The Sacredness of Our Warfare
“For Jehovah your God is walking about within your camp to deliver you and to abandon your enemies to you, and your camp must prove to be holy, that he may see nothing indecent in you and certainly turn away from accompanying you.”—Deut. 23:14, NW.
1. For Jehovah’s witnesses what kind of warfare has it been, for how long, and why will they not abandon it?
IF ANYONE is at warfare it is Jehovah’s witnesses. (Isa. 43:10-12; 44:8, AS) For the past six thousand years few, if any, have been the centuries that have not been disturbed by warfare between fleshly contenders and reddened by the blood of the slain. But for these witnesses of the Most High God it has been a continual warfare, a lifelong conflict, a daily battle, with no furloughs granted them by the One for whom they have fought, with no truces, no armistice, through all the sixty centuries. With heavenly aid they have been able to endure until now, so that Jehovah’s witnesses are still upon the scene of action today, and the fight goes on. They will not abandon it, for theirs is a holy warfare, a sacred conflict, in the midst of an ungodly world.
2. How have the nations of this world tried to make their wars appear sacred, and why?
2 To this day the warfare of this world has been a violent settlement of the disputes of this world with violence and blood. Always men have made the attempt to religionize the wars of this world. Thus they try to justify their course of violence and to make the one taking part in the conflicts feel conscience-free, feel it is his obligation to his god to lend himself to the fight, and feel that his future will be a favored and happy one for his having taken a violent hand in the cruelties of war. Always it has been the human practice to shove the responsibility for the war onto God and declare that it is his will and teach that a warrior is serving God and his cause. Among the nations of this world, war has been made a sacred thing, a holy duty.
3. What testifies to the fact that war was considered a holy business among pagan nations, such as the Greeks, Romans, Philistines and Babylonians?
3 Testifying to the fact that war was considered a holy business, in ancient times the nations had their gods of war. The bellicose Greeks had their god Aʹres and the Romans their god Mars, with temples dedicated to these gods. When the Philistines defeated the Israelites and killed King Saul and three of his sons, “they stripped him, and took his head, and his armor, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to carry the tidings unto their idols, and to the people. And they put his armor in the house of their gods, and fastened his head in the house of Dagon.” (1 Chron. 10:9, 10, AS) Not only did the pagan nations ascribe their victories to their gods and take the trophies of war to their temples, but they also consulted their gods or the occult powers for guidance and instruction before a military campaign. Late in the seventh century before Christ the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar found himself faced with a choice. He found himself in Palestine at the fork of a road, one of its branches leading southeast toward the Ammonite city of Rabbah and the other branch leading southwest to Jerusalem. To determine his choice he appealed to sources higher than human. “For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he shook the arrows to and fro, he consulted the teraphim [images], he looked in the liver. In his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build forts.” (Ezek. 21:20-22, AS) Being thus guided to a decision not his own, Nebuchadnezzar moved confidently against Jerusalem, feeling certain that he was carrying out the will of his god Marduk and would meet with success. Jerusalem fell before him in the summer of 607 B.C., not due to Marduk, but really because Jehovah, the God whom the unfaithful city had abandoned, had entered the decree of destruction against it already forty years in advance.—Jer. 1:1-3, 13-16.
4. In keeping with this, how were the warriors prepared, and how did they conduct themselves toward their gods?
4 In keeping with the sacred nature of warfare in their eyes, the warriors of the pagan nations were sanctified for their military expeditions. They went forth in the name of their gods, they swore by their gods, they prayed to them for triumph, the ensigns and standards of the army were considered sacred, yes, even reverenced and worshiped.
5. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, how was sacredness attached to the military standards of the worldly nations, ancient and modern?
5 Says the Encyclopædia Britannica: “It appears that several companies of the Egyptian army had their own particular standards. These were formed of such objects as, there is reason to believe, were associated in the minds of the men with feelings of awe and devotion. Sacred animals, boats, emblems or figures, a tablet bearing a king’s name, fan and feathershaped symbols, were raised on the end of a staff as standards, and the office of bearing them was looked upon as one of peculiar privilege and honour. Somewhat similar seem to have been the customs of the Assyrians . . . The Persians bore an eagle fixed to the end of a lance, and the sun, as their divinity, was also represented upon their standards, which appear to have been formed of some kind of textile, and were guarded with the greatest jealousy by the bravest men of the army. . . . The forms of standards in later times were very various; sometimes a cross piece of wood was placed at the end of a spear and surmounted by the figure of a hand in silver, below round or oval discs, with figures of Mars or Minerva, or in later times portraits of emperors or eminent generals. . . . The Roman standards were guarded with religious veneration in the temples at Rome; and the reverence of this people for their ensigns was in proportion to their superiority to other nations in all that tends to success in war. It was not unusual for a general to order a standard to be cast into the ranks of the enemy, to add zeal to the onset of his soldiers by exciting them to recover what to them was perhaps the most sacred thing the earth possessed. The Roman soldier swore by his ensign. [When Jerusalem for the second time was destroyed by the Romans in the summer of A.D. 70, they brought their standards into the court of the temple dedicated to Jehovah God and worshiped their victory-crowned standards as idols.] . . . Early flags were almost purely of a religious character. . . . in fact the aid of religion seems ever to have been sought to give sanctity to national flags, and the origin of many can be traced to a sacred banner, as is notably the case with the oriflamme of France and the Dannebrog of Denmark. . . . The banner of William the Conqueror was sent to him by the pope.”—Volume 10, eleventh edition (1910), pages 454, 455.
6. How does the Encyclopedia Americana show that such religious feelings carry over even to the national standards of today?
6 That such religious feelings carry over even to this late day is borne out by the statement of the Encyclopedia Americana under the subheading “Respect or Reverence for the Flag.” The statement reads: “The flag, like the cross, is sacred. Many people employ the words or term ‘Etiquette of the Flag.’ This expression is too weak, too superficial and smacks of drawing-room politeness. The rules and regulations relative to human attitude toward national standards use strong, expressive words, as, ‘Service to the Flag,’ ‘Respect for the Flag,’ ‘Reverence for the Flag,’ ‘Devotion to the Flag,’ ‘Behavior Towards the Flag.’ . . . Pledges of allegiance offered to flags are of antiquity. . . . ” (Volume 11, 1942 edition, page 316) Among other reasons, the early Christians refused to join Caesar’s army because of the idolatry connected with it.
7. In the face of clothing it with a holy appearance what did the nations do respecting their wars of aggression and how do Jeremiah, Isaiah and Joel show this fact?
7 In the face of thus clothing war with a holy appearance the pagan nations literally sanctified this form of violence, and with fitness the Bible uses this expression respecting the preparation of the pagan nations for their wars of aggression. Here are the words of Jehovah’s own prophecy against the doomed city of Babylon, where military aggression had originated under Nimrod after the global flood of Noah’s day: “Sanctify the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz: appoint a marshal against her; cause the horses to come up as the rough canker-worm. Sanctify against her the nations, the kings of the Medes, the governors thereof, and all the deputies thereof, and all the land of their dominion. . . . for the purposes of Jehovah against Babylon do stand, to make the land of Babylon a desolation, without an inhabitant.” (Jer. 51:27-29, AS, margin) Being sanctified by preliminary religious ceremonial for the war against Babylon, the soldiers were spoken of as being consecrated, hallowed or sanctified ones. Says Jehovah by his prophet Isaiah: “The burden of Babylon, . . . I have commanded my consecrated [Hebrew, sanctified] ones, yea, I have called my mighty men for mine anger, even my proudly exulting ones. The noise of a multitude in the mountains, as of a great people! the noise of a tumult of the kingdoms of the nations gathered together! Jehovah of hosts is mustering the hosts for the battle.” (Isa. 13:1-4, AS; Ro) And when challenging all the nations of our own day to come against him and his New World society on earth in the universal war of Armageddon, Jehovah again uses this special word and says: “Proclaim ye this among the nations; sanctify war; stir up the mighty men; let all the men of war draw near, let them come up.” (Joel 3:9, AS, margin) The sanctifying of the war against Jehovah proceeds according to the “god of this world,” the “god of this system of things,” who is Satan the Devil. (2 Cor. 4:4, NW) So it is a sanctifying to a wrong cause. Invoking religion’s aid in this unholy, anti-Jehovah movement will not guarantee its success or crown it with victory.
THE TRUE SANCTITY OF THEOCRATIC WAR
8. Who only can make a course of action a sacred duty, and how did King Saul of Israel find out that this also applied to warfare?
8 The living and true God, the One alone “whose name is Jehovah,” is the only One that can sanctify a course of action and make it a sacred duty and privilege. (Ps. 83:18, AS; Lev. 20:8; 21:8, 15, 23) His merely authorizing the course of action or commanding it makes it something sacred that must not be violated by disobedience to instructions. Does this hold true with regard to warfare? Yes. And King Saul, the first human king of the nation of Israel, soon found out that he was desecrating his holy task when he was commanded by Jehovah God to destroy the enemy Amalekites but he did not fully carry out the divine orders, for his own selfish reasons. His disobedience was in effect rebelliousness and a pushing ahead presumptuously; it was as if he were serving the false gods of this world and sanctifying himself to their service by divination and some uncanny power and teraphim. Said the prophet Samuel to King Saul: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” (1 Sam. 15:1-23, AS, margin) Jehovah has never sanctified the war of any worldly nation or Gentile nation that he has not used in the execution of his judgments. Nimrod, the founder of Babylon and the first to be reported as a “mighty hunter” or military campaigner against human prey, is branded in God’s Book as a “mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah”; hence he was never sanctified by Jehovah God for his aggressive military hunts, and neither have any of his imitators been thus sanctified.—Gen. 10:8-11, NW; Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 4, paragraph 2; also the Jerusalem Targum.
9. Does the Bible describe Jehovah as a pacifist or otherwise, and the wars that his people are authorized to wage are of what kind?
9 Jehovah is no pacifist, but according to his own purpose he has righteously resorted to war against the enemies who warred against him and his people. He has never lost a battle, for his warfare is holy and righteous. After his victory over the military hosts of Egypt by engulfing them in the Red Sea he inspired his prophet Moses to sing: “Jehovah is a manly person of war. Jehovah is his name.” (Ex. 15:3, NW) He is the universal God-Ruler or Theocrat, and hence his wars or the wars that he authorizes his people to wage are theocratic wars. They are truly sanctified, sacred.
10. Accordingly what military book was already in existence in Moses’ day, and with what event may it have begun, and why with that?
10 Already in Moses’ day, in the fifteenth century before Christ, there was in existence what was called “the book of the Wars of Jehovah.” (Num. 21:14, NW) This book may have begun with Abraham’s war against the four allied invader kings who had captured his nephew Lot together with his family. It is not said that God ordered Abraham to go in pursuit and recover these captives, but Abraham’s victory with his 318 slaves and three confederates over the mighty enemy hosts could only have been God-given. Jehovah’s royal priest Melchizedek pronounced it such. When blessing Abraham upon his return from the slaughter of those kings, Melchizedek said: “Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, Producer of heaven and earth, and blessed be the Most High God, who has delivered your oppressors into your hand!” (Gen. 14:17-20, NW; Heb. 7:1-10) The war by Abraham was theocratic; that of the four aggressor kings was not theocratic, even though sanctified by their pagan religious rites. Very appropriately, then, Abraham gave a tenth of all the spoils to Melchizedek as the representative of the Most High God, Jehovah, who had fought for his friend Abraham.
11. With what people did theocratic warfare become especially prominent and from when on, and what classic phrase regarding this developed?
11 Theocratic warfare specially became prominent in the case of Abraham’s great-grandchildren, the twelve tribes of Israel. To free these descendants of his friend Abraham from the oppressive power of Egypt, Jehovah engaged not only in a war against Pharaoh and his first-class war machine of that day but also in a war of the gods, a war against the demon gods whom the Egyptians worshiped. He said: “On all the gods of Egypt I shall execute judgments. I am Jehovah.” After all the first-born of the Egyptians who were dedicated to the gods had been slain by Jehovah’s destroying angel on the first passover night, 1513 B.C., Pharaoh conceded defeat and the Israelites moved out. Respecting this it is written: “All the while the Egyptians were burying those whom Jehovah had struck among them, that is, all the first-born, and upon their gods Jehovah had executed judgments.” (Ex. 12:12; Num. 33:4, NW) Then throughout the forty-year journey of his chosen people through the wilderness to the Promised Land he fought for them. After he had brought them into the Promised Land, and all during the days of their judges, whom Jehovah raised up as deliverers, and during the kingdom of Israel and of Judah, the only true God fought for his holy nation, so that the classic expression developed, “Jehovah it was who was fighting for Israel.”—Josh. 10:14, 42; 23:3, 10, NW; Ex. 14:14; Deut. 1:30; Neh. 4:20.
12. (a) Why is there justification for engaging in such warfare, and in what could sin lie in connection with it? (b) How did Jehovah give backing to such warfare?
12 The Most High God was fully justified in fighting all these battles for his people, for he is righteous in all his activity. His defeating and destroying his enemies and his people’s enemies were an execution of judgment upon these death-deserving opposers. He commanded that his people take a hand in this destruction of the condemned sinners, and he made their warfare theocratic and used them as his executioners. There was no sin or moral wrong for engaging in such warfare, for it was in obedience to the will and commandment of their God. As in King Saul’s case, the sin would lie in not carrying out orders to the pleasing of God; as it is written in Jeremiah 48:10: “Cursed be he that doeth the work of Jehovah negligently; and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.” (AS) Jehovah did not authorize his chosen people to set out on a course of world aggression and establish a world power, but he did command them to destroy the immoral, demon-worshiping pagans out of the land that he had promised to give them. Many were the miracles that he performed for them while obediently carrying out these orders of theocratic warfare. He backed them up in the fight.
13. For what military reason did the Israelites suffer in various ways, and how was an obedient participant in the warfare a favored person?
13 The Israelites suffered physically, religiously, spiritually and nationally from a lack of loving, courageous obedience in pushing this theocratic warfare until the land was completely cleansed of the contaminating demon worshipers and God’s will had been done. The Israelite that obediently took part in the fighting was said to fight Jehovah’s battles. It was no mere flattering word, but a real truth, when King Saul told David the giant-killer: “Only be thou valiant for me, and fight Jehovah’s battles.” (1 Sam. 18:17, AS) It was with good understanding that Abigail, the woman of the city of Carmel, spoke to the same David, saying: “Jehovah will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord fighteth the battles of Jehovah.” (1 Sam. 25:28, AS) To be a battler for Jehovah is a high honor and a blessing, and Jehovah is with each theocratic battler. The divine blessing is upon him. Today there are Christian battlers for Jehovah, and in a way they display greater courage than did the Israelite battlers for Jehovah, because these Christian witnesses of Jehovah do not use or resort to carnal death-dealing weapons such as the Israelite warriors did and they will not use or resort to such violent weapons or raise private military squads even at the battle of Armageddon, “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” Why is this so concerning these Christian battlers for Jehovah? We shall see.
14. Because of its sacredness how were those engaging in it prepared for it, and what exchange of words by David with Ahimelech has a bearing on this question?
14 Theocratic warfare is a sacred thing, and those who are privileged to engage in it are sanctified for it because of its holiness. The warfare must be approached and be engaged in in a sanctified condition as a holy service. This becomes clear from David’s conversation with the high priest Ahimelech at the city of Nob, where the sacred ark of Jehovah God had been transferred. King Saul had become jealous of David because Jehovah’s blessing rested upon this young man as a battler for Jehovah. Finally David was obliged to flee from Saul’s reach in order to escape death. Accompanied by faithful young men for part of the way, he came to Nob, hungry and unarmed. He wanted food for himself and the young men whom he had left at a certain place. David went on to say to high priest Ahimelech: “‘Now then, what have you at hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.’ And the priest answered David, ‘I have no common bread at hand, but there is holy bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.’ And David answered the priest, ‘Of a truth women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition; the vessels of the young men are holy, even when it is a common journey; how much more today will their vessels be holy?’ So the priest gave him the holy bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD [Jehovah], to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.”—1 Sam. 21:1-6, RS.
15. How did Jesus show that holiness was something to be considered in that connection?
15 The Lord Jesus showed that holiness was something to be considered here when he verified this historic occurrence and said: “Have you not read what David did when he and the men with him got hungry? How he entered into the house of God and they ate the loaves of presentation, food it was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests only?” (Matt. 12:3, 4, NW) This was the reason why Ahimelech first asked whether David and his young men had been kept from women for at least a day and David replied that they had. But how was holiness here involved? And what was implied by David’s answer with reference to a war expedition?
16. Why would contact with women by David and his men have disqualified them for eating the showbread, and why did David emphasize their cleanness by a comparison with a military expedition?
16 Being kept from women meant being kept from sexual intercourse with their wives or concubines. At ordinary times there was nothing wrong or disqualifying with such proper intercourse. But when an occasion or a service called for ceremonial cleanness then such relations between an Israelite and his wife were out of order. Why? Because after such intercourse both the man and his wife were ceremonially unclean until the following evening. In the theocratic law that was given through Moses to the Israelites it was written: “Now in case a man should have an emission of semen go out from him, then he must bathe all his flesh in water and be unclean until the evening. And any garment and any skin upon which the emission of semen gets to be must be washed with water and be unclean until the evening. As for a woman with whom a man may cohabit with an emission of semen, they must bathe in water and be unclean until the evening.” (Lev. 15:16-18, NW) Consequently, sexual intercourse that day would have made David and his men unfit to be given the unused holy showbread to eat. Now David claimed that it was an ordinary mission on which he was in the king’s service; yet David said that he and his men were ceremonially clean from sexual contact with their wives and concubines the same as if they were going out on an “expedition,” that is, a military expedition. Going out on a military expedition or war called for sanctification by ceremonial cleansing of their “vessels” or physical organisms. The theocratic nature of the warfare called for sanctity of this kind, if the divine blessing was to rest upon the army and victory was to be granted to those battling for Jehovah. It was a sacred service.
17. How was an Israelite army camp to be kept clean, and why?
17 Cleanness ceremonially, morally and physically was required of the Israelite camp engaged in theocratic warfare. Said Jehovah’s law to the Israelites: “In case you should go out into camp against your enemies, then you must keep yourself from every bad thing. In case there should happen to be in you a man who does not continue clean, because of a pollution that occurs at night, then he must go outside the camp. He may not come into the midst of the camp. And it must occur that at the falling of evening he should wash with water and at the setting of the sun he may come into the midst of the camp. And a private place should be at your service outside the camp, and you must go out there. And a peg should be at your service along with your implements, and it must occur that when you squat outside, then you must dig a hole with it and turn and cover your excrement. For Jehovah your God is walking about within your camp to deliver you and to abandon your enemies to you, and your camp must prove to be holy, that he may see nothing indecent in you and certainly turn away from accompanying you.” (Deut. 23:9-14, NW) If the divine presence as represented by the angel of Jehovah was to accompany the army clear to final victory, the camp had to be kept clean according to theocratic standards.
18. How did the pagans differ from this in camp and in conquest, and how was this difference illustrated by the course of Uriah the Hittite, warrior of King David?
18 The camp of Jehovah’s theocratic nation, therefore, differed from that of the pagan armies. The pagans would take women along with them that the warriors might indulge themselves with them, or on capturing a place the soldiers were given free rein to seize the womenfolk and rape them. (Isa. 13:16; Lam. 5:11; Zech. 14:2) There exists something similar to this today, when we read or hear of prostitutes tagging along after the military camps and of military officers deliberately providing places of prostitution in the neighborhood for the sexual satisfaction of their soldiers. In the theocratic camp of Israel this was prohibited because the war on which they were set out was theocratic, therefore sacred, and called for sanctification by the fighters. Therefore sexual contact with women, even their own wives and concubines, was prohibited to them and they voluntarily abstained from it. This was why Uriah, a Hittite of good will, when called in from the field by King David, did not go at night to his home in Jerusalem to be with his wife. When King David, ignoring the sacred requirements of the military campaign, asked Uriah why he had not gone home that night, that loyal soldier theocratically replied: “The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in booths; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field; shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.” (2 Sam. 11:6-11, AS) Uriah wanted to remain sanctified for the fight. So for the time being he would be as without a wife. It reminds us of what the apostle Paul said to Christians: “Moreover, this I say, brothers, the time left is reduced. Henceforth let those who have wives be as though they had none.” (1 Cor. 7:29, NW) At times theocratic duties will call a Christian from his wife’s side and he must respond.
19. For the sanctity of the Israeilte army what procedure was required respecting captive maidens wanted as wives, and how and why was a man engaged to a girl exempted from military service?
19 If the Israelites were commanded to capture a place and kill off the men and the women that were not virgin, they were not free to rape the girls who were preserved alive. That would have been defiling the army, for it would have been committing fornication, immorality. If any Israelite wanted any captive maid he could not have relations with her immediately on capturing her. No, but he must keep himself sanctified for theocratic warfare by following the law that said: “In case you should go out to the battle against your enemies and Jehovah your God has given them into your hand and you have carried them away captive, and you have seen among the captives a woman beautiful in form and you have gotten attached to her and taken her for your wife, then you must bring her into the midst of your house. She must now shave her head and attend to her nails, and remove the garment of her captivity from off her and dwell in your house and weep for her father and her mother a whole month, and after that you should have relations with her and you must take possession of her as your bride and she must become your wife.” (Deut. 21:10-13, NW) Until the military campaign was over and its sanctity had been maintained this sexual contact could not occur with divine approval. If a man called to the army was engaged to a girl, he was relieved of his army obligations for one year that he might go home and take his betrothed one in marriage and have a child by her that he might have an offspring and keep his name alive, that thus he might not be killed in battle childless.—Deut. 20:7; 24:5.
20. To the camp what was of vaster importance than ceremonial or moral uncleanness?
20 The vindication of Jehovah, the God of victory, was at stake. Keeping the camp above reproach in God’s sight and worthy of gaining the victory by Jehovah’s continued favor was of vaster importance than committing any ceremonial or moral uncleanness and violating the sanctity of the military expedition. This is true also of the sacred warfare of Christian battlers for Jehovah today. Of course, the legal covenant that Jehovah God made with the ancient Israelites through Moses does not apply today to the Christian, and hence the Christian battlers are not required to abstain from intercourse with their wives because they are in a sacred warfare. Nonetheless, their conduct must be clean morally and spiritually. Their keeping themselves from immorality and also from spiritual adultery by being a part of this world must befit the sacredness of this Christian warfare. (Jas. 4:4) Their part in the vindication of Jehovah is at stake, and furnishes them a cleansing influence, an impulse to purity morally and spiritually.