So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. Joshua 6:20-21; ESV
Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Joshua 7:11-12; ESV
After reading Kenny Holmes’ article Being a Christian and a Veteran, I began to ponder about the topic and how many struggle with being a Christian and being called to war. War; unlike the movie versions, is ugly. It is not often something people are prepared for; even with all the classroom discussions and such. A great deal of events takes place which no one can fully grasp from films and lectures. The personal experience is what pushes limits and causes the most damage to the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of the solider. I am not saying that it is not difficult for every solider; because it is and we see this in our returning veterans with PTSD and other effects of war. However, for the believer of Christ, their battle spiritually conflicts what many believe the Bible teaches.
Scriptures tells us to “Do not murder”, to “turn the other cheek”, and to “forgive those who trespass against us”. We are called to peace and to be peacemakers. And coming from a military family and having extended family and friends in the Armed Forces, many try to find vocations which would keep them from actually being confronted of having to deal with such a decision; at least when they enlist. Little do they fathom that when they enlist, they are first taught how to fight and protect one another; regardless of what vocation they enter. So, try as they may, war is in their face and so is the inner struggle of what this means.
In discussing Kenny’s article with him, we did touch on several different aspects which the believer can find peace and fulfillment in serving God in the military. I had pointed out several different passages in which God not only accepted His people being involved in war, but how He also instructed His people to totally destroy EVERYTHING about the enemies of God! Two of those Scriptures are provided. One clearly instructs His people to battle and defeat the opposing armies, while the other points out how God deals with those who do not follow His instructions to the letter: His own people!
When God calls a person to battle, it is to fight! He does not forget what He teaches us in His Holy Word because those never change. When evil threatens to overtake and destroy what God plans, God will rise up and defend what is His. His holy judgment is dispersed by the enemy being defeated on earth. God does not want evil to prosper.
The Old Testament is filled with stories where great battles take place. And these battles had similar outcomes and entire kingdoms were destroyed by order of the Lord. Women, children, livestock were all killed by the servants and armies of God Almighty! What was the reasoning behind this? Is God that cruel to have “innocents” killed? Two great truths we, as believers of today, need to remember: 1) We may not always understand why God does the things He does, and 2) God is always just in what He does. The Scripture provided shares this very truth! But the call to arms doesn’t end in the Old Testament, but carries over to the New Testament.
When we turn to the NT, we find less about warfare. Holmes thinks this is because the NT is directed to individuals, whereas the OT is addressed to nations. Still, the NT is not silent on this matter. Soldiers came to John the Baptist and asked how kingdom citizens should act. He did not say they had to leave the army, but said they should conduct themselves in a principled way, robbing no one and being content with their wages (Luke 3:14). Moreover, Jesus praised a Roman centurion for having exemplary faith. Nowhere is there any suggestion that he should resign from military service (Luke 7:9). Peter’s actions in Acts are in keeping with those of John the Baptist and Jesus. He went to preach the gospel to a Roman soldier, Cornelius. Cornelius is described as one who was devout and feared God (Acts 10:2). He had a good reputation among the Jews, although he was a representative of an occupying power (10:22). Cornelius responded to the preaching of Peter, was saved, and received the Holy Spirit. Peter did not tell Cornelius that his newfound faith required him to leave service in the Roman army.
The key NT passage, however, is Rom 13:4. This text, we think, demonstrates ethical continuity between the OT and NT on the matter of war. This text has been and will be discussed in our chapters on capital punishment and the Christian and the secular state. Hence, only a brief summary is needed here. Paul tells believers to submit to civil authorities since God ordains them (v. 1). To resist the civil authority in fact resists God (v. 2). The civil magistrate is not a terror to those who do good, but to evildoers (v. 3; cf. 1 Pet 2:13, 14). It is in this regard that human governments are granted the right to “bear the sword,” i.e., to use lethal force. Though this right is explicitly granted for matters of civil justice and order and relates only by application to a state’s right to defend itself against an outside aggressor, this passage clearly shows that at least for some purposes, the state does have the right to use lethal force. This right is given amidst a context of repudiating vengeance, showing concern for one’s enemies and for those who suffer, and pursuing peace. The context also sets the limits on the use of force. It must not be motivated by vengeance, and it must seek peace as its goal.
Those who think the sword only symbolizes authority and the right to use force do not do justice to the context or the fact that the word for sword here is machaira. This is not a ceremonial sword, but in the Greek OT, the Septuagint, this word is used for a lethal weapon (Gen 34:26; Judg 3:16).
As a pastor, I advocate peace. I believe in the sanctity of life in every manner possible. But also as a pastor, husband/father, friend and so on, I am also a person who will protect the lives of those whom are entrusted to me. Should I need to defend and protect them, I will. In the same manner, our service personnel have the same desire to protect their home and loved ones; this great country call the United States. They struggle with the ability to hold fast to the teachings of Christ of preserving life and turning the other cheek; while they are empowered to remove great evil in battle. Do they enjoy killing and war? No. Will they do it to protect us from not only the actual act but also the horrible sights, sounds, smell, emotional scars, nightmares, trauma and everything else associated with war from torturing their loved ones? Absolutely!
Friends, we need to not only support our veterans, we need to also assist them to overcome the struggles they have BECAUSE of the wars they fight – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I believe people are selected by God to do the various tasks asked of our military. If it were not for these brave souls, God only knows where we would be. So instead of condemning them for the battles they fight, help protect them in the same manner they protect us!
 Feinberg, J. S., & Feinberg, P. D. (1993). Ethics for a Brave new world (pp. 365–366). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.