The Laws of Warfare--Part 2
Jan 17, 2008
In Matthew 12, Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees for harvesting grain on the Sabbath. No, they were not really "harvesting" grain. They were merely taking some of the grain from a ripe field in order to eat, because they were hungry. So why didn't the Pharisees accuse Jesus of theft? Because it was lawful for a hungry person to get a bite to eat as he traveled, provided he did not take any of the grain (or fruit) with him in a container. Deut. 23:25 says,
"When you enter your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain."
Whereas this may seem like a case of theft by modern standards, it shows that God is more concerned with the stomach of a hungry man than with the rights of the field's owner to claim every grain for himself. Jesus, in His response to the Pharisees, reminded them of this principle of law, saying in verse 7, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice."
Upon this principle, the law was given, for it reflected the mind of God. By this same principle, the poor received the gleanings from the fruit trees and from the fields, and if a harvester bypassed a sheaf of grain inadvertently, it became the lawful property of the gleaners. Boaz truly knew the spirit of the law when he told his workers in Ruth 2:16 to bypass extra sheaves of grain so that Ruth could glean more grain.
So what does this have to do with the laws of war? It has everything to do with it, because the Sword of the Spirit was given to us in order to provide mercy and not sacrifice when carnal men beat the war drums.
God used this spiritual Sword upon His own people Israel in order to give them mercy. Hosea 6:4-6 says (NASB),
" (4) What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? For your loyalty is like a morning cloud, and like the dew which goes away early. (5) Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth. (6) For I delight in loyalty [mercy] rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."
In other words, the prophets used the prophetic word, the Sword of the Spirit, to chop them into pieces. The prophets brought judgment upon Israel "like the light that goes forth." Why? Because God delights in mercy and not sacrifice. If His priority had been sacrifice, He would have used a physical sword upon them, and the judgment would have been fatal, instead of enlightening.
The people, of course, ultimately refused to hear God's voice. They continued to rebel against His character as expressed in the law which they had been given. They rejected His mercy. But they loved sacrifices and continued to bring them to the temple. They did not know the mind of Christ, and they either disregarded or disagreed with the law. Injustice prevailed, and the leaders and rich men oppressed the poor and the strangers.
And so, after God had used the merciful Sword of the Spirit against Israel for centuries, only then did He bring the physical sword of judgment upon them. In essence, He declared war upon Israel and hired the Assyrians as His mercenaries. Later, He hired the Babylonian army to make war on Judah and Jerusalem and to destroy the temple. Still later, He hired the Roman army to destroy Jerusalem, as Jesus tells us in Matt. 22:7.
So this shows plainly that physical warfare is not God's priority, but neither is it unlawful. War brings judgment, but it is called "sacrifice." A sacrifice is an offering to God. It was the death penalty enforced usually in an international arena. As I have said earlier, the death penalty was God's final way of appealing a case to the Supreme Court of Heaven--that is, giving (or offering) the offender to God for judgment at the Great White Throne.
Such appeals are to be made when the earthly courts are incapable of restoring the lawful order on earth. The death penalty puts the offender into a timeless sleep. He is not sent to "hell," as so many have been taught, for that in itself would be unlawful. Jesus Himself stated this principle in John 7:51,
"Our law does not judge a man, unless it first heard from him and knows what he is doing, does it?"
It was unlawful for the earthly court to punish a man before it had heard the case. So also is it with the Divine Court. It will not judge or punish a man before God has heard His case at the Great White Throne judgment. The fact that God already knows all the circumstances of the case before they even happened is not relevant. God follows the procedure which He established, because it is part of His character to do so.
Understanding these principles of biblical law are very important if we desire to know the manner in which God intends to judge the nations in our own time and in the future. Many point to the book of Revelation and shudder at all the horrible things that God might do when He judges the nations. But the Christ that is portrayed in that book is never pictured as holding a physical sword. Have you noticed this? He is always portrayed as hewing the nations in pieces with the sharp sword that comes out of His mouth.
In other words, He wields the Sword of the Spirit--the same Sword that He used upon Israel and Judah in the mouth of the prophets (Hosea 6:5). John saw Jesus in Rev. 1:16, "and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword." See also Rev. 2:12 and 2:16, where He tells the Church of Pergamos to repent before He comes to make war with that Church using the Sword from His mouth.
In Revelation 19, picturing the second coming of Christ, He comes armed with that same Sword of the Spirit. Verse 15 says, "And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations." This does not speak of conventional warfare, as it is usually thought. It speaks of a war on the forces of evil by the power of the spoken Word. Rev. 19:21 says,
"And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh."
Christians read this with horror, not realizing that it is describing a scene of mercy and not sacrifice, using literary imagery of physical warfare. The key is in knowing the type of Sword that Christ is using here, for the actual results are the same as described in Hosea 6:4-6. The Sword of the Spirit will kill "the flesh." That is the essence of the Christian life even today. And God even uses the "birds" to clean up the mess. Jesus identified the birds in Matt. 13:19 as "the children of the wicked one." God uses wicked people (the vessels of dishonor) to destroy "the flesh" (carnal mind) in the vessels of honor.
At any rate, the results speak for themselves. Isaiah 2 says of this time,
" (3) And many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up the mountain [Kingdom] of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.' For the law will go forth from [heavenly] Zion, and the word of the Lord from [New] Jerusalem. (4) And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war."
This is the final part of a series titled "The Laws of Warfare." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones