Pastor David B. Curtis


A Biblical Perspective on War

Selected Scriptures

Delivered 09/23/2001

How many of you remember a song called "War"? It's from the sixties, but it has been used in several recent movies. Some of the lyrics go like this, "War. What is it good for. Absolutely nothing. War has shattered many young men's dreams; made them disabled bitter and mean. Life is too precious to be fighting wars each day. War can't give life, it can only take it away" (Barret Strong, Norman Whitfield/Edwin Star)

Is that true? Is war an evil of society that should be eradicated? To answer that question, we need to turn to the Bible, God's revelation to mankind.

After the shocking events that rocked our Nation September 11, 2001, and in light of America's military response to them, one man asked me, "What about forgiveness?" As our nation prepares to go to war, that's a good question. What about the Scriptures that command us to "Love and forgive our enemies"?

Luke 6:27-29 (NKJV) "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 "bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 "To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.

That doesn't sound like it advocates war, does it? And what about what Paul taught in:

Romans 12:17-21 (NKJV) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Should we as a nation turn the other cheek! Should we love our enemies and do good to these people who have attacked our Nation and killed so many civilians?

Many Christians have studied these Scripture and concluded that war is never permissible. They would be considered "conscientious objectors" if drafted - not out of fear of dying for their country, but out of fear of God. Much of the persecution of Christians when the church began is attributed to Christians refusing to fight for the Roman Empire. As Emperor Septimius Severus tried to build up his military might in 200 A.D., the churches were preaching that Christians should not bear arms. Why? Because Christians were to live at peace with everyone, as far as it was dependent on them.

Who are these scriptures that we have just looked at written to? Christians! As Christians is it our duty to forgive, to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies? Yes, it is! These verses lay out the Christian's responsibility before God. This is how we, as Christians, are to live, but we must understand that the same Bible that teaches us to love our enemies also teaches that God has told His people to go to war on many occasions. There is no contradiction here, and I'll explain why a little later.

God and War

Joshua 5:1 (NKJV) So it was, when all the kings of the Amorites who were on the west side of the Jordan, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel until we had crossed over, that their heart melted; and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel.

These foreign kings were scared to death of Israel and for good reason.

Joshua 6:1-2 (NKJV) Now Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in. 2 And the LORD said to Joshua: "See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor.

God told Joshua to attack the city of Jericho and destroy it.

Joshua 6:20-21 (NKJV) So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. 21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.

What did the people of Jericho do to the Israelites? Nothing! Nothing at all. They killed them all because God told them to. God had His reasons. In reading these scriptures would you get the idea that God is against war? Not hardly!

Joshua 8:1-2 (NKJV) Now the LORD said to Joshua: "Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. 2 "And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves. Lay an ambush for the city behind it."
Joshua 8:25-29 (NKJV) So it was that all who fell that day, both men and women, were twelve thousand; all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as booty for themselves, according to the word of the LORD which He had commanded Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai and made it a heap forever, a desolation to this day. 29 And the king of Ai he hanged on a tree until evening. And as soon as the sun was down, Joshua commanded that they should take his corpse down from the tree, cast it at the entrance of the gate of the city, and raise over it a great heap of stones that remains to this day.

Israel, God's people, were involved in war after war:

Joshua 11:19-20 (NKJV) There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle. 20 For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the LORD had commanded Moses.

These verses tells us that God hardened the hearts of these people so they would go to war with Israel, because He wanted to destroy them. In going to war, Israel was carrying out the will of God.

2 Samuel 5:18-25 (NKJV) The Philistines also went and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. 19 So David inquired of the LORD, saying, "Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?" And the LORD said to David, "Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand." 20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and David defeated them there; and he said, "The LORD has broken through my enemies before me, like a breakthrough of water." Therefore he called the name of that place Baal Perazim. 21 And they left their images there, and David and his men carried them away. 22 Then the Philistines went up once again and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. 23 Therefore David inquired of the LORD, and He said, "You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. 24 "And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the LORD will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines." 25 And David did so, as the LORD commanded him; and he drove back the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer.

Notice here that David asks God if he should go to war, and God tells him to go and guaranties his victory. Notice also that God even gives David a battle strategy.

Believers, listen closely, God told David to go to war. There are some today who would say the same is true of them. Osama Bin Ladin would most likely say that God told him to fight America. The difference between the days of the Bible writers and ours is that Revelation is closed. Let me explain some biblical terms:

Revelation is God unveiling Himself, making Himself known. The Bible writers received direct revelation from God, we do not. Inspiration is the Holy Spirit making secure that revelation which was known. This was done through the writing of the Word of God. Revelation was God unavailing Himself, and inspiration was God securing it in the canon of Scripture. Revelation and inspiration are closed. God is not giving revelation today. If he did, it would be on par with the Scripture and binding on your life. Illumination is God giving us an understanding of the inspired revelation. God speaks to us today through His word. If we want to know God's will, we must find it in the pages of the living Word of God, the Bible.

Does the New Testament Give Us a Different View of War?

There is a passage in the Gospel of Luke when two soldiers asked John the Baptist what was required of them in order to be right with the Lord. John answered:

Luke 3:14 (NKJV) Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?" So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages."

Notice what John didn't say. He didn't say, "War, what is it good for - absolutely nothing" or "Find a new career." He simply emphasized the need to be just and fair.

As Christians, we are not to retaliate, we are to forgive those who wrong us, we are to turn the other cheek. Vengeance is not our job. But God has instituted human government to see that justice is carried out:

Romans 13:1 (NKJV) 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.

Notice that, "The authorities that exist are appointed by God." The word "appointed" is the Greek word tasso, which means: "to appoint, to assign a place to, to ordain". Paul tells us here that government is an ordinance of God. This is a very comprehensive proposition. All authority is of God, which means they derive their origin, right, and power from God. Any form of civil authority comes directly from God. Government is an institution of God.

I believe that we see the ordination of human government in Genesis 9. Noah and his family have just emerged from the arc. The flood has wiped out the lawless community. And now, as the new world is to be populated by Noah and his family, God institutes the principle of human government. He puts into the hand of Noah the sword of capital punishment, and human government is instituted. Human government is designed to suppress evil which would destroy society.

Governing authorities are ordained, instituted, and regulated by God. No man has rightful authority over other men, which is not derived from God. The existing powers in every country and in every age, are ordained by God. Look at what God said to King David about how he became king:

2 Samuel 12:7-8 (NKJV) Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 'I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more!

Why was David king over Israel? God put him there!

Psalms 62:11 (NKJV) God has spoken once, Twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God.

Anyone who possesses any power on earth has had it delegated to him by God.

Daniel 2:20-21 (NKJV) Daniel answered and said: "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. 21 And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.
John 19:10-11 (NKJV) Then Pilate said to Him, "Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?" 11 Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."

Do you get the picture? Every government that exists is ordained of God. Authority to govern and the subjection demanded of the governed reside wholly in the fact that it's a divine institution. Government is expressive of the divine will. Sometimes he wants to bless a nation, and sometimes he wants to punish a nation.

Romans 13:2 (NKJV) Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

The Greek word for "resists" is antitassomai, which means: "to arrange in battle against, to oppose one's self, resist". Wuest translates this verse this way, "So that the one who sets himself in array against the aforementioned authority, against the ordinance of God has set himself, with the result that he is in a permanent position of antagonism."

Romans 13:3-4 (NKJV) 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. 4 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.

These verses give us a two fold purpose of government; they are to punish evil and defend good.

1 Peter 2:14 (NKJV) or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.

Verse 4 of Romans 13 says, "...if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain." The government has been given a sword by God. The sword is frequently associated with death in the New Testament. In antiquity the sword was more than a symbol of power and authority, it was a symbol of the right of life and death. The common method of capital punishment was decapitation by the sword.

Vengeance belongs to God, and it often comes through the government. The government has been given a function which has been explicitly forbidden to the Christian.

It wasn't until Augustine addressed the subject around 400 A.D. that Christians realized sometimes the way to peace required taking the road to war. Augustine said, "Peace is not sought in order to provide war, but war is waged in order to attain peace." And with that, Augustine began laying the foundation for what we know today as the principles for Just War, which states:

1. JUST WAR can only be waged by legitimate authorities.
2. JUST WAR must exhaust all non-violent options first.
3. JUST WAR must have a reasonable chance to succeed.
4. JUST WAR must be fought with right intentions.
5. JUST WAR must discriminate between combative enemies and non-combative civilians (Death of civilians is considered justifiable only if unavoidable).
6. JUST WAR's ultimate goal should be to re-establish peace.

Augustine's rationale for war was nothing new. It was simply an elaboration of what the Bible had said all along, and what Christians had missed for 400 years. Our rulers are God's servants (agents of wrath) who have a responsibility to punish wrongdoers. Our government has a responsibility to administer justice.

God sent the prophet Jeremiah to King Zedekiah to detail to him what He expects of governments:

Jeremiah 22:1-3 (NKJV) Thus says the LORD: "Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and there speak this word, 2 "and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on the throne of David, you and your servants and your people who enter these gates! 3 'Thus says the LORD: "Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Note what the rulers of this land were expected to do. They were to do justice and righteousness. This is a constant theme in Scripture:

Genesis 18:19 (NKJV) "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him."

The queen of Sheba said to Solomon:

1 Kings 10:9 (NKJV) "Blessed be the LORD your God, who delighted in you, setting you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD has loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness."
Psalms 33:5 (NKJV) He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.
Proverbs 21:3 (NKJV) To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
Jeremiah 22:15 (NKJV) "Shall you reign because you enclose yourself in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.

What is justice? Justice has two major aspects. First, it is the standard by which penalties are assigned for breaking the obligations of the society. Second, justice is the standard by which the advantages of social life are handed out, including material goods, rights of participation, opportunities, and liberties. It is the standard for both punishment and benefits.

The most prominent human agent of justice is the government. The king receives God's justice and is a channel for it:

Psalm 72:1 Give the king Your judgments, O God, And Your righteousness to the king's Son. 2 He will judge Your people with righteousness, And Your poor with justice.

It is our rulers' responsibility to administer justice. In his September 20 address to congress, President Bush said, "Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."

Our responsibility is to submit to our leaders as they carry out their responsibility:

Romans 13:1 (NKJV) 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.

The Bible teaches that we, as believers, should live in submission to the prevailing laws of the land. Christianity is to be a total life experience. It is not an addendum to life. It is to touch every element of life; our thoughts, words, deeds, and relationships. Christianity is not to be isolated from any part of life. When one receives the righteousness of Christ and begins to live out that righteousness, it produces a life of subjection to all authority.

G. Cambell Morgan said, "The Christian's submission to the will of God is manifested by his submission to his governmental authority."

Paul establishes a basic principle; whatever the form and whoever the ruler, civil government should be obeyed and submitted to by Christians. The Christian has a duty to his nation, even if the ruler is a Nero or a Hitler.

It would be unjust and immoral for a Christian not support their leaders as they carry out their God-given duty. It would be unjust and immoral for a Christian to stand by and do nothing as innocent lives are attacked. We are to turn our cheek when someone strikes at us. But we cannot turn our cheek when someone strikes the innocent.

It's important to understand that justice is not revenge. Principle number 4 of the JUST WAR theory states, "JUST WAR must be fought with right intentions." What is our intent? Revenge? Or peace? To kill? Or to save? Our goal must be to stop our enemies - not destroy them. However, if the only way to stop them is by destroying them, then we must do so. The Lord requires justice.

Why should the government punish evil doers? Let me give you what I believe are three Biblical reasons for punishing evil doers:

1. To deter others from committing crimes:

Deuteronomy 21:21 (NKJV) "Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.

When you punish evil doers, others hear and fear.

2. To prevent evil doers from committing further crimes. If you put them to death, they won't hurt or kill anybody else.

3. For justice sake:

Numbers 35:30-34 (NKJV) 'Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty. 31 'Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 32 'And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. 33 'So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. 34 'Therefore do not defile the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the children of Israel.'"

The Bible teaches that when a life is taken, a life must be given, there must be retribution.

Principle number 3 of the JUST WAR theory states, "we must have a reasonable chance to succeed." Do we? I believe that if God is for us, we will be victorious. But if God is against us, we don't stand a chance. Billy Graham once said, "If God does not punish America for all its sins - He owes Sodom & Gomorrah an apology."

James Davison Hunter adds, "We Americans generally want to think of ourselves as good people. That, in many respects, is where the trouble begins." Remember, God saves the humble but brings low those whose eyes are haughty:

Psalms 18:27 (NKJV) For You will save the humble people, But will bring down haughty looks.

Will we fight this fight with our own grit and determination? Or will we trust in the Lord for strength and wisdom? The tragic events of September 11 have forced our Nation to fall on our knees before God. There have been prayer services and vigils all across our land. I, for one, hope that we do not get up off our knees too quickly. For it is when our Nation turns to God that we are at our best. In closing his speech to congress on September 20, President Bush said, "Fellow citizens, we will meet violence with patient justice assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America." Believers, we all have a responsibility to pray for our leaders:

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.

Pray for our President, our government leaders, and the men and women in the Armed Forces that God will give them wisdom and grace as we proceed with "Operation Infinite Justice".

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