Unrecognizable woman holding a bible in her hands and praying

Do wars in the Bible justify war today?

From a biblical perspective, the worst thing about Christian apologists for war, the military, and the warfare state is not their willful ignorance of U.S. foreign policy, their blind nationalism, their childish devotion to the military, their cheerleading for the Republican Party, their acceptance of the national-security state, or their support for perpetual war, but their misuse of Scripture.

What follows are examples of some of the Old Testament Scripture verses often quoted or referred to before or after some Christian warmonger seeks to defend U.S. wars, the U.S. empire, or the U.S. military as a divine institution.

Abraham, “the friend of God” (James 2:23),” “armed his trained servants” to rescue his nephew Lot (Genesis 14:14).

The LORD brought the Jews “out of the land of Egypt by their armies” (Exodus 12:2).

“The LORD is a man of war” (Exodus 15:3).

The LORD told the children of Israel that he would “destroy all the people to whom” they came, and make their enemies “turn their backs” unto them (Exodus 23:27).

The LORD commanded the children of Israel to “destroy” the altars of the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, “to break their images, and cut down their groves” (Exodus 34:11-13).

After “Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities,” “the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities” (Numbers 21:2-3).

Moses told the children of Israel to arm themselves “unto the war” and war against the Midianites. So Israel slew all the males and “took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.” Then they “burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.” And “took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.” But “Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle” because they “saved all the women alive,” which had caused the children of Israel to “commit trespass against the LORD.” So Moses commanded Israel to “kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him” and to “keep alive” for themselves “all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him” (Numbers 31:1-18).

When the children of Israel went out to battle, they were accompanied by priests (Deuteronomy 20:2).

Joshua and “about forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho” (Joshua 4:13). The Jews blockaded the city and “utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:21).

Joshua “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” and burnt the city, with Israel taking “the cattle and the spoil” for themselves “according to the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua” (Joshua 8:26-28).

The LORD sent Gideon to save Israel from the Midianites by smiting them (Judges 6:13-16).

The LORD commanded Saul to “smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Samuel 15:3).

King David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), was “a man of war” (1 Samuel 16:18) who had slain “his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7), and said: “Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hand to war and my fingers to fight” (Psalm 144:1).

The LORD commanded David to go and fight against the Philistines and he would deliver them into his hand. David then smote the Philistines with “a great slaughter,” thereby saving the inhabitants of Keilah (1 Samuel 23:4-5).

David smote the Amalekites “from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day: and there escaped not a man of them, save four hundred young men, which rode upon camels, and fled” (1 Samuel 30:17).

David warred against the Philistines, Moab, Zobah, Syria, and Edom (2 Samuel 8:1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 13, 14), and “the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went” (2 Samuel 8:14).

Israelites from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, “men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war,” made war with the Hagarites. Many of the enemy were slain “because the war was of God” (1 Chronicles 5:18-23).

When the Jews rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem, half of the people worked and “the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons” (Nehemiah 4:16-18, 21).

My reply to all of the above is simply this: And your point is?

Really, that is all I have to say.

What these imperial Christians are tying to say is that because the Jews in the Old Testament did X, Christians under the New Testament should support the U.S. government and its military doing Y.

But as I have pointed out numerous times, both in lectures and in articles, it is wrong to invoke the Jewish wars of the Old Testament against the heathen as a justification for the actions of the U.S. government and its military. Although God sponsored these wars, and used the Jewish nation to conduct them, it does not follow that God sponsors American wars or that America is God’s chosen nation. The U.S. president is not Moses, Joshua, King David, or God Almighty, America is neither the nation of Israel nor God’s chosen nation, the U.S. military is not the Lord’s army, and the Lord never sanctioned any Christian to go on a crusade, commanded him to war on his behalf, or encouraged any Christian to kill, make apologies for the killing of, or excuse the killing of any adherent to a false religion.

And as Philip Kapusta writes in Blood Guilt: Christian Responses to America’s War on Terror (New Covenant Press, 2011):

In fighting against these nations, the armies of Israel acted as God’s agents of wrath and were used to execute His judgments. The wars of Israel were always to be at God’s command, subject to His laws, and for the occupation and the defense of the Land of Promise. The children of Israel could only kill when killing in the name of God – that is, when killing in obedience to a direct mandate from God.

Unlike the children of Israel, who were brought out of Egypt and given a land of their own and provided with a set of laws to govern them within God’s divine kingdom, Christians have not been given a similar tract of land to defend or fight for. Neither have Christians been given a king upon earth who enforces God’s laws when violated.

Some armchair Christian warriors, evangelical warvangelicals, Catholic just war theorists, reich-wing Christian nationalists, Red-State Christian fascists, pro-life hypocrites, theocon Values Voters, Christian Coalition moralists, and Religious Right warmongers are a little more savvy.

To sound a little more scriptural, they will also quote or refer to some verses in the New Testament before or after they seek to defend U.S. wars, the U.S. empire, or the U.S. military as a divine institution.

Jesus told a centurion he had “great faith” and healed his servant (Matthew 8:5-13).

Jesus “went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves” (Matthew 21:12).

John the Baptist told soldiers: “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages,” but did not tell them to leave the military (Luke 3:14).

Jesus delivered a parable about a king going to war (Luke 14:31).

Jesus told his disciples: “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one” (Luke 22:36).

Jesus “made a scourge of small cords” and drove the moneychangers out of the temple (John 2:14-15).

Cornelius the Roman centurion was a just man that feared God, gave much alms, and prayed always (Acts 10:1-2).

The Apostle Paul said: “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1).

The Christian is commanded to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).

The “armies of heaven” will follow Christ when he returns (Revelation 19:14).

Jesus Christ is depicted as bearing a “sharp sword” and using it to “smite the nations” as he rules them with “a rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15).

Again, my reply is simply: And your point is?

American military officers are not surrogates for Jesus Christ. Whatever Jesus Christ did or will do has absolutely no relevance to what the U. S. military does in Afghanistan. And if a Christian warmonger wants to do what Jesus did, then why not start with doing “no sin” and not having “guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22)?

Although the New Testament does liken a Christian to a soldier (Philemon 2, Philippians 2:25), as soldiers Christians are admonished to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11), not Marine body armor, have on “the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14), not a Navy uniform, shod their feet “with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15), not Army boots, and wear “the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17), not an Air Force pilot helmet. The weapons of the Christian soldier are not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:4). His shield is “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16), not an M1 Abrams tank, and his sword is “the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), not an M-16. The only warfare the New Testament encourages the Christian to wage is against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Regarding Roman soldiers and centurions, isn’t it strange how that apologists for the U.S. military never refer to the ones scourged, stripped, crowned with thorns, mocked, smote, spit on, and crucified Jesus Christ?

And besides, there is a big problem with justifying the activities of the U.S. military because soldiers are not condemned in the New Testament; slave owners are not condemned either (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:22, 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1; 1 Peter 2:18).

On John the Baptist and soldiers, I have written a whole article here. Is not war the highest form of violence? On Romans 13, I have written articles here and here.

When all else fails, the Bible does say there is “a time of war” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). But of course, that doesn’t justify the war in Iraq, even though Jerry Falwell implied it did.

To hear some Christians talk about war and the military just like Republican politicians, one gets the impression they think the GOP is God’s Own Party instead of a pack of rabid war-crazed defenders of militarism and empire.

Which is worse, “deceived” Muslims using the Koran to justify jihad, suicide bombers, and IED attacks or “enlightened” Christians using the Bible to justify war, torture, and drone strikes? The answer should be quite obvious.

Originally posted on LewRockwell.com on October 25, 2012.