Q: You teach that it is wrong for a Christian to participate in war. However, the Bible tells us that ancient Israel fought in war, and that on occasion, God ordered Israel to fight. How, then, can fighting in war be wrong?


A: We believe that the Bible is very clear and explicit in condemning Christian participation in war. You may want to reread our Editorial, titled, “War or Peace — Which?” (Update #81, February 21, 2003), and our Q&A, titled, “Christian Participation in War” (Update #67, November 15, 2002). How do we explain Israel’s fighting in the Old Testament? Did God, who does not change, condemn war in the New Testament, but approved of it in the Old?

You may want to listen to our three-part sermon series on Military Service and War for a thorough explanation. It is posted on the Audio page of our Website. In short, ancient Israel sinned when they went to war. For Biblical proof, we are quoting pertinent excerpts from Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet, “Military Service and War,” Copyright 1967, beginning with page 23. The headline of that section reads, “WHY Israel Did Fight.” The booklet continues:

“Few, indeed, have ever understood WHY Israel went to war. They should never have done so — as we shall clearly demonstrate. So now understand WHY Israel did go to war! Understand how they SINNED in so doing! God did not intend that these people should ever need to go to war…”

Continuing on pages 24-26:

“Right here, before they reached Mt. Sinai — before they heard God’s own great voice thundering His Ten Commandments — God demonstrated the pattern He would follow in preserving His people from having to undergo military service, or fighting in war, or taking human life!… ‘And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Eternal, which HE WILL SHOW YOU today… The Eternal shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace’ [Exodus 14:13-14]. The Israelites were not to fight — but STAND STILL! They were to see God save them from Pharaoh’s ARMY. God was going to SHOW THEM that He would fight their wars for them! They were to remain at PEACE!”

Mr. Armstrong goes on to explain that Israel’s faith in God’s help was only of a short duration. They soon began to doubt, when they came to Marah and only found bitter water (Exodus 15:24). They also complained in the wilderness because of lack of food (Exodus 16:2-3). Also, when in Rephidim, they lost faith, tempting God (Exodus 17:1-2). Continuing with Mr. Armstrong’s booklet, on pages 29-32:

“Now we come to the CRUCIAL INCIDENT that explains WHY Israel went to war. Regularly they had been grumbling, complaining, accusing, disobeying, LOSING FAITH — in face of constant MIRACLES from God. Now, again, as God performed another miracle, causing water to gush forth out of a rock, the people DOUBTED that God was with them. ‘… they tempted the ETERNAL, saying, “Is the ETERNAL among us, or not?”‘ (Exodus 17:7).

“Now consider what had happened. Repeatedly, God had given these people awe-inspiring and miraculous demonstrations of His intention to fight the battles for them… After all of this OVERWHELMING PROOF, these people DOUBTED God’s faithfulness — DOUBTED His power — even DOUBTED His very existence. They disobeyed. They went the way of SIN! In effect, they had their own ‘God is dead’ movement!… At this juncture, Amalek, a Gentile king, came against the Israelites in great strength with an invading army. This time God ALLOWED the Israelites to write the lesson of experience. He ALLOWED them to SIN. God does not forcibly prevent humans from sinning.

“Moses, at the end of his patience trying to induce these stubborn, rebellious people to believe in and TRUST God, said to Joshua, ‘Choose us some men, and go out, FIGHT with Amalek’ (Exodus 17:9). Lacking the faith to trust God for their protection, Moses feared they would be slaughtered. Although Moses weakened and gave the order of WAR, it was THE PEOPLE themselves who actually MADE THE DECISION for war, by their utter lack of reliance on God. It was altogether unnecessary for these Israelites to arm themselves and wage WAR. It was WRONG! It was SIN. But God let the decision be theirs. This incident was the turning point… They had experienced a taste of war. They could have — should have — turned from it, afterward, and relied on God instead of their own power. But they didn’t… By their continuous disbelief, lack of reliance on GOD, and reliance only on PHYSICAL WARFARE, they made the DECISION to be, like all the nations of the earth, a WARRING NATION!”

On page 33, Mr. Armstrong begins to address the question why God ordered the Israelites at times to wage war:

“These descendants of Abraham had made their decision to be a fighting, war-waging nation. That decision was theirs to make. And since they had made it…, God gave orders for them to do what fighting — and killing — was necessary to accomplish God’s PURPOSE of putting them in the land of Promise! But that did not make war RIGHT. Whether to DO right or wrong — that is MAN’S decision! These Israelites did not need to fight! So it was BECAUSE of Israel’s faithlessness and disobedience that God ALLOWED them to SIN by taking up arms. And therefore God used them as His instruments in driving out the nations illegally in their land. Even at that later date the Israelites could have REPENTED, changed their decision, and trusted God to fight their battles for them… Having committed the sin of DOUBT, these Israelites proceeded to commit the SIN OF FIGHTING — of WAR!”

Continuing on page 36:

“But one may ask the question: If war is wrong — if it is SIN — if it is contrary to God’s WAY for man, then WHY did God, on occasion, actually order the Israelites to go to war and kill? Consider these TWO FACTS:

“1) Israel had sinned in a) not TRUSTING God to do the fighting for them; and b) in disobeying God’s Commandment against war. They had CHOSEN to be a war-waging nation. The decision was WRONG. Yet God compels man to decide WHETHER to sin. If he does, he brings on himself the penalty. THE FACT, therefore, must be realized that Israel REFUSED TO RELY ON GOD TO DO THE FIGHTING; and CHOSE to be a warring nation.

“2) God’s PURPOSE must stand, regardless of what men did. It was God’s PURPOSE to install Israel in, and to drive certain people out of God’s holy land, which He had PROMISED to the children of Abraham, Isaac and Israel… Since Israel was not going to rely on GOD to drive out these nations, but elected to be a WAR-making nation, God used them to accomplish His PURPOSE… He ordered them to do what was required to make HIS PURPOSE stand!”

In conclusion, let us quote Mr. Armstrong’s alarming and challenging words from page 38 of his booklet. There are some in the Church of God organizations today who justify going to and participating in war, or who claim that ancient Israel did NOT sin when they fought in war. They are wrong, as they do not understand the character of God, nor the intent and purpose of God’s Law, the Ten Commandments:

“The divine GIVER of human life has the right to take the lives He gave. They belong to HIM. But for any human, or nation, of his or its own volition, on his or its own initiative, to take human life is SIN. The life he takes is not his — but GOD’S! He not only commits murder — he also STEALS or takes what is GOD’S. Even his own life belongs to God. The suicide takes a human life that belongs to God!

“When God has made it one of the ten basic SINS for man to take human life — and made it unnecessary for man to go to war by promising to take care of the wars Himself supernaturally, then the nation which CHOOSES to be a WAR-waging nation has committed SIN. And every individual who enters its military organization is committing SIN.

“Israel had made that decision. Other nations, too — all had made it. Since the nations of this world do fight, God allows them to commit this SIN. Yet, to carry out HIS PURPOSE, God Himself determines the outcome of wars. And since Israel already had rejected HIM as its war-making Force, He even ordered them to fulfill HIS PURPOSE, which must be accomplished! But that did not whitewash Israel from having deliberately rebelled and chosen to fight in war in violation of GOD’S WAY.”

Ancient Israel sinned when they went to war. God, the Author of peace, does not want human beings to fight in war. When Christ returns, He will restore peace to this earth — a time will begin when “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4). Man will live a way of peace — as originally intended by God. We are Christ’s ambassadors of that future way. We are not to follow the sinful pattern of ancient Israelites who rebelled against God’s promises and clear commands. Man has chosen to disobey God and to sin, by going to war. God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, condemns — and has always condemned — human warfare. We are to pray for and to do good to our enemies, rather than fighting against them and avenging ourselves. We are to leave “vengeance” to God (Romans 12:19-20). The Biblical teaching on this subject is clear and consistent.

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