Priests with the Theocratic Army
1. By whose presence was the Israelite camp sanctified, and why was their presence required?
THE sacredness of theocratic warfare called for a sanctifying of the Israelite men for this service of God as upholders of his universal sovereignty and as executioners of his righteous indignation against the worshipers of false gods. Accordingly it was necessary for priests of the tribe of Levi to accompany the Israelite army. Their presence added sanctity to the army of Jehovah. In the days when his sacred ark of the covenant was sheltered under the tabernacle or tent it was the custom to take the ark into the army camp, as it symbolized the presence of Jehovah God with his fighting forces. (1 Sam. 4:4-6; 14:18, 19; 2 Sam. 11:11) This necessarily required the presence of the Levite priests in the camp, for they were the only ones authorized to carry the ark of Jehovah God. Once a nonpriestly Israelite was killed for touching the ark, thinking to keep it from falling off a cart. Had the Levite priests been carrying the ark, this would not have occurred. (Deut. 31:9; Josh. 3:17; 6:4-11; 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:6, 7; 1 Chron. 15:2-15, 26) Also when a battle engagement was facing the Israelite army it was customary for a sacrifice to be offered to Jehovah God, and this required the presence of Jehovah’s prophet or of his Levite priests. (1 Sam. 7:9; 13:9) Furthermore, before engaging in a certain battle strategy the God-fearing military commander would consult Jehovah by means of the ark of the covenant or by a priestly ephod or by the sacred Urim and Thummim that were borne by the high priest. The pagans, like Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, resorted to various forms of divination, but Jehovah’s people inquired of him, the true God, for his direction in battle. (Judg. 1:1; 20:27, 28; 1 Sam. 14:37; 23:2, 6, 9-14; 28:6; 30:8; 2 Sam. 5:19, 23; Ezek. 21:21) This, too, required the presence of Jehovah’s prophet or priest with his theocratic camp.
2. For what purpose were priests ordered directly to the front before battle, but were they required to take up arms and fight?
2 Jehovah specifically ordered priests of his to the front when he gave the following commandment for the Israelites in their battles in the Holy Land, the Promised Land: “In case you should go out to the battle against your enemies and you have seen horses and war chariots, a people more numerous than you, you must not be afraid of them, for Jehovah your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And it must occur that when you have drawn near to the battle, then the priest must approach and speak to the people. And he must say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, you are drawing near today to the battle against your enemies. Do not let your hearts sink. Do not be afraid and run in panic or shudder because of them, for Jehovah your God is marching with you to fight for you against your enemies so as to save you.” (Deut. 20:1-4, NW) It was most suitable that the fighters of Jehovah’s wars should have his direct representative, his consecrated priest, give this encouragement to them right there at the battle front. However, it was not required of the priests themselves to take up arms and do any of the fighting.
3. Why did the battle signal require the presence of the priests in the army, and what, in effect, was this battle signal?
3 The sounding of the battle signal also called for the presence of the priests in the heart of the camp. No others but they could give the battle signal for a victorious onslaught against the foe. Jehovah’s instructions through Moses were: “Make for yourself two trumpets of silver. You will make them of hammered work, and they must be at your service for convening the assembly and for breaking up the camps. And in case you should enter into war in your land against the oppressor who is harassing you, then when you have sounded a war call on the trumpets you will certainly be remembered before Jehovah your God and be saved from your enemies. . . . and their use must serve as a memorial for you before your God. I am Jehovah your God.” (Num. 10:2, 8, 10, NW) The Bible record concerning the use of these two silver trumpets discloses who were the ones to blow them. It was the Levite priests. When they sounded the battle signal, the trumpet blasts animated the whole army, and the rank and file moved into action. The trumpet sound was an appeal for help from on high. It was like an alert to God to go into action with them and give victory, for it was a priestly sound.
4. What factor served for Israelite victory over the Midianites?
4 Toward the close of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness the Israelites came and encamped on the desert plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho, a city in the Promised Land. From here Moses sent out a military force of twelve thousand to wage war upon the demon-worshiping Midianites. The Record says: “Then Moses sent them out, a thousand of each tribe, to the army, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest to the army, and the holy utensils and the trumpets for blowing calls were in his hand. And they went waging war against Midian, just as Jehovah had commanded Moses.” (Num. 31:1-7; 22:1, NW) The trumpet calls to Jehovah were answered with victory!
5. At what military disadvantage did King Abijah of Judah face King Jeroboam of Israel, but what extra vital help did Abijah have?
5 Centuries after that theocratic war against Jehovah’s enemies, the twelve-tribe kingdom of Israel in the Promised Land was divided into two kingdoms, the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. On one occasion the armies of their two kings faced each other on the battlefield. King Abijah of the kingdom of Judah, faithful to God, had four hundred thousand men in the field against twice as many, eight hundred thousand idol worshipers, under King Jeroboam of the kingdom of Israel. But King Abijah of Judah had more than four hundred thousand warriors with him, and of this extra vital help he made mention in his appeal to the opposing army, saying: “But as for us, Jehovah is our God, and we have not forsaken him; and we have priests ministering unto Jehovah, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites in their work: . . . And, behold, God is with us at our head, and his priests with the trumpets of alarm to sound an alarm against you. O children of Israel, fight ye not against Jehovah, the God of your fathers; for ye shall not prosper.”
6. In the dangerous situation that developed, how did King Abijah’s forces show their reliance upon Jehovah, and how did he vindicate it?
6 This appeal did not avail with the enemy. The battle was joined, and King Abijah’s army found themselves ambushed. The situation was dangerous. But divine help came in response to the trumpets. The Record says: “And when Judah looked back, behold, the battle was before and behind them; and they cried unto Jehovah, and the priests sounded with the trumpets. Then the men of Judah gave a shout: and as the men of Judah shouted, it came to pass, that God smote Jeroboam and all Israel before Abijah and Judah. And the children of Israel fled before Judah; and God delivered them into their hand.” Why, then, did this holy victory come? Jehovah answers in the Record, saying: “Thus the children of Israel were brought under at that time, and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied upon Jehovah, the God of their fathers.” The priestly blast upon the holy silver trumpets pealed forth as a memorial, a reminder to trust in Jehovah. A united shout of confidence in Him, a Hallelujah! thundered from the mouths of his battlers, and, infused with divine courage, the army of Judah charged against the foe to the front and rear, and Jehovah vindicated their reliance on him with victory!—2 Chron. 13:3, 10-18, AS.
7. When Jerusalem was threatened by the army of Moabites, Ammonites and men of Mount Seir, whom did Jehovah use to deliver his message, and what did it say?
7 Another illustration of the holiness of theocratic warfare and of how Jehovah used his devoted tribe of Levites in connection with the army occurred at a very tense time in the kingdom. The allied armies of demon worshipers, the Moabites, the Ammonites and the men of Mount Seir, were on their way through the Judean wilderness for an assault on the holy city of Jerusalem. King Jehoshʹaphat proclaimed a fast throughout the kingdom and had all the people gather at the temple in Jerusalem. In solemn appeal for all the men, women and children about him, King Jehoshʹaphat lifted a prayer to Jehovah. Then Jehovah chose his instrument by which to give consolation and instructions for meeting the crisis. He chose a holy man, a Levite singer named Jahaziʹel. He put his holy spirit upon him, moving him to say: “Thus saith Jehovah unto you, Fear not ye, neither be dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow go ye down against them: . . . Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of Jehovah with you, O Judah and Jerusalem; fear not, nor be dismayed: tomorrow go out against them; for Jehovah is with you.”
8. How was the holiness of their meeting this situation displayed, and why was the emphasis on holiness not misplaced?
8 Next morning they obediently did go out of the city’s protective walls and march to meet the oncoming foe. But how? The two silver trumpets in the priests’ hands did not go along to sound an alarm. There was to be no infantry charge with shouting against Moab, Ammon and Mount Seir. They did not need to fight in this battle; it was a holy battle; it was not their battle, but God’s. As they went out, King Jehoshʹaphat, as the chief officer of the army, stood up and exhorted the marchers in obedience to Deuteronomy 20:5-9, saying: “Believe in Jehovah your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets [such as Jahaziʹel], so shall ye prosper.” At the same time, to strengthen their belief and confidence in Jehovah, King Jehoshʹaphat stationed Jahaziʹel and his fellow Levite singers in their holy array at the very head of the marching column. Instead of a shout following a trumpet alarm, these holy Levites marched forward, singing: “Give thanks unto Jehovah; for his loving-kindness endureth for ever.” King Jehoshʹaphat and the army followed, taking a secondary position. This emphasis on the holiness of the war was not misplaced, for we read: “And when they began to sing and to praise, Jehovah set liers-in-wait against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, that were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another.” Arriving at the watchtower in the wilderness, the theocratic procession came in view of the slaughter that had occurred.
9. How did they celebrate Jehovah’s victory, and what was the ancient world given to know by his victory?
9 All they now had to do was to despoil the dead bodies. After three days of this they assembled at the valley of Berʹacah and blessed Jehovah, and then to sacred music they returned to Jerusalem and its temple, rejoicing, “for Jehovah had made them to rejoice over their enemies.” What was the result of Jehovah’s holy battle against the ungodly aggressors? The Record answers: “And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of the countries, when they heard that Jehovah fought against the enemies of Israel.” (2 Chron. 20:1-29, AS) The ancient world was given to know that Jehovah is no pacifist but is a fighter, a fighter who always wins and who is therefore to be feared. Woe to the fighters against God; they are in a losing fight! But not so those who are fighting Jehovah’s battles. These are the ones who give themselves wholly to the Christian theocratic warfare. Exclusively for this warfare they are sanctified, because it is holy, it being authorized by the Holy One of the universe and backed up by him with victory in view.