Brief Bible Survey on War

Brief Bible Survey on War

I prepared this brief survey of what the Bible says about war for a CHOW session at Business Connect today:

1. War is a reality

Mark 13:7 “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen.” Whether we like it or not, the Bible recognises that war is a constant reality in our world.

This is perhaps more true of the land where God chose to place his people in the Old Testament than it is of any other geographical area on the planet, because Palestine lies between two relatively fertile regions which have continually produced Empires that vied with each other for supremacy.  As a result, the ‘Promised Land’ was perpetually either the theatre for or prize from battles between its neighbours.  The people of God cannot simply disengage from war.

Revelation 12:17 “Then war broke out in heaven.”  There is war even in the place where God is most present.

Jeremiah 4:21 “How long must I see the battle flags and hear the trumpets of war?”  The Bible is clear that war causes immense suffering.

Matthew 26:52 warns us that those “who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

In Luke 14, Jesus uses the reality of war (without commenting on it) as an illustration of the need to calculate in advance the cost involved in decisions we take.

2. War in Old Testament times was theological

In the Ancient Near East, there was religious dimension to territorial wars: they were seen as proving the supremacy of one god over another.  In these battles on a higher plane, the human protagonists were merely agents – or, more negatively – pawns.

So Israel is described in Jeremiah 51:20 “my war club, my weapon for battle.”

In this context, God is commonly described as “The Lord of Hosts” – in other words, the Commander in Chief of the armies; the Lion of Judah – the conquering king; the horn – another image of command, strength and victory in battle.

3. There is still a spiritual dimension to war

James 4:1-2 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”

1 Peter 2:11 “I urge you … to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul”

Romans 7:23 “in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind”

However we choose to live – as pacifists or as members of the armed forces – there is an internal war in which we must all engage.

4. Governments and the Church have different roles with respect to war

Romans 13:4 tells us that “the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

In Jeremiah 21 God uses the ruthlessly violent Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, to discipline His own people.

In Luke 3, when John tells the soldiers who come to be baptised by him to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” he doesn’t tell them to resign or desert.

And Proverbs 20:18 says “don’t go to war without wise advice.”

By contrast, Jesus says in Matthew 5:9 “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

In John 18:36 he adds “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest.”

So Simon the Zealot, in being called to follow Jesus, is called away from being a violent political rebel.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God”

5. The goal is peace

The Bible promises that while Ecclesiastes 3:1&8 says “There is … a season for every activity under the heavens,” including “a time for war,” Ecclesiastes 9:8 asserts that “wisdom is better than weapons of war” and the time will ultimately come when

Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3 and Joel 3:10 people “will beat their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

And God Revelation 21:4 “’will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” – picking up the promise of Isaiah 25:8.

So Jesus is hailed in Isaiah 9:6 as the “Prince of Peace.”

6. That goal is assured

1 Samuel 17:17 declares “the battle is the Lord’s”

Psalm 55:18 “He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.”

Revelation 17:14 “They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

And in the meantime, according to Psalm 18:39, God has “armed me with strength for battle.”