What Does the Bible Say About War in Israel?
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What Does the Bible Say About War in Israel?

You open your Bible, seeking understanding about a difficult topic – war in the Holy Land. As a follower of Jesus, you want to develop views aligned with Scripture. You know God cherishes both Israel and her neighbors. So what guidance does the Word provide about regional conflicts?

Quite a bit, it turns out. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible references warfare in and around Israel. By examining these passages in context, we gain insight into God’s perspective. We see His heart is for peace, justice, and reconciliation.

Old Testament Precedents

Israel’s history is fraught with conflict. The Old Testament records centuries of bloodshed in the Promised Land. What led to these wars? Did God approve? Let’s explore key events and themes:

The Conquest of Canaan

After liberating Israel from Egypt, God directed Joshua to conquer Canaan (the area we now call Israel). This invasion fulfilled the promise to Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land (Genesis 15:18-21). Deuteronomy 9:4-6 explains why God mandated this war:

“Do not think in your heart, after the Lord your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (NKJV)

This passage reveals an important truth – God did not choose Israel because they were righteous. He used them as an instrument of judgment against the Canaanites’ evil practices.

Later verses clarify these sins included idolatry, child sacrifice, witchcraft, and temple prostitution (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Such wickedness had corrupted the land God promised Israel. His justice demanded these nations’ expulsion.

Civil War Between the Tribes

After settling Canaan, Israel’s unity frayed. Sin divided them into the northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah. As idolatry increased, God allowed foreign powers like Aram and Assyria to attack Israel.

At times, the Lord even sanctions violence between Jewish groups. Judges 20 records a civil war between the Tribe of Benjamin and the rest of Israel. The cause was Benjamin’s defense of wicked men who raped and murdered a Levite’s concubine. When Benjamin refused to surrender the criminals, God approved the other tribes waging war:

So all the children of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, as well as from the land of Gilead, and the congregation gathered together as one man before the Lord at Mizpah…Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God to inquire of God. They said, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?” The Lord said, “Judah first!” (Judges 20:1, 18 NKJV)

This episode illustrates a key lesson – God sometimes uses warfare to chasten His people’s sin and enforce justice.

Wars Against Evil Kings

When Israel’s rulers promoted rampant idolatry, God raised up prophets and foreign conquerors to challenge them. For example, Elijah confronted King Ahab over his Baal worship by executing Baal’s prophets (1 Kings 18:40). Later, God enabled Ahab’s death in battle at Ramoth Gilead (1 Kings 22:29-40).

We also read how God strengthened Israel’s enemies to punish wicked kings:

Moreover all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the Lord which He had consecrated in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand. (2 Chronicles 36:14-17 NKJV)

These examples demonstrate God’s use of warfare to curb evil among His people. He is uncompromising in demanding exclusive worship and righteousness.

Defensive Battles Against Foreign Powers

Not all Israel’s conflicts resulted from their sins. The Old Testament records occasions where God empowered His people in just defensive wars.

For instance, when five Amorite kings attacked the Gibeonites, a peaceful ally of Israel, God sanctioned Joshua launching a counteroffensive (Joshua 10:1-15). The Lord miraculously aided Israel by causing the sun to stand still during the battle.

We also read how God helped Gideon’s tiny force defeat a vast Midianite army that had been oppressing Israel (Judges 7). Gideon had to take up arms to defend God’s people from harm.

These accounts reveal defensive warfare is acceptable at times. God assists His followers in protecting the innocent from unjust aggression.

New Testament Teachings on Violence

Of course, Christ’s arrival brought massive changes in how God’s people relate to enemies. The Gospels and Epistles provide extensive instructions about responding to conflict and injustice.

The Sermon on the Mount – Nonviolence and Sacrificial Love

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out countercultural commands regarding retaliation and loving enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also…You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45 NKJV)

These famous words forbid taking personal vengeance. Instead, Jesus calls us to combat evil through nonviolent resistance and gracious love.

Scholars note He likely has injustices like robbery, insult, and persecution in view – not lethal threats. Nonetheless, this passage presents a high standard of self-sacrifice and avoiding retaliation.

Believers must depend wholly on God rather than armed self-defense. We overcome hatred with love.

Jesus Rebukes Violent Resistance to Oppression

Christ further elaborates these principles when He rebukes a disciple’s violent impulse:

When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51 NKJV)

Here Peter tries to defend Jesus from arrest through force. Jesus not only refuses assistance but supernaturally undoes the damage Peter caused. This illustrates how He eschews violent resistance, instead entrusting Himself to God’s purposes.

As disciples, we too must trust God when facing persecution, rather than taking up arms.

Godly Governments Wield the Sword to Punish Evil

Nevertheless, Jesus is no pacifist. While renouncing personal retaliation, He recognizes God establishes governing authorities to restrain evil through just force:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:1-4 NKJV)

Unlike individuals, God mandates kings and governing officials to punish criminals and repel invaders. The sword here refers to capital punishment and armed defense.

While we refrain from personal violence, we must respect political leaders’ vocation to defend their citizens with force.

Prophecies of Future Warfare Involving God’s People

Another relevant issue is biblical prophecy about future wars impacting Israel. Passages like Ezekiel 38 describe an end-times invasion of Israel by nations like Russia and Iran. How should we interpret such prophecies?

First, we recognize no one can know precisely when or how such predictions will unfold. attempting to force God’s hand through human conflict risks rebelling against His perfect timing.

Instead, we wait patiently for Christ Himself to defeat all evil upon His return. Our mission remains sharing the Gospel – not triggering apocalyptic scenarios prematurely. Until then, we refrain from speculation and trust God.

How Should Christians Today Apply Biblical Teachings on War?

In light of all these scriptural passages, what principles should guide believers thinking about war in the Holy Land today? Consider the following:

Our first loyalty belongs to God’s Kingdom. As disciples of Jesus, our citizenship is first and foremost in Christ’s Kingdom. We serve God before any earthly nation.

Choose justice and mercy above political interests. God cares immensely about reconciling divided peoples. We must evaluate Middle East conflicts from an impartial, biblical perspective – not just through national loyalties.

Embrace nonviolence when personally harmed. Jesus’s example calls us to absorb insults and attacks without retaliation. Instead we keep loving enemies, praying God changes them through our witness.

Respect governing authorities’ vocation to punish evil. While refraining from vigilantism, Christians should acknowledge the state’s role in restraining gross injustice through force.

Avoid presuming to control God’s prophetic timetable. Speculating about ushering in end-times scenarios through force is dangerous. We should focus on Gospel witness, not eschatological shortcuts.

Promote Christlike peacemaking between opponents. Given the complex history, lasting peace requires grace and nuance. We must avoid demonizing parties on either side, instead facilitating reconciliation.

Of course, applying biblical principles to real-world conflicts is rarely straightforward. But God’s Word provides indispensable guidance. As Christians, we advocate justice, nonviolence, mercy for all sides, and prayer the Holy Spirit changes hearts. By following Jesus’ example – not partisan agendas – we can point others to the hope found in Him alone.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Old Testament portrays God at times sanctioning Israel waging war under specific circumstances, often to punish egregious sin.
  • Jesus and the New Testament authors instruct believers to avoid personal retaliation and rely on God alone for defense.
  • While refraining from individual violence, Christians should respect the state’s mandate to punish criminals.
  • Trying to force biblical prophecy about end-times wars reveals a lack of trust in God’s timing.
  • Followers of Jesus promote peacemaking and reconciliation in the Middle East, not demonization.
  • Our ultimate hope is in Christ and His Kingdom, not any earthly nation.
Pastor Duke Taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.