Historically, the church has used Old Testament battles to justify ‘holy wars’ and as a result, given itself a bad rap. How can a God of love advocate such brutality, critics say. I’ve wondered the same thing myself.
The New Testament says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Whatever else the battles were about, Christians are supposed to learn something from them.
This morning I read an account from 2 Kings where the Elisha was instructing the king of Israel about confrontations with Syria, a nation bent on conquering God’s people. It says, “Take a bow and some arrows. So he took himself a bow and some arrows. Then he said to the king of Israel, ‘Put your hand on the bow.’ So he put his hand on it, and Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands. And he said, ‘Open the east window’; and he opened it. Then Elisha said, ‘Shoot’; and he shot. And he said, ‘The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance and the arrow of deliverance from Syria; for you must strike the Syrians at Aphek till you have destroyed them.’ Then he said, ‘Take the arrows’; so he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, ‘Strike the ground’; so he struck three times, and stopped. And the man of God was angry with him, and said, ‘You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck Syria till you had destroyed it! But now you will strike Syria only three times.’
Immediately the thought came to mind that this is not about the Christian church going out and attacking physical enemies; it is about spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6 says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
The rest of that chapter in Ephesians talks about how God’s truth protects us from the enemies lies, and how we must fight back with prayer. Our weapon is the Word of God, and our battlefield is on our knees.
With that in mind, this story from 2 Kings instructs me. When I go against an evil force, a lie from the enemy, a stronghold that he has constructed in my heart or in the life of someone else, I am to persevere in prayer. While some needs might require only three prayers, or maybe just one, sometimes the enemy is not going to give up that easily. God wants me to strike again and again until victory is total and complete.
I cannot begin to understand the mystery of prayer, but I know God hears and answers. This morning I wonder what might have happened if the church of history had gone to its knees against spiritual enemies—who plagued the world and held it captive with lies—rather than sending armies to try and destroy the people who were in bondage to those lies.
God is just. In the Old Testament He did instruct His people to destroy the wicked nations around them. Perhaps they were beyond any possibility of repentance and change. Whatever His reasons then, now He clearly says the enemies of God’s people are not flesh and blood. In our entirely different kind of war we can take instruction from the battles in the Old Testament, and from now on, I’m going to read them with that in mind.