More Theology of Warfare

Introduction – War not Idealized

Today we are going to finish up chapter 10. And in these verses we see yet another war. There seemed to be an awful lot of warring going on in Biblical times. But if you've read much of history, you will realize that there has been an awful lot of war going on as long as we have recorded history. One group of academics and historians claimed that since 3600 B.C., the world has only know 292 years of peace! They said that during that period there have been 14,351 recorded wars that we know of. And if you count unrecorded wars in primitive cultures in Africa, Papua New Guinea, and other places, I'm sure that those numbers climb significantly. But if war has been such an ever-present reality in history, it is important that God's people understand at least something about it. It's obviously a very important subject. And yet it is rare for me to find a Christian who has ever studied a Biblical philosophy of war. It's no wonder that Christians are not being salt and light to our country on this critical subject. We must understand a Biblical philosophy of war.

Human nature guarantees that there will always be aggressor nations apart from grace (vv. 6-14)

And the first thing that we need to understand (and it is something that Marxists and other Utopians do not understand) is that there will always be aggressor nations apart from God's grace converting those nations. To unilaterally disarm is naïve at best and suicidal at worst, whether the disarmament is of a nation or of its citizens. And the reason it is suicidal is that there will always be aggressor Hadadezers out there. It is impossible for a League of Nations or for a United Nations to stop nations from warring – absolutely impossible. The United Nations has repeatedly tried to put an end to war, and repeatedly failed because they are dealing with external issues, not the heart. Sometimes parents make the same mistake in terms of their children's conflicts. They try to force peace, but they never deal with the heart issues. And it's interesting that the United Nations borrows a verse from Scripture – turning swords into plowshares – and makes that their purpose statement. But it is a blasphemous use of that Scripture because the context makes it clear that only Jesus can accomplish that by His grace. But the reason I find it interesting is that it amounts to a claim to being a substitute Messiah. It's what Rushdoony calls Messianic politics.

The past 6000 years of history show that human nature is predisposed to strife, conflict, and war. That's not saying that all war is evil. Deuteronomy authorizes war as a legitimate, but sad necessity of life. But Scripture does say that unjust war springs from an evil heart, and God does not want us glorifying war or violence. We've seen in the previous verses that David did not glorify war. He hated war. Some of the best Generals hated war. Douglas MacArthur said that he hated war, but if he was going to engage in war, he was going to fight to win. David said, "I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war." In fact, in Psalm 11:5 David said that God hates the one who loves violence. God hates them. And Psalm 68:30 says that God scatters people who love war. So we shouldn't love war and we shouldn't love violence. But on the other hand, you would be totally misreading those passages if you interpret them to mean that God wants us to be pacifists. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Psalm 18 David said about God, "He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze" (v. 34). That passage is saying that God is in the war training business and in the war perfecting business. So there is a balance. We must be willing to engage in violence and war in self-defense and the defense of the innocent, and yet we should not love violence and war for the sake of violence and war. And it is hard to have that balance. Psalm 46 says that one of the goals of God's grace is to make wars to cease to the ends of the earth. There will be a day when there will be no war, as every nation is converted. But until that happens, human nature tends to lead to conflict. And we need to be prepared for that conflict.

Pride & passions (Gen. 6:11; Ps. 10:2; 73:6; Prov. 10:12; 13:10; 17:19; 28:25; 2 Tim. 2:23; James 4:1-2; 1 Pet 2:11; etc)

Under Roman numeral I, I want to give five points that I didn't adequately cover when we went over verses 1-14. I have given you ten sample verses in your outlines that I think nicely summarize what's at the core root of all war. They show that pride and fleshly desires and other sinful urges are always at the root of unjust wars. It's things from within the heart. Proverbs 12:10 says that by pride comes nothing but strife. James 4 asks, "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war." And we can't cover all of those inward desires and urges that lead to war, but let me list four that are hinted at in the first fourteen verses.


Power is one. Syria's lust for more power stands in direct contrast with David's servant heart that we looked and his desire to show chesed, which is variously translated as kindness or covenant loyalty. If all civil magistrates would have the servant attitudes mandated in Romans 13, there would be no wars. Of course, all of them have to have that attitude or you will have to engage in war to defend yourself. So you have power politics contrasted with servant politics. Prussian military general and theoretician, Carl von Clausewitz defined war as follows: "War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will." It has to do with power. Very few wars are the result of pure idealism. At their root is usually a desire for more power, or a defense of their power that is being undermined or attacked.


Economics is another huge motivation. Syria got involved in this war for economic reasons. All of my commentaries agree with that. They were paid well. But they also hoped to reopen the lucrative trade routes that David had earlier captured. It's almost like modern wars for oil in Sudan and other places. And there were two highways that commentaries assume the Syrians wanted to control: the Way of the Sea and the King's Highway. Those two were absolutely critical for trade caravans, and nations constantly fought for control of those two trade routes. Why? Because through taxation of the caravans, they could get quite rich. There are almost always people who get rich from wars, and so they promote constant warfare. And if we think about the real motivations behind many wars, we won't naively support them simply because of the propaganda. We need to ask, "What's really driving the war?" In many cases it has nothing to do with patriotism.


Controlling land or territory is the third reason why both the Ammonites and the Syrians got involved in this war. The constant desire to expand territory has led to literally thousands of wars around the world. Count the number of conflicts today over borders and you will see that this is a significant cause of war. Just in the last ten years you can think of Turkey, Syria, Sudan, Cambodia, Thailand, Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon and other countries. When we evaluate whether we should support an America war, we need to not only look at just-war principles (that we have looked in a previous sermon), but we need to also examine the motivations of power, economics, and land. And actually, let's look at one more: point E.

Revenge; settling a score; bitterness; bruised pride

Hadadezer had started out with the first three reasons, but after getting royally whipped – pride entered into it and he had a score to settle. Verse 15:

2Samuel 10:15 "When the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they gathered together."

It was their humiliating defeat that now drove them. Previously it was money, but now it is settling a score. And bitterness, desires for revenge, settling a score, bruised pride, and related motivations have led to escalating conflicts worldwide as well. There is nothing new under the sun. The same things that get our kids to fight are things that get nations to fight. And the solution is the same. It's not more rules, though rules are important. The solution is a changed heart that goes to Jesus and submits to His lordship and His grace. This is why politicians need the Gospel just as much as anybody else. And its why we support Capitol Ministries.

Fear and demonization of a group or nation often unites fragmented citizens into a willingness to get behind a leader (v. 15-16)

Look at point II. Verses 15-16 illustrate a way that leaders manipulate a fragmented citizenry into unifying behind them. In fact, it is almost axiomatic that if a leader's popularity is going down, he needs to engage in a popular war. But he first of all has to create that enemy, often through demonization. Verse 15 says,

2Samuel 10:15 "When the Syrians saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they gathered together."

Before I keep reading let me point out that the Syrians were rarely together on anything. They were never able to consolidate an empire for very long because as soon as they defeated an enemy, they started fighting with each other. The Syrians or Arameans (as the Hebrew text calls them) were an incredibly factionalized ethnic group. But Hadadezer was able to turn Israel's defeat of them into a rallying point for all the Aramean tribes even though these new Syrians that were coming were way were way north of Israel's territory. Never mind that it was Hadadezer who was the aggressor – the fact that the Syrians lost a lot of lives was propaganda fodder that enabled Hadadezer to demonize Israel and gather a very willing coalition of Syrian tribes together to fight. Verse 15 says that it was their defeat that led to their unity. Verse 16:

2Samuel 10:16 "Then Hadadezer sent and brought out the Syrians who were beyond the River [and that is reference to the Euphrates River – and that's a long, long ways away – Israel was no threat to those who were beyond the Euphrates. We've already seen that previous to this David's northern border stopped at ge Euphrates. But whatever Hadadezer said concerning their defeat brought the troops rallying from quite a distance. And the text says,], and they came to Helam. And Shobach the commander of Hadadezer's army went before them."

By generating fear of Israel, Hadadezer was able to bring temporary unity. And this is a strategy of tyrants that we need to be aware of so that we are not manipulated. Just because America declares Iraq or Libya to be a threat does not mean that they really are. It might help to ask some questions of what we were doing in Libya in the first place. There is evidence that we were arming the radical Muslims. Anyway, hough there are factions in America who tear at each other and tear at America, it is amazing how quickly the Republicans and Democrats can gather together when the media sensationalizes a school shooting or when the media shares horrifying stories of terrorists. Through demonization you can get an entire population to support crazy things like gun control, the Patriot Act, the NDAA, and other issues. Generate fear and demonize a new enemy and factions will coalesce. This was Nero's strategy – to demonize the Christians as terrible enemies of the state and people would forget about his atrocities. This was the strategy of Hitler – instill fear and hatred against Jews and he was able to unify people. This was the strategy of the Hutus in Rwanda – create fear of the Tutsis, and it led to the genocide of the Tutsis. This was the strategy of the Muslims against the Armenians in Turkey – and it led to a genocide of the Armenians. I'm always amazed at how the media is utterly uninterested in the Armenian genocide - one of the greatest and most barbaric genocides in history. Why do they ignore it? Because it was perpetrated by Muslims, and they don't want to demonize Muslims. Other than Readers Digest, the media was utterly uninterested in the Cambodian genocide. Why? Because it was perpetrated by communists, and they don't want to make communists look bad. Demonization and instilling fear about a people group is an incredibly effective tool in the hands of tyrants. The Marxists demonized the Bourgeoisie. The Derg in Ethiopia demonized the landowners. The Boxers in China were able to unite fighting factions by demonizing Western foreigners as being guilty of raping the country. The Hindus have been able to demonize Christians and other minorities in order to hold together unbelievably splintered Hindu caste system. Who is our current administration demonizing? Don't automatically fall for this tactic.

The need for intelligence gathering (v. 17a)

So far I have been preaching to the choir. But verse 17 warns us not to go too far in the opposite direction and completely defang the state. We have these pendulum swings, and some now want to get rid of all data gathering by the government because of the abuse of this on the part of our government. But verse 17 tells us that intelligence gathering is an essential component of any legitimate war of defense. It says, "When it was told David, he gathered all Israel…" Who told David? Well, earlier in the chapter we saw that he had spies way up north.

And even though spies, espionage, and intelligence gathering has been abused and (unfortunately) used against American citizens instead of the enemy does not justify doing away with intelligence gathering. The law of God authorized such activities in Numbers 13,14,21, Deuteronomy 1. In chapter 18 we will see limits to intelligence gathering, and that kings may not use it on citizens. But, if you are to have a well-rounded Biblical philosophy of war, you cannot listen to the anarchists who insist that all spying operations should be shut down. Don't get on the bandwagon of that pendulum swing.

But I will hasten to say that David wasn't spying on his own citizens, was he? His spies were in other countries. And you can tell a tyrant by whom he does espionage on. If he is doing espionage on his own people, he is automatically treating his own people as the enemy – which means that he is the enemy of the people. It's an admission of guilt that he is a tyrant. That's why we said that Saul was a tyrant. And that's why I believe we have had a tyrannical government in America for quite some time. And don't tell me that it started with Obama – it started long before that. The Patriot Act was a Republican venture to spy on citizens. This is a bipartisan problem. TSA is doing very little to harm the true enemy and is doing quite a bit to treat Americans as enemies. The NDAA is a law that punishes Americans. Espionage is being used to monitor political opponents and sometimes to punish them. So the issue of spies is a barometer of tyranny. It's a good test. If there are huge numbers of spying operations going on in your own country, you can tell that your own country is in serious trouble. Just as one example, the Soviet Union had far more spying on their own citizens than they did in foreign countries. Why? Because they intuitively knew that the citizens didn't like their kind of rule. So they were not representing the people. They were tyrants.

Fight on your terms and fight with faith (v. 17b with Psalms)

But we see another principle in the rest of that verse. It says,

"When it was told David, he gathered all Israel, crossed over the Jordan, and came to Helam."

I want you to notice that David didn't wait till the Syrians invaded. He took the battle to them and fought on ground that was to his liking. Now I already dealt with one aspect of that last week (in the previous war), but there are other implications. This verse means that David was proactive. But it also means that he fought with faith and hope. He wasn't just holding down the fort and hoping for the best. He was anticipating that God would help him in his godly cause. He had an optimistic view of life. The Psalms that he wrote during this period make that clear. And it is no wonder to me that David won so many battles when you see the faith that he had in the Psalms. R. J. Rushdoony said,

A loser is a man who sees life as hopeless, who insists that the deck is stacked, the dice loaded, and man doesn't have a chance. A loser is an unbeliever: he believes that everything works together for evil, because life is supposedly meaningless, and the world totally irrational…

And it's not only non-Christians who think that way. Have you ever met Christians who believe that everything works together for evil? I sure have. It's because they have bought into an unbiblical eschatology and an unbiblical philosophy of providence. They are just like that furst generation that came out of Egypt - blood-bought, but lacking faith. And those kinds of Christians rarely engage themselves in the culture wars. They don't see the point. It all seems so hopeless. Why bother if prophecy has stacked the decks against you? Why bother if it is guaranteed that Satan is going to win? Why bother if it is hopeless to resist the beast? Right?

Your worldview affects culture wars, but it also affects how you fight in real military battles. There was a reason why Reformed Protestants in the 1600's had the most feared armies in the world. They went into battle with an absolute knowledge that nothing could happen to them without God's permission. That gave them incredible courage. They went into battle know that they were fighting for truth. That gave them passion. And interestingly, when they marched into battle singing the imprecatory Psalms, the history books tell us that it struck fear into their enemies. There was something about these armies that made the Catholics turn tail much more quickly. They had a worldview conducive to victory. And so R. J. Rushdoony went on to contrast those who see life as hopeless and the deck stacked against them with a more robust view of God's good providence over all of life – including wars, and including Ammonites and Syrians. Yes, even they work together for good. Rushdoony said,

Those who live in Christ have a faith for victory: 'And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose' (Rom. 8:28). This means simply that God's holy purpose governs all events, including the fact of sin` [and I might add to our pessimists, including the fact of the sin of our current administration – he goes on:], to make it add up finally for good. Instead of being losers, we are inescapable winners. Ours is a faith for victory. Thus, if you are Christ's, stop talking about defeat. There is a world to be conquered, and we are the people called to do it.1

David had that kind of a consistent worldview. It made him willing to eagerly take the battle to the enemy, knowing that if God is for us, who can be against us?

Defensive warfare (v. 17c)

But at the same time, David's war was not a war of aggression. It was a defensive war. Verse 17 concludes,

"… And the Syrians set themselves in battle array against David and fought with him."

They were the aggressors, and David was defending his territory. And you might say, "Yeah, but as a result of this war David gained a huge amount land that he had not possessed before. Just look at the northward expansion on the map." True. But let me point out that the law of God shows that even defensive wars are allowed to claim new territory from the aggressor nation. And the reason I say it is in the law is the way that Moses treated the Transjordan. The land to the east of the Jordan River had not been promised to Israel either, but God authorized them to seize it because the kings there had engaged in a war of aggression against Israel. Therefore, when Israel conquered the Transjordan and controlled it, they were still engaging in defensive warfare, even though it greatly expanded their territory. This is Biblical. You can take out an aggressor nation and make them pay handsomely for their war. And we will see that happening in a future chapter with regard to Ammon. Perfectly justified in the law of God. So defensive warfare does not mean you cannot take new territory.

War is costly (v. 18)

But look at how costly this war is in verse 18. This is another issue that we need to examine when analyzing the legitimacy of wars. Verse 18:

2Samuel 10:18 "Then the Syrians fled before Israel; and David killed seven hundred charioteers and forty thousand horsemen of the Syrians, and struck Shobach the commander of their army, who died there."

There was enormous cost to life in Syria's unbiblical war of aggression. We've already looked at even greater numbers that died in the previous conflicts. And when you pull all the passages on Syria together you realize that there were other costs as well. All war is costly.

I have read a fair bit on the history of warfare – not nearly as much John Obermiller, but I have read enough to know that most wars are horrible business. And they are incredibly costly. For the most part, the cost to America has been financial (other than the War Between the States). When you compare the numbers of lives lost in ancient warfare to the number of lives lost today, we are fairly well off. Even nuclear war is a fairly efficient way of fighting. But let me quickly outline the costs of war for David and his enemies.

One or both sides lose

One, or even both sides of a conflict, can lose. They can come out far worse after the war than when they went into it. Syria thought that they would gain territory, gain power, and gain finances – but they came out the big losers.

The cost to life is enormous

I've already mentioned that the cost to life was enormous. We aren't told how many soldiers David lost, but Syria lost a general and 47,000 soldiers in this battle. In his earlier battle Hadadezer lost 27,000. That's a lot of life to satisfy a tyrant's desires for power, money, land, and ego. And before that we saw that there was even more loss to Ammonite life. It was a tragedy. And yet how easily do kings and presidents order men to their deaths with little or no justification for the wars that they declare? According to Deuteronomy's exposition of the Ten Commandments, some wars amount to murder. And this would be one of those wars where Hadadezer was guilty of murder.

The financial cost is enormous

And of course, the financial loss was huge as well. Scripture tells us how much a chariot cost, and horses were expensive. And of course there is the cost of paying soldiers, food, equipment for transportation, lost wages, etc. Rarely does that seem to matter to those who make declarations of war. Back in the 70's, a Dutch professor took time to calculate the approximate cost of an enemy soldier's death at different epochs of history. He estimated that during the reign of Julius Caesar, it cost about a dollar to kill an enemy soldier. I'm not sure how he came to that figure. That's the one figure that I kind of question. He estimated that at the time of Napoleon, it had considerably inflated to about $2000. At the end of the First World War, it was about $17,000. During World War II it was $40,000. In Vietnam (at least for one year that they calculated) it cost $200,000 to kill one soldier. I've got graphics that show the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan - and it is astonishing. Just from an economic standpoint, it makes little sense. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have war or that we shouldn't expect it to become more expensive as technology advances. Of course. Defending your freedoms often costs a lot. So I am not saying, "If it costs, don't do it." No. I am just saying that if a war is justified, you better recoup your costs from the people you conquered, not from the taxpayer. Otherwise the citizen gets punished twice.

Peace through strength, not disarmament (v. 19)

In verse 19 we see that David didn't have peace through disarmament. Disarmament would have guaranteed that Israel would become a province of Syria. Instead, David had peace through strength - through being armed to the teeth. Nor does verse 19 say that when the Syrians saw that David was no threat to them whatsoever, that they made peace with David. No. Look at what it says,

2Samuel 10:19 "And when all the kings who were servants to Hadadezer saw that they were defeated by Israel, they made peace with Israel and served them. So the Syrians were afraid to help the people of Ammon anymore."

Fear. When you are strong enough where you can take on an aggressor, they understand, they fear you, and they usually back off. And what is true of national armies is also true of personal defense. Keeping guns out of schools and stores does not make criminal aggressors stay away and be peaceful. They don't say, "Ah good. I'm going to leave that school alone because there are no weapons allowed." On the contrary, disarming schools almost guarantees that bad guys can attack the school with impunity. The only thing that will force a potential criminal to stay at peace with you is the knowledge that he might be facing unwanted lead. It is peace through strength. Brothers and sisters, if we do not understand the Biblical principles related to conflict, we will constantly be manipulated by media and politicians. We've got to be anchored in these principles.

Make the right people pay for the war (v. 19)

The last point is only hinted at here. But when we get to the end of chapter 12 we will be seeing that David always made it economically unattractive to attack Israel. Since the Ammonites had done enormous damage to Israel, David finally decided to make an end of the attacks and to conquer the capital and to strip the country of enormous wealth. It was an economic disincentive. And when verse 19 says that these other kings served him, it is saying the same thing. They were paying tribute. They became servants or slaves, so to speak. And Deuteronomy 20 tells us that such disincentives are absolutely imperative to a Biblical philosophy of war. We speak of these as war reparations. It's simple justice; it's restitution.

And unfortunately America is unbiblical on this point too. Our justice system does not make criminals pay restitution. Our warring and nation rebuilding policies may enrich Halliburton and other organizations, but they rob American citizens to do so. If the war against Iraq were justifiable in the first place (and you know that I have always questioned that, but I am not dogmatic - but if it was justified), then America should have kept all tangible assets and pumped oil out of Iraq until Iraq had paid a fourfold restitution, which would have taken quite a long time. Instead, what has happened? We the taxpayers have been saddled with further debt. We are the slaves. Deuteronomy 20 indicates that if a nation cannot pay the debt, its citizens will be enslaved until they can pay the debt. David is criticized by moderns for doing so in chapter 12, but it is much more just than enslaving American citizens through debt for the next two generations to pay for ungodly wars. If the debtor is slave to the lender (which Scripture Amy's that he is), then all of us are economic slaves so that we can rebuild a supposedly criminal nation. It doesn't make sense. It's rewarding the criminal.


We have only looked at a few principles of a Biblical philosophy of war last week and this week. But hopefully we have looked at enough that you can start evaluating the legitimacy of all the wars that you read about in the newspaper and on the web. Whether it is a Sudanese border dispute with Southern Sudan, or whether it killing Nubians to protect Sudanese oil interests, or whether it is a Turkish border skirmish, we should be able to discuss current events with our children and come up with some ethical and practical conclusions about the wisdom or foolishness of such wars. In fact, I recommend that fathers routinely discuss the news with their families and try to give a Biblical critique of what is happening. Our children are much less likely to be manipulated by the media if we do so.

When we start chapter 11 in two weeks, we will be completely switching gears and looking at David and Bathsheba. It's an incredibly relevant passage for our generation. But let's close in prayer.


  1. R.J. Rushdoony, "Losers" from "A Word in Season," Volume 4.

More Theology of Warfare is part of the Life of David series published on March 3, 2013

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