God and War

Arthur Pink, 1945

The title of this article may possibly shock some of our readers, thinking that "Satan and War" would be a more appropriate and accurate one. There are an increasing number today among churchgoers who repudiate the idea that God has anything to do, designedly and directly, with such calamities as tidal waves, earthquakes, or wars. Since there are such things, these people attribute them to and blame them upon the Devil. Their beliefs differ little from the religious conceptions of the ancient Persians and modern Parsees, for Zoroastrianism teaches that there are two Gods presiding over this sphere, a good and an evil one; that all blessings are to be ascribed unto the former and all our ills unto the latter. And just as that ancient system of philosophy and religion contains no definite statement as to which of the opposing deities will ultimately triumph, so these modern dualists have so little confidence in the true and living God, and are so determined to dissociate Him from the affairs of this scene, that they talk (and even write) about the likelihood of this earth being blown to smithereens by some devilish kind of bomb, instead of this world being (when it has served His purpose) destroyed by its Creator with fire (Psalm 1, 3), as He did the antediluvian world by water.

It needs to be constantly pressed upon this skeptical generation that the One who made this world is now governing it; and that not merely in a vague and general way, but most definitely and specifically. The Lord God presides over all its affairs, regulates all its events, and directs all its inhabitants. If He did not, if there were some creatures beyond His control, if there were some happenings outside His jurisdiction—then there would be no guarantee that everything which transpires on earth (as well as in Heaven) shall redound to His glory, and that all things are working together for good to those who love Him.

Instead, all confidence in the future would be at an end, all peace of heart and tranquility of mind would be an empty dream. But Scripture is far too plain on this matter to be misunderstood: "His kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19), "He works all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:11), "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to Him be glory forever. Amen!" (Romans 11:36).

So far from Satan being able to thwart Him, he could not lay a finger upon Job or any of his possessions until the Lord gave him permission to do so. In the same way, the demons could not enter the herd of swine without Christ's consent (Mark 5:12, 13). Nor can the Devil gain the slightest advantage over a saint without his own allowance, and if he resists him steadfastly in the faith, he is obliged to flee from him (James 4:7).

Since "all things" are of God, then wars must not be excluded. So truly is this the case that His Word declares, "The Lord is a man of war" (Exodus 15:3). Thus Deity hesitates not to assume unto Himself a militant title. And again He declares, "The Lord mighty in battle" (Psalm 24:8), which is illustrated and demonstrated again and again in the history of Israel, when He showed Himself strong in their behalf and slew their foes. "The LORD Almighty is mustering an army for war. They come from faraway lands, from the ends of the heavens—the LORD and the weapons of his wrath—to destroy the whole country!" (Isaiah 13:4, 5).

It may be objected that these are Old Testament references, and that the spirit of the New Testament denounces all war as now being unlawful. But the New Testament is far from bearing that out; its teaching thereon is in full accord with the Old. Thus, when the soldiers came to Christ's forerunner for instruction, asking, "What shall we do?" He did not say, Fight no more, abandon your calling—but gave them directions how to conduct themselves. When the centurion came to the Savior and drew an argument from his military calling, our Lord did not condemn his profession or rebuke him for holding such an office; instead, He highly commended his faith (Luke 7:8, 9).

When foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem, Christ declared that God would send forth His armies (Matthew 22:7), so that the Roman legions were but instruments in His hands, directed by Him to effect His judgment. When examined by Pilate, our Lord said, "My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is My kingdom not from hence" (John 18:36). Those words clearly imply that, though carnal means were then improper for advancing His spiritual kingdom, yet had not His state of humiliation precluded His assumption of the royal scepter, His followers might lawfully have fought to defend His title. Moreover, His qualifying now suggests that such a time would come, as Revelation 19:11, plainly confirms. When the ten kings determine to make the mother of harlots desolate and burn her with fire, we are told, "For God has put it in their hearts to fulfill His will" (Revelation 17:16, 17). How entirely different is the God of Holy Writ from the fictitious one of the sentimental dreamers of this effeminate age!

In our previous comments upon Israel's fighting in Canaan, our principal emphasis has been upon the application thereof unto the spiritual warfare in which the Christian is called upon to engage; but our articles would lack completeness if we failed to devote one unto the literal side of things. Much of human history consists of a chronicling of wars, and it is a matter of great concern and importance that we should turn the light of Scripture thereon and ascertain God's relation thereto. Is He but a far-distant Spectator thereof, having no immediate connection with the horrible carnage of the battlefield—or is His agency directly involved in the same? To speculate upon such a matter is not only useless, but impious. War is ever a frightful calamity, the more so if it is a civil one, when one part of the populace is madly fighting against another; or when many nations become involved or embroiled. At such a time the suffering and anguish experienced rudely shake the belief of many in an overruling providence; and even God's own people find it difficult to stay their minds on the Ruler of the universe and trust in His goodness and wisdom, unless they are firmly rooted in the Truth.

Those who are familiar with history know how many sad proofs it contains that human beings are often more cruel than are the beasts of the jungle. Lions and tigers kill their prey in order to appease their hunger, but men destroy their fellows only to gratify their insatiable lusts of ambition and avarice. During the course of the centuries wild animals have killed thousands of mankind, but within the last few years literally millions have been destroyed by the restless wickedness of those who cared not what immeasurable suffering would result from the meeting of their greedy desires. We cannot sufficiently deplore the depravity of human nature which has made men into beasts of prey; or rather devils to one another, seeking whom they may devour. The events of this enlightened century only too plainly confirm the teaching of Scripture on the thorough corruption of fallen human nature, that in their unregenerate condition men are "hateful, and hating one another" (Titus 3:3). But let us not condemn the ferocity and wickedness of our fellows in any self-righteous spirit, but in the humbling realization that we also are clay of the same lump, and that if a spirit of benevolence now governs us—then it is nothing but sovereign grace which makes us to differ.

But while we contemplate with grief, shame and horror—the vile works of men of the same vicious natures as our own; we must by no means overlook and ignore the place which Divine providence has in all those occurrences in which they are the actors. God is supreme, and all inferior agents are under His government, held by Him in such effectual control that they can do nothing without Him. In the most tremendous evils which they inflict, they are the ministers of His vengeance. Even when whole nations are destroyed, by whatever means, the hand of God is in that work of judgment. We briefly alluded unto this in our last chapter, but deemed it necessary to supplement what was there pointed out.

"I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian—brother will fight against brother, neighbor against neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom. The Egyptians will lose heart, and I will bring their plans to nothing; they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists. I will hand the Egyptians over to the power of a cruel master, and a fierce king will rule over them," declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 19:2-4).

These are words which ought to cause not a few people to revise their ideas on this subject. When cities are reduced to rubble, when civil war afflicts a country, when kingdoms are destroyed—the agency of God is to be acknowledged therein. The worst tyrants, when inflicting the greatest outrages, are the instruments of God, accomplishing His will.

In Jeremiah 25:9, we find Jehovah referring to Nebuchadnezzar as "My servant"—just as He spoke of "My servant Moses" (Numbers 12:7) and "David My servant" (Psalm 89:3). The king of Babylon was just as truly an instrument in effecting the Divine purpose as they were: they in delivering and building up—and he in punishing and destroying. "Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, says the Lord . . . and they shall eat up your harvest, and your bread, which your sons and your daughters should eat. They shall eat up your flocks and your herds: . . . they shall impoverish your fenced cities, wherein you trust, with the sword" (Jeremiah 5:15, 17).

God brings judgment upon a nation, as surely as He gives blessing. He uproots as truly as He plants. "Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor." (Habakkuk 1:5-7). How clearly do those words show that heathen nations are under God's control and used by Him when it serves His purpose.

The Babylonians were employed by the Ruler of this world for the chastisement of His people and commissioned by Him to carry the Jews into captivity, yet in so doing they incurred great guilt and were made to reap as they had sown. Those things may seem utterly inconsistent unto carnal reason, yet they are not so in reality, for Nebuchadnezzar acted with no thought of fulfilling the Divine decrees, but rather to satisfy his own rapacity, and therefore was his kingdom providentially destroyed by Him with an unexampled destruction.

Others were sent by God to execute His vengeance on Babylon, and though they in turn were incited by their own passions, nevertheless it was He who called forth their hosts and gave them the victory. "Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished. See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants nor will they look with compassion on children. Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians' pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah!" (Isaiah 13:16-19).

How awful does Divine Providence appear here! Even when savage idolaters violate every dictate of humanity, they are the executors of the judgments of the Almighty. While their conduct is most horribly guilty, in the Divine sovereignty it fulfills God's will.

"The LORD Almighty planned it, to bring low the pride of all glory and to humble all who are renowned on the earth." (Isaiah 23:9). The demolition of Tyre by the Chaldeans was not only the fulfillment of prophecy, but was accomplished by Divine agency. God did it, yet man did it. In unconsciously doing the work of the Lord, men act quite freely, and therefore are justly accountable for doing what it was eternally predestined they should do.

Philosophy cannot plumb such a depth by its own line, but Scripture clears up the mystery. Of Cyrus God declared, "You are my war club, my weapon for battle—with you I shatter nations, with you I destroy kingdoms!" (Jeremiah 51:20). What is there said of that mighty conqueror, is equally true of all conquerors that ever lived, or shall live, on this earth. Conquerors regard themselves almost as gods, but the axes and saws with which men cut and cleave wood might with far better reason exalt themselves to the rank of human creatures. None of them can do anything but what God's counsel determined before to be done by their hands, and therefore it is our bounden duty to give God the glory for all the judgments which are done by them, and to adore His inscrutable providence in all the miseries they inflict upon guilty kingdoms.

It is in the light of all that has been said above, that the conquest of Canaan by Israel is to be viewed. Joshua 10:30, 42, makes it quite clear that the "sword" of Joshua was the sword of the Lord—compare "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon" (Judges 7:20). Equally so, it is in the light of various passages found in the Pentateuch that we must consider the severity of God's dealings with those whom His servant Joshua was commissioned to slay. The original inhabitants of Canaan were flagitious offenders, not only in being gross idolaters, but in trampling underfoot the laws of morality and of humanity. If the reader turns to Leviticus 18:3, 27, 28, and then ponders what is recorded between verses 3 and 27—he will perceive the horrible depravity which the Amorites exhibited, for in those verses a black catalogue is supplied of the vile "abominations" of which they were guilty. Those heathen tribes were like a cancerous sore in the nation, contaminating the surrounding nations. Therefore it was an act of mercy unto the latter, as well as a just punishment upon the former, that God ordered Joshua to destroy them root and branch. The Lord had borne long with them, but now that the iniquity of the Amorites had come to the full (Genesis 15:16) nothing but succinct judgment suited their case.

Not only is no apology required for the Lord in connection with His solemn works of judgment, but He is to be owned and magnified therein. "O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago. You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the foreigners' stronghold a city no more; it will never be rebuilt. Therefore strong peoples will honor you; cities of ruthless nations will revere you." (Isaiah 25:1-3)—as Israel did when Pharaoh and his hosts were overthrown in the waters of the Red Sea, and as the inhabitants of Heaven shall exclaim "After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in Heaven shouting: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants." (Revelation 19:1-2).

God is glorious in His works of providence, as well as in His works of creation. As He made all things "good" at the creation of the world, so He does all things "well" in His government of it. He is to be revered and adored even by those works which He performs by the hand of His creatures. He is glorious in what He does by and through wicked men, as well as by His saints. He is glorious in His acts of vengeance as well as in His acts of grace.

But if the balance of truth is to be preserved on this subject, due place must be given and full regard had to another class of passages, which show that when God deals in judgment—whether it is with individuals or nations—He does so because man's sinfulness calls for it, and not because He delights therein. This is clear from Ezekiel 14, where, after announcing the "four sore judgments" which he would send upon Jerusalem, the Lord God declared, "And you shall know that I have not done this without cause" (verses 21-23). For as Jeremiah 22:8, 9, informs us, "People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, 'Why has the LORD done such a thing to this great city?' And the answer will be: 'Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and have worshiped and served other gods.'"

How plain is the testimony in Lamentations 3:33, "For He does not afflict willingly [from His heart] nor grieve the children of men." Equally clear is Ezekiel 33:11, "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live." Therefore are we told that judgment is "His strange work. . . . His strange act" (Isaiah 28:21), for it is not as agreeable to Him as His works of mercy.

God approves of righteousness wherever it is found, and rewards the same with temporal blessings; but He ever disapproves of sin, and sooner or later visits His anger upon it (Proverbs 14:34). Yet even when the dark clouds of His judgment are hanging over a kingdom or an evil system, calamity may be averted by national humiliation before God, and reformation of conduct (Exodus 9:27-29; Luke 19:41-44; Revelation 2:21, 22). How much to the point are those words of the Lord in Jeremiah 18:7-8, "If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil—then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned"—as was most definitely exemplified in the case of Nineveh.

That verse has, of course, no reference to the alteration of His eternal decree, but instead enumerates one of the principles by which God governs this world: namely that He deals with nations as with individuals—according to their conduct, making them to reap as they have sown, for His judgment is ever tempered by His mercy (Judges 3:8-10).

Now each of the two sides of our subject pointed out above was illustrated in Joshua 11.

On the one hand we are told, "For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favor, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses" (verse 20)—because they had filled up the measure of their iniquities and were ripe for judgment (compare Matthew 23:32; 1 Thessalonians 2:16; Revelation 14:7, 18).

On the other hand we read that "But as for the cities that stood still in their strength, Israel burned none of them, save Hazor only" (verse 13), by which is meant those who remained passive and fought not against Israel. So that here too in wrath, God remembered mercy. That is one of several passages which show that Israel did not massacre unresisting Canaanites (see Deuteronomy 20:10, 11). Joshua 24:11 shows that those in Jericho assumed a hostile attitude, and therefore we may conclude that those in Ai did so too.