It’s hard to speak about the topic of war when I’ve never participated in such an activity. I know very little about the experiences of our country’s military personnel. Apart from the military heirlooms of our grandfathers, my Father-in-law’s stories of West Point and Korea, my Uncle’s stories of the Vietnam Conflict, my Uncle’s stories of Germany, and my Cousin’s stories of Desert Storm my understanding of such comes from news articles. But what I do know from those stories is the emotional devastation and ultimate resilience that came with the experiences of war. We see the same kinds of stories and experiences across the pages of the Scriptures.
Who are some of the notable Veterans of the Bible? Moses, Joshua, and David are strategic veterans in the formation of a holy land.
Last week we looked at the last words of Joshua, and his call for the people to remain faithful to the Kingdom of God. Joshua one of the key heroic warriors of the Old Testament. Joshua understood what it means to be a veteran from the crossing of the Jordan River to bringing down the walls of Jericho to the parceling out of the Promised Land to all the tribes. We see heavenly influence in conflict when Joshua meets the “commander of the Lord’s army” (Joshua 5.13-15). Conflict is the foundational strip of tapestry that holds the whole biblical storyline together. The principles of war are found primarily in the book of Deuteronomy where Holy War is defined through rewarding obedience to God’s direction and suffering the consequences of the natural order for disobedience. Joshua’s experiences were in some ways scandalous as he takes down city after city and disposes of the kinds, the properties, and the people in accordance to God’s will. Only some of the people were absorbed into the nation of Israel. Yahweh fought for Israel, and the enemies of Israel feared God. When the nation obeyed God’s direction, success ensued. When the Israelites’ failed to keep God’s commands, divine judgement and defeat followed. Holy War centered itself in the possession of the Promised Land (conquest), maintaining unity in the community of Israel (faith), and living into the covenant treaty (inheritance). Joshua’s quality of leadership is marked by his faithful attendance to listening to God’s direction, and submitting to his guidance.
The imagery of Yahweh as the warrior leading and fighting battles for the people called Israel begins with Moses in the book of Exodus with the freedom of the people from 400 years of slavery (Exodus 15.1-18). Through the Exodus “battle scenes,” we witness God’s supernatural command over water, sickness, disease, animals, weather, and even death. These components of God’s warfare are portrayed as a defensive mechanism that aims at containing the violence directed toward the oppressed children of God. It is not an aggressive posture, nor the slaughter of innocence. This posture of warfare is to limited to those outside the community of Israel, God’s chosen people, but extends to those inside the camp who oppose God’s plan and direction for holy living. God brings war to both those inside the community of faith and outside the community of faith who stand in opposition to Kingdom purposes. When we observe the leadership qualities of Moses, we can see his tenaciousness pursuit of righteousness.
What can we learn about God at War? God’s Kingdom began at Creation and is completed at the Consummation at the return of Christ Jesus.
The grand story of the bible establishes God’s Kingdom at creation in the first two chapters of Genesis. All the expanse of the firmament, earth, and sky, land and seas, animals and humans belong to God. The third chapter sets up the conflict when an antagonist – the creature we know as Satan – enters the garden and disrupts the harmony of the Creator, and the conflict begins. God begins his intervention immediately following the crisis of the fall of humanity, clothing them with animal skins and putting placing Adam and Eve in a posture of submission to one another. Rebellion of creation across the pages of history is always countermanded with the requirement for submission. The conflict continues to wage havoc on God’s creation, and God continually intervenes to return the created order to the original harmonious design. The leadership character that stands against God is the one who rebels against the holiness of God’s original plan for his creation. Those who follow the voice of living rebelliously will find themselves at battle with God himself.
As the nation of Israel developed her relationship with God, the people cried out for a leader who would guide their behaviors and protect them from rebellion. But they wanted their leader to be like all the worldly leaders around them. So God relented from his best plan to give them what they wanted, which would always serve to be a point of conflict within their own national security. The nation of Israel would find themselves governed by both good leaders and bad leaders – and even very bad leaders. But one leader would be the model for all the kings of God’s chosen people, David. When we live like the culture around us – the world, we find ourselves at risk of rebelling against God.
There is one who is set apart as a holy leader, and that is King David. David was chosen to become a leader by God’s very own hand. He was considered a man after God’s own heart. He would command the nation in faithful responses to God’s commands for holiness. Yet, even David, as precious as he was to God, possessed a character flaw by committing adultery then conspiracy to murder as a cover up for the adultery. What sets David apart as a leader in this conflict is his willingness to fall before God in repentance. It was his pristine behavior, but his submission to God’s original design for holiness of heart and life. And, because David stood apart from the crowd, aiming his whole heart undividedly toward God, many people who follow him unreservedly. At the closure of David’s life story we hear the remembrance of his close comrades – who we call his mighty men. People followed David courageously not because he was perfect but because his eyes were fixed on God in humble submission.
We also know that God is willing to bring conflict to his own people when they have been in rebellion, thus we read about the Babylonian captivity and the deportation of God’s people to Egypt. During the closing chapters of the Old Testament, God’s Kingdom enters a waiting period. We call this season of waiting the “Inter-testamental Period” which was a season of looking forward to the Messiah who would lead them out of their rebelliousness and into the peacefulness of submission to God’s plan for created order.
When the Messiah comes he comes not to make peace but to do battle. Jesus battled disease, defects, disorders, disabilities, desires, discomforts, destitution, and destruction. Jesus battled religious and worldly mindset of his generation. Jesus met the felt needs of many who aligned themselves with holiness of heart and life. But we also know that Jesus implied that every thing that does not bear good fruit will be cut down (Luke 13.7).
To be sure Jesus the Messiah has come to root out every bit of Satan’s dominion here on earth and under the earth. Jesus is God’s ultimate weapon against Satan’s tyranny of all creation and created order. Those who have fallen into sin become victims, casualties, and POWs of this warfare in the spiritual realm that is just beyond our senses. We can observe in the New Testament that all things can be restored for those who believe, but unbelief hinders the restoration process. Jesus went so far as to all an entire generation of people “evil” (Mt. 12.25), implying that multitudes can suffer from being dispossessed of the goodness of God’s plan. Jesus surely came to create a demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the dominion of Satan and the Kingdom of God that provides an opportunity for people to enter into the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven even on this earth.
How do we participate in this Kingdom?
God’s battle plan for dealing with conflict is outlined here in Ephesians. The ultimate battle we face is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers and principalities in this fallen world we live in. To be sure evil is a real force in our flesh, and wars are inevitable. But Jesus has come to aid us in our victory of the darkness of our sinful rebellious nature that refuses submission to God’s plan for holiness of heart and life. The primary battleground in the Christian faith is for the mind. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that the battle is real. “Our Father, who art in heaven …thy Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven.” The Nicene Creed found in our hymnal points us to the understanding that we as Christians believe in the seen and the unseen. The opening lines declare, “WE BELIEVE in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” We believe that our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual condition is influenced by the unseen realities in a supernatural battle just beyond the veil. To be sure the Ascended Christ reigns over all of heaven and earth, the visible and the invisible.
Our belt of truth holds our weapons in place (Ephesians 6.14). If we forget the truth of this battle, our weapons will no longer be important to us. Justice forms a breastplate that protects our hearts from getting harden with sin and we lack compassion toward others in this battle (Ephesians 6.14). Our shoes make us ready and available to spread the Good News of peace moving us quickly out of harms way and able to speak truth to others we engage (Ephesians 6.15). Our shield of faith extinguishes the flaming arrows of the enemy and provides a first line of defense in the battle for our mind (Ephesians 6.16). Our helmet of salvation protects our mind from unbelief and problematic thinking (Ephesians 6.17). Christ died to impart into us the mind of Christ. We cannot hold to our own personal beliefs, but must cling to the biblical beliefs handed down to us. Our sword of the Spirit is God’s Word, which is powerful in taking down the strongholds of our minds (Ephesians 6.17).
Paul invites us to offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit, not our own will or our flesh but in accordance with God’s will (Ephesians 6.18). Paul requests that we are to offer prayers for all believers (Ephesians 6.18). Paul further explains that we are to offer prayers for leaders, and the persecuted church (Ephesians 6.19-20). We are called to pray for those who are on the front lines of the battle for converts. We are to welcome leaders who are sent under authority to give reports (Ephesians 6.21-22). We are to be aware of who is our enemy, and who is our comrade.