Monday, April 13, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (2) - Part-time Army

In Chapter 3 of Fight, Preston Sprinkle explains that God deliberately limited Israel to a part-time, non-professional, peace-time army. This was different from the nations that controlled Canaan, and every other nation since.This is not well understood, so the chapter is really important.

Canaan was ruled by a set of warrior kings.

Canaan was a collection of city-states— mini empires spread throughout the land. Both Egypt and Canaan were structured along the same hierarchical paradigm. The king and his posse owned it all…

In Canaan, the kings and nobles were able to maintain control over the land through a professional army— a highly trained group of warriors who stockpiled many weapons: swords, spears, chariots, and horses. They were paid a good salary through taxation and were honored with land that the peasants cultivated for them. Such an army would cost a lot of money, but a professional army was essential for the king and nobles to maintain power and secure their space in the land. The stronger the military, the better the “homeland security.” External attacks were halted by a strong military; internal revolts were kept at bay by the same force.

The very existence of the king-centered feudal system depended upon the strength of the army. Without it, the king would not maintain ownership over the land for very long. Having a king meant having a warrior who wielded absolute power through his military (Fight, chapter 3.
Israel was organized in a totally different way.
Israel, quite shockingly, was an egalitarian (think “equal”) society, meaning that all families were entitled to own land. Everyone had equal access to gain wealth. It was not a monarchy (originally ), where the king owned it all. And it was not a feudal system, where a few elite nobles controlled the land while the rest lived as peasants. This is shocking, because no other society in the ancient world operated this way. Every other society was hierarchical. They were ruled by kings and nobles who pretty much did whatever they wanted.

But Israel is different. Yahweh is their King who owns all the land (Lev. 25: 23), and He will be their army. God doesn’t need a human army to protect His land. He is quite capable of defending the land Himself, as He demonstrates time and time again. Later on, in fact, Israel is condemned for wanting a militaristic king who will fight its battles, as the other nations have (1 Sam. 8: 20). Such misplaced trust befits pagans, not God’s people. To ensure Israel’s trust in Him rather than in a human king, God gives Israel an economic system that can’t support a professional army. After all, somebody has to fund the army. But not in Israel. No taxes are supposed to be collected to support a military— God wants excess money to be given to the poor, not to fund a military (e.g., Deut. 14: 29).

And when Israel does end up choosing a king, God does not allow him to have the financial means to support an army (Deut. 17). Israel’s economic system, therefore, is set up so that the nation can’t sustain a standing army without violating the system itself. Israel’s “army”— if we can even call it an army— is a group of weekend warriors whose skills, or lack thereof, testify to the power of God, who alone ensures victory.

Israel’s egalitarian society, then, is different from and critical of the Canaanite society it is to drive out. The Canaanite hierarchical system, held together by the power of the king and his military might, is to be abolished. While the other nations place much faith in their king and the power of his army, Israel is called to have faith in its King and His power. All other forms of “homeland security”—professional army, superior weapons, alliances with other nations—are considered idolatry.

Israel’s lack of, and inability to sustain, a professional army is one of the most bizarre aspects of its society. None of this would make sense to modern or ancient military tactics. Against all human logic, intuition, and desire to secure oneself by military might, Israel flaunts its weak and outdated military regime (Fight, chapter 3)
The challenge is to explain how this would work in a kingdom culture.

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