Sunday, February 22, 2015


By Colleen Podmore

Are there different sorts of warfare? What sorts of warfare are there?  Is there such a thing as a Holy war or a moral war? Is war ever justified?

The books of Deuteronomy. Numbers and Joshua describe the Israelites going to war and some of the passages describe brutal events.

Deuteronomy 3:3b ‘we struck them down, leaving no survivors’

Deuteronomy 3:6 ‘we completely destroyed them…men, women and children’

How do you feel about these passages? Do they seem wrong compared to our Christian principles that we should love our enemies and pray for those who hate us (Matt 5:44). Jesus said that if someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer him the other also (Matt5:39).

Some people consider these passages as pre-Christian or sub-Christian, that mankind was evolving into a kind of more civilized people and therefore today there is no justification for war (NIV study Bible). However as we think about this subject we need to consider the following:

God was adamant that the nations living in Canaan, known as the ‘Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites’……were to be completely destroyed.

The reason they were to be cut off was to prevent Israel and the rest of the world from being corrupted by their practices (Deut. 20:16-18). They were detestable in the eyes of God and they would influence the Israelites to sin

This is a Holy war they are fighting because it is God’s war and as far as I can see – it is the only Holy war in history. The Israelites were given the land of Canaan to establish Yahweh’s kingdom. They did not then go on to conquer neighbouring kingdoms and so create a world-wide kingdom. The land had specific boundaries that they were to conquer and then to settle down and live peacefully. This is quite unique amongst the Nations when you consider the neighbouring kingdoms which later came like the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Greeks and the Romans. Israel had no expansion plan. This marks it as a Holy war and not a Human war.

“The war is about how God, who owns the whole earth re-conquered a portion of it through Israel. A kind of partial redemption. How the land was taken out of the hands of the Canaanites who had turned away from God and were fully under the control of evil. They were an idolatrous and dissolute people (NIV Study Bible)

(Dt 9:5, it is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going to take possession of their land but on account of their wickedness…)

God cared nothing for the land but he wanted a people to live there, a righteous people who were true to Him and upheld his honour and glory.


How wicked were the Canaanites? What about the ‘innocent children’? The Canaanites were set in their ways and they were not prepared to change. They had heard about the Israelites and how God was leading them. They had heard of the miraculous signs and wonders that had occurred in Egypt. They heard of the power of God through the plagues and the escape through the sea. Rahab testifies to that  (Josh 2:9-11), Moses tried to reason with the Amorite kings Og and Bashan to the east of the river Jordan, to allow them to pass through the land and in the end they had no choice but to fight (Numbers 21:23; Dt 2:26;3:1). The Israelites honored their treaty with the Gibeonites (Josh 10:7), even though they had been tricked into it (Josh 9:4).

Warfare was inevitable but they were not a people focused on war. Anybody anywhere who repented would be saved.

The people of Canaan were utterly corrupted by their beliefs and practices. They were polytheistic –they worshipped many gods. They were idolaters, they worshipped carved images and statues, they sacrificed their children by burning them (Lev 18:21).  They practiced all kinds of immorality, drunkenness and perversions (Lev 18:23, 24, 20:3). In a similar way that God cleansed the earth of the corruption of evil with the flood, He was now cleansing the land, this tiny corner in the world to demonstrate his rule and His kingdom.

Finally, these events recorded in the Bible also serve as a warning to all generations in all nations that God will judge wickedness and there will be a future time of judgement. That God although He is compassionate is also Judge.

These things have been written down to teach us and as warnings  (1Cor 10:6;11), and therefore we should set ourselves the task of understanding.

The Bible shows us who God is as He interacts with the Nation of Israel. We see in this directive His uncompromising holiness and we need a correct interpretation of who God is.

·         He is the Creator of heaven and earth and we have no rights before him except what He allows.

·         We are familiar with the book of Job and God’s response to him when Job demanded an explanation. Basically God told Job he was nothing and Job had no right to question God (Job 38-40).

·         Scripture says we should not fear those who can kill the body but fear Him who can destroy body and soul ( Luke 12:4-5, Matt 10:28 )

What is wisdom? It is fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10) Teach our children to fear God through our examples, our lives.

These passages of the judgement of God on the Cananites remind me that God will ultimately judge everybody who chooses to live apart from Him.

Fear Him means to respect His authority, stand in awe of His majesty and trust Him and obey him.


People fighting wars today claim that their wars are holy and justified, but all I see are fanatics wanting to conquer and rule and subjugate and destroy – sounds more like the thief that Jesus described in John 10:10.

Often warfare within countries starts with a legitimate protest against some injustice and then escalates to violence and other more militant factions get involved with their own agendas.

·         eg in Syria in March 2011, there was non-violent ‘Arab spring’ uprisings and Al Qaeda became involved and the govt retaliated with armed troupes and then the peaceful protesters were armed and became more militant as atrocities were multiplied.

·         A similar scenario in the Ukraine saw the country divided and the threat of Russia invading which seems to have been sorted out now.

·         In the continent of Africa, many wars are being fought for control and possession of rich minerals and resources.

God is neither for them nor against them. But ‘blessed are the peacemankers’ (Matt 5:9). Both sides can justify their actions but at the end of the day both sides are guilty. God can even allow these wars and to bring good from them. For example, the early Christians suffered terribly under the tyranny of Rome – but this caused the spread of the gospel. What should we do? Pray for persecution?  No but pray for those who are suffering persecution to hold onto their faith and hope.

To sum up there are three sorts of warfare: Holy warfare, human warfare and spiritual warfare.

What about spiritual warfare?

When the Israelites were rescued from slavery in Egypt, we say that is like when we become Christians. Pharaoh or satan had power over us but God rescued us. When we believe that Jesus died on the cross and paid the price for our sins and we call Him our Lord and Saviour we are redeemed from the power of satan. It’s like God parts the sea and brings us from death to life! Salvation.

We then go to Mt Horeb and learn about Him and learn to worship Him (Exodus).

The children of Israel, stayed at Mt Horeb for two years and then Moses organized them into a military camp to go in and conquer the land, but as we know fear and doubt stopped them and they wandered in the desert for 40 years until that generation died out, then under Joshua, they went in and conquered the land.

They took possession of it and settled in it.

If the Exodus is a picture of salvation, what part of our Christian lives would conquering the land represent?

In one sense, the land is our own lives. When we begin to understand who we are, we want to change. We want to stop doing some things and start doing other things. We want to conquer our flesh and our enemies and be in control of our lives, being victorious over whatever stumbles us in our Christian lives.

Who or what are our enemies? Fear, doubt, laziness, sickness, poverty, loneliness, unforgiveness, resentment bitterness etc

Sometimes these enemies are not completely destroyed and they come back to defeat us again, but during that process we become stronger as we learn how to live victoriously!

Judges 3:2, he left some of the Canaanites to teach warfare to the Israelites


In another sense the land might represent out gifts, talents and ministries. Where in the kingdom of God do I preach the word of God? Perhaps it is at the Little Bethlehem Church as an administrator, an encourager and a helper. Perhaps it’s as a prayer warrior or an evangelist or a pastor. Maybe I have a gift of faith to believe the impossible, to cast out demons and set captives free. What is the land that we are fighting to possess?

The land is our lives, our families lives, our communities and our nation and to the ends of the earth. We battle for the hearts and minds of those enslaved by satan and to make disciples and to build the church. God said to Joshua and he says to us today, ‘Be strong – be courageous, I will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua1:5). Let us put on the full armor of God and fight with spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6) – faith hope and love, calling on the name of the Lord as Joshua did and praying without ceasing (1Thess 5:12-22).


References – some websites and other sources of information used in this study

1.      NIV Study Bible (Zondervan)

2.      Quartz Hill School of Theology

3.      Christian Research Institute





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