Eligibility for Battle
Before going into battle, whether on earth or in the heavens, God says that a priest was to inform the prospective warriors that the battle was just and that God was with them. In other words, it was a war that God had instructed them to fight in order to restore the lawful order of the Kingdom. The battle had already been won in the heavens, and so they were assured of victory on earth.
Once the decision was made to engage in warfare, the next step was to muster the troops and decide who was eligible for battle. Such eligibility laws apply both in earthly and in heavenly warfare.
Dedicating a New House
Deut. 20:5 says,
5 The officers also shall speak to the people, saying, “Who is the man that has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him depart and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it.”
Dedicating one’s new house was more than a simple matter of saying a prayer over one’s newly-built house. A biblical house is really a household—that is, a family—particularly when we deal with the spiritual principle behind this law. It is a law that tells us that those who engage in spiritual warfare ought to have their house in order.
To engage in spiritual warfare is a serious business and a certain amount of spiritual maturity is needed. This is also why the military age was set at twenty years of age, as seen in every census taken of Israel’s men of war (Num. 1:2, 3). Military age in America is just eighteen years of age, but this is unlawful in God’s eyes. Military planners want younger men because they are considered to be more impressionable, and they are more easily convinced that their enemies ought to be killed. While this policy is probably more advantageous to the military planners, God wants His spiritual warriors to know the full truth of the situation without such manipulative policies. He demands maturity, whereas America prefers impressionability.
It is for the same reason that Paul tells Timothy that church leaders—who ought to be mature and fit for spiritual warfare—were not to be novices (1 Tim. 3:6) and were to “know how to rule his own house” (1 Tim. 3:5). If one’s household is not in agreement, the one doing warfare will be distracted, and his family may disintegrate while his focus is on the warfare.
God’s priorities are not upon the warfare but upon the stability of the family. God does not need large numbers of people. He can win all of the battles without regard to numbers. So the law tells some to go home and dedicate the household, for that is the top priority with God.
Planting a New Vineyard
Moses continues in Deut. 20:6, saying,
6 And who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not begun to use its fruit? Let him depart and return to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man begin to use its fruit.
The American military has always granted exemptions for farmers, because they have recognized the importance of agriculture. This is a biblical principle. However, it is also applicable in matters of spiritual warfare. Isaiah 5:1-7 is a song concerning His vineyard, and it shows the prophetic meaning of a vineyard.
1 Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His VINEYARD.
This song goes on to show that God planted a vineyard in the land of Canaan, but that it bore sour grapes. He was speaking of Israel, which was His Kingdom. Verse 7 says,
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus, He looked for justice, behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
When we apply the law to spiritual warfare, the vineyard is the Church—that is, true believers in Christ, not a denomination or an organization. When God plants the word of the Kingdom in the heart of a new believer, that person becomes part of God’s vineyard and becomes a citizen of the Kingdom of God. But new believers are not eligible to engage in spiritual warfare. They must come to some level of maturity before taking such responsibility, lest they be exposed to danger without having the strength to overcome.
In Lev. 19:23-25 we are told that it takes four or five years for a new believer to come into a level of spiritual maturity so that he is eligible to engage fully in spiritual warfare.
23 And when you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden [uncircumcised]. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten. 24 But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. 25 And in the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you; I am the Lord your God.
As we will see later in our study, Deut.20:19and Psalm 1:3 tell us that trees represent men. Hence, this law is not only about agriculture but also about people being planted in God’s vineyard or orchard.
New believers should not be called into spiritual warfare for the first four years of their walk with the Lord. In the fifth year, they can do so. This is, of course, a legal minimum. It does not mean that a believer is actually eligible even in the fifth year. It depends upon his spiritual growth. Likewise, some may grow up very fast and become sufficiently mature earlier. We cannot assume that earthly time is the same as spiritual time. This is one of those cases where one must go beyond the law and not be a legalist.
Deuteronomy 20:7 says,
7 And who is the man that is engaged to a woman and has not married her? Let him depart and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man marry her.
In other words, as far as God is concerned, establishing a family takes precedence over military service. This does not mean that a man should marry his fiancé, say a prayer over his new house, and then immediately go into battle. In Deut. 24:5 we read,
5 When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army, nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.
We see here that a young man who is engaged to be married is not eligible for military service until at least one year after he has been married. This is really what it means to dedicate one’s house. It is not so much the physical house that needs dedication, but rather the household, the family itself.
The manner in which Jesus treated the women of his day shows forth in this law. Jesus’ treatment of Mary Magdalene and the woman at the well in Samaria astonished the people—even Jesus’ disciples, who were not used to such behavior. But this law in Deut. 24:5 is based explicitly upon giving happiness to one’s wife. Was God interested in a woman’s happiness? Absolutely so! This law gives us a glimpse into the heart of God that ought to help men know how to treat their wives and women in general.
Let the Fearful Return Home
Deut. 20:8 gives command to the military officers also, saying,
8 Then the officers shall speak further to the people, and they shall say, “Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.”
Here we find that any soldier that does not have faith and confidence that God had given them the victory could go home and not participate in the battle. No one should be forced to fight under threats of court martial for refusing to do so. This was to be strictly a volunteer army, and every soldier had the right to return home at any time. When was the last time an American soldier had this right?
Neither the military leaders nor the political leaders have the right under God’s law to force men into fighting a war or even a single battle. Some would argue that no country can run a war in that manner. That may be true under present circumstances. It is not feasible to apply any single law of God to a Babylonian society. One must take the entire law as a single package, because if we retain any law of man that is contrary to the law of God, that will be the weak point in the Kingdom.
In the Kingdom of God, as pictured in Isaiah 2:4, peace will be normal. There will be no need for a standing army, because the nations will not have to be coerced by an army into submitting to the decisions of Jesus Christ. Everyone will prosper according to his labor, and discontent will become a thing of the past.
The law of God makes it clear that every soldier retains his citizenship rights as a free man. He is not a slave to military commanders. He is not required to sign a contract to remain in military service on pain of death or court martial. If he believes that the war is unjust, and that there is a carnal purpose to the war, he has the right to leave and go home.
When we think back to the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, and how so many were against the war, yet were conscripted to fight, we can see plainly the results of disobeying God’s law. Many were imprisoned for refusing to join the military, and many fled to other countries to avoid prison. Many Christians criticized them severely for their lack of “patriotism,” not realizing that their viewpoint showed their ignorance of God’s laws of war.
Turning soldiers into brainwashed fighting machines is certainly the most efficient carnal manner of maintaining military force, but it is not how God does things. God does not require big armies, nor great weapons, nor even skilled warriors. Scripture shows us that when Joshua’s army of Israelites fought against the Canaanites, they functioned according to biblical law quite well and won every battle as long as they were obedient to God.
The exception was the battle against Ai, which they lost because of one unrighteous soldier whose greed caused him to violate God’s law. As a result, 36 Israelites were killed (Joshua 7:5).
Likewise, in spiritual warfare it is one’s faith that secures the victory, because the battle is the Lord’s and not ours. God could fight every battle by Himself, but He has chosen to allow us to participate in His battle, so that we gain experience and maturity as sons. The moment we think that we have won by our own strength or by our superior weaponry or physical training, we will lose even if we manage to kill all of our enemies.
Something is wrong when we observe how many soldiers win their battles abroad, only to return home with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), or suffer nightmares every night, or turn to mind-bending drugs for relief. Many also commit suicide after the war. So we must ask ourselves if man’s ways are really better than God’s ways. Unfortunately, it is difficult to compare them, because God’s way has not been tried for so long, and many have no confidence in God’s law.
Appointing Military Leaders
Deut. 20:9 tells us who is to appoint military leaders, saying,
9 And it shall come about that when the officers have finished speaking to the people, they shall appoint commanders of armies at the head of the people.
Here we find the basic principle of leadership. The divine law says that the officers of the people were to appoint their own leaders, the commanders (generals) of the armies. The Hebrew word for “officer” is shotare, which literally means “a scribe.” The root word means “to write.” In those days, the magistrates (Levites) were the record-keepers, men who wrote things on tablets to keep official records of all legal transactions, decrees, court decisions, and so on.
These Levites were empowered to appoint commanders of the armies of Israel in the absence of a king. We also see that Moses appointed Joshua to lead Israel into Canaan and to fight the Canaanite wars. Later, King David appointed Joab as his military commander. No matter who did the appointing, they were expected to pray about it and appoint God’s choice, for God was King in Israel.
This is the opposite of what normally has been done throughout history to the present time. We are accustomed to having leadership appointed by a man of higher rank, not by a lower rank of men. Under divine law, the primary military power remained with the people themselves, rather than with their leaders. In today’s military the leaders are, in effect, dictators who cannot be removed from power by the rank-and-file soldiers. The soldiers must follow their leaders whether the commands are right or wrong, lawful or unlawful. It is easy to abuse such power.
Under God’s law, the privates would appoint their corporals; their corporals would appoint their sergeants; their sergeants would appoint their captains, etc. No matter how many ranks are needed to be efficient, the promotions would be done by democratic vote by the lower rank.
One practical result of such a policy would be to ensure that the men would always have confidence in their leaders. Their leaders would be their representatives, empowered by the confidence of those under their command. Of course, it would also be the responsibility of the soldiers to pray about it, to hear God’s voice, and to determine whom God has called into leadership position over them.
So it still boils down to hearing God’s voice. The only question is who is called to receive the word and to discern leadership callings. The people have this calling, and they will thus be given leaders that they deserve. If they elect bad leaders, they have only themselves to blame, for they were the ones called to hear God’s voice.
The same principle holds true in the political realm and in the Church. Those who framed the American Constitution were well aware of this principle. This is why they set up a democratic Republic, with a president holding the rank of military commander, much the same as a biblical Judge. God was seen as the King, and the President was merely the earthly leader, elected by the people to represent them.