A Musing on the Biblical Way of War

Someday, I would like to write and publish a book about the Biblical Way of War.  It is my belief that the subject has been insufficiently studied in depth because of the difficulty of finding people who are passionately concerned both with warfare as well as with the Bible, and who recognize the need to and have the sufficient historiographical background to engage in such a challenging task.  The means to conduct that task are as of yet beyond me (unless some publisher wishes to give me a green light for that work now), but I still would like to provide an outline or introduction as to what that task would entail, so that others may see the sort of thought process I have for the work.

In order to properly conduct the task of writing about the biblical way of war, it would first be necessary to find and expound upon the entire biblical record dealing with war and related subjects.  This is, as one could imagine, a very large subject.  The fact is that the biblical accounts about aspects of war has been sadly neglected, given that thinkers from the time of Augustine onward have largely drawn up their principles of just and unjust war from Greek and Roman and other pagan grounds rather than from biblical ground.  There is the mistaken opinion that the Bible itself is hostile to war, and so there has been little attempt to look to the Bible for guidance in how a Christian nation would engage in warfare.

The Bible, though, contains a large amount of very relevant material regarding warfare and its consequences.  Space (and time) forbid this particular note from going into full detail, but at least a hint of it can be shown.  In the first recorded biblical account of warfare, Genesis 14, we have the aspect of tithing upon spoils, of refusing to accept plunder, of fighting with allies (the problem of coalition warfare), and of concerns over prisoners of war.  Later on, in the famous Law of Kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), the Bible itself speaks against the practice of spending funds on developing or purchasing advanced military technology (in that time, horses and chariots), a practice strongly frowned upon in general within scripture.  Other laws, like that of Deuteronomy 20, deal with regulations about siege warfare (fruit trees were to be spared) as well as the psychology of troop morale (fearful soldiers without faith were to be sent away so that their fear would not infect their comrades).

Other passages deal with the treatment of female captives (Deuteronomy 21:10-14), and biblically authorized genocidal warfare against the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).  The Bible also contains numerous examples of spying, suggesting espionage as a major aspect of the biblical way of war, so ubiquitous that it was done by future leaders of Israel (Joshua–in Numbers 13), prophets (Elisha–in 2 Kings 6), and was automatically assumed to be Israel’s practice in diplomacy that it led to war between Ammon and Israel during the time of David (in 2 Samuel 10, a passage dealt with in an earlier note titled “An Honorable Profession” on this blog).

In addition to these very relevant passages on specific accounts of warfare there is the need to recognize the issue of herem, or holy war, which is the physical analogue to the spiritual and eternal lake of fire, involving the complete destruction of an opponent–their cities and all their people (like what happened to Jericho in Joshua 6–where a curse was placed even upon the building of a walled city on that ground itself), as well as the way in which physical warfare is the result of a preexisting and more important front of spiritual warfare against Satan (Ephesians 6:12).  Additionally, the Bible also does not skimp on theorizing about why wars occur (James 4:1-6), namely the greed, lust, and pride that lie within human beings and that lead them to seek prestige, glory, territory, and plunder through conflict.

So, given the wide expanse of biblical commentary on warfare, before one could even begin to deal with the abstracting the theory of biblical warfare, it would be necessary to lay out a lot of biblical passages with proper explanations and exegesis.  This task has barely begun, if indeed it has.  There are even aspects of civil war to examine with regard to the Bible, both in theory (Deuteronomy 14:12-18) and practice (Judges 20-21), as well as the thorny question of mercenaries (1 Samuel 14, 29).  If time and opportunity permit, I would be honored to engage in this study.

At this point, having given at least some of the concerns that would need to be addressed within the course of a true and complete account of warfare in the Bible, I wish to take the task of outlining just how I would propose to tackle the immense subject.  First, I propose to write what would probably be several volumes on examining the raw material on warfare in the Bible.  This would be dealt with in a chronological fashion, dealing with each passage as it came up, examining its concerns, showing appropriate maps, charts, and tables (including time lines), and showing what issues each particular passage on warfare dealt with.  It might be necessary as well to deal with the warfare of the Maccabees in dealing with Daniel 11, for example, or with the Jewish Revolt of 67AD in dealing with Matthew 24, in order to provide the appropriate military context of the prophecies in question.

After this task is completed, one could then write a sufficiently robust work on The Biblical Way of War and really be up for the task.  Such a work would probably have to be written thematically, ranging from the ultimate source of warfare in the spiritual realm, to its causes, aspects of espionage and pre-war negotiations (Luke 14:31-32), trade warfare (Acts 12:20-23), the differentiation of different types of wars and their conduct, as well as the terms on which wars are to be ended and defeated peoples are to be treated.  War is a large subject, and the Bible has a lot to say about it, even if few people pay attention to it in detail.  Other aspects could be dealt with in such a work, including the sort of tactics that the Bible encourages–irregular warfare, the dominance of infantry (Victor Davis Hanson would enjoy that), and a close attention to psychological factors as well as the role of logistics and grand strategy.

The area of which I am the least adept concerning this work would be how to market it, or who would be interested in such a work.  Would it be of interest to those who liked military history works like the latest translation or distillation of works by de Vegitias (the De Rei Militari), Sun Tzu (The Art of War), or Musashi (The Book of the Five Rings).  Would there be an audience of Christian or Jewish readers who would be similarly interested in seeing the biblical way of war and not being too pacifistic to reject it out of hand?  These are questions I do not know, not having a great deal of expertise in promoting books or finding the suitable audience.  Nonetheless, these are questions that would have to be answered if anyone was to want to publish such a work.  Perhaps in time those questions will find answers.  In the meantime, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical Art of War, Biblical History, Christianity, International Relations, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Musing on the Biblical Way of War

  1. sonya says:

    If you write the book let me know. I think I would like a copy.

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