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Principles for War -- Deuteronomy 20

by Robert J. Young
September 15, 2003
©, 2003, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Christian warfare is a popular theme in our day. Contemporary books and sermons proclaim that we are in a battle. The Christian armor (Ephesians 6) and various NT warfare passages are "in." I have noticed that as a general rule the OT is never "in." Yet God devoted an entire chapter in the OT book of Deuteronomy to the subject of going to war.
I believe we could profit by reviewing these principles for war from the OT. God clearly directed his people concerning the things necessary for winning wars. Could we not find success in our present struggles if we applied the same principles?

(Dt. 20:1)
First, when you go to war, and you see that the enemy is greater, that the opposing forces are stronger, that the opposition has more power and money and troops, renew your DEVOTION. The antidote to fear is devotion. When we are devoted to God, God is devoted to us. He will be with us.

(Dt. 20:2-4)
Second, immediately before the battle, the priest should address the army. There is good Bible for having a prayer before we begin any great project. The involvement of the priest is a reminder of the necessity of devotion, but the challenge of the priest is to DEPEND on God. Our dependence is not in human resources, or as Paul wrote in the NT, our sufficiency is not of self but of God. The battle is the Lord's. He will fight for us and give us the victory. There are at least two aspects of our dependence. We depend upon obedience not on understanding. We realize and demonstrate our dependence through actions not words. God goes with us and fights on our side, and that requires our involvement too.

(Dt. 20:5-9)
Third, we must avoid DISTRACTIONS. We must focus on the task before us. The man with a new home and new vineyards and a new wife is excused from the battle. Why? Not only because of the possibility of distractions, but God wishes us to enjoy the blessings of his hand. People who are distracted and disheartened discourage others. Weakness at our side is a distraction. Can we learn the lesson? Fellow Christians who are not fully involved and fully faithful are a distraction. Every Christian whose actions demonstrate distraction drags down God's people during spiritual warfare. When we spend our time looking around and encouraging those Christians who are not in Bible classes and not in worship and not involved, we are less capable of winning the real battle before us!

(Dt. 20:10-15)
Fourth, we must DEFER to the deliverance of the Lord. We must never believe that victory comes by human power. We must not make enemies of those who would be friends. We must be firm and friendly in evangelism. We must accept the help of those who are on the same side as we are. Deference means treating people right. A key to success in spiritual warfare is treating others right. Warfare is not an excuse for demeaning and degrading.

(Dt. 20:16-18)
Fifth, we must learn the principle of DESTRUCTION. The sin of Achan in failing to destroy the enemy (cf. Josh 6ff) is still a problem in Deuteronomy 20. It is still a problem today. Spiritual warfare leaves no room for compromise. When we seek compromise rather than the total conquest of evil, we and our children learn the detestable things around us, and we sin against God. If we must learn deference with regard to people who want goodness, we must learn destruction for all evil.

(Dt. 20:19-20)
Sixth, pay attention to the DETAILS. Some trees ought not to be cut. Some trees can be useful for building, but do not cut down the fruit trees. Success in spiritual warfare demands that we pay attention to the details. We must think. We must not cut off our nose to spite our face. We must battle and win with wisdom.

Six principles for spiritual battle. Perhaps they could be memorable if we applied them often enough as our guide in Christian living--be devoted to God, depend on Him, avoid distractions, defer to God, understand what we are destroying, pay attention to the details. May God bless you as you seek him and battle in his cause.

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Last updated September 15, 2003.