From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 1 – What it means to be a disciple and how Christian character is formed
We are expected to see ourselves as being part of a huge worldwide battle:
fight the good fight of the faith;……Timothy 6:12 (a) (RSV)
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:10-12 (RSV)
3 For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (RSV)
God is training us for service in that war and the difficulties we face are meant to make us stronger and more ready for battle:
Blessed be the Lord, my rock,Psalm 144:1 (RSV)
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
The war between God and His enemies has been going on ever since the Devil rebelled and led astray one third of the angels in Heaven. The scale of that battle grew even larger after Adam fell into sin. From then on human beings also became God’s enemies, alongside the demons.
Every Christian is part of that war and is expected to fight in it. Regrettably, that fact is not widely known. Some of us may have heard of it, but we don’t really believe it, or we won’t accept it. Even if we do know there is a war, many of us see ourselves as non-combatants, or even neutrals. Those who think that way have no intention of fighting in any war or of getting caught up in it.
However, whether you know it or not, you are already caught up in that war anyway. That is, provided you are a real Christian. If you are, then Satan and his demons will regard you as a target, irrespective of what you may think of them.
It is not a war against human beings, and it does not involve guns, bombs or any other such weapons. Neither can it involve the use of carnal methods and techniques which the world uses, such as deception, manipulation, domination or the control of other people. But it is, nonetheless, a very real conflict, which is fought on many different fronts and in every part of your life. We shall examine some of those aspects below.
At any rate, God expects you to view yourself as a soldier in that spiritual war and to fight actively and effectively on His side. He also expects you to be alert and armed, i.e. spiritually, not militarily. We are instructed to wear the ‘armour’ that God provides. Apostle Paul refers to this in his letter to the Ephesians:
13 Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; 16 besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.Ephesians 6:13-17 ((RSV)
In the book of Judges, we are told that God allowed some of the Canaanites to be left in the Land of Israel, even after the first generation of Israelites took possession of it after leaving the wilderness. He did so because He wanted the Israelites of the next generation to learn how to fight, just as the generation that won the land under Joshua had to learn:
Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had no experience of any war in Canaan; 2 it was only that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, that he might teach war to such at least as had not known it before. 3 These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines, and all the Canaanites, and the Sido′nians, and the Hivites who dwelt on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Ba′al-her′mon as far as the entrance of Hamath. 4 They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their fathers by Moses.Judges 3:1-4 (RSV)
In other words, God allowed some of those Canaanites to remain, so as to test His people and also to give them a need to fight, so that they could have the opportunity to learn how to do it. Although we are not called upon to fight human beings with military weapons, or even with carnal, worldly methods, the warfare analogy is still a valid one. God still wants us to learn how to fight for Him today, albeit that our battles are mainly spiritual.
As well as requiring us to take part in this war, Jesus Himself is involved in it. Contrary to the image most people have of Jesus, He is also a military figure. Indeed, one of Jesus’ titles is the ‘Lord of Hosts’. The word ‘hosts’ means armies. So, in effect, the title means that Jesus is the “Lord of armies”. We actually see a pre-appearance of Jesus in the book of Joshua, where He appears to Joshua with a drawn sword in His hand and gives orders to him in a military manner.
In this incident he is referred to as the “angel of the LORD”. That is another title that is used to refer to Jesus in the Old Testament, when He appeared in bodily form prior to His incarnation. In this incident the angel of the LORD, i.e, Jesus, describes Himself as the “Commander of the army of the LORD”. He has every appearance of being a military figure:
13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, “What does my lord bid his servant?” 15 And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.Joshua 5:13-15 (RSV)
This Person who appeared to Joshua was obviously not just an angel, because Joshua bows down and worships Him, which he would never do to an angel. Indeed, no angel would allow anyone to worship them. Joshua is also told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stands is now “holy” by virtue of God being present there. In the next chapter we see that this same Person, who is now referred to as “the LORD”, tells Joshua what to do about attacking and taking the city of Jericho:
1Now Jericho was shut up from within and from without because of the people of Israel; none went out, and none came in. 2 And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given into your hand Jericho, with its king and mighty men of valor. 3 You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. 4And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him.”Joshua 6:1-5 (RSV)
Later we again see the LORD (Jesus) speaking to Joshua and giving him further military instructions, this time about attacking and taking the city of Ai:
1 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land; 2 and you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king; only its spoil and its cattle you shall take as booty for yourselves; lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” 3 So Joshua arose, and all the fighting men, to go up to Ai; and Joshua chose thirty thousand mighty men of valor, and sent them forth by night.Joshua 8:1-3 (RSV)
18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. 19 And the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and took it; and they made haste to set the city on fire.Joshua 8:18-19 (RSV)
We also see the LORD of Hosts accompanying King David. That largely explains David’s tremendous military successes. He had the commander of God’s army working alongside him and guiding him:
9 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.1 Chronicles 11:9 (RSV)
The point is that in all of this, the angel of the LORD, i.e. Jesus, is seen as a military figure. He is referred to as the Commander of the army of the LORD and He operates in a military fashion, giving military orders about the conquest of a city. This illustrates the fact that, like Him, we are engaged in a war, albeit a spiritual one. That is evidently how God sees it, or He would have no need of any ‘army’. Given that Jesus Himself is engaged in that war, leading all of God’s armies, we have no valid basis to think that we can be excused from having to take part in His battles.