should be willing to defend one's government against aggression and disruption. Further, what the government had provided by the way of safety, opportunities, and helps to get an education, hold a job, and rear a family should cause such gratitude and obligation that one would be willing to sacrifice greatly, even going to war if necessary, to defend such a government. If one is to accept the privileges and protections of his government, then he has actually and implicitly accepted the "covenant" relationships which bind him to the responsibilities (and penalties) of his government, to obey its laws and even to go to war for it. Thirdly, if anyone does not like his government and does not appreciate what it has done, and feels no obligation to it, he may (especially if he is an American) take up citizenship in some other land, under some other government. In other words, if one is not willing to obey his country, he should find another country he can obey - or be willing to suffer the consequences of disobeying. Finally, without government there would be social chaos. If obedience to government is determined individually or subjectively, then no law would be immune from some citizen's disapproval or disobedience. And it is a greater evil not to resist an evil aggressor than to fight against him. One sage has said, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
Wars come! We might even paraphrase Jesus thus: "Woe to the world for wars (temptations) .... For it is necessary that wars (temptations) come, but woe to the nation (man) by whom the war (temptation) comes!" (Matt. 18:7) As long as this world stands and there are impenitent sinners in it, there will be wars. Christians (let alone unbelievers) cannot make omniscient or perfect judgments as to the absolute justness of any adversary or any war. It is even questionable as to whether any one nation is ever to be exonerated of some fault in any war. The Christian (as well as the unbeliever) is left to make relative judgments about which side in a war is more on the side of justice and order than ; the other. That is the kind of world in which we live - those are ) the kinds of judgments we must make in many areas of life (divorce, civil disputes, personal associations, business or vocational pursuits). For some judgments the Christian has absolute \ precepts (clear commandments) by which he must be guided; in others he has only principles by which he may form a hierarchy of J right (lesser of evils). Every war has a relatively just side to it - the defender against the aggressor. Philosophers and theologians have compiled the following categories by which one may declare a war "just":
War, Four Christian Views, ed. by Robert G. Clouse,
pub. IVP, pp. 120,121
Needless to say, most wars are not fought with close adherence to these principles (U.S. Grant demanded "unconditional surrender" of the Confederate forces in the American Civil War; the Allies demanded the same of the axis powers in World War II; there was certainly a dismantling of axis "political institutions" after WWII). Nevertheless, these principles, when applied, keep wars from exacerbating into international vendettas and pervasive blood-letting. These principles have been arrived at over centuries of analyzing history and the Scriptures. And while the Bible is the final authority for the Christian, and he may question whether all these principles may be substantiated by it, Paul makes it plain that general or "natural" revelation (Romans l:18ff; 2:12-16) indicates there are some kinds of actions which are "contrary to nature" and all men may be held in obligation to these "natural" moral standards.
Assuredly, not all wars are "just." And the Bible teaches that it is not always right to obey one's government in everything it commands. If the Christian citizen is bound to obey every government command, he may be found supporting an Adolph Hitler or a Joseph Stalin in a war to take the territories of other nations and to slaughter prisoners and conquered peoples who are innocent of wrong doing. There are clear examples of "civil disobedience" in the Bible - both Old and New Testaments. We deal with these in a later chapter. It is wrong to take the life of an innocent human, even if government is "ordained of God" and some government commands it. "Government" is ordained of God to punish those guilty of social disorder and anarchy, but a morally unjustifiable command of any government is never sanctioned by God! Even within a just war, there may be unjust commands given which should be disobeyed. This principle was established in modern times by the Nuremberg trials following World War II, and the U.S. military trials after the Vietnam My Lai incident. No individual member of the armed forces of any country should be excused for engaging in an immoral act or ethical atrocity simply because he has been ordered to do it by his superior officers. Evil is evil whether a government orders it or not. The Bible is clear on the point that one should not always obey government.
This all said and done, however, some wars are just. Total pacifism cannot be justified, either by the Bible or by Natural Law written on the conscience of mankind:
A nation is required to protect the lives of its citizens; it is not expected to do good to all the world, and those who would demand that it do are not fit citizens. Given a choice of having liberty or death, some would choose the latter, for there are fates worse than death. Letting it be known that death is not feared if life as one wants it cannot be had, can sometimes be an effective measure of policy. It is sometimes known as calling a bluff. It draws a line, and though the price may be high, in time that line is usually respected. Some may die, even many, but their deaths win worthy goals for their successors. That is sometimes known as laying down one's life for his fellows. It is an act the benefits from which the pacifist is willing to accept without contributing his proportional measure.
Ethical Arguments For Analysis, ed. Baum and Randall,
pub. Holt, Rinehart, Winston p. 34
It is significant that while some of the greatest soldiers of history have participated in some of the bloodiest wars of history, they (George Washington, Francis Marion, Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson, "Black-Jack" Pershing, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Douglas MacArthur) have been men of deep Christian convictions and most adamantly against war. We ought also to include the great warriors of the Bible (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Jehoshaphat, Nehemiah et al.) Men of God these were, men of peace, but men who knew that in this world, war is sometimes the only means to a necessary, though temporary, justice.
... it seems to me that nothing is more unrealistic in the present state of the world than to say that war must never be used as a means of thwarting willful and deliberate aggression. This position ignores the fact that God employed war as a judgment upon nations, and even upon Jerusalem (Ezek. 14:21). Surely He was not immoral. This does not mean that God likes war anymore than I like it. I did not punish my children because I derived pleasure from the experience but in order to produce "the fruit of real goodness" in their characters . . . Gen. Sherman said that "War is hell," and I concur, but I do not forget that God also made hell. And it was made as the result of war in heaven! If Michael and his angels had been pacifists, then the devil might have taken heaven over, and if this had happened those who went to heaven would have been in hell .... Certainly war is an evil, but it is not necessarily a sin. All sin is evil, but not all "evil" is sin. Obviously not every war is justified, but that is not the question ... it will be necessary for all nations to desist from lifting up the sword against each other, for so long as one learns war with a view to the destruction of others, the others will have to defend themselves . . . God will turn those nations which hate Him and His rule into hell. War is the judgment of God upon such sin here, and hell is the judgment of God upon such sin hereafter. When I assist in the work of rewarding good or in striking terror into the hearts of evil men, I am abiding God's minister to fulfill a responsibility to God.
Mission Messenger, Vol. 31, August 1969,
pp. 118ff, pub. Carl Ketcherside
The only conscience a Christian should have against compulsory military service in a world with continued aggressive pressures like ours which demands a ready military establishment as a deterrent, would be if he were a missionary or a minister actively preaching the Gospel. And even then there may come a time when all able-bodied men might be needed to hasten the overthrow of evil aggressive forces at work in the world. Moses used the Levites to bear the sword (Exod. 32:25-29; see also Num. 25:7-13). Conscientious objection to war or military service cannot be based on personal desires, but on the direction of God's expressed will and common ("natural") morality in such matters. Romans chapter 13 is a clear expression of God's will for Christians in regard to war and the use of force, if necessary, to check and punish aggression. The Christian has a right to only one conscience - a conscience directed by God. Romans 13:5 states unequivocally, "Therefore one must be subject (to one's government) not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience." People must be forced to do right by laws (conscription/draft) if they will not do right otherwise (I Tim. l:8ff). This is exactly what government and law is for! Men cannot be left to do what they "feel" is right (especially lawless men). The main function of government is to force the immoral and ungodly to be as moral as is necessary to maintain society. Christians act morally and resist aggression with civil force because their Christian consciences tell them it is right.
In America, a man stood up in a free pulpit to preach; he quoted detached sentences from the Christ whose hand held the lash when His Father's House was a den of thieves, and whose eyes were often as a flame of fire. The preacher declared that evil, no matter how diabolical, was never to be resisted with any physical weapons. Rhetorically, he asked, "What has a sword ever accomplished worthwhile?"
In a pew was a worshipper in whose heart was an aching void and in whose home was a Gold Star, speaking of the valor of a , young crusader who marched forth with a righteous sword and came not back. At the church door, following the service, that worshipper said to the clergyman: "I can tell you one thing that righteous sword has done."
"What?" replied the minister.
Replied the listener with deep feeling: "The sword in the hand of those who have resisted militant evil has given you the right to stand here today and to proclaim your convictions without fear of being! liquidated."
The one who had publicly said that rampant evil was never to be resisted by force paused for a moment and then acknowledged, "I am afraid I cannot refute that."
There is no refutation in God's world and man's for the flash of a righteous sword!
Dr. Frederick Brown Harris, Chaplain, U.S. Senate, 1943-1969,
quoted in U.S. News and World Report, October 30, 1972
Basically, there are only two Biblical words translated "peace" - one is the Hebrew word shalom, which means "peace; completeness; welfare; health; wholeness; well-being." It is used for both physical peace and spiritual peace in the Old Testament - the other is eirene in the Greek New Testament, usage and meaning practically the same as shalom.
As stated earlier, the Bible says much more about spiritual peace than about physical peace. In fact, the Bible teaches that a believer may be in a state of spiritual restfulness, contentment and peace when all about him there is physical turmoil, war, persecution and tribulation (John 14:27; 16:33; Phil. 4:6,7; Psa. 4:1-8; 23:lff; 119:165, etc.). This spiritual peace is something that comes through learning to trust God in spite of circumstances (see Phil. 4:8,9; II Cor. 12:10, etc.).
But the Bible does say something about physical peace. Clearly, the Bible obligates civil governments to coercively restrain wickedness and lawlessness so that literal, physical, peace may ensue. Paul told Timothy to pray for civil governors and authorities, "that we may lead a quite and peaceable (and here the Greek word is eremon, "tranquil") life and that the Gospel may be proclaimed throughout the world (I Tim. 2:1-4). That is the plain intent of the admonitions in Romans 13:1-5 and Ezra 6:10.
The Bible is not guilty of naiveté. It is realistic about those concepts and practices which do not make for physical peace:
. . . the policy of appeasement before 1939 failed partly because of this myth of the "economic man" (the- myth that all men can be "bought off"). What did Hitler care for the economic advantages that were offered to him? It was the domination of the world that he sought, and that domination would have meant the extinction of freedom and of civil justice. But peace might have been maintained had those who desired peace been strong .... Those who seek peace need to have power till all seek peace .... If the world is to be saved from war, it will not be because all are wise and good, but because the general will has secured protection for all, and thus made possible a reign of law instead of anarchy . . . (Isa. 26:9,10).
The Bible clearly shows that appeasement of power-hungry tyrants will not keep them from going to war. David tried to appease Saul, but Saul made war against David anyway (I Kings 18-19). David tried to appease Absalom (II Sam. 14:12ff) but Absalom went to war against his father. Ahab's appeasement by letting Benhadad escape free (I Kings 20:30,34) simply postponed war with Syria (I Kings 22: 1ff; II Kings 6:24ff). Menahem appeased the Assyrian king Pul (II Kings 15:17-22) but Assyria later took Israel captive. Ahaz appeased Tiglath-Pileser (II Kings 16:7-16) but Assyria invaded Judah and devastated over 40 of her cities in the days of Hezekiah, Ahaz' son. Hezekiah tried to appease the Assyrian king (II Kings 18:13-19:11) but Assyria invaded Judah anyway and besieged Jerusalem (Isa. 36-39). We know this to be true throughout the history of men and nations. Someone has analyzed history and arrived at these startling statistics - only eight percent of the time since the beginnings of recorded history has the world been entirely at peace; in 3521 years, only 286 have been warless; eight thousand treaties have been broken in this time.
3. Treaties and/or Political Alliances: Another startling statistic: Since 1919, the nations of Europe have signed more than 200 treaties of peace. Each treaty, simply another scrap of paper, was broken more easily than consummated; from the year 1500 B.C. to A.D. 1860, more than 8000 treaties of peace, meant to remain in force forever, were concluded; the average time they remained in force was two years! Obadiah, the prophet, revealed that the "allies" of Edom had "deceived her" (Obad. v.7) (see also Jer. 30:4; 38:22,23). Tyre violated one of her treaties and delivered up prisoners to the slave caravans passing through Edom (Amos 1:9). Isaiah warns Judah against making alliances with Egypt against Assyria and Babylon (Isa. 31:1-3). Treaties, whether between only two nations, blocks of nations, or among "United Nations," will not produce peace. God discloses his displeasure against one-world governmental forms in Genesis chapters 10-11. The attempt of ancient empires to consolidate all cultures under one-world government (Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome) proves that alliances and treaties whether they be coerced or willingly entered will not bring realistic and lasting physical peace. This is documented in the prophecies of the book of Daniel.
Once upon a time all the animals in the zoo decided they would disarm, and they arranged to hold a conference to decide the matter. The rhinoceros said that the use of teeth in war was barbarous and horrible, and ought strictly to be prohibited by general consent. Horns, which were mainly defensive weapons, would, of course, have to be tolerated. The buffalo, stag, and porcupine said they would vote with the rhino; but the lion and the tiger took a different view. They defended teeth, and even claws, as honorable weapons.
Then the bear spoke. He proposed that both teeth and horns should be banned. It would be quite enough if animals would be allowed to give each other a good hug when they quarreled. No one could object to that. It was so fraternal, and would be a great step toward peace. However, all the other animals were offended with the bear, and they fell into a perfect panic.
Esther, Jewish queen of Persia, found that the "disarmed" Jews living in Persia were destined by Haman to genocide (extermination of the whole race) (Esther 7:4). King Ahasuerus immediately made provision for the Jews to arm and defend themselves against their enemies (Esther 8:1 1ff). Rabshakeh (Assyrian general) taunted Hezekiah and the citizens of Jerusalem, "Do you think that mere words (diplomacy) are strategy and power for war?" (Isa. 36:5). This general with his powerful army (at least 185,000) bragged about his power and threatened this besieged people (Isa. 36:1-37:38). Unarmed, disarmed, or underarmed, a nation will be prey for the predators of the world. An ancient apocryphal Christian writing says: "Love those that hate you and you will have no enemy." But love does not always overcome enmity, even in personal relationships. Preachers who declare, as pacifists do, that love will melt the hardest heart, show a strange forgetfulness of the incidents of the Gospel story. What of Judas who lived with Jesus and betrayed Him? What of Annas and Caiaphas who became His malignant enemies? There would have been no martyrdoms had Christian love secured immunity from suffering. Before World War I, we were told that no unarmed nation would be attacked and that Denmark thus was safe. It did not prove so. Lack of defenses saved the Danes some suffering, but only at the cost of their liberty and their land being used more quickly as a base against other friendly nations. The Bible realistically declares there are some who will be at peace, physically, only under coercion - by force of arms or power (Deut. 20:10-12; 23:3-6).
Indeed, it is the purview of civil governments to guard the peace of their citizenry. That is their primary function whether it be defense of peace within a nation or defense of its peace against alien forces of war. That is what the Bible says (see Rom. 13:1-7). The writer of Hebrews lists guardianship of civil and physical peace as an act of faith in God:
. . . who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight . . . (Heb. 11:33,34).
Peace cannot be bought. Hezekiah tried that (II Kings 18:13ff). Those whose "minds are set on the flesh" are hostile to God (Rom. 8:7) and can never be at peace when the flesh is not being fed (Micah 3:5). So long as there are millions and millions with that mind-set, there will be war. Armed force and warfare are the only realistic instruments applicable to that mind-set. It is the greatest of all tragedies that it must be so - but it is nevertheless. Jesus, himself, said absolute truth in the midst of a rebelling and sinful world will mean war:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword . . . (Matt. 10:34; see Luke j 12:51).
Peace, worldly peace, comes from strength and power used judiciously by civil governments trying to "do their duties, as God gives them the light to see their duties" (see Josh. 9:15; 10:21; I Sam. 7:14; II Sam. 10:19). Aggressive, predatory nations (or individuals) submit to order and peace only by coercion. That is the only restraint they understand and obey. The Bible demands that law and justice rule in this wicked world. Civil order of law and justice is for the international community as well as the national.
In an age skeptical of all inherited concepts of law and order, and which wavers between the choice of majority opinion or cynical anarchy, the Church needs nothing less than the authority of the Bible to speak about universally valid standards of justice ... the Bible unmistakably states the spiritual foundation of the world order. Justice belongs to the very being of God, whose righteousness is the sure source of law .... Scripture warns against so fusing and confusing righteousness and love that the dominance of either nullifies the other. The Bible stands sentry against speaking of God's love as the foremost or conditioning divine attribute; it discredits fitting God's justice to love's convenience. Whenever love triumphs at the expense of holiness, whenever love takes priority over righteousness, we have moved outside the scriptural orbit .... The plain fact is that in the social order all prattling about love is irrelevant when what is needed is justice. The withholding of justice may be an expression of lovelessness, and the performance of justice may be described as love in action .... Nor are they identical in content: love goes beyond justice, although it does not negate it. Sinful men cannot really grasp the true nature of love, therefore, unless they are first taught the responsibility of justice through their common subjection to impartial laws that deal with all human beings alike: indeed, the transmutation of justice can only lead as well to the perversion of love.
Aspects of Christian Social Ethics, by Carl F.H. Henry,
pub. by Eerdmans, pp. 168-171
Justice and peace are inextricably linked. Peace cannot be present where justice is absent. Isaiah wrote:
Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, desolation and destruction are in their highways. The way of peace they know not, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked, no one who goes in them knows peace. Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us ... we look for justice, but there is none .... Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth has fallen in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey . . . (Isa. 59:7-15).
The ultimate peace can only come when sinful mankind is reconciled to God through the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ. "For he is our peace, who has . . . broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end" (Eph. 2:14-16). Only the love of Christ is capable of controlling us (II Cor. 5:14ff) so that we "see" no one any longer from a human (carnal mind-set) point of view. Only then are men able to be at peace with one another. Even great warriors, because they are Christians, have acknowledged this:
Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start, workable methods were found insofar as individual citizens were concerned; but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at the door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature, and all material and cultural developments of the past 2000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh. But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War's very object is victory - not prolonged indecision. In war, indeed, there can be no substitute for victory . . . history teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier war. It points to no single instance where the end has justified that means - where appeasement has led to more than a sham peace.
Reminiscences, by General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur, pub. McGraw-Hill, p. 404 (excerpt from Gen. MacArthur's retirement speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, 1951).
You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words - Duty - Honor - Country.
This does not mean that you are war mongers. On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers, "Only the dead have seen the end of war."
Reminiscences, by General Douglas MacArthur, pub. McGraw-Hill pp.425,426
(excerpt from Gen. MacArthur's last speech to the Cadets at West Point, 1962).
In conclusion, it is fair to say the Bible teaches:
a. To punish rebellion
b. To call to repentance
c. To warn the world that judgment is coming
d. To chasten and nourish his covenant people, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament (Deut. 4:32-40; Ezek. 20:1-49; Dan. 11:29-35; 12:1-13; Amos 4:10-12; James 4:1-10; Rev. 12:13-17).
God is not the author of war. But he certainly is the sovereign of war! Neither war in heaven nor war on earth is beyond his control. Everything that is done will ultimately resound to his praise, even war as devastating and horrible as that done by the Roman empire and upon the Roman empire (see Rev. 15:1-4; 16:5-7; 18:4-8; 18:20-24; 19:1-8; 19:11-21). If men are determined to exchange the truth of God for a lie (and make war) - refuse to have God in their knowledge (and make war), God will give them up to receive in their own persons the due penalty of their error. God has created an eternal prison in which there is constant war (see Rev. 9:1-11; 14:6-11). Those who choose to be at war with God and man will be given their choice for all eternity. Those who choose to be at peace with God and men may, in this life, have to opt for the lesser of two evils, and go to war to defend unalienable human rights of life, liberty and property. That is a reality the Bible acknowledges, ordains, and approves. Those who make a profession (policemen, magistrates, soldiers) of defending with the sword unalienable human rights are "ministers" of God and "peacemakers" in the truest Biblical sense. Those who choose peace and serve peace according to the will of God, will be given, by the grace of God, a life in eternity where nothing but peace (well-being, wholeness, goodness) exists. This state of peace can, and must, exist even now within the kingdom of God (the church). There must be no hostility or rebellion against God or fellow citizens within the church. There must be peace (Eph. 2:1 1ff).The Christian lives in two kingdoms - the world of unbelief and the church. The constraint that brings peace in the world of unbelief is law and force (I Tim. 1:8-11); in the church it is the love of Christ (II Cor. 5:14-21). But there is no peace without some constraint! God has created us free to choose our restraint - force or love!
Copyright © 1990, Paul T. Butler