Did God ORDER Ancient Israel to SIN?


Q Although there are examples in the Old Testament when men decided to go to war, other passages show that God ordered them to war. If human warfare is always wrong, did God order men to SIN?

A To answer this question, it would be helpful to recall that sin begins in the mind – many times, long before the physical act is committed.

If a man lusts after a woman in his heart (mind) he has already committed the sin of adultery, in the eyes of God (compare Matthew 5:27-28). If a person hates another in his heart (mind), he has committed murder already, in the eyes of God (compare Matthew 5:21-22). The law has already been broken. Sin has already been committed.

Thus, in David’s and in ancient Israel’s situations, both had already broken God’s law and committed sin against Him, in their hearts, when they desired to go to war. They had already become men of war, in their hearts – sinners, who had chosen to live contrary to God and His Way (but they might not have even realized that fighting in war is sin).

Thus, God, when He saw this was in their heart – men already having made the decision to sin against Him – He used their sinning attitudes to carry out what He would have done in another way. If they had only trusted in Him and had the faith to know that God did not lie when He said He would fight their battles for them, and that He was fully capable of doing that, Israel‘s history might have been quite different.

Many times, ancient Israel only wanted to fight in war when that fit their purpose. Generally, they were not even seeking to carry out God’s
purpose – otherwise, they would not have made the decision to fight in the first place. Although King Saul destroyed the Amalekites, he and the people kept some of the spoil, even though God had prohibited them from doing so (compare 1 Samuel 15:1-21). This shows, what their general attitude was – it was not one of seeking and obeying God.

In Moses’ time, God used the Pharaoh of Egypt to teach Israel reliance on Him, since it was already in Pharaoh’s heart to commit evil anyway. At various times God used evil Gentile leaders to carry out His purpose. Although what they were doing was sin, the sin or desire to sin was already in their hearts. They already lived the way of sin – the way of this world. So God used them to do His Will.

A decision to live the way of war is a decision to live the way of this world. God tells us to come out of that way. But He does not force anyone to do that. It always comes down to personal will – free moral agency. God wants man to build Godly righteous character – but this requires that man understands, accepts in his heart and chooses the right, while rejecting the wrong. The development of character requires time – it cannot be created “by fiat.”

Ultimately, it is also a question of God’s original intent. God did not intend that man should fight in war or kill human life (even when Cain slew Abel, Cain was protected from a violent death through a mark, compare Genesis 4:13-15). But man chose to live a certain way of life. And so, God would later say – at the time of Noah – that whoever sheds human blood, his blood will be shed through humans (compare Genesis 9:6). God was addressing here cause and effect – as Christ later said to Peter: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

In addition, God did not intend that man should divorce, but because of the hardness of man’s heart, Moses allowed divorce and gave them bills of divorce. God did not intend that man should engage in polygamy, or that Israel should have a king. Samuel said that Israel sinned when they asked for a king, but God still directed them – “ordered” them – as to whom they should choose for their king.

And so, God’s original intent was not that man should fight in war. God said He would fight for them and that He would bring hornets and fear to the enemy so that they would leave the Promised Land. But when ancient Israel chose to live the way of all other nations, God used them as His instruments to carry out His purpose.

We should also realize that the New Testament commandments against fighting in war are unambiguous. Since God’s character does not change, and since it is WRONG to fight in war TODAY, it MUST HAVE BEEN wrong to fight in war in Old Testament times. No true Christian today would go out and fight in human wars, killing innocent civilians (“casualties”), including women and children. We understand this clearly today, and God judges us based on what we understand. To whom much is given, of him much is required (compare Luke 12:48).

When James and John asked for fire to come down from heaven to devour the Samaritans, Christ rebuked them, telling them that they were, at that moment, following Satan’s inspiration. Christ refused to get involved in judging legal cases, or in carrying out a death penalty against another person. He gave us an example, in that regard, to follow His lead, and that is why we don’t serve on juries or become executioners of convicted criminals. This is not our world. In Old Testament times, Israel was a carnal, unconverted nation without God’s Holy Spirit within them. God administered or “ordered” them in a way that they could understand, to prevent anarchy.

But this was still not done in accordance with God’s original intent!

Laws of war only came into existence after Israel had decided to fight. These laws were “more humane” than any others known to man, but if Israel would not have decided to fight in war, there would not have been a need to have any laws regulating war. The same is true for laws regarding kings. Since God foresaw that Israel would ask for a king, He already placed certain laws regarding kings in the book of Deuteronomy, but the Bible says clearly that Israel sinned when asking for a king in the first place.

Some passages in the Old Testament are perhaps difficult to understand, but we must appreciate that God will judge people based on what they knew, not on what they did not know. For example, Samson is going to be in the kingdom of God (compare Hebrews 11:32, 39-40), but his entire life, as reported in Scripture, reflects little of a converted person. At the very end of his life, he must have become converted (otherwise he would not be in God’s kingdom) – most likely while he was in the dungeon – but even then, he asked God to give him power to avenge himself against the Philistines (compare Judges 16:28). But somehow, his nature had begun to change – perhaps now he was finally and fully realizing that it was God Who gave him his strength. This mindset might have been sufficient for God to decide that He would resurrect Samson in the first resurrection, as God looks at the heart, and He overlooks ignorance. But today, no true Christian would ask for power from God so that he could kill others and avenge himself.

God saved the harlot Rehab, although she lied. God did not condone lying, but He appreciated her willingness to stand up for God and save the spies. The same is true when David killed Goliath or when Phinehas killed the Israelite and the foreign woman who practiced fornication in front of others. God did not condone killing, but He appreciated their willingness to stand up for God.

If we say that Israel’s fighting in war was right, because God “ordered” Israel to fight, then we must also say that it will be right for the modern king of Assyria to fight against the modern houses of Israel and Judah – and that all Christians should join his army – since God is going to order that future king of Assyria to go to war against modern Israel and Judah (compare Isaiah 10:5-6).

With regard to Abraham, God asked him to sacrifice his only son. We understand that this was also symbolic of the Father’s sacrifice of Christ for man’s sake, but the point still is that Abraham was asked to kill Isaac, quite literally. This was a test for Abraham, to see how strong his faith was, given the fact that God had promised him that through Isaac he would be blessed. That is why Abraham believed that God would resurrect Isaac after his death, trusting God that He would carry out His promises (compare Hebrews 11:17-19). Still, though, he was ordered to kill his son. Why would God give Abraham such a command? It is perhaps interesting to consider that Abraham had shown a willingness to fight and kill prior to that episode when he rescued Lot with his trained servants – trained for war, apparently (compare Genesis 14:13-16). So, is it possible that God was also trying to teach Abraham a lesson – what it means to kill another person – and what it means for a father when his only son is about to be killed?

The Bible does not specifically say WHY God asked Abraham to slay his own son. But we can be quite convinced that God would never ask a true Christian TODAY – one who understands the evil of war and refuses to fight and kill – to kill his son.

Also, God never sins. God gives human life, and He has the right to take it. When He commanded Israel to kill others – in war or in civil situations – He did not sin. He used men – who were willing to kill – so the responsibility was with them. Paul said in the book of Romans, chapter 13, verse 4, that God has given the governments of this world the sword to carry out executions – to prevent anarchy – but as true Christians today, we are not to take part in those activities. Ultimately, taking human life through humans is wrong – but the governments of this world are not judged yet – but we are (compare 1 Peter 4:17).

If Adam and Eve had not rebelled against God and had therefore been expelled from the Garden of Eden, God would not have had to give them laws like “an eye for an eye.” These laws had to be given because of carnal human nature and the evil desires of man’s heart.

Thankfully, there is soon coming a time when the way of war will no longer be tolerated, and when man, because of a change of heart, will WANT to live the way of peace.

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