The Laws of Warfare: Part 1
Jan 16, 2008
A discussion of the laws of murder and manslaughter must also include something about warfare, because many groups have been established on the view that all warfare is inherently evil and sinful. Even such groups have to admit that biblical law does not hold this view. Their view is based upon the assumption that Jesus brought in a new law which superseded that which Yahweh gave in the Old Testament. In this way they try to pit Moses against Jesus, when in fact they are pitting Jesus against Jesus--because Jesus is the Yahweh who appeared to Moses and gave him the law.
Just as the biblical courts were to apply the law in a "war" against domestic crime, so also was war itself to be a war against crime between nations. In both cases, it was to re-establish the lawful order so that equality of justice and peace might reign in the earth.
But one may argue that war never resolved anything. It depends, of course, upon a nation's motive for going to war. Most wars have been fought through self-interest, primarily to increase one's territory and allow one's kings to rule over a greater number of people. Most wars are fought in order to oppress more people and fund one's kingdom by an increased number of slaves and taxpayers. These are wrong motives, but a successful conqueror would argue that war certainly does fulfill his purpose of empire-building.
However, if a nation should be established with Yahweh-Jesus as King, and His law as the law of the land, the whole purpose of war would be changed from self-interest to others' benefit.
The question is how one can conduct a war that is beneficial to those the nation is fighting and killing? This really depends upon which type of "sword" one uses. The sword of choice should be the Sword of the Spirit, not fleshly swords. The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God and is much sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). Physical swords are capable of dividing a man's head from his body, but the Sword of the Spirit is sharp enough to divide soul from spirit and to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Most people, however, have little confidence in the Sword of the Spirit. The extent of their knowledge is to pray, and then pick up the physical sword. Most of the time they pick up the physical sword and then pray that God will be with them to help them smite their enemies. This is a problem because the law has not been taught properly by the mind of Christ.
If we look at Israel under Moses and Joshua, and compare this to the New Testament times, we can glean some important insights. First, God brought Israel out of Egypt, and seven weeks later brought them to Sinai where He came down upon the Mount and spoke the Ten Commandments to the people. That great day came to be celebrated as the Feast of Weeks, later known by the Greek term, Pentecost ("fiftieth day").
They all heard His voice, but it made them afraid (Ex. 20:18). Moses told them to draw near to hear the rest of the law, but the people stood their distance (Ex. 20:21), and Moses had to go up the Mount himself to receive the rest of the law. The people insisted that God not speak with them, saying, "Speak to us yourself, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die" (Ex. 20:19).
Essentially, the people rejected Pentecost, even though they had been able to keep Passover seven weeks earlier. But Pentecost would have to wait for another 1480 years until the 120 disciples kept it in the upper room in Acts 2.
The rejection of Pentecost was the rejection of the Holy Spirit. This is proven by the events in Acts 2, where the blessing of Pentecost was revealed as the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell human flesh. The implication of this is that Israel under Moses and Joshua lacked God's weapon of choice--the Sword of the Spirit. In rejecting the Word of God, they were rejecting "the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God" (Eph. 6:17).
And so, when the time came for Israel to bring divine judgment upon the Canaanites, they had to use carnal weapons that were really not the best that God had for them. Such inferior weapons caused much "collateral damage" that would have been unnecessary if Israel had been capable of wielding the Sword of the Spirit.
Just look at the difference between the conquest of Canaan under Joshua and the conquest of the world under the greater Joshua (Yeshua-Jesus). The first Joshua was told to kill everyone in Canaan--man, woman, and child, and even their cattle. The last Joshua told His disciples in Mark 16:15, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." What was the difference? Jesus' disciples were armed with the Word and power of God, which is the Sword of the Spirit.
I say, then, that we today ought not to use Joshua's conquest of Canaan as the model of Christian evangelism. We have a more powerful Sword. That Sword was not given only to the 12 disciples, nor just to the 120 in the upper room. It was given to the whole "army" of Christians who would join their ranks in the years to come.
The problem is that as time passed, the Pentecostal army began to misplace its Swords. They left their first love (Rev. 2:4), even as Israel had done under Moses at Mount Sinai. Increasingly, in the interest of unity, the Church removed from the people the right to hear God for themselves and made it exclusive to the leadership. This is what the Israelites did in sending Moses up the Mount to hear God and to tell them what God said. The result was that the Christian soldiers began to lose their Swords, and these were replaced by physical swords once again.
The theology then arose that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was given only on the day of Pentecost, and that when the last disciple died (i.e., John), the Church was expected to function in the carnal, non-Pentecostal manner that characterized the people of Israel under Moses. This teaching lowered expectations and made people content with keeping Passover (justification by faith). The law was forgotten, because it remained on tables of stone (books) and was not written on the hearts of the people by the power of the Spirit.
In our own day, much of the Church has gone so far as to support the Jewish conquest and oppression of the Palestinian people by the power of physical weaponry. Once again, such bloodletting is justified on the basis of Joshua's conquest of Canaan. But all it really does is show forth the same problem today that occurred under Moses. While it may SEEM justifiable to those who do not understand the events in Ex. 20:18-21, Christians should know better, for they claim to have the indwelling Holy Spirit. They have been taught about the Sword of the Spirit, but they seem to have no understanding how it relates to the story in Exodus 20.
I will not say that all physical warfare is banned by God or by Scripture. I merely say that if we were to use the Sword of the Spirit as our primary weapon of choice, we would soon be able to beat our physical swords into plowshares and stop learning the arts of war (Isaiah 2:4).
This view does not put away the law in any way. This view treats the Bible as a whole book, instead of pitting Old Testament against the New. Insofar as warfare is concerned, it shows that even though Joshua was certainly commanded to shed the blood of the Canaanites, this was not really what pleased Yahweh-Jesus. Israel was offered a more merciful Sword to use on the Canaanites, but they were not ready to receive it. So the bloody mess was the consequence of Israel refusing to accept that Sword.
We, on the other hand, do not have to follow Israel's bad example.
This is the first part of a series titled "The Laws of Warfare." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones