WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

 

THE SCRIPTURAL PERSPECTIVE ON WAR: PART TWO

 PRESENTED ON  07-23-11

 

       Two weeks ago I gave a sermon commensurate with our nation’s celebration of its declaration of independence from British rule.  I mentioned my recent trip to Washington DC and how visits to the Korean War Memorial, World War 2 Memorial, 911 Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and the Holocaust Museum, struck me with how much of what you see in our Nations Capitol is associated with war.  These memorials all reflect human conflict and all the pain, suffering and death associated with such conflict.  Even the memorials to Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and the recently completed memorial to President Roosevelt, all reflect times of war.  With Washington and Jefferson it was the Revolutionary War.  When we think of Lincoln we think of the Civil War.  In looking at the Roosevelt Memorial what immediately comes to mind is World War 2 

       War has been a dynamic of human life throughout recorded history.  How should we view war in the contest of a Christian ethic that seemingly shuns war and presents peace as the highest of human values?  Two weeks ago I presented a general overview of this issue and today I want to begin to present a more in-depth examination of the dynamics involved.  We will begin by looking at war as it is reported in the writings of the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures. 

       Two weeks ago I briefly discussed Christian pacifism and whether a pacifistic position can be maintained within the contest of what the Scriptures reveal about warfare. As is clearly seen when reading the Hebrew Scriptures, there is a great deal of narrative that pertains to war.   Warfare was part of the life of the Old Testament people of God from the beginning. While Christian groups may differ as to the weight they give the Old Testament witness, Christians cannot ignore the numerous accounts of warfare that are found in the OT narrative and the need to determine what these accounts are telling us as to how God views war and by extension how we should view war.

       Warfare involves the shedding of human blood. It involves killing other human Beings. It involves violence, pain, suffering and death.  Cain appears to be the first human to shed another human’s blood.  We all know the story. In Genesis chapter 4 we see Cain became very angry when God accepted his brother Abel’s sacrifice but did not accept his.  So Cain killed his brother Abel.  Scripture shows Cain’s killing of Able was sin and Cain was punished by God for his actions. Killing someone out of jealous and anger was not acceptable to God. 

       The next killing recorded in the Scripture is also found in Genesis chapter 4 and involves a man named Lamech who killed a man for injuring him.  Nothing is directly said as to whether this killing was considered sin.  By Genesis 6, the earth is seen as filled with violence and because of this, God drowns all life in a great flood except for Noah and his immediate family.  Genesis 6 does not mention how God expected a righteous person such as Noah to deal with violence directed at him or his family.  Genesis simply portrays violence as a worldwide evil that God would not tolerate and hence the great flood. After the flood, God instructs Noah that he may eat living creatures provided he properly bleeds them and He also instructs that shedding the blood of man is punishable by the having the shedder of blood having his blood shed. 

       Genesis 9:3-6: Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.  "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.  And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.

       So here we see God approves the killing of animals and using them for food provided they are bled properly.  But what is most instructive is that God requires an accounting from both animals and man when the blood of man is shed.  God appears to be instructing that if an animal or a human kills another human, that animal or that human is to be killed.  God is saying that He does not want human blood being shed by either animals or other humans because man is made in His image.  At the same time, however, God mandates capitol punishment.  He mandates that if a man kills another man that man is to be killed and the same goes for an animal that kills a human. 

       Now let us move to the calling of Abram.  God choose Abram to be the starting point for building the nation of Israel from whom a savior would come to atone for the sin on mankind.

       Genesis 12:1-3:  The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.”I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

       Like David, Abram who God renamed Abraham, was a man after God’s own heart. He was a man that strove to obey God and do His will.  We see this as evident in Genesis 26 where the promises given it Abraham are reiterated to His son Isaac.

       Genesis 26: 3-5: For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring  all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws."

       But like David, though Abraham was a man who lived a life pleasing to God, we see Abraham was also a man of war.  In Genesis we have the account of Abram rescuing his nephew Lot.  Abram had a relative named Lot who lived in Sodom.  Sodom was invaded by an alliance of kings and Lot was taken captive.  When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out 318 trained men born in his household and went to war against the armies that had taken Lot captive.  Not only did he pursue them He used wise military tactics by dividing his men and attacking at night.  Abram was successful and able to rescue Lot and a number of other people along with many possessions.  After Abram returned from defeating the kings, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram and said it was the God Most High who delivered the kings into his hand.  

       This is the first mention of armies in the Bible and the first mention of organized warfare. On one side we have the armies of the invading kings. On the other side we have the army of Abram.  We find Abram not simply fighting a defensive war but being proactive in rectifying what he saw as injustice on the part of the invading kings.  There is no condemnation for what Abram does here.  In fact he is blessed by the priest Melchizedek and God is seen as playing a role in Abram’s success.

       Let’s now move to the time of Moses and the children of Israel leaving Egypt.  Moses murdered an Egyptian and was forced to flee to Midian. Upon reaching Median Moses apparently fought with some shepherds who had denied a priest's daughters access to a well for their flocks. Forty years later, God called Moses to deliver Israel out of bondage.  After the crossing of the Red Sea, it wasn’t long before Israel was attacked and defended themselves in war with the Amalekites.  In Exodus 17 it is recorded that the Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites and Moses told Joshua to choose men to go out to fight the Amalekites.  It’s recorded that Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.  It’s also written that God told Moses He, YHWH, would completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven and that YHWH would be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.  We find this reiterated in Deuteronomy 25.

       Deuteronomy 25: 17-19: Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

       Israel did not accomplish this until Saul became King and was ordered by God through the prophet Samuel to carry out this punishment against the Amalekites. .

       1 Samuel 15:1-3:  Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD.  This is what the LORD (YHWH) Almighty says: `I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.  Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"

       The point I want to make here is that people of Israel engaged in warfare from the time they left Egypt and throughout their recorded history.  Such warfare is often seen as sanctioned by God and often directly ordered by God.  It appears that when God instructed man to not shed another mans blood; this prohibition did not include the shedding of blood in warfare or in a number of other situations.  The prohibition against shedding human blood appears to pertain to the murdering of someone out of anger, jealousy and other such human emotions.  The sixth commandment of the ten given as the core of the Old Covenant (OC) system prohibits killing.  It is apparent, however, from the details of the OC itself, that this command to not kill is to be seen in a limited context and not as a universal injunction against all killing.  The fact that killing another human was not an all inclusive injunction is born out by the fact that the OC give rules and regulations pertaining to the killing of humans.

       Exodus 21:12-17: Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.   However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death. "Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.”Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death. "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

       Exodus 21:28-20: If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.

       Exodus 22:18-20: "Do not allow a sorceress to live.”Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death. "Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.

       It should be quite evident that the sixth commandment does not prohibit killing in war, or Capitol Punishment.  Now some have argued that if Israel would have obeyed the covenant, God would have directly fought their enemies and they would not have had to go to war. This was formerly an argument used by the WCG.  For example, reference was made to Exodus 23:22-30.

       Exodus 23: 20-23:  See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.  Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.  My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.

       Exodus 23: 27-28: I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run.  I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way.

       It is believed by some that Israel could have pacifistically stood by while God would drive out the nations that stood in the way of them taking possession of the Promised Land.  However, embedded in this same context of Scripture is the following:

       Exodus 23:31: I will hand over to you the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you.

       It is apparent that God would have a hand in softening up the nations to be driven out, but Israel would have the job of actually driving them out which means Israel would be engaging in warfare to accomplish this task.  In a recapitulation of what is written in Exodus, the writer says this:

       Deuteronomy 7:24: He will give their kings into your hand and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them.

       In Deuteronomy 20, God gave laws regulating warfare. It is made evident that Israel would do the fighting but God would be with them and provide guidance and direction.

       Deuteronomy 20: 1-4: When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: "Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.

       God gave very specific instruction as to how to go about conquering other nations and taking over their lands.  Those people who occupied the Promised Land were to be completely destroyed.  People occupying other lands were to be offered peace in exchange for being taken captive and becoming slaves to Israel.  If a nation refused to surrender, Israel was instructed to kill all the males and take the females and children captive and take the goods of the city for themselves. 

       Deuteronomy 20: 10-18:  10.  When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city.  When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them--the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites--as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

       Some have argued that warfare under Moses and Joshua was permitted only because God commanded it and war should never be fought unless God reveals in some distinct way that He wants a war to be fought and that He will support such war. While it is true that God ordered some of Israel's wars, this was not true of all the wars Israel engaged in. Furthermore, Deuteronomy 20 does not demand that its laws regulating war apply only to wars that God commands.

       In fact Deuteronomy 20 makes a distinction between wars fought to gain access to the Promised Land and other wars fought against nations not occupying the Promised Land.  It’s stated that some of Israel's future wars would take them far from their borders. So the warfare being regulated in Deuteronomy 20 was not limited to gaining the Promised Land or defending themselves against aggression but apparently also pertained to wars of aggression over and above the immediate goal of gaining the Promised Land.

       Now some may look at all this and conclude there is contradiction within the OC.  In Leviticus 19:16 God is recorded as saying:  "Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD."  In verse 18 Israel is instructed to not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, "but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD".  As to foreigners living among the Israelites, the instruction was to treat them as if they were native-born. God instructs to love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.  

       Leviticus 19:16b, 18, 34: Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD.

        Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

       The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

       It is sometimes asked how Israel could be directed to love each other and yet practice Capitol Punishment.  It is asked how Israel could be told to love the alien in their midst and yet destroy any foreigner who got in their way or refused to submit to them.  Is there a disconnect here?  No there isn’t.   It must be remembered that the people of Israel were called out to be a special people who would provide an example to the world as to how to live in harmony with God and with each other. God was working only with Israel at this time in history.  All other nations were living in idolatry and did not know the one and only true God.   

       The wars that Israel became involved with were largely fought to eliminate any contamination by pagan religious to the Covenant system Israel had been given by God.  Capitol Punishment was initiated much for the same reason.  God wanted Israel to obey the Law He had given them so they could be an example of righteousness to the nations.  Therefore, unrighteousness had to be punished and punished swiftly in order to maintain the kind of society God intended for Israel.  Loving ones neighbor and practicing the Golden Rule does not mean tolerating sin.  Love and punishment for unrighteous behavior are not mutually exclusive.

       In Leviticus 26 we read of the blessings God would bestow on Israel if they would be obedient to the Covenant.

       Leviticus 26:3-8: `If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,   I will send you rain in its season and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land. "`I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove savage beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

       They were told that if they obeyed, God would grant them peace in the land. The sword would not pass through their land. Yet this promise did not mean that Israel would be free from warfare.  Part of the blessings bestowed upon them included success in warfare.  They would pursue their enemies, and their enemies would fall by the sword before them. A similar blessing is found in Deuteronomy 28.  There too, victory in war, not freedom from war, was shown to be one of the blessings Israel could expect.  Israel's enemies would flee from them.

       Deuteronomy 28:7: The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

           Peace cannot be attained within a context of evil.  It cannot co-exist with evil. During the time of Israel’s theocracy, Israel could not co-exist with the idolatry that was all around them. God allowed them to engage in warfare as a means of protecting them from being sucked into the evil practices of the societies that surrounded them.  Well, we are no longer under the Old Covenant.  Is warfare permissible under the New Covenant?  If so, how do we harmonize going to war and killing people with New Testament passages that appear to speak against warring.  We will take up that issue next week. 

PART THREE