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Does God desire war in the Old Testament?

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May 15, 2019

Does God desire war in the Old Testament? It is certainly undeniable that God allows and sometimes even commands war. And I will address this God willing in the next video in this series. But for today, the question is does God want these wars? Does He delight in them? The answer to today’s question will be foundational for understanding the next video on God commanding war.

 

In the midst of all the violence you and I can encounter while reading the Old Testament, we sometimes miss important biblical messages that shed light on the true character of God. My task for today is to open your eyes to them. The clearest example of God not finding pleasure in war is when King David wanted to build God a temple and his proposal was rejected by God. Later David explains to his son Solomon the reason, he says: “My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of the LORD my God; but the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.” So God refused to have a house built by the same hands that shed blood. We see here God’s opposition to violence. Then, as the story unfolds, God gave peace and prosperity to King Solomon that he may build the house of the Lord. In other words, since he didn’t shed blood, it was acceptable for God to allow Solomon to build His house. This is perhaps the most direct example but let us look at some more.

 

In Isaiah chapter 2, the prophet refers to a certain mountain which represents the kingdom of God. He says the following: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD’S house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come and let us walk In the light of the LORD.” Here’s the explanation: that mountain represents the Kingdom of God and it shall be established on top of all other mountains, meaning above all other earthly kingdoms. And the Kingdom of God will attract many people from all nations. This Kingdom of God starts here on earth with the Church, and through the Church, Christ will teach us His perfect ways as the passage says, and we shall accurately walk in His paths. Then Isaiah mentions something profoundly interesting, he says the swords will be transformed into plowshares (plowshare is a blade used to break the earth and turn it over), and the spears into pruning hooks (that’s a gardening tool used to remove branches, roots, etc.). In other words, the weapons of war will turn into farming and gardening tools. Isaiah is proclaiming that through the plan of salvation, the Kingdom of God will shift human­ity from violence to peace. He continues saying nation will no more attack nation nor will people learn war anymore. This prophecy mainly concerns the Church and the peaceful influence the Church has on humanity. This influence can be seen historically in the early centuries of the Church when She was being persecuted and regularly gave the other cheek. This can be seen through the countless people that were martyred for no other reason than being Christians like St. Ignatius, St. Polycarp, St. Justin Martyr, St. Peter the Seal of the Martyrs and the other countless Egyptian martyrs. Truly, the Coptic Church has an innumerable number of martyrs throughout her history and still counting. However, since the world was not and will never be entirely Christian, war will always partially remain. I must clarify however that this doesn’t mean that the Church as a whole did not and will not make mistakes. There is a human aspect to the Church that always needs to be considered. For example, the crusades that took place in the 11th to the 13th century are an obvious mistake. I must be clear though that the Coptic Orthodox Church has not participated in these crusades and doesn’t believe in the concept of holy war. Regarding this issue or similar ones, we always need to differentiate between human mistakes and the general Christian teaching. As Christians, our aim should always be to live the fulness of the Christian life as the early Church lived.

 

 

Isaiah also mentions another Messianic prophecy that illustrates the true and perfect will of God, he says: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of coun­sel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.” This Rod or Branch that is stemming from Jesse is the Lord Jesus Christ who is one with the Holy Spirit. The prophet then goes on to say: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nurs­ing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea.” I will let St. Gregory the Great explain this one for us, he says: “… what was said through the prophet Isaiah about the promise of the church has been accomplished: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid [young goat]. For it is through holy charity that the wolf will dwell with the lamb, since those who were plunderers in the world now rest in peace with the meek and the tame. And the leopard will lie down with the kid [young goat] because the person who was stained with the multitude of his sins now agrees to be humbled with the person who despises himself and confesses himself to be a sinner. Isaiah also adds, and the calf and the lion and the sheep will remain together. One who prepares himself as a daily sacrifice to God through a contrite heart, and another who once raged with cruelty like a lion, and yet another who remains in the simplicity of his innocence like a lamb have all come together in the folds of [the] holy church. Behold the kind of charity that enkindles, consumes, melds and reforms such a diversity of minds as though into one species of gold.” So again this prophecy indicates that through the incarnation of Christ and the plan of salvation, God will give humanity the Gift of the Holy Spirit. Notice how all of the prophecies center around the incarnation of Christ and the establishment of the Church. And, again, as Christianity spreads in the world, the wolf will dwell with the lamb and the leopard with the goat; mean­ing violence between adversaries will diminish and peace will propagate. God’s will is clear: war and violence are not the solution.

 

So why all the violence then? As explained earlier in this Old Testament Violence series, God was dealing with a very cruel and barbaric humanity which knew nothing but violence. To calm their savagery, He incrementally shifted humanity from brutality to peacefulness throughout history. You can see both video links in the comments section for more on that subject (OT parts 1 and 2). So God was patiently working with humanity till the fulfilment of His new covenant as promised in Jeremiah 31 when the Son of God was incarnate and He gave the people the sermon on the mount where He explains the fullness of the Law, He says: “You have heard that it was said (meaning in the Old Testament), ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” And so on. Again, although it may seem to the shallow reader that the Old Testament God is a God of violence, the reality is that He is dealing with a weak humanity but the time came when He recreated humanity through the economy of salvation and set the fulness of the Law once again in His Church as it once was before the fall.

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