The Promised Land, Military Action, & the Death Penalty!


November, 2002

Dear Ministry Partners,

Is it possible for you to enter your Promised Land, flowing with the proverbial milk and honey? In the Old Testament, God told the children of Israel there was a "Promised Land" for them. There was going to be some effort, but they could have it. As could be expected, the response was mixed: some wanted to stay in the wilderness (they were used to it), some wanted to get close, but stay on the east side of the Jordan (that was good enough), and some wanted to get what God had for them (they had greater faith).

There were some problems called "ites". These were the Canaanites, Jebusites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, and others. They worshiped false gods which was bad enough, but they also practiced child sacrifice and immorality to the greatest known extreme. I could tell you more details, but since this teaching might fall into the hands of children, I will limit myself to the fact that they built fires under hollow barrels fashioned into the shape of a cow, and threw babies into the barrel after it was red hot. So I hope most decent people would agree that God's death penalty was appropriate — He just wanted some people to carry it out in an "inter-national action" (a bit of a parallel to some American military operations).

However, there was a mixture of people (like there are in every crowd), and there was no unanimous vote. So the "pacifists" stayed in the wilderness (where the Bible says they died in obscurity). I have a recent map of Israel on my ministry office wall that shows this place of decision (Kadesh Barnea) was only 6 kilometers from the boundary of modern Israel. They were so close to their Promised Land, but they did not want any conflict. As a result, they missed everything God had for them.

Then, some of the Israelites were content to settle on the east side of the Jordan in an attempt to limit potential conflict (this was Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh — Numbers 34:14). But these 2½ tribes discovered they would have to fight anyway, and history shows us they eventually lost all their land. (It is a spiritual principle that whatever we gain through spiritual compromise, we eventually lose.)

But for the group that was willing to experience conflict — they obeyed God, won the victories, and inherited the Promised Land. It was not very easy, and it was not very quick — two characteristics that modern Americans don't like in our microwave culture. But God never promised us a life of comfort and immediate gratification. Jesus said, "In this world you shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). In fact, Jesus said, "The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).

Now this "violence" that Jesus was talking about obviously was spiritual warfare, not personal violence toward people we don't get along with. Jesus demonstrated unconditional love (the tax collectors and harlots), forgiveness toward personal failure (Peter), and a reluctance even to use force toward those trying to take Him (the Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane). At the same time, we cannot conclude that Jesus won't ever kill anyone. In Revelation 19:11, the scripture says about Jesus, "in righteousness He judges and makes war." This same Jesus appears at the battle of Armageddon where an army of 200 million has come against Israel, and Revelation 19:21 says they were all killed by "the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him". That means Jesus will personally kill 200,000,000 evil people. That pretty well does away with the theory that Jesus Christ is a pacifist.

And on a more practical level, one of the last instructions of Jesus to His disciples was, "But now... he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one" (Luke 22:36). It does not sound like Jesus would have been an advocate of "sword control" or gun control. Jesus did not trust unsaved mankind, because He knew what was in the heart of men (John 2:24). As a contrast, there have been legalistic groups of Jews in history who did not believe they should defend themselves on the Sabbath, and a heathen army (like the Ptolemies) attacked and defeated them because they wouldn't engage in conflict.

In addition, the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" is better rendered in modern translations, "You shall not murder." This is referring to the killing of innocent people (including unborn babies), not the execution of a death penalty on those guilty of horrible crimes. God directed His people to kill the guilty on numerous occasions in scripture, not the least of which includes King David, who the Bible describes as "a man after God's own heart."

One of the hardest things for people to balance theologically is God's unconditional love versus God's completely just judgment. There are scriptures such as Jeremiah 31:3 where God says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love" — and Exodus 34:7 where we are told, "He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished." Only Almighty God can always balance these competing concepts perfectly. But we should not fall into a ditch on either side of the theological road just because we are not perfect at this.

Along these lines, the New Testament does not imply that government action against the ungodly is somehow wrong. Paul was dealing with this topic when he said in Romans 13:3-4, "For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it (the government) is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil." Now Paul recognized that the Roman government was not perfect, and ultimately gave his life because of their error on requiring worship only of Caesar. But Paul was saying in general that the leadership (of any entity — nation, business, church, or family) is supposed to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. The successful implementation of this is more of an art than science. And "punishment" must be dealt out with God's wisdom, but nevertheless it is necessary.

War in particular requires the most wisdom to implement because of the size of risk, and the cost, and the consequences. But that does not mean it is non-Christian. In fact, Paul compared a good Christian to a good soldier in several places in the New Testament (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:2). War is usually bloody, and to be avoided if feasible. But the same could be said of amputation, which saved my grandmother's life. Some dictators have been like the gangrene infection that was spreading in my grandmother's leg — it is worth losing the lesser to save the greater.

Some personality types have less affinity for confrontation. In the well known DISC personality types, the "S" (and somewhat "I") types have the most reluctance to administer discipline, or confront, or differ in any way. Every personality type has its strengths, but each has its own tendency towards weakness. We need to develop ourselves in every area, not just those areas that come easy for us.

And this brings us back to the topic of our own personal Promised Land. In Genesis 27:40, the scripture says, "It shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck." This is a principle too few Christians grasp. When the enemy has come against us in some way, we are supposed to actively resist him. There is a great amount of break-through available to the Christian who will actively confront and throw off the devil's attacks through spiritual warfare. "For 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." (Ephesians 6:12). Too many Christians have either been afraid, or sat around like the historical Jews on the Sabbath, supposing that God would deliver them if they were simply quiet. These same Christians have been "slaughtered" by the devil in various areas of their health, relationships, career, finances, etc. We should not be "pacifists" toward the devil, but boldly attack whenever the devil has come against our lives and families. Like David, we need to spiritually "run toward the battle line" and confront the "Philistine" that is trying to oppress us (1st Samuel 17:48). By using your spiritual weapons, you can win every time!

Helping Believers Overcome,

Dale & Judi Leander


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