The Theory and Practice of War
If Jesus Christ is King, it follows there is no area of life which we are allowed to consider apart from His Lordship. This includes the theory and practice of war. Thus as Believers seeking to establish a Christian society we must come to understand what the Bible actually says about war.
There are at least eight points we ought to consider when we study the Bible's teaching on war. First, we must recognize the dramatic shift that has taken place with the fulfillment of God's covenant promises in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Second, we should remember God's command to wage a war of total annihilation against the Canaanites was limited in scope. Third, we ought to understand Israel's conquest of Canaan was not unlike a war for independence. Fourth, apart from the original conquest of Canaan, other conflicts sanctioned in Scripture were defensive in nature. Fifth, although the New Testament says virtually nothing about warfare, it generally casts military men in a favorable light. Sixth, the New Testament reaffirms the responsibility of the civil authority to bear the sword. Seventh, the New Testament teaching against non-violence is primarily directed at the private individual. And eighth, God often deals with nations as corporate entities, bringing judgement upon them through the military action of hostile alien nations. As one of our Founding Fathers put it: "(a)s nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities"1
When reading the Old Testament it is essential to remember that during the Adamic epoch, Man was bound to that which he had chosen in opposition to God. In short, Adam chose the earthly, sensual and demonic when he rejected the heavenly mind and wisdom of God (James 3:15). One result of this action was the rewards and punishments of the Old Covenant age were often of a temporal and immediate character. This is not to say rewards of a higher quality were withheld from the Old Covenant saints completely; rather, the heavenly prize was reserved for them until the Messianic age (John 8:56, Heb. 11:39-40). Moreover, the temporal sanctions of the Old Age serve to illustrate the eternal recompenses of the New.
This is graphically demonstrated in God's war of total annihilation against the seven nations of Canaan: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (Deut. 7:1, 20:1-18). For centuries God had shown mercy to the Canaanite nations in giving them time to repent (Gen. 15:13-16). However they refused to do so and were destroyed in order to limit their corrupt influence and to illustrate the ultimate consequences of sin as well (Deut. 20:16-18). Even then, opportunity for repentance was given and the Gibeonites were spared from destruction (Josh. 9:16-27)
In this age God continues to show mercy to rebellious men, giving them adequate time to repent. However, the day will come when their "cup of iniquity" will be full and they will be cast into Hell for eternity. This is God's definitive war of total annihilation. It is not limited to the Canaanite people for in the New Age there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free; there is no male and female (Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11). In this age there are only two types of people; those who have placed faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and those who have not.
The Old Covenant Scriptures were written for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:6, 11, 9:10, Rom. 15:4), and must be applied in light of the Messianic kingdom. Therefore we are admonished as we view the judgment of God and the horrors of Hell placed on display in the war of annihilation against the wicked inhabitants of Canaan. Likewise, the rewards of eternity and the return to the Edenic order are typified in the material blessings bestowed upon God's faithful people. However, we cannot adopt the practices of the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan anymore than we can employ the sacrificial ritual of the Old Covenant age.
Next week: Israel's war for independence (with continuing essays on the theory and practice of war at www.cottonwoodcommunitychurch.org and www.dewms.com).
1. George Mason of Virginia.
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