Old Testament holy war and Christian nonresistance

(Old Facebook Post – Revised)

I learned another reason why I, as a Christian, cannot serve in any military. Here is the teaching of the Old Testament regarding Israel’s participation in war, as summarized by Douglas Stuart in his Exodus commentary:

“Old Testament holy war… may be summarized by twelve propositions:
1. No standing army was allowed…
2. No pay for soldiers was permitted…
3. No personal spoil/plunder could be taken…
4. Holy war could only be fought for the conquest or defense of the promised land. Israel had no right to any other land or to warfare for any other purpose…
THE NEW AMERICAN COMMENTARY - NIV - EXODUS - D K STUART: 2 (New American Commentary Old Testament) Buy on Amazon 5. Only at Yahweh’s call could holy war be launched…
6. Solely through a prophet could that divine call come…
7. Yahweh did the real fighting in holy war because the war was always his…
8. Holy was was a religious undertaking, involving fasting, abstinence from sex, and/or other forms of self denial…
9. A goal of holy war was the total annihilation of an evil culture…
10. The violator of the rules of holy war became an enemy…
11. Exceptions and mutations were possible, especially in the case of combat with those who were not original inhabitants of the promised land…
12. Decisive, rapid victory characterized holy war…”

Proposition 4 suggests Christians are left without any legitimate right to physical warfare. In the New Testament, the promised land is now no longer physical territory in the Middle East, but spiritual realities (Christ, his Kingdom, and the new creation coming at the end of this age). Therefore, the only warfare for the Christian is spiritual warfare (as in Ephesians 6:10-20). Since the US military (and that of any other nation, including modern Israel) is not defending the land God has promised to his people, any killing I would do under its orders would be murder, contrary to the 10 Commandments and contrary to Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount to love, pray for, and do good to my enemies.

(Sadly, Stuart misses the implications of his own findings when commenting on “Thou shalt not murder.” There he intentionally tries to leave room for military service with the equivocating statement, “No unauthorized ‘private’ person or group has the right to end a human life.”)

Propositions 5 and 6 also pretty well eliminate Christian participation in the military–and none of the other propositions match modern warfare, either.

Of course, none of the above contradicts the NT teaching (see Rom. 13:1-5) that God uses the sword of the government to punish evil (although that teaching is given in the context of capital punishment, not war).

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