The Use of the Military in the Modern Era

Abram was the first godly man in the Bible that we know of, who utilised military force. His nephew Lot (who had been living in Sodom) had been kidnapped after the defeat of the king of Sodom in battle. Abram took 314 men, divided his forces by night, led them into battle and rescued Lot, and all that belonged to him (Gen.14:1-16).

This was no evening stroll for Abram and his men, who were not professional soldiers but men who were “born in his house” (v.14). Yet the Book of Hebrews refers to this rescue operation as “the slaughter of the kings” (Heb.7:1).

Was this “slaughter” justified? The Bible offers us no condemnation of Abraham’s action. In fact, the law of God given to Moses later, taught that kidnapping was a capital offence, like murder (Ex.21:16). Thus it appears that Abram did right in saving Lot, even to killing his captors in the process. Abram responded militarily to an injustice perpetuated on his family. Lot had no other human hope.

Abram was fulfilling the role of a kinsman-redeemer for Lot. A thousand years later, the Psalmist, in speaking of the ultimate kinsman-redeemer Jesus Christ, explained this in detail:

For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help. The afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence, and their blood will be precious in his sight (Ps.72:12-14).

The fact that Abram’s fighters were men “born in his house” gives us a hint about the nature of godly military involvement. The Bible tells us that “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and gold” (Gen.12:2). These men were not professional soldiers, or mercenaries; fighters for hire. Personal defence is firstly a personal responsibility. “A gun in the hand is better than a cop on the phone.”[1]

They were his household workers, which meant they would have been tenders of sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels and other livestock (Gen.13:2), along with well-diggers (Gen.21:27-30), builders, craftsmen, and the other forms of outdoor trades that Abram needed, as a wealthy, self-reliant but nomadic entrepreneur. And they were ready and willing to fight with little notice.

When Israel was commanded to go into the land of Canaan, she was going to have to fight for it, destroying the inhabitants completely. This was to be the only genocide in history legitimised by God.

Deuteronomy 17 placed significant restrictions on Israel’s kings, should she chose a kingship. Amongst other things, her king was forbidden from multiplying horses for himself (which were a means of waging aggressive warfare).

The horse was an offensive weapon. Horses were the basis of both the cavalry and chariots. There were to be few horses in the king’s stable: “But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way” (Deut.17: 16). The horse was a tool of empire. Kings could not lawfully multiply them…Egypt had been an empire based on chariots. There were limits on what chariots could accomplish. Chariots had failed to keep Israel inside Egypt’s boundaries. No Israelite king was to send Israelites down to Egypt to buy horses or to learn the arts of horse-based warfare. Horses were forbidden to Israel’s kings because empire was forbidden.[2]

Deuteronomy 17 also said of Israel’s king, “Nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (v.17). This meant that ambitious kings would find their activities severely curtailed by God’s law. A professional army would be out of the question. 500 years later in David’s era when Israel’s military success was at its height, her militia still needed to be supplied by private means (II Sam.17:27-29).

Deuteronomy 20 gave Israel the necessary regulations for how this war was to be conducted. It even permitted certain exemptions, whereby some men would not be compelled to go to war: those who had built a new house and not dedicated it (v.5), those who had planted a vineyard and not begun to use its fruit (v.6), and those who were engaged to a woman, but had not married her (v.7). (Thus the individual family is more important than the nation). It also permitted those who were fainthearted in the face of battle, to return home (v.8).

These men also were not professional fighters. They were fighters for a time, more like militia; civilians with a limited assignment to fight. They were responsible to fight the inhabitants of Canaan, until the promised land had been subdued. Then, they returned to their families and their vocations, unless they were required to defend their nation because of invasion.

The difference between Abram’s and our era, is that we have an institution that Abram never had: the State. The State, the Bible says, “…does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Ro.13:4).

Then what of the military today?

The idea of a Christian society being made up of an armed, skilled populace, actually has deep historical roots. Alfred the Great codified the laws of England in the 9th Century, often resorting to Biblical law in order to do so. Alfred applied the Deuteronomic laws of kings that forbad a standing army (Deut. 17), and as a result developed a national defence based on militia:

By the Saxon laws, every freeman of an age capable of bearing arms, and not incapacitated by any bodily infirmity, was in case of a foreign invasion, internal insurrection, or other emergency, obliged to join the army…[3]

The notion of a dedicated national professional military force has no basis in scripture. Nor do warlords or armed gangs have any legitimacy; they are a mark of anarchy. There is always a tremendous penalty when people and nations defy God’s Word, and the use of a professional military force is a further example of this.

Why?

Firstly, professional military people are a tremendous drain on their nation economically. Yes, they may be proficient at fighting (as Abram’s men certainly were), but that’s what they are dedicated to. When they have learned how to march, shoot, follow orders and survive outside, once they have cleaned their boots and polished their guns, what next? The military becomes a taxpayer-supported way of life. In peacetime they bring little to the nation except large bills, training accidents and allegations of abuse.

Secondly, military life is hostile to good family life, when men are away from home for long lengths of time on “service.” Thus professional military people have far greater rates of divorce than the rest of the community. Furthermore, they are shunted around from one place to another, none of which is good for family life.

Thirdly, professional military people can become play-things of national leaders, for schemes that are utterly unrelated to national defence. The multiple wars the US has engaged in since World War II (none of which were in any way related to US defence) attest to this. Australia has been a willing junior partner in some of these: Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

And it continues. Vance writes,

The extent of the U.S. global empire is almost incalculable. The Department of Defence’s “Base Structure Report” states that the Department’s physical assets consist of “more than 600,000 individual buildings and structures, at more than 6,000 locations, on more than 30 million acres.” There are over 700 U.S. military bases on foreign soil. There are U.S. troops stationed in 159 different regions of the world in every corner of the globe. There are 285,000 U.S. troops stationed in foreign countries, not counting the 200,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are 100,000 U.S. soldiers in Europe to face a non-existent Soviet Union. The United States has commitments to provide security to over 35 countries. The United States still maintains 64,000 troops in Germany, 33,000 troops in Japan, and 10,000 troops in Italy – sixty years after we defeated them in World War II. We have, in fact, never stopped mobilizing for war since World War II, manufacturing enemies where we could find none.[4]

As a consequence, men get sent away and shot. For what?

I’ll tell you for what: the vanity, pride and ambitions of national political leaders, who love to make grandiose statements, but couldn’t care less about husbands, fathers and sons being killed overseas, on evil, stupid foreign missions, all funded by foolish, ignorant taxpayers, who think they must “support the troops.”

Although Christ forgave the soldiers who crucified him, no one would ever reason from this that it is okay for a Christian to join the U.S. military and bomb, maim, kill, and destroy for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the lesson here is just the opposite. Because you never know what you might be told to do in the military, because you never know which country you might have to invade, because you never know which country you might have to bomb, because you never know which country you might have to occupy, because you never know who the enemy might be next week, because you never know whom you might have to kill—the best thing for a Christian to do is to stay out of the military in the first place.[5]

Conclusion:                                                                                                                                              

National defence is Biblically justified. But national defence is best carried out by a militia: men who know how to fight and have their weapons at home, but are engaged profitably at their vocation and with their family, until their nation is attacked. Then they can be readied (like Abram’s men) at a few hour’s notice. That would easily give the US 30 million men ready to fight defensively. It would give Australia at least 2 million men.

Chesterton was right when he said, the only defensible war is a war of defence.[6]

[1] But Australian law today does not permit the purchase of firearms for self-defence.

[2] Gary North, “Inheritance and  Dominion,” 1999, ch.40.

[3] Francis Grose, Military Antiquities Respecting a History of the British Army, from the Conquest to the Present Time, 2 vol. (London: Egerton and Kearsley, 1801), 1:1. (The two above para. quoted in Joel McDurmon, “Bring Your Guns to Church,” American Vision website, 24/4/2010.)

[4] Lawrence Vance, “War, Gunboat Diplomacy and the Church,” p.1, (www.lewrockwell.com), 24/7/2007.

[5] Laurence Vance, “Soldiers: Strippers, Smiters, Mockers, Spitters, Gamblers, Thieves, Liars, Scourgers, Bribe-Takers, Assaulters, Mutilators and Crucifiers,” (www.lewrockwell.com), 18/4/2014.

[6] G. K. Chesterton, “Autobiography,” 1937.

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