WAR: mil’khamah. Feminine noun. (Strong’s 4421).
Original word: מִלְחָמָה (from root: לחם)
Sounds like: meel-kha-mah
This week we set aside time to remember those who sacrificed their lives in war. Remembrance Day is important in our house. My husband’s grandfather (Robert A. Langille) served in the military and took part in the United Nations Peace mission in the Sinai Penninsula, Egypt, in the mid-1950’s. My Grandfather (Bruce Marshall Fisher) served with the Norwegian Merchant Marines in WWII, and his brother (John Allan Fisher), died while on duty with the RCAF in WWII. We think of them in particular this week… and we reflect on their sacrifice of time and heart and soul.
According to the book of Ecclesiastes (3:8), there was a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace [et mil’khamah w-et shalom]. But why does there have to be a time for war? And who condones it? Does God support wars? Does He command we go to war? Is war “Godly”? Is war “good”? And if war is not good, then why is YHWH described as a Warrior?
These are complicated questions, and for many people war and violence in the Old Testament are the primary reasons for their doubt in a God who loves them. If YHWH is an all loving God, then why does He allow such horrors as war? Is our God a Warrior God who condones violence?
YHWH will go forth like a warrior [mighty man], He will arouse His zeal like a man of war [k-ish mil’khamoht]. He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against His enemies.
The First Recorded Biblical War
War was never put on a pedestal in the Bible. It was not glorified in any way… rather it reflected the devastation that went alongside militant destruction: babies being “dashed to pieces” and the raping of women (Isaiah 13:16), cannibalism due to war famine (Leviticus 26:29), bodies piled up unburied (Jeremiah 25:33). War was a brutal reminder that humanity made terrible choices- from the choice to rebel against God in the Garden of Eden, to Cain’s choice of murder instead of mediation, to the first great war of kings found in the book of Genesis.
That first mention of war, found in Genesis 14, outlined the key problem that hurdled people towards battle: nationalism.
Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, appeared to be the main instigator of this war. He and his three allies (the king of Shinar, king of Ellasar, and king of Goiim)…
… they made war [mil’khamah] with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these came as allies to the valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they had served Chedorlaomer, but the thirteenth year they rebelled.
In other words, these five kingdoms served Chedorlaomer as underling kings for twelve years, but eventually they refused to bow to him and rebelled against his authority.
The year after these five kingdoms rebelled, Chedorlaomer and his buddies went on a war rampage all across the known land, building their reputation as successful and brutal warriors. Eventually, after instilling fear across the land, they made their way back to the five rebellious kings. These five kings joined together against Chedorlaomer:
And the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah and the king of Admah and the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) came out; and they arrayed for battle [mil’khamah] against them in the valley of Siddim, against Chedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goiim and Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five.
Regardless of the odds in their favour, it did not go well for the five rebellious kingdoms:
Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and they fell into them. But those who survived fled to the hill country.
Then they [Chedorlaomer and his allies] took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply, and departed. They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.
So far, this war had nothing to do with the Hebrew people. It was not their battle. But as soon as Abram’s nephew Lot was captured by king Chedorlaomer and exiled out of Sodom, things changed:
When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.
He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.
Abram’s small army of 318 men took on a military giant. Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and his allies had defeated the five rebellious kings, and before that they had defeated the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, the Horites, the Amalekites, and the Amorites (Genesis 14:5-7). Abram’s only incentive to go to war against Chedorlaomer was to rescue his family. This was not about elevating the Hebrew nation as a military force; it was about bringing a family member home.
In the same way, this is how YHWH has used war: to bring His family members back home. Anytime YHWH steadied a hand in war, or allowed humans to defeat others humans, or turned His face away from the horrors of humanity, it was done to nudge people back to the path of redemption… back to the cross… back to His Presence.
Abram’s victory over Chedorlaomer was no small feat. He had secured an incredible victory and the local kings came to celebrate. Among the celebrants was Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, who attributed Abram’s victory to YHWH:
Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
He gave him a tenth of all.
Melchizedek blessed Abram, but he gave the victory to YHWH. This was a God who would deliver; this was a God who protected His family.
After Melchizedek’s blessing, the king of Sodom tempted Abram with war profits:
The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.”
Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to YHWH God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”
Remember, Abram only went to battle to save his family. He went to rescue Lot and, according to the priest-king, Melchizedek, Abram and his allies won because the God Most High delivered Abram’s enemies into his hand. Abram also refused to take any spoils of war because he wasn’t in the business of war. And the business of war is Big Business! There has not been a time in history where that is more prevalent than today.
War, Fear, and Slavery
As time went on, the Hebrew people grew significantly in number. Regardless of their dominance in population, they eventually became enslaved by another nation.
Their persecution by the Egyptians was triggered by fear. The Egyptians feared what would happen to them if the Hebrew people took up arms against them. To distract them from organizing any sort of revolt, the Egyptians heaped labour upon them:
[Pharaoh:] “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war [mil’khamah], they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.”
So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labour.
The Hebrew people were not a warring tribe… but they had the potential to be a dominant threat by mere numbers alone. To stop that possibility, the Egyptians enslaved them because they feared what they did not understand (which is not unlike the cause of black slavery in the 18th and 19th century). War and fear are intricately connected, and ultimately devastating.
Even YHWH recognized that the fear of war was a powerful tool to influence people. He knew that the threat of war was so ominous that some people might choose to live in slavery rather than face the horrors of war:
Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war [mil’khamah], and return to Egypt.”
Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea; and the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.
The fact that the fear of violence was so strong that some would volunteer for slavery to avoid it, is a powerful statement. But YHWH consistently promised protection for His people. With YHWH as their Warrior they had nothing to fear:
“‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonoured; those who contend with you will be as nothing and will perish.
You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them, those who war [mil’kham’teka] with you will be as nothing and non-existent. For I am YHWH your God, who upholds your right hand, who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’”
YHWH as Warrior
The call to raise arms in war was not natural to the Hebrew people, but protest against injustice was a different matter. For example: the Hebrew people did not go to war against the Egyptians, but they did protest their deplorable treatment… and that was enough to set them free.
YHWH fought on behalf of His children, but He did not fight with man-made weapons (cannons, automatic rifles, bombs). He fought, instead, with plagues and natural disasters… the things of His making. YHWH, as witnessed by the ten plagues in Egypt, used the tools of His own creation (weather, pests, and microbes) to put things in order.
The story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt was pivotal to the Jewish overarching redemption story. Their great exodus out of Egypt was immortalized in Moses’ Song:
Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to YHWH, and said,
“I will sing to YHWH, for He is highly exalted;
the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.
YHWH is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will extol Him.
YHWH is a warrior; YHWH is His name [YHWH ish mil’khamah; YHWH sh’moh].”
Although YHWH fights against chaos and death and is the radical defender of Life and Order, it is hard to find an example where He personally shows any direct violence. Even when He called the order to strike down every first born child in Egypt (as the final sign/plague), He did not pull the trigger (so to speak) Himself:
“For YHWH will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, YHWH will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you.”
God didn’t smite people but He, at times, would allow a destroyer to do the work. Death and destruction went against everything He stood for. He was the God of Life, but He allowed His creation to have free will, and because of that death has always been a very real presence on this planet.
In human wars, God doesn’t pull the trigger… but sometimes He doesn’t stop the gunman. Sometimes He just lets humans be the dreadful humans that they are, and that’s a hard pill to swallow.
The first written instance where the Hebrew people met an enemy nation in combat was against the Amalekites:
So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
This was a strange battle, and it was wholly dependent on God for success. Although YHWH never personally laid a hand on any Amalekite, He did give strength and advantage to the Israelites, but only when Moses’ hands were raised. It was a visual message: raise your hands to YHWH in praise, and you will be victorious.
After this first nation-based conflict for the Hebrew people, YHWH authorized a memorial of the battle to be written down. This was the first indication that we get of YHWH commissioning the writing of Scripture. He felt it was important for war to be remembered, and that’s an important thing to take note of as we prepare for Remembrance Day this week.
Then YHWH said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
Moses built an altar and named it YHWH is My Banner; and he said, “YHWH has sworn; YHWH will have war [mil’khamah] against Amalek from generation to generation.”
In other words, YHWH was saying, as long as you have a conflict with My people, you have a conflict with Me. Generation after generation, YHWH will stand in opposition to anyone who stands against His people and against His will. That is also worth remembering.
This is Not for Your Fight
Although humans took very quickly to war, it was never intended, by God, to be a part of human life and community. God did not take their side every time they wanted to go to war:
“Then you said to me, ‘We have sinned against YHWH; we will indeed go up and fight, just as YHWH our God commanded us.’ And every man of you girded on his weapons of war [k’leh mil’kham’toh], and regarded it as easy to go up into the hill country.
And YHWH said to me, “Say to them, ‘Do not go up nor fight, for I am not among you; otherwise you will be defeated before your enemies.’
The people wanted to rush into war, but YHWH made it clear that He was not on board. He did not condone this action of war. But even with the warning, they still marched into battle, and after their inevitable defeat, they came crying back to YHWH:
“So I spoke to you, but you would not listen. Instead you rebelled against the command of YHWH, and acted presumptuously and went up into the hill country. The Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do, and crushed you from Seir to Hormah. Then you returned and wept before YHWH; but YHWH did not listen to your voice nor give ear to you.”
They had done this to themselves and they had to deal with the consequences on their own.
War, Violence and the Rescuer
War, without the support of YHWH, would be an inevitable failure. Even the winners of war could not walk away without some form of damage (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually). Victors were also very much victims of war.
David understood this; he knew that YHWH was his Defender and Saviour, and that his only hope was putting his full reliance on His Victorious God:
[David:] YHWH is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? YHWH is the defence of my life; whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.
Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war [mil’khamah] arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.
War, as an organized battle plan, would have no power without violence behind it. Without violence, war would just be a strategic plan of communication between two or more parties in a boardroom. (Wouldn’t that be an epic improvement). The ideology war had no punch to it; the real fear of war was rooted in the violence that accompanied it:
Rescue me, O YHWH, from evil men; preserve me from violent men who devise evil things in their hearts; they continually stir up wars [mil’khamoht]. They sharpen their tongues as a serpent; poison of a viper is under their lips. Selah.
Keep me, O YHWH, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men who have purposed to trip up my feet. The proud have hidden a trap for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set snares for me. Selah.
I said to YHWH, “You are my God; give ear, O YHWH, to the voice of my supplications. O YHWH the Lord, the strength of my salvation, You have covered my head in the day of battle [weapons]. Do not grant, O YHWH, the desires of the wicked; do not promote his evil device, that they not be exalted. Selah.
Violence was not natural to God’s Kingdom; neither was war. War and violence were man-made. It was the result of humans wanting to be gods of their own making. But regardless of humanity’s epic blunder in the Garden of Eden, YHWH would not give up on us. He would find a way to redeem us, rescue us, and deliver us from evil and the death that accompanied it:
[David:] Blessed be YHWH, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, and my fingers for war [la-mil’khamah]; my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and He in whom I take refuge, who subdues my people under me.
O YHWH, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You think of him? Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow. Bow Your heavens, O YHWH, and come down; touch the mountains, that they may smoke. Flash forth lightning and scatter them; send out Your arrows and confuse them.
Stretch forth Your hand from on high; rescue me and deliver me out of great waters, out of the hand of aliens whose mouths speak deceit, and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.
I will sing a new song to You, O God; upon a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, who gives salvation to kings, who rescues David His servant from the evil sword.
War and Peace
War has been a consistent part of the human experience, from the earliest days of our existence. You would think, after all this time, humans would socially evolve beyond the wickedness of war and tribalism, but the “us against them” mentality is just as strong as it ever has been.
The Psalmist yearned for a day when he didn’t have to live in a time of division and dwell amongst war-mongers:
Psalm 120:6-7 (see also Micah 3:5)
…Too long has my soul had its dwelling with those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak they are for war.
Peace is not the absence of war. Rather, peace is wholeness and ordered completion. With that in mind, then if the opposite of peace is war, then war is chaos and fragmentation. It tears us apart… it enforces separatism and tribalism: “us against them”.
In YHWH’s Kingdom there are no tribes… no racial divide, no sexual divide, no national divide. The ridiculous notion of “us against them” has no hold in heaven. We are one humanity, and we were created to work together in harmony. That is peace.
The prophets Micah and Isaiah, spoke of the end of days when this primitive idea of war would be turned on its head:
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war [w-lo yil’m’dun ohd mil’khamah].
Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid, for the mouth of YHWH of hosts has spoken. Though all the peoples walk each in the name of his god, as for us, we will walk in the name of YHWH our God forever and ever.
In the true fulfillment of peace, when we are reunited with YHWH in heaven, we will NEVER AGAIN train for war. Never again will nation rise up against nation:
And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war [w-lo yil’m’du ohd mil’khamah].
At the end of the human story, YHWH wins! The War will be over and He is the Victor. This was the beautiful message of so many of the prophets and the psalmists. The writers of Psalm 46 (Sons of Korah) sang about a day when YHWH would be exalted among all the nations of the earth:
Come, behold the works of YHWH, who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease [mash’bit mil’khamoht] to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.
“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” YHWH of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.
But we are not there yet. Yeshua (Jesus) recognized that war between countries and kingdoms would be around for a very long time. These were the pains and agonies that humans would go through, time and time again:
Mark 13:5-8 (see also Mark 24, Luke 21)
[Jesus:] “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”
War was part of the human story, but it wasn’t the end of it. In YHWH’s Kingdom there would be no strife, no battle for supremacy, no tribalism. Even the animals would co-exist in peace:
Isaiah 11:1-2, 6, 10
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of YHWH will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of YHWH…
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them…
…Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious.
Yeshua our Saviour
War was not part of YHWH’s Kingdom… and so when He sent His Son the Messiah to walk amongst His people, He did not make him a Warrior, He made him a carpenter (Mark 6:3). YHWH sent a builder to build His Kingdom.
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He [Jesus] answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Yeshua was the kingdom of God in their midst, and He came to the planet to build the Kingdom.
The prophet Zechariah foretold of YHWH’s chosen one, a King who would humbly arrive, endowed with salvation, on a colt, the foal of a donkey:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; and the bow of war [mil’khamah] will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth...
YHWH’s Messiah did not come to proclaim war (His words would break the weapons of war)… He came to proclaim peace to all nations. This Messiah would radically challenge the cultural emphasis on war, dominance and national pride. He would also challenge the Jewish people’s perception on how to treat one’s enemies:
[Jesus:] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Zechariah’s prophecy of the Messiah’s entry on a donkey was fulfilled and recorded by the Gospel writers, five hundred years after the prophecy was made:
They brought it [the colt] to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting:
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of YHWH;
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Yeshua was not the Messiah the Jewish people were hoping for. They expected a great militant warrior God who would strike down the Romans and return Jerusalem to their control. But that was not what YHWH had in mind.
In tears, Yeshua proclaimed that Jerusalem would be destroyed by their enemies. With that announcement Yeshua was also telling them that He was not the warrior king they were expecting. He knew that the Romans would wage war on Jerusalem and utterly destroy it. The walls would fall, the Temple would crumble, and the Jewish people would be scattered across the known world… and Yeshua would not save them from that fate. He did not come to put a halt to man-made wars, He came for a completely different (and far more profound) purpose.
1 Timothy 1:9-10
He [God] has saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but by His own purpose and by the grace He granted us in Messiah Jesus before time began. And now He has revealed this grace through the appearing of our Saviour, the Messiah Jesus, who has abolished death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the gospel.
Yeshua’s death on the cross and resurrection meant that He defeated death. He conquered the grave and set us free from our covenant with death. God’s war was not against humans, or nations; His war was against death and the evil force that promoted it. YHWH’s war is the cosmic battle between good and evil. YHWH, the God of Life and the ultimate Good, versus the Adversary (ha-Satan), the formidable Evil one and the god of death. That is the great cosmic battle: Life over death; Good over evil.
Therefore thus says the Lord YHWH, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level; then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place. Your covenant with death will be cancelled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand!”
The Messiah (the costly cornerstone) wasn’t meant to fix the earthly problems of humans, His purpose was far more important than that! He would fix their relationship problem. His death and resurrection rebooted our relationship with YHWH. He conquered death so that we could live eternally. Ultimately, Yeshua paid our entrance fee back into YHWH’s Garden Kingdom where we could see YHWH face to face.
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is the King of glory? YHWH strong and mighty, YHWH mighty in battle [mil’khamah].
Lift up your heads, O gates, and lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is this King of glory? YHWH of Hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah.
God has worked amongst the humans that are in war, either for or against, but He did not create the war. That was the doing of humans- tribe against tribe, person against person. War was not sanctioned by God, it was not encouraged by God, it was not condoned by God.
Followers of YHWH should not be afraid of war and violence, but that doesn’t mean we won’t find ourselves in the midst of it. This Remembrance Day be assured: regardless of whether you stand or fall in the face of war and conflict, YHWH is on your side.
Next week: Child