A state of hostility accompanied by actions designed to subjugate or to destroy those viewed as the enemy. A number of Hebrew words involve waging war; one of these, from the verb root qa·ravʹ, means basically “come near,” that is, to fight. The Greek noun poʹle·mos means “war”; and the verb stra·teuʹo is from a root that refers to an encamped army.
The Bible says that Nimrod “went forth into Assyria,” which was evidently an act of aggression, into the territory of Asshur the son of Shem. There Nimrod built cities. (Ge 10:11) In Abraham’s day Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, subjected a number of cities (all apparently around the southern end of the Dead Sea) for a period of 12 years, forcing them to serve him. After they rebelled, Chedorlaomer and his allies warred against them, vanquishing the forces of Sodom and Gomorrah, taking their possessions, and capturing Abraham’s nephew Lot and his household. At that Abraham mustered 318 trained servants and, together with his three confederates, pursued Chedorlaomer and recovered the captives and the plunder. However, Abraham did not take any of the booty for himself. This is the first record of a war waged by a servant of God. Abraham’s warring to recover his fellow servant of Jehovah had Jehovah’s approval, for, on Abraham’s return, he was blessed by Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God.
God-Ordained Warfare. Jehovah is “a manly person of war,” “the God of armies,” and “mighty in battle.” (Ex 15:3; 2Sa 5:10; Ps 24:8, 10; Isa 42:13) Not only has he the right as Creator and Supreme Sovereign of the universe but he is also obligated by justice to execute or authorize execution of the lawless, to war against all obstinate ones who refuse to obey his righteous laws. Jehovah was therefore just in wiping out the wicked at the time of the Flood, in destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and in bringing destruction upon Pharaoh’s forces.
Israel used as God’s executioner. Jehovah assigned the Israelites the sacred duty of serving as his executioners in the Promised Land to which he brought them. Prior to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, the nation had not known warfare. (Ex 13:17) By victoriously directing Israel against “seven nations more populous and mighty” than they were, God magnified his name as “Jehovah of armies, the God of the battle lines of Israel.” This proved that “neither with sword nor with spear does Jehovah save, because to Jehovah belongs the battle.” (De 7:1; 1Sa 17:45, 47; compare 2Ch 13:12.) It also gave the Israelites the opportunity to demonstrate obedience to God’s commandments to the point of endangering their lives in God-ordained warfare.
No aggression beyond the God-given limits. However, God strictly commanded Israel that they were not to engage in wars of aggression or conquest beyond the territory that he granted to them and that they were not to fight any nations except the ones he ordered them to fight. They were not to engage in strife with the nations of Edom, Moab, or Ammon. (De 2:4, 5, 9, 19) But they were attacked by these nations in later times and were forced to defend themselves against them in warfare. In this they had God’s help.
When, during the period of the Judges, the king of Ammon tried to justify his aggressions against Israel by falsely charging Israel with taking Ammonite land, Jephthah refuted him by recalling the historical facts. Jephthah then proceeded to fight against these aggressors, on the principle that ‘every one whom Jehovah dispossesses before us we will dispossess.’ Jephthah would not relinquish an inch of Israel’s God-given land to any intruder.
Sanctified warfare. Anciently, the fighting forces, before they entered battle, were customarily sanctified. (Jos 3:5; Jer 6:4; 51:27, 28) During warfare Israel’s forces, including non-Jews (for example, Uriah the Hittite, who was probably a circumcised proselyte), had to remain ceremonially clean. They could not have sexual relations, even with their own wives, during a military campaign. Accordingly, there were no prostitutes who followed Israel’s army. Moreover, the camp itself had to be kept clean from defilement.
When it was necessary to punish unfaithful Israel, those foreign armies bringing the destruction were viewed as ‘sanctified,’ in the sense that they were ‘set apart’ by Jehovah for the execution of his righteous judgments. (Jer 22:6-9; Hab 1:6) Similarly, those military forces (principally the Medes and Persians) who brought destruction on Babylon were spoken of by Jehovah as “my sanctified ones.”
The false prophets in Israel, in their greediness, were said to “sanctify war” against anyone who did not put something into their mouths. Undoubtedly they sanctimoniously claimed divine sanction for their acts of oppression, which included sharing in the responsibility for the persecution and even the death of true prophets and servants of God.
Conscription. At Jehovah’s command Israel’s able-bodied males 20 years old and upward were conscripted for military service. According to Josephus, they served up to the age of 50 years. (Jewish Antiquities, III, 288 [xii, 4]) The fearful and fainthearted were rejected because Israel’s wars were wars of Jehovah, and those displaying weakness of faith in fearfulness would tend to weaken the army’s morale. Exemptions were given to men who had just completed a new house, as well as to those who had planted a vineyard and had not used its fruitage. These exemptions were based on the right of a man to enjoy the fruitage of his work. The newly married man was exempt for one year. During this time the man might be able to have and to see an heir. Here Jehovah revealed his concern and consideration for the family. (Nu 1:1-3, 44-46; De 20:5-8; 24:5) The Levites, who took care of the service at the sanctuary, were exempt, showing that Jehovah considered the spiritual welfare of the people more important than military defense.
Laws concerning assault and siege of cities. Jehovah instructed Israel as to military procedure in the conquest of Canaan. The seven nations of Canaan, named at Deuteronomy 7:1, 2, were to be exterminated, including women and children. Their cities were to be devoted to destruction. (De 20:15-17) According to Deuteronomy 20:10-15, other cities were first warned and terms of peace extended. If the city surrendered, the inhabitants were spared and put to forced labor. This opportunity to surrender, together with the assurance that their lives would be spared and their women would not be raped or molested, was an inducement to such cities to capitulate to Israel’s army, thus avoiding much bloodshed. If the city did not surrender, all males were killed. Killing the men removed danger of later revolt by the city. “The women and the little children” were spared. That “women” here no doubt means virgins is indicated by Deuteronomy 21:10-14, where prospective war brides are described as mourning for parents, not for husbands. Also, earlier, when Israel defeated Midian, it is specifically stated that only virgins were spared. Such sparing of only virgins would serve to protect Israel from false worship and no doubt from sexually transmitted diseases. (Nu 31:7, 17, 18) (As to the justice of God’s decree against the Canaanite nations, see CANAAN, CANAANITE [Conquest of Canaan by Israel].)
Food-producing trees were not to be cut down for siegeworks. (De 20:19, 20) Horses of the enemy were hamstrung during the heat of battle to incapacitate them; after the battle they undoubtedly were killed.
Not All of Israel’s Wars Were Proper. Israel’s lapsing into a course of unfaithfulness was accompanied by conflicts that were little more than power struggles. This was the case with Abimelech’s warring against Shechem and Thebez in the time of the Judges (Jg 9:1-57), as well as Omri’s warfare against Zimri and Tibni, which led to his being firmly established in the kingship over the ten-tribe kingdom. (1Ki 16:16-22) Also, instead of relying on Jehovah for protection from their enemies, the Israelites began to trust in military might, horses and chariots. Thus, in the time of Isaiah, the land of Judah was “filled with horses” and there was “no limit to their chariots.”
Ancient War Strategy and Tactics. Spies were sometimes sent out ahead of the attack to ascertain conditions existing in the land. Such spies were not sent to initiate unrest, revolt, or subversive underground movements. (Nu 13:1, 2, 17-19; Jos 2:1; Jg 18:2; 1Sa 26:4) Special trumpet calls were employed for mustering forces, for war calls, and for signaling unified action. (Nu 10:9; 2Ch 13:12; compare Jg 3:27; 6:34; 7:19, 20.) On occasion forces were divided and deployed in flanking attacks, or in ambush and decoy operations. (Ge 14:15; Jos 8:2-8; Jg 7:16; 2Sa 5:23, 24; 2Ch 13:13) In at least one instance, at Jehovah’s direction, singers of praise to God were put in the vanguard, ahead of the armed forces. God fought that day for Israel, throwing the camp of the enemy into confusion so that the enemy soldiers killed one another.
Fighting was to a great extent hand to hand, man against man. A variety of weapons were used
War tactics changed during the course of the centuries. Generally, Israel did not concentrate on developing instruments of offensive warfare, though considerable attention was given to fortification. King Uzziah of Judah is noted for building “engines of war, the invention of engineers,” but these were primarily for the defense of Jerusalem. (2Ch 26:14, 15) In order to be able to attack the higher and weaker part of a city’s wall, the Assyrian and Babylonian armies, particularly, were known for their siege walls and their siege ramparts. These ramparts served as inclined planes up which towers with battering rams were brought; from these towers, the archers and slingers fought. Along with these were other forms of siege engines, including giant rock throwers. (2Ki 19:32; Jer 32:24; Eze 4:2; Lu 19:43) At the same time the defenders of the city attempted to hold off the attack by means of archers, slingers, as well as by soldiers who would throw firebrands from their walls and towers and from missile-throwing engines inside the city. (2Sa 11:21, 24; 2Ch 26:15; 32:5) In assaulting walled fortifications, one of the first things attempted was the cutting off of the city’s water supply, while the city about to be besieged often stopped up water sources around the city to deprive the attackers of their use.
On defeating an enemy, the victors sometimes stopped up wells and springs in the area and spread stones over the ground, occasionally sowing the ground with salt.
Jesus Foretells War. Jesus, the man of peace, observed that “those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Mt 26:52) He declared to Pilate that, had his Kingdom been of this world, his attendants would have fought to prevent his being delivered up to the Jews. (Joh 18:36) Yet he foretold that Jerusalem, because of rejecting him as the Messiah, would in time suffer siege and desolation, during which her “children” (inhabitants) would be dashed to the ground.
Shortly before his death, Jesus gave prophecies that applied to that generation and also to the time when his presence in Kingdom power would begin: “You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.”
Christ Wages War as “King of Kings.” The Bible reveals that the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, with ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ granted to him by his Father, will engage in a warfare that will destroy all of God’s enemies and establish everlasting peace, as his title “Prince of Peace” implies.
The apostle John had a vision of things to take place after Christ’s enthronement in heaven. The words of Psalms 2:7, 8 and 110:1, 2 had foretold that God’s Son would be invited to ‘ask of Jehovah the nations as his inheritance,’ and that Jehovah would respond by sending him forth to ‘go subduing in the midst of his enemies.’ (Heb 10:12, 13) John’s vision depicted a war in heaven in which Michael, that is, Jesus Christ (see MICHAEL No. 1), led the armies of heaven in a war against the Dragon, Satan the Devil. The outcome of that war was the hurling of the Devil and his angels to the earth. This war immediately followed the ‘birth of the male child’ who was to rule the nations with a rod of iron. (Re 12:7-9) A loud voice in heaven then announced: “Now have come to pass the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ.” This brought relief and joy to the angels; but it presaged troubles, including wars, for the earth, as the declaration continued: “Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”
After Satan was hurled to the earth, he made God’s servants on earth, the remaining ones of the ‘seed of the woman,’ “who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus,” his chief target. Satan initiated warfare against them that included both a spiritual conflict and actual persecution, even resulting in death for some. (Re 12:13, 17) Succeeding chapters of Revelation (13, 17-19) describe the agents and instruments Satan uses against them, as well as the victorious outcome for God’s holy ones under their Leader Jesus Christ.
‘War of the great day of God Almighty.’ The 19th chapter of Revelation gives a view of the greatest war of all human history, surpassing anything that men have ever witnessed. Earlier in the vision it is called “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” Aligned against Jehovah and the Lord Jesus Christ as the Commander of God’s armies, the hosts of heaven, are the symbolic “wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies” assembled to the site of this war by “expressions inspired by demons.” (Re 16:14; 19:19) None of God’s earthly servants are pictured as having part in this battle. The earthly kings “will battle with the Lamb, but, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb will conquer them.” (Re 17:14; 19:19-21; see HAR–MAGEDON.) Following this fight, Satan the Devil himself is to be bound for a thousand years, “that he might not mislead the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.”
With the conclusion of this war, the earth will enjoy peace for a thousand years. The psalm that declares “[Jehovah] is making wars to cease to the extremity of the earth. The bow he breaks apart and does cut the spear in pieces; the wagons he burns in the fire,” had initial fulfillment in God’s bringing peace to Israel’s land by wrecking the enemy’s war instruments. After Christ defeats the promoters of war at Har–Magedon, the extremity of this earthly globe will enjoy full and satisfying peace. (Ps 46:8-10) Persons favored with eternal life will be those who have beaten “their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears” and who do not “learn war anymore.” “For the very mouth of Jehovah of armies has spoken it.”
War threat forever ended. Revelation’s vision goes on to show that at the end of the thousand years Satan the Devil will be brought back from his binding in the abyss and will again induce many to come up to wage war against those remaining loyal to God. But no damage will be done, for ‘fire will come down out of heaven’ and devour these enemies, thereby removing all threat of war forever.
Christian Warfare. While the Christian does not engage in a physical war against blood and flesh (Eph 6:12), he is engaged in warfare nonetheless, a spiritual fight. The apostle Paul describes the war waged within the Christian between “sin’s law” and “God’s law,” or ‘the law of the mind’ (the Christian mind in harmony with God).
This warfare of the Christian is an agonizing one, requiring the exertion of every effort for a person to come off winner. But he can be confident of victory through the undeserved kindness of God through Christ and the help of God’s spirit. (Ro 8:35-39) Jesus said of this fight: “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door” (Lu 13:24), and the apostle Peter counseled: “Keep abstaining from fleshly desires, which are the very ones that carry on a conflict [or, “are doing military service” (stra·teuʹon·tai)] against the soul.”
Against wicked spirits. In addition to this warfare against sin’s law, the Christian has a fight against the demons, who take advantage of the tendencies of the flesh by tempting the Christian to sin. (Eph 6:12) In this warfare the demons also induce those under their influence to tempt or to oppose and persecute Christians in an effort to get them to break their integrity to God.
Against false teachings. The apostle Paul also spoke of a warfare that he and his associates were waging, in carrying out their commission as those appointed to care for the Christian congregation. (2Co 10:3) The congregation at Corinth had been wrongly influenced by presumptuous men called by Paul “false apostles” who, by giving undue attention to personalities, had caused divisions, sects, in the congregation. (2Co 11:13-15) They became, in effect, followers of men such as Apollos, Paul, and Cephas. (1Co 1:11, 12) The members of the congregation lost the spiritual viewpoint, that these men were merely representatives of Christ, unitedly serving the same purpose. They became fleshly. (1Co 3:1-9) They viewed men in the congregation ‘according to what they were in the flesh,’ their appearance, natural abilities, personalities, and so forth, instead of regarding them as spiritual men. They failed to recognize that God’s spirit was operating in the congregation, and that men such as Paul, Peter, and Apollos were accomplishing what they did by God’s spirit, for His glory.
Therefore, Paul was impelled to write them: “Indeed I beg that, when present, I may not use boldness with that confidence with which I am counting on taking bold measures against some who appraise us as if we walked according to what we are in the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage warfare according to what we are in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things. For we are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God; and we are bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.”
Paul wrote to Timothy, whom he had left in Ephesus to care for the congregation there: “This mandate I commit to you, child, Timothy, in accord with the predictions that led directly on to you, that by these you may go on waging the fine warfare; holding faith and a good conscience.” (1Ti 1:18, 19) Not only did Timothy have before him conflicts because of sinful flesh and because of the opposition of the enemies of the truth but he also had to wage warfare against the infiltration of false doctrine and of those who would corrupt the congregation. (1Ti 1:3-7; 4:6, 11-16) His actions would fortify the congregation against the apostasy that Paul knew would occur after the apostles passed off the scene. (2Ti 4:3-5) So it was a real fight that Timothy had to wage.
Paul was able to say to Timothy: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.” (2Ti 4:7) Paul had maintained his faithfulness to Jehovah and Jesus Christ by right conduct and service in the face of opposition, suffering, and persecution. (2Co 11:23-28) He had additionally discharged the responsibility of his office as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, fighting the war to keep the Christian congregation clean and spotless, as a chaste virgin, and as “a pillar and support of the truth.”
God’s material support of the Christian. In the warfare of the Christian, God views the Christian as His soldier and, therefore, provides him with the necessary material things. The apostle argues, with regard to the authority of one serving as a minister to others: “Who is it that ever serves as a soldier at his own expense?”
Christians and Wars of the Nations. Christians have always maintained strict neutrality as to fleshly warfare between nations, groups, or factions of any kind. (Joh 18:36; Eph 6:12) For examples of the attitude of the early Christians in this respect, see ARMY (Those Known As Early Christians).
Other Uses. In the song of Barak and Deborah, after the victory over the army of Jabin, king of Canaan, a circumstance is recalled that sets forth a principle: “They [Israel] proceeded to choose new gods. It was then there was war in the gates.” (Jg 5:8) As soon as they forsook Jehovah for false worship, trouble came, with the enemy pressing at the very gates of their cities. This is in harmony with the psalmist’s declaration: “Unless Jehovah himself guards the city, it is to no avail that the guard has kept awake.”
At Ecclesiastes 8:8, Solomon wrote: “There is no man having power over the spirit to restrain the spirit; . . . nor is there any discharge in the war.” In the day of death the dying person cannot restrain the spirit, or force of life, and keep it from returning to God the Giver and Source, so as to live longer. Dying humans cannot control the day of death and prevent it from ever reaching them. They cannot, by any human efforts, be discharged from the war that the enemy Death wages against all mankind without exception. Sinful man cannot get some other sinful man to substitute for him in death and thus enjoy a furlough from death. (Ps 49:6-9) Only through Jehovah’s undeserved kindness by means of Jesus Christ is relief possible. “Just as sin ruled as king with death, likewise also undeserved kindness might rule as king through righteousness with everlasting life in view through Jesus Christ our Lord.”