Does the Bible say anything that applies to America’s response to the September 11 terrorist attack, and our nation’s current military action against Afghanistan? What does the Bible say about war?
Bible verses often quoted in defense of pacifism:
First, a little background...
We must also be aware of how the principles of Justice and Mercy are applied differently in each of these for areas.
Follow a review of the principles of Justice and Mercy, we will then look specifically at what the Bible says about war, and America's response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. (Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.)
Also see several Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) documents
on Christian Citizenship and Church-State relations at http://lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=465
You may also download, edit, and print this document for your own study or for teaching.
JUSTICE and MERCY
Mercy means we don’t get the punishment that we deserve.
Grace means we get blessings that we don’t deserve.
When an offense has been committed, justice demands
(1) punishment and
According to the Bible, the responsibility for justice is in the hands of those who are in authority: God, parents, government, employers.
In our relationship to God, we are guilty of rebellion against God’s authority. Justice demands that God must punish us eternally, because we can never make restitution for the damage our sin has caused.
Before the 5th Commandment comes the 1st Commandment:
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23)
"All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6)
"The soul who sins is the one who will die." (Ezekiel 18:20)
"The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23)
Mercy in God’s relationship with us is motivated by God’s great love for all people. The verb most used to demonstrate mercy is forgive.
God is just and holy. He must punish sin.
God is loving and merciful. He desires to forgive our sin.
How can He do both?
Now that God’s justice is fully satisfied, He declares us "Not Guilty!" We are forgiven. He gives us full rights and privileges as His own children.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God [JUSTICE], and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus [MERCY]. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Romans 3:22-25)
For the wages of sin is death [JUSTICE], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord [MERCY]. (Romans 6:23)
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Example: King David committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11). God sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke David (2 Samuel 12). David confessed and repented (see Psalm 51).
There were other far more serious consequences for David because of his sin. His three chief sins had been: lust, deception, and murder. Watch how those three sins came back against him for the rest of his life, precisely as Nathan predicted (2 Samuel 12:10-12).
One of David’s sons raped his half-sister, David’s daughter. David was failed to deal justly with his son, so the daughter’s full brother took revenge on his half-brother and killed him. Both boys used deception against their father David in order to commit their crimes. (2 Samuel 13)
David failed to deal justly with his second son, who finally deceived the whole nation. That son died in battle, leading national rebellion against his father David. (2 Samuel 15-18)
David had received forgiveness for his adultery and murder. But his moral failure damaged his own authority, preventing him from being able to act justly with the offenses of those who were under his authority. And his sin set into motion events that were a constant reminder of what he had done.
O Lord our God,... you were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds. (Psalm 99:8)
As Justice and Mercy are balancing principles in God's relationship with us, so also we must reflect the character of God in our relationship with other people.
In our individual relationships with other people, justice demands that we respect and protect other people’s...
Life ("Thou shalt not kill [murder]" - 5th Commandment)
Sexual purity ("Thou shalt not commit adultery" - 6th Commandment)
Property ("Thou shalt not steal" - 7th Commandment)
Reputation ("Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" - 8th Commandment)
Pay employees their full wages on time (see Deuteronomy 25:15).
Act and speak honestly, especially in business (see Proverbs 11:1; 12:22).
However, when someone has committed an offense against us, God permits us to seek justice only through appropriate authority. In criminal cases, we appeal to civil authority (police, courts, DA, etc.). We may execute justice only if we have been given the authority. Revenge is not allowed.
If you are the one in authority, and you must dispense justice for an offense for one who is under your authority, your choice of justice for the offense is guided by
(2) the Biblical principle that the punishment must be appropriate to the offense (see Exodus 21:23-25)
(3) the offender be given the opportunity (or be required) to make
(see Exodus 22).
"...Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us...." (The Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11:4)
Practically applied, we can only legitimately give forgiveness to the repentant or the ignorant. Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful steward illustrates this principle (Matthew 18:23-35).
In our relationships with other people, forgiveness is emotionally releasing an offender to God, so that God is responsible for dealing justly (or mercifully, if the offender repents) with that person. We give up our desire for revenge.
Another form of individual mercy described in the Bible is an act or gift of charity to others in need... even if they "don’t deserve it."
The affairs of government are more guided by principles of justice than of mercy. The Bible says that the purpose of Government is to execute civil justice:
The Bible’s guiding principles for civil justice are
(1) conviction may be made based only on solid evidence:
(b) there are two or more witnesses (Num. 25:30; Deut. 15:19; Mark 14:57-59)
(2) the punishment is appropriate for the offense,
the punishment must be limited to the severity of the offense, and if possible
the punishment includes restitution to the victim.
(b) For the offense of murder, the appropriate sentence is the death penalty (Numbers 35:29-30)
(c) If the crime involves theft or destruction of property, the punishment is either:
(2) the convicted person has repented, is truly transformed, and has proven his repentance and transformation over a long period of time.
Mercy can be shown in a government’s administrative business, when those in authority intervene for the financial protection of people in hardship situations outside their control (e.g. giving an extension to pay bills; bankruptcy protection). This kind of mercy does not remove justice. It only lessens it or delays it. (Luke 18:2-8)
Prolonged government sponsored welfare, as we have it today as an expression mercy, is not in the Bible. Rather, under Hebrew moral and civil law, individuals whom God had blessed with plenty were to look after the needs of the poor. And the poor were not exempt from work.
The Old Testament law also had a unique version of our modern day bankruptcy laws:
An important question regarding the Government's application of justice, whether it is in criminal law, or in war is about the Commandment: "Thou Shalt Not Kill" (Exodus 20:13)? Does this Commandment prohibit the State from killing people in executions and in war?
Literally the Hebrew text says: "No murder!" The word used here is never used to describe killing in battle. The Bible distinguishes between killing caused by...
As with any affairs of government, relationships between nations are more guided by principles of justice rather than mercy. Because relations between nations is the responsibility of government, similar principles of justice apply in international relations as they do in Civil Law.
The Bible offers only limited counsel on international relations. However, the Bible gives many specific examples of how God guided the relationships between nations. The Bible also gives examples of offenses in international relations.
We must take great care in interpreting general principles from Old Testament battle stories. First, we must remember the difference between the mere descriptions of what people did, and the commandsof God which represent His timeless universal principles. Just because someone in the Bible did something, that does not mean what they did was right. We must look at the counsel of the entire Scriptures.
Second, we must remember that in God’s dealings with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, there was much more involved than general principles of international relations. There were important spiritual and moral issues involved, as we shall see further in this study.
The Bible does not have general principles for the application of mercy in international relations. However, there is one interesting story which illustrates undeserved mercy for the army of an aggressor nation and God’s invisible protection for a nation under attack (2 Kings 6:8-23). The whole long story is fascinating, but the point of mercy is this:
"Do not kill them," he answered. "Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master."
So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel's territory. (2 Kings 6:21-23)
In modern history, we found an opportunity to apply this principle in World War II, not only in our care for POWs, but we also applied it in our care for our former enemy nations (the Marshal Plan). Our mission in the WW2 was not to seek revenge against our enemies, Germany, Italy, and Japan, but to get them to stop their aggression, withdraw troops from conquered lands, surrender claims to those lands, and to make absolutely certain that the governments of those nations will not repeat their hostilities. Once the enemies had surrendered, those government and military leaders who were responsible for the atrocities of the war were brought to justice. But the nations themselves (Japan, Germany, Italy) became our allies.
But in this instance, as with all international relations, mercy is not appropriate without first clearly established justice.
In individual personal relationships, mercy prevails.
In civic matters and international relations, justice prevails.
In our relationship with God, both Justice and
What does the Bible say about war?
Two general principles are obvious from the study of Scripture about
topic of war:
(1) War between nations was a routine fact of life (2 Samuel 11:1).
(2) Defeat in war was one of God’s ways of executing justice on a sinful nation.
However, many people, even many Christians, are upset by
These Scriptures seem to directly contradict God’s mercy. On the surface, these stories also seem to contradict God’s justice, with the slaughter of all those innocent people.
the descriptions of war in the Bible, the commands of God to Israel to go to war, and the occasional commands of God to Israel to annihilate a city’s entire population.
It is very important to check a little background on the social life, religion, and culture of the people living in Canaan when the people of Israel first arrived to take possession of the land that God had promised to their ancestors:
"But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you. After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Deuteronomy 9:3-5)
The only chapter that gives general counsel for the way Israel ought to conduct its battles, as well as advise as to who may and may not serve in the military is outlined in Deuteronomy 20:
1 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and
chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them,
because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be
2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army.
3 He shall say: "Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them.
4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory."
Whenever Israel was attacked by a larger army, God wanted Israel to
to Him for help, rather than to rely on foreign alliances to rescue
(Isaiah 30:2; Is. 31:1)
(b) WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR MILITARY SERVICE:
5 The officers shall say to the army: "Has anyone built a new
house and not dedicated it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle
and someone else may dedicate it.
6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it.
7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her."
8 Then the officers shall add, "Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too."
Who will left to fight the battle? God's original plan for Israel was not "the draft." His was an all volunteer army, who trusted not in their own abilities, but in God's power and protection. As we learn from the story of Gideon (Judges 6 and 7), God preferred small armies, so they would see it was He who won the victory.
(c) NEGOTIATING A TRUCE:
10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer
11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.
(d) ENGAGING IN BATTLE:
12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle,
to that city.
13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it.
14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies.
15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
(e) THE CANAANITE EXCEPTION (as explained in Deut. 9):
16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is
giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.
17 Completely destroy them--the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites--as the LORD your God has commanded you.
18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.
A lesson that the nation of Israel had to learn again and again was that God used aggressive military action of other nations to alert the people of Israel that they must not flirt with sin and idol worship. One of the first of these lessons came as Israel, under the leadership of Joshua entered Canaan. After the victory at Jericho, they suffered an unexpected defeat at Ai. Joshua sought God's counsel and discerned that the reason for the defeat was that one of the Israeli soldiers had violated God's command at the battle of Jericho. The nation corrected that problem, as God directed, and then saw victory against Ai. (See Joshua 7 and 8)
For the next 400 years, Israel went through a cycle in which each
disregarded the teaching of their parents and turned away from the Lord
worship idols. When that happened, God removed His protection from
and neighboring nations attacked and conquered Israel. In their
under cruel foreign rule, the Israelis cried to God for forgiveness and
God then restored His protection by raising up a leader who led the
to military victory against their enemies. These leaders were called
and their story is in the Old Testament book of Judges. After leading
to freedom, many of these judges continued to lead the people in
and obedience to the true God. But when that generation died, the next
disregarded the teaching of their parents and turned away from the Lord
worship idols, starting the cycle all over again.
FIGHT or SURRENDER?
When David was King of Israel, and the nation was threatened by an enemy army, David did not automatically assume that he should fight the enemy. He understood that if God did not fight with him, he would lose. So he asked God's counsel before going into battle.
Four hundred years later, however, when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon (Iraq) came against Jerusalem. Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God told the king of Israel:
(3) The Book of Judges - an army of any size,
is a majority
Deborah (Judges 4)
Gideon (Judges 6-7)
(4) The Gibeonites
Treaty by deception (Joshua 9) - A Canaanite nation tricked Israel into a peace treaty.
King Saul violated that 500-year old peace treaty. (2 Samuel 21:19)
The result of this violation, Israel experiences a severe drought. (2 Sam. 21:1)
The drought ends after the Gibeonites settle on terms of retribution. (2 Sam. 21:4-14)
(5) The Philistines
capture the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4-6)
against Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 13-14
against David (1 Samuel 17-18; 2 Samuel 5:17-25)
(6) Absalom vs. David (2 Samuel 15-18)
(7) Joab vs. Sheba (2 Samuel 20)
The leader of an armed rebellion sought refuge in a fortified city.
The leaders of the city avoided war by arresting and beheading the rebel.
(8) Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 19)
(9) Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32)
And many more.
"We should turn the other cheek." Turn the other cheek means, "I won't stop you from hitting me again." So our government should sacrifice another 3,000 of it's citizens to Bin Laden’s terrorists?
"We should have waited longer." We waited after Bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorists failed in their first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center with a truck bomb in 1993. We continued to wait while they bombed an American barracks in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in 1996. We waited while they bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Africa, in 1998. We waited as al-Qaida suicide bombers attempted to sink the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. We were still waiting when al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four US airlines, deliberately crashed one of them into the Pentagon, and two others into the World Trade Center, killing 3,000 people. "Wait longer"? For what?
The story of Sheba’s rebellion against King David in 2 Samuel 20 has a remarkable similarity to our situation. Sheba and his supporters took refuge in a fortified Israeli city named Abel Beth Maacah. So the army, led by General Joab, came to the city and started "knocking on the door" with a battering ram.
"We should try to negotiate." How do you negotiate with someone who (1) is a chronic liar, and (2) has vowed to destroy you? The Bible has several illustrations of attempts of nations to negotiate in order to avoid war. In every example, negotiation only has one goal: surrender. And in every instance, surrender means subjugation of the weaker nation to the authority of the stronger. (See Deuteronomy 20:10-11 and 2 Chronicles 32:1-23). Jesus even used this principle as a parable:
"Rather than condemn the terrorists, we should examine our own faults as a nation, and try to understand why they hate us so much." This is like an abused wife saying, "My husband beats me because it is really my fault. If I were a better wife, he would be nice to me." One of the clear principles from Scripture is that people are responsible for their own actions.
OBL and his supporters have already stated why they hate us. See a
CBS News report from Sept. 24, 2001 available on the Internet at:
[This link is now inactive.]
"First Century Christians were pacifists. Until the time of
Emperor Constantine, Christians refused to serve in the military." Really?
how to we account for the New Testament Christians who served as
officers in the military (Acts 10; Philippians 4:22)? And how do we
interpret John the Baptist's counsel to soldiers in Luke 3:14?
"The attack of September 11 is God’s judgment against the United States for our sinfulness." Out of respect for the people who died in the Sept. 11 attacks we must remember that Jesus teaches us not to interpret tragic accidents and acts of violence as judgments from God (see Luke 13:1-5). But at the same time, Jesus warns each of us who would be quick to judge, to examine our own sin.
In one day 3,000 innocent people were killed in a criminal act of violence. But on average 4,000 innocent people are killed every day in America by legal acts of violence in abortion clinics. Twenty four hours a day through electronic entertainment, sensuality is promoted and virtue is mocked. Based on what we see in Scripture, is there any reason why God should come to America's aid in our war against terrorism? If we pray only for the defense of our nation, are we praying as we should?
Abraham Lincoln, in calling for a national day of prayer, made an appeal which no President today would have the courage to make. While falling short by failing to cite specific offenses against God (such as slavery), Lincoln shows a clear understanding of Scriptural principles of Justice and Mercy. What he stated in 1863 applies today.
By the President: