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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

God and Old Soldiers

On this Veteran's Day, I thought that it would be appropriate to examine God's attitude towards soldiers. How does YHWH regard these warriors? What does "He" think of the men and women who have served in the armed forces of the world?

When the children of Israel asked God to appoint a king for them, Samuel warned them that a king would "take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots." (I Samuel 8:11) In other words, this king will take your sons and make soldiers out of them - he will use them to fight his battles. Moreover, Scripture tells us that this is precisely what happened.

In fact, David was so preoccupied with warfare that we are told God would not allow him to build "His" temple. In the First Book of the Chronicles of the Kings, we read: "And David said to Solomon, 'My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God: But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou has shed much blood upon the earth in my sight." (I Chronicles 22:7-8) Hence, we may deduce from this scripture that YHWH did not consider warfare to be a good preparation for "His" service, and yet YHWH referred to David as "a man after his own heart." (I Samuel 13:14)

However, it should also be noted that YHWH is referred to as the "Lord of Hosts" two hundred and thirty-five times in the King James Version of the Bible (http://www.blueletterbible.org). Although the original Hebrew word suggests a large number of something that "goes forth" (same source), there is also clearly a sense in which the word "army" would fit (as in the commander of the angelic host). In other words, God's realm is organized in a fashion similar to that of an army (this understanding will be made even plainer when we examine an incident from the life of Jesus Christ).

Nevertheless, the prophets make very clear that there won't be any need for soldiers in God's Kingdom. We read: "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2:4 - See also Micah 4:3) Moreover, John's statement that he heard a voice from heaven declaring that God would "wipe all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:4) is inconsistent with the continuation of warfare in any form.

Even so, we find that Christ was not hostile to soldiers. In the Gospel According to Matthew, we read: "And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion (Roman soldier), beseeching him, and saying, 'Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.' And Jesus saith unto him, 'I will come and heal him.' The centurion answered and said, 'Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.' When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, 'Verily I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven...And Jesus said unto the centurion, 'Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.' And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour." (Matthew 8:5-13) Being a soldier, helped the man to understand the nature of Christ's authority to heal and to do good; and that understanding allowed Christ to grant the request of this Gentile soldier. Later, we find that it was another Roman centurion named Cornelius who became the first Gentile convert to Christianity. (Acts 10)

We also know that Paul compared the Christian life to warfare. He told the saints at Ephesus to "put on the whole armor of God." (Ephesians 6:11) "For," he continued, "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but...against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (places of authority) Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (verses 12-13) Likewise, he encouraged Timothy to "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." (II Timothy 2:3) He continued: "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." (verse 4)

Hence, from God's perspective, it is clear that soldiers have great potential for understanding both the nature and purposes of God. And who has felt the sting of death, and the pain and sorrow of warfare, more deeply than a soldier? Who is better able to appreciate the vision of peace and happiness that God has offered for the future? For me, it is very clear from what is revealed in Scripture that God has a special place in "His" heart for old soldiers. What do you think?

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