1-3. (a) What threat did the Israelites face at the hands of the Egyptians? (b) How did Jehovah fight for his people?
THE Israelites were trapped—wedged between forbidding mountain cliffs and an impassable sea. The Egyptian army, a ruthless killing machine, was in hot pursuit, determined to annihilate them.* Still, Moses urged God’s people not to lose hope. “Jehovah will himself fight for you,” he assured them.—Exodus 14:14.
2 Even so, Moses apparently called out to Jehovah, and God responded: “Why do you keep crying out to me? . . . Lift up your rod and stretch your hand out over the sea and split it apart.” (Exodus 14:15, 16) Just picture the unfolding of events. Jehovah immediately commands his angel, and the pillar of cloud moves to Israel’s rear, perhaps spreading out like a wall and blocking the Egyptian line of attack. (Exodus 14:19, 20; Psalm 105:39) Moses stretches out his hand. Driven by a strong wind, the sea splits apart. The waters somehow congeal and stand up like walls, opening up a path wide enough to accommodate the entire nation!—Exodus 14:21; 15:8.
3 Faced with this display of might, Pharaoh should order his troops home. Instead, prideful Pharaoh orders an attack. (Exodus 14:23) The Egyptians rush into the seabed in pursuit, but their charge soon dissolves into chaos as the wheels of their chariots begin falling off. Once the Israelites are safe on the other side, Jehovah commands Moses: “Stretch your hand out over the sea, that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, their war chariots and their cavalrymen.” The watery walls collapse, burying Pharaoh and his forces!—Exodus 14:24-28; Psalm 136:15.
At the Red Sea, Jehovah proved himself to be “a manly person of war”
4. (a) What did Jehovah prove to be at the Red Sea? (b) How might some react to this portrayal of Jehovah?
4 The deliverance of the nation of Israel at the Red Sea was a momentous event in the history of God’s dealings with mankind. There Jehovah proved himself to be “a manly person of war.” (Exodus 15:3) How, though, do you react to this portrayal of Jehovah? To be honest, war has brought much pain and misery to humankind. Could it be that God’s use of destructive power seems more like a deterrent than an incentive to your drawing close to him?
Divine War Versus Human Conflicts
5, 6. (a) Why is God appropriately called “Jehovah of armies”? (b) How does divine warfare differ from human warfare?
5 Nearly three hundred times in the Hebrew Scriptures and twice in the Christian Greek Scriptures, God is given the title “Jehovah of armies.” (1 Samuel 1:11) As Sovereign Ruler, Jehovah commands a vast army of angelic forces. (Joshua 5:13-15; 1 Kings 22:19) The destructive potential of this army is awesome. (Isaiah 37:36) The destruction of humans is not pleasant to contemplate. However, we must remember that God’s wars are unlike petty human conflicts. Military and political leaders may try to attribute noble motives to their aggression. But human war invariably involves greed and selfishness.
6 In contrast, Jehovah is not driven by blind emotion. Deuteronomy 32:4 declares: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” God’s Word condemns unbridled rage, cruelty, and violence. (Genesis 49:7; Psalm 11:5) So Jehovah never acts without reason. He uses his destructive power sparingly and as a last resort. It is as he stated through his prophet Ezekiel: “‘Do I take any delight at all in the death of someone wicked,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘and not in that he should turn back from his ways and actually keep living?’”—Ezekiel 18:23.
7, 8. (a) What did Job mistakenly conclude about his sufferings? (b) How did Elihu correct Job’s thinking in this regard? (c) What lesson can we learn from Job’s experience?
7 Why, then, does Jehovah use destructive power? Before answering, we might call to mind the righteous man Job. Satan challenged whether Job—really, any human—would keep his integrity under trial. Jehovah answered that challenge by allowing Satan to test Job’s integrity. As a result, Job suffered illness, loss of wealth, and loss of his children. (Job 1:1–2:8) Unaware of the issues involved, Job mistakenly concluded that his suffering was unjust punishment from God. He asked God why He had made him a “target,” “an enemy.”—Job 7:20; 13:24.
8 A young man named Elihu exposed the flaw in Job’s reasoning, saying: “You have said, ‘My righteousness is more than God’s.’” (Job 35:2) Yes, it is unwise to think that we know better than God or to assume that he has behaved unfairly. “Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly,” Elihu declared. Later, he said: “As for the Almighty, we have not found him out; he is exalted in power, and justice and abundance of righteousness he will not belittle.” (Job 34:10; 36:22, 23; 37:23) We can be sure that when God fights, he has good cause for doing so. With that in mind, let us explore some of the reasons why the God of peace sometimes assumes the mantle of a warrior.—1 Corinthians 14:33.
Why the God of Peace Is Compelled to Fight
9. Why does the God of peace fight?
9 After praising God as “a manly person of war,” Moses declared: “Who among the gods is like you, O Jehovah? Who is like you, proving yourself mighty in holiness?” (Exodus 15:11) The prophet Habakkuk similarly wrote: “You are too pure in eyes to see what is bad; and to look on trouble you are not able.” (Habakkuk 1:13) Although Jehovah is a God of love, he is also a God of holiness, righteousness, and justice. At times, such qualities compel him to use his destructive power. (Isaiah 59:15-19; Luke 18:7) So God does not blemish his holiness when he fights. Rather, he fights because he is holy.—Exodus 39:30.
10. (a) When and how did the need for God to wage war first arise? (b) How only could the enmity foretold at Genesis 3:15 be resolved, and with what benefits to righteous mankind?
10 Consider the situation that arose after the first human couple, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God. (Genesis 3:1-6) Had he tolerated their unrighteousness, Jehovah would have undermined his own position as Universal Sovereign. As a righteous God, he was obliged to sentence them to death. (Romans 6:23) In the first Bible prophecy, he foretold that enmity would exist between his own servants and the followers of the “serpent,” Satan. (Revelation 12:9; Genesis 3:15) Ultimately, this enmity could only be resolved by the crushing of Satan. (Romans 16:20) But that judgment act would result in great blessings for righteous mankind, ridding the earth of Satan’s influence and opening the way to a global paradise. (Matthew 19:28) Until then, those who sided with Satan would constitute an ongoing threat to the physical and spiritual well-being of God’s people. On occasion, Jehovah would have to intervene.
God Acts to Remove Wickedness
11. Why did God feel obliged to bring a global flood?
11 The Deluge of Noah’s day was a case of such intervention. Says Genesis 6:11, 12: “The earth came to be ruined in the sight of the true God and the earth became filled with violence. So God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth.” Would God allow the wicked to snuff out the last vestige of morality left on earth? No. Jehovah felt obliged to bring a global deluge to rid the earth of those who were bent on violence and immorality.
12. (a) What did Jehovah foretell regarding Abraham’s “seed”? (b) Why were the Amorites to be exterminated?
12 It was similar with God’s judgment against the Canaanites. Jehovah revealed that out of Abraham would come a “seed” through which all the families of the earth would bless themselves. In harmony with that purpose, God decreed that Abraham’s offspring would be given the land of Canaan, a land inhabited by a people called the Amorites. How could God be justified in forcibly evicting these people from their land? Jehovah foretold that the eviction would not come for some 400 years—until “the error of the Amorites” had “come to completion.”* (Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14, 15; 15:13, 16; 22:18) During that period of time, the Amorites sank deeper and deeper into moral corruption. Canaan became a land of idolatry, bloodshed, and degraded sexual practices. (Exodus 23:24; 34:12, 13; Numbers 33:52) The inhabitants of the land even killed children in sacrificial fires. Could a holy God expose his people to such wickedness? No! He declared: “The land is unclean, and I shall bring punishment for its error upon it, and the land will vomit its inhabitants out.” (Leviticus 18:21-25) Jehovah did not kill the people indiscriminately, however. Rightly disposed Canaanites, such as Rahab and the Gibeonites, were spared.—Joshua 6:25; 9:3-27.
Fighting in Behalf of His Name
13, 14. (a) Why was Jehovah obliged to sanctify his name? (b) How did Jehovah clear his name of reproach?
13 Because Jehovah is holy, his name is holy. (Leviticus 22:32) Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Let your name be sanctified.” (Matthew 6:9) The rebellion in Eden profaned God’s name, calling into question God’s reputation and way of ruling. Jehovah could never condone such slander and rebellion. He was obliged to clear his name of reproach.—Isaiah 48:11.
14 Consider, again, the Israelites. As long as they were slaves in Egypt, God’s promise to Abraham that by means of his Seed all the families of the earth would bless themselves seemed empty. But by delivering them and establishing them as a nation, Jehovah cleared his name of reproach. The prophet Daniel thus recalled in prayer: “O Jehovah our God, you . . . brought your people out from the land of Egypt by a strong hand and proceeded to make a name for yourself.”—Daniel 9:15.
15. Why did Jehovah rescue the Jews from captivity in Babylon?
15 Interestingly, Daniel prayed this way at a time when the Jews needed Jehovah to act once again for the sake of His name. The disobedient Jews found themselves in captivity, this time in Babylon. Their own capital city, Jerusalem, lay in ruins. Daniel knew that restoring the Jews to their homeland would magnify Jehovah’s name. Daniel thus prayed: “O Jehovah, do forgive. O Jehovah, do pay attention and act. Do not delay, for your own sake, O my God, for your own name has been called upon your city and upon your people.”—Daniel 9:18, 19.
Fighting in Behalf of His People
16. Explain why Jehovah’s interest in defending his name does not mean that he is cold and self-centered.
16 Does Jehovah’s interest in defending his name mean that he is cold and self-centered? No, for by acting in accord with his holiness and love of justice, he protects his people. Consider Genesis chapter 14. There we read of four invading kings who kidnapped Abraham’s nephew Lot, along with Lot’s family. With God’s help, Abraham executed a stunning defeat of vastly superior forces! The account of this victory was likely the first entry in “the book of the Wars of Jehovah,” evidently a book that also documented some military encounters that are not recorded in the Bible. (Numbers 21:14) Many more victories were to follow.
17. What shows that Jehovah fought for the Israelites after their entry into the land of Canaan? Give examples.
17 Shortly before the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, Moses assured them: “Jehovah your God is the one going before you. He will fight for you according to all that he did with you in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 1:30; 20:1) Starting with Moses’ successor, Joshua, and continuing on through the period of the Judges and the reigns of the faithful kings of Judah, Jehovah indeed fought for his people, giving them many dramatic victories over their enemies.—Joshua 10:1-14; Judges 4:12-17; 2 Samuel 5:17-21.
18. (a) Why can we be thankful that Jehovah has not changed? (b) What will happen when the enmity described at Genesis 3:15 reaches its climax?
18 Jehovah has not changed; nor has his purpose to make this planet a peaceful paradise changed. (Genesis 1:27, 28) God still hates wickedness. At the same time, he dearly loves his people and will soon act in their behalf. (Psalm 11:7) In fact, the enmity described at Genesis 3:15 is expected to reach a dramatic and violent turning point in the near future. To sanctify his name and protect his people, Jehovah will once again become “a manly person of war”!—Zechariah 14:3; Revelation 16:14, 16.
19. (a) Illustrate why God’s use of destructive power can draw us close to him. (b) What effect should God’s willingness to fight have upon us?
19 Consider an illustration: Suppose that a man’s family was being attacked by a vicious animal and that the man jumped into the fray and killed the violent beast. Would you expect his wife and children to be repelled by this act? On the contrary, you would expect them to be moved by his selfless love for them. In a similar way, we should not be repelled by God’s use of destructive power. His willingness to fight to protect us should increase our love for him. Our respect for his unlimited power should deepen as well. Thus, we can “render God sacred service with godly fear and awe.”—Hebrews 12:28.
Draw Close to the “Manly Person of War”
20. When we read Bible accounts of divine warfare that we may not fully understand, how should we respond, and why?
20 Of course, the Bible does not in each case explain all the details of Jehovah’s decisions regarding divine warfare. But of this we can always be certain: Jehovah never wields destructive power in an unjust, wanton, or cruel manner. Oftentimes, considering the context of a Bible account or some background information can help us to put things into perspective. (Proverbs 18:13) Even when we do not have all the details, simply learning more about Jehovah and meditating upon his precious qualities can help us to resolve any doubts that might arise. When we do this, we come to see that we have ample reason to trust our God, Jehovah.—Job 34:12.
21. While he is “a manly person of war” at times, what is Jehovah like at heart?
21 Although Jehovah is “a manly person of war” when the situation demands it, this does not mean that he is warlike at heart. In Ezekiel’s vision of the celestial chariot, Jehovah is pictured as being prepared to fight against his enemies. Yet, Ezekiel saw God surrounded by a rainbow—a symbol of peace. (Genesis 9:13; Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3) Clearly, Jehovah is calm and peaceable. “God is love,” wrote the apostle John. (1 John 4:8) All of Jehovah’s qualities exist in perfect balance. How privileged we are, then, to be able to draw close to such a powerful yet loving God!
According to Jewish historian Josephus, the Hebrews were “pursued by 600 chariots along with 50,000 horsemen and heavy infantry to the number of 200,000.”—Jewish Antiquities, II, 324 [xv, 3].