Wars rage across the stage of history right down into our day. Is there such a thing as a just war or is all war wrong? Do we support or oppose war simply on the advice of our political leaders or has God laid down His terms of engagement for a holy war which cannot be broken? It is impossible in such a short report as this to go into great detail; however, we will lay down general principles and give you much "food for thought" on the topic of a just war.
At the beginning we have to realize two very important things. First, God's laws for war and the wars of Israel in the Old Testament were a picture of our spiritual warfare in the New Covenant age. From them we learn the principles of spiritual warfare. Second, the wars of the Old Testament were physical wars and the laws governed natural warfare which means they are still applicable in our natural wars today. God does not change.
Is there such a thing as a just war? Or is all war simply organized murder? Is the attitude represented in the old cold war slogan "better red than dead" correct or is it a coward's excuse?
The fact the Bible lays down laws concerning a just war reveals there must be such an activity as a just war. In a world infected with sin, war becomes a necessary evil. Just as doctors sometimes have to damage the body in order to save a life, so a just war is sometimes necessary to protect against evil.
"Blessed be Jehovah my rock, Who teacheth my hands to war, And my fingers to fight:" Ps. 144:1, KJV
"Every purpose is established by counsel; And by wise guidance make thou war." Pr. 20:18, KJV
"For by wise guidance thou shalt make thy war; And in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." Pr. 24:6, KJV
"...a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace." Ecc. 3:8, KJV
Next let's look at the basic purpose and structure of the military in going into a just war.
"When you enter the land that God, your God, is giving you and take it over and settle down, and then say, "I'm going to get me a king, a king like all the nations around me," make sure you get yourself a king whom God, your God, chooses. Choose your king from among your kinsmen; don't take a foreigner—only a kinsman. And make sure he doesn't build up a war machine, amassing military horses and chariots. He must not send people to Egypt to get more horses, because God told you, "You'll never go back there again!" And make sure he doesn't build up a harem, collecting wives who will divert him from the straight and narrow. And make sure he doesn't pile up a lot of silver and gold.
"This is what must be done: When he sits down on the throne of his kingdom, the first thing he must do is make himself a copy of this Revelation on a scroll, copied under the supervision of the Levitical priests. That scroll is to remain at his side at all times; he is to study it every day so that he may learn what it means to fear his God, living in reverent obedience before these rules and regulations by following them. He must not become proud and arrogant, changing the commands at whim to suit himself or making up his own versions. If he reads and learns, he will have a long reign as king in Israel, he and his sons." Deut. 17:14-20, The Message
This section of Scripture is dealing with the Commander-In-Chief [the king in Biblical days]. If it is to be a just war then the leader must also be in right relationship with Jesus Christ. If the leader is not just, the war cannot be just.
So what are the characteristics of this leader?
1. He is chosen or approved by God. This means he must be a dedicated Christian. In a democracy the people may vote, but they should be voting for God's choice...a person who is committed to the Word of God above all things. No one else can lead a just war - or a Godly nation.
2. He must be a citizen of the country he is representing.
3. He could not multiply horses. In Bible days, horses were offensive military weapons. This means the basic purpose of the military is defensive. The main concentration of weapons should be with the defense of the country in mind. This also argues for a small core military with a larger reserve force in case of actual attack. It has been observed that there has never in history been a country with a large military that did not use it aggressively. This law works against aggression and for defense.
4. He could not multiply wives. In the Bible days, leaders married wives in order to form political alliances. This means that Christian countries should not enter into political alliances with nations which have an unChristian base. Be not unequally yoked [2 Cor. 6:14] applies to more than marriages. It is difficult to fight a just war when we are compromised with ungodly nations. World War II dramatically illustrates this. Russia murdered far more people than Germany did, but they were our "allies" so we looked the other way.
5. He could not multiply silver and gold. In other words, in order to have a just war the motive must be correct. The leader cannot be seeking to increase his own wealth or power. Nor can he seek to increase his national wealth by aggression against a weaker nation. Need and might do not make right.
6. He must not be a proud person, but a humble person.
7. He must be a continual student of the Word of God. If fact, he must personally - by hand - write out a copy of the book Deuteronomy for himself. I know of no leaders in the world today who meet this qualification.
In order for a leader to lead a just war he must meet the above qualifications. If he does not, then he should put his own "house" in order before he considers military action.
If the leader's heart and life is right before God, what next?
1. If war has been declared against the Godly nation, then defensive action is automatically legitimate as long as the "terms of engagement" are not violated. We must keep in mind that in the New Covenant age 99% [if not 100%] of a just war is for the purpose of defense.
2. A Godly nation may consider initiating a just war if there is a legitimate and provable [in a public court of law] threat against it. It may also enter a just war in defense of an ally - keeping in mind that it can only enter into alliances with other Christian nations. The motive must be defense [i.e. the protection of its citizens] not political or financial.
3. A just war must recognize the Christian foundation and seek God's will and protection on its soldiers.
"And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies." Num. 10:9, KJV
Ultimately victory does not come from military might, but from God Himself. This must be recognized. A military that is compromised religiously cannot fight a just war. The soldiers, as well as the leaders, must be in right relationship to the Jehovah God of the Bible.
"When you go to war against your enemy and see horses and chariots and soldiers far outnumbering you, do not recoil in fear of them; God, your God, who brought you up out of Egypt is with you. When the battle is about to begin, let the priest come forward and speak to the troops. He'll say, "Attention, Israel. In a few minutes you're going to do battle with your enemies. Don't waver in resolve. Don't fear. Don't hesitate. Don't panic. God, your God, is right there with you, fighting with you against your enemies, fighting to win." Deut. 20:1-4, The Message
It doesn't matter how overwhelmed we may be. If it is truly a just war, and we are committed to fighting on God's terms, then God Himself will do the fighting. Numbers are unimportant. The "odds" don't matter to God. It also means that the causality rate should be much lower than would normally be expected.
Can a nation draft people into the military to fight in the war?
"Then let the officers step up and speak to the troops: "Is there a man here who has built a new house but hasn't yet dedicated it? Let him go home right now lest he die in battle and another man dedicate it. And is there a man here who has planted a vineyard but hasn't yet enjoyed the grapes? Let him go home right now lest he die in battle and another man enjoy the grapes. Is there a man here engaged to marry who hasn't yet taken his wife? Let him go home right now lest he die in battle and another man take her." The officers will then continue, "And is there a man here who is wavering in resolve and afraid? Let him go home right now so that he doesn't infect his fellows with his timidity and cowardly spirit." When the officers have finished speaking to the troops, let them appoint commanders of the troops who shall muster them by units." Deut. 20:5-9, The Message
The answer is yes and no. All the men of fighting age were called up. However, since God is in charge of a just war not everyone is needed - that requires faith on the part of the leadership! Anyone who had recently bought/built a new house is dismissed to go home and enjoy it. Anyone who had recently launched a new business/venture is allowed to go home and take care of it. Anyone who is engaged or recently married is allowed to go home and look after his wife.
Finally, a just war is for people of faith; therefore, anyone who would spread doubt and fear is required to leave. Cowards have no place in a just war. This is for people with full confidence in God.
So while the draft is legitimate the exemptions are broad enough that anyone who does not what to be there is excused. God would rather work with a small band of dedicated people than a crowd of half-hearted, fearful people.
When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you." Deut. 20:10-11, NIV
Keep our general context in mind. We are speaking of a nation which has been proven to have aggressive intentions, but has not yet attacked. Such a nation is offered peace. This doesn't mean compromising principles or security, but seeing if a peaceable solution can be reached. If it can be that is best and safeguards can be put in place to insure the treaty is kept. In the Old Testament times this often involved the paying of tribute.
"If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby." Deut. 20:12-15, NIV
If the aggressor will not come to terms then a just war [assuming the other conditions are met] is to be declared. Once a just war is declared it must be pursued whole-heartedly until an unconditional surrender is reached. A holy war is not a political game. It is to be pursued with all legitimate means to the end.
Killing every man seems extreme and unmerciful. In ancient warfare, the men of a city were united in opposition to the attackers. They were committed to their king to the very end. These men were not civilians, but active enemy soldiers. They had refused the offer of peace initially given. In modern warfare we are dealing with nations instead of individual city-states. The idea or principle is that those who remain in stubborn resistance are to be executed. To allow them to live is to invite rebellion or terrorist activities which would take the lives of innocent people.
Also the idea of the "spoil" is that the aggressor nation which refused the offer of peace is responsible for the cost of the just war including the wages of the soldiers.
"However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God." Deut. 20:16-18, NIV
We need to look at the above Scripture. This describes a unique situation. The nations of Canaan had sinned so much that they were beyond redemption. God authorized their destruction and gave the land to Israel. This is NOT a situation which applies in natural warfare today. It does apply in Spiritual warfare where we are to be ruthless in hunting down and destroying sin in our own lives. Even the smallest sin brings corruption and destruction.
"When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls." Deut. 20:19-20, NIV
There are several points to be gleaned these verses.
1. A just war is to be carried out against military personal. The harming or placing of civilians in unnecessary danger is forbidden. This calls into question the use of such weapons as land mines. Certainly such means would be forbidden where civilian traffic could reasonably be expected.
2. The land is not to be harmed. If it is a just war, then it is made against evil men, not against the innocent or against the land. In other words, weapons or actions which would destroy the fruitfulness of the land are forbidden. This would limit such actions as bombing to strictly military targets. Large scale bombing - or other actions - to destroy the productivity of the land and "starve out" the people are forbidden.
3. In short, a just war effort cannot deliberately destroy a civilian's ability to make a living.
Can women be in the military?
This is an interesting question which deserves a more detailed examination. However, the Bible does seem to give the idea at least some support. Deborah was a civil and religious ruler who became a military adviser to General Barak [Judges 4]. Both Jael [Judges 4] and Rahab [Joshua 2] functioned as spies in a military action [at the risk of their lives]. Esther, in her position as Queen, gave the commands which allowed the Jews to form a just war against their enemies. Certainly, it wasn't a common situation, but the question that has to be answered is: Does the Bible actually forbid it?
What about "wars" on things like drugs, poverty, terrorism, etc.?
These "wars" sound good, but often [if not always] they are launched for ungodly political reasons. If you take a close look, you will discover that a] the situation usually gets worse, b] the laws enacted in these "wars" do little to stop the evil, but much to limit or hurt the innocent, and c] there is a great unBiblical increase of government power and control. The covert goal of these "wars" is increase in political power and control over the nation's population. It is simply another step in humanistic/Satanic domination as opposed to Godly freedom. They are not just wars but secret wars against freedom.
A just war must:
a. have Godly leadership,
b. have Godly soldiers,
c. have right motives [defense], and
d. be waged within the limits God places on warfare.
For more information on just war and other legal issues see The Institutes Of Biblical Law in our bookstore.