The people were being oppressed. They repeatedly prayed to God for relief, but none came—at least not right away. The people were the Israelites, God’s people in ancient times. The oppressor was the mighty nation of Egypt. (Exodus 1:13, 14) For years, the Israelites waited for God to bring an end to the Egyptian tyranny. Eventually, God’s due time for action arrived. (Exodus 3:7-10) The Bible reports that God personally waged war against the Egyptians. He beset Egypt with a series of devastating plagues, and then he destroyed Egypt’s king and his army in the Red Sea. (Psalm 136:15) Jehovah God proved to be “a powerful warrior” in behalf of his people.—Exodus 15:3, 4.
The fact that God himself waged war against the Egyptians shows that he is not against all warfare. On other occasions, he authorized his people Israel to wage war. For example, he commanded them to wage war against the Canaanites, who were exceedingly wicked. (Deuteronomy 9:5; 20:17, 18) He directed Israel’s King David to war against the oppressive Philistines. God even provided David with a battle strategy that ensured victory.—2 Samuel 5:17-25.
Those Bible accounts reveal that when certain forms of wickedness and oppression threatened the Israelites, God authorized warfare for the protection of his people and the preservation of true worship. But note the following three key points about such God-ordained warfare.
GOD ALONE DETERMINED WHO WOULD ENGAGE IN WARFARE. On one occasion, God told the Israelites: “You will not need to fight this battle.” The reason? God himself would wage war in their behalf. (2 Chronicles 20:17; 32:7, 8) He did so many times, such as on the occasion mentioned at the outset of this article. At other times, God commanded his people in ancient Israel to fight in wars that he approved, namely, those that involved securing and defending their Promised Land.—Deuteronomy 7:1, 2; Joshua 10:40.
GOD ALONE DETERMINED WHEN SUCH WARFARE WOULD TAKE PLACE. God’s servants were to wait patiently for God’s appointed time to war against the oppression and wickedness that surrounded them. Until then, they were not to take it upon themselves to engage in war. When they did, they lost divine approval. In fact, the Bible shows that when the Israelites presumed to engage in warfare that God had not authorized, the results were often disastrous.*
GOD TAKES NO PLEASURE IN THE DEATH OF HUMANS, INCLUDING THE WICKED. Jehovah God is the Source of life and the Creator of humankind. (Psalm 36:9) Therefore, he does not desire to see people die. Sadly, though, there are people who wickedly scheme to oppress and even kill others. (Psalm 37:12, 14) To halt such evil, God has at times authorized warfare against the wicked. And yet, throughout the years that he had the Israelites engage in such wars, he was still “merciful” and “slow to anger” toward Israel’s oppressors. (Psalm 86:15) For example, he decreed that before the Israelites warred against a city, they were to “announce to it terms of peace,” in order to give the inhabitants an opportunity to change their ways and avoid war. (Deuteronomy 20:10-13) In this way, God showed that he takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that someone wicked changes his way and keeps living.”—Ezekiel 33:11, 14-16.*
From the foregoing we see that in the ancient past, God viewed warfare as a legitimate means of bringing an end to various forms of oppression and wickedness. But it was God—not humans—who rightfully determined when such warfare was to take place and who was to be involved. And did God wage war eagerly, in a bloodthirsty way? Quite the contrary. He actually hates violence. (Psalm 11:5) Did God’s view of war change when his Son, Jesus Christ, began his ministry in the first century?
For example, on one occasion, the Israelites suffered defeat when they engaged in war with the Amalekites and Canaanites after God had ordered them not to do so. (Numbers 14:41-45) Many years later, faithful King Josiah engaged in a battle without divine approval, and this rash action cost him his life.—2 Chronicles 35:20-24.
The Israelites did not announce terms of peace before warring against the Canaanites. Why not? Because the Canaanites had been given 400 years to correct their wicked ways. By the time the Israelites came to war against them, the Canaanites, as a group, were incorrigibly wicked. (Genesis 15:13-16) Thus, they were to be completely annihilated. However, individual Canaanites who changed their ways were spared.—Joshua 6:25; 9:3-27.