We’ve seen a lot as we’ve moved from Eden and Shalom. The perfection and harmony of Creation were immutably flawless – at least until our ancestors decided they’d make better gods. The great thing is this: God cannot be stopped. We seem to be stuck in a tractor beam that pulls us towards violence as a civilization. How do we connect God and Militarism?
In the narrative of Scripture, God paves the way for Messiah immediately after the Fall (c.f. Gen. 3:16). What I hope you’ve seen is the incredible love of God. He loves us, warts and all. He can take the messes we’ve made and redeem them. From the smoldering ashes of Eden, God began walking us back to Shalom. Even today, as we continue to wade through a never-ending sea of war, God is working to move us back to Him. Jesus showed us the way.
God is clear with His people, both in the Old Testament, and its continuing story in the New Testament, that He values two things above anything else. What are they?
- Love and Trust Him Alone
- Love your neighbor
Jesus says that the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Nevi’im) are summarized in those two commands. Through the Law of Moses God begins to set an ideal ethic. Through Jesus, He models it and completes the teaching.
There are lots of things we could point to in the Old Covenant that God wasn’t a fan of. In the sweeping narrative of Scripture, however, God takes people where they are and moves them towards where they ought to be.
Israel, then, is put into a system that improves, morally, the norms of the cultures around them. If we look at Israel’s use of force and violence in comparison with the nations around them, we see that they had a ridiculous policy of warfare. Perhaps the most striking way that God moves them away from the ethos of surrounding cultures, is how God views militarism.
Even when God allows for the use of war, God has a different approach. Israel might have used force, but it was, as Sprinkle notes, “blunt and short” compared to the neighboring countries. In fact, most of the time the sword was kept in storage.
Militarism is a belief that a government or group should maintain a strong military and be prepared to aggressively use it to promote/protect national interests. The surrounding nations in Israel’s time believed in militarism.
Their economic systems reflected it in their policies. High taxation was the norm. That was the cost of being the best. They believed that homeland security was achieved through a strong military. The military was charged with protecting the king or ruler of those nations. Outside attacks were repelled, and inside revolts crushed, and the existence of a monarchical, or king-centered society depended on the strength of the nation’s army. Having a king meant having a warrior who wielded the sword with absolute military control.
Israel’s Strange Military Doctrine
Israel is different. God is their king who owns everything (Lev. 25:23), and He is their army. God does not need protecting or defending of His land – He does it Himself. Later in Israel’s history, the nation is condemned for wanting a king who will “fight its battles” like the other countries had (1 Sam. 8:20).
God even sets in place a divergent economic policy that guarantees Israel cannot support a professional army. God wires a different perspective into the economy of Israel. No taxes could be collected in support of a military – and instead, God commands it all be given to the poor (c.f. Deut. 14:29). When Israel does get a king, God does not allow him to have the means to support an army (c.f. Deut. 17:14-20). It’s fascinating that Israel’s economy is set up in a manner that makes it impossible to support a standing army without violating the whole system itself.
Truthfully, to say Israel had an army would be an overstatement. The Minutemen of the American Revolution would be a more apt counterpart than a developed military. It was a group of people who came together, without a lot of skills and weapons, to show off God’s power and sufficiency.
Why, then, does God want to drive the Canaanites out? I think it was God being critical of the system. Canaan was held together by a militaristic king who fights for (or against) the people. The nations surrounding Israel trust in their king and his army to be their protector, but Israel is commanded to have faith in God. All other forms of “homeland security” – professional militaries, superior firepower, and alliances with other countries – are considered idolatry by God (see Ezek. 16:26-29; 23:6-7, 12; 14-15).
The question for us to ponder is this: What does Israel’s warfare policy have to teach us today?
In the next several posts we’ll dissect this further and look at how it contextually connects to the ministry of Jesus, and to us as well! As always, I welcome your thoughts!