Thursday, April 30, 2015

Yemen (2) History

Saudi Arabia has started an air war against is southern neighbour Yemen. The irony is that Saudi Arabia which is ruled by and autocratic king claims to be fighting for democracy in Yemen.

The roots of this struggle go back a long way, as Yemen has a very long history. It was the home of the Sabeans (biblical Sheba) a trading state that lasted for more than a thousand years. They Ottoman Empire controlled the western part of Yemen up until the beginning of World War 1.

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Imam Yahya Muhammad declared himself king of northern Yemen. He was recognised as the spiritual leader of the Zaidi sect of Islam. The border with Saudi Arabia was agreed after a war in 1934. When Yahya’s son died in 1962, a civil war developed between forces loyal to his successors and others wanting a republic. The republic of Yemen was eventually established in 1970.

The British Empire took control of southern Yemen and established a military base in in Aden in the 19th century, as a coal station to refuel the steamers sailing to India. Following World War 1, Britain continued to control southern Yemen through a series of treaties of protection with the local sheikhdoms and emirates. After the Suez Canal was nationalised, the British began to withdraw from Yemen. An independent republic was established in 1967 and a Marxist government was elected in 1970.

The two republics amalgamated in 1990. For the next two decades, it was ruled by President Saleh.

Al Qaida has been active in Yemen for a long time. The US has launched many drone attacks against it. These US drones are launched from Saudi Arabia, which increases the hatred towards the Saudis.

Although Yemen is one of the poorest nations in the world, it sits in a very strategic spot by a narrow straight between Djbouti and Yemen that leads into the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal. A huge numbers ships through this 30 mile wide strait called the Nab el Mandeb, which means Gateway of Anguish. An island in the middle narrows it even further. According to reports, a billion barrels of oil pass through this strait every day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Yemen (1)

A month ago, Saudi Arabia started a bombing campaign in Yemen. This military dictatorship claims to be supporting democracy, but it is actually supporting a ruler who has lost the limited support he had and has refused to hold elections. The bombs have killed 500 civilians, including 150 children.

At a time when we are remembering the horrors of war, the New Zealand Government has been silent about his new horror. The UN Security Council passed a resolution banning the flow of arms to Yemen, but was silent about the illegal military invasion by Saudi Arabia.

New Zealand holds one of the revolving seats on the Security Council. When campaigning for the seat, New Zealand said it would be an independent voice, standing up for justice and law, but now it has just kowtowed to the US and the Saudis by going along with their limp resolution.

The reason for this capitulation is that the New Zealand government is currently trying to negotiate a free trade agreement with Qatar, which is supporting the Saudi war efforts, and does not want to offend them. The NZ Prime Minister was planning a visit to Saudi Arabia that will take place this week. He is wanting to push the free trade deal ahead, so he did not want to disrupt this meeting by being overtly critical of their illegal war.

Back in 1915, we jumped when the British Empire said “Jump!”. We have not learned much since then, because now we dance to the tune of the US Empire. I am embarrassed by this lame behaviour. If it wants to participate in the halls of power at the UN, the New Zealand government needs to show some integrity and moral fortitude.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Radical Youth

Many countries are worried that Muslim youth are being radicalized by the preaching of their Mullah’s and social media, to such an extent that they are willing to go and fight and did for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The commentators do not seem to understand how such a thing can happen.

I am intrigued by this, because we have just celebrated the centenary of an event where the young men of New Zealand and Australia volunteered to go and invade Turkey during the First World War. Most of them were country boys, whose dream was to own a farm and make a better life in the new land where their parents had migrated. They had no interest in war, but they were radicalised to the point where they were willing to the other side of world and die in what proved to be a pointless battle.

Several things contributed to the radical change in heart.

  1. Their political leaders claimed that the British Empire needed them.
  2. The military recruiters told them they would have a great adventure and come back home as heroes.
  3. The clergy told them they would be serving God and that by sacrificing their lives, they would be following the example of Jesus.
  4. Their youthful desire for excitement and adventure had an impact as well.
In hindsight, the ideals that persuaded these young of Australia and NZ to fight overseas were all wrong.

The lesson is that young people can always easily be divirted into committing their lives to false causes, then as much as now.

Young people need a vision and a cause to serve. They can do great things, if they are given a cause that will stir their hearts. The only cause that will not disappoint is the gospel of Jesus and the calling to serve the Kingdom of God. This message and challenge must be spoken clear to young people in every age. If they do not catch this vision, they can easily be distracted.

Young people still go to Gallipoli celebrations, because they are looking for a noble cause to be part of. However, they do not have the option of giving their lives in a battlefield in a pointless war in a foreign land. Vicarious heroism and illusion. They need a real cause to commit to.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Myth and Reality

A common factor in accounts of experiences of during World War 1 is that the men who returned never talked about what happened, to either their wives or their families. Most remained silent for the rest of their lives.

One reason for their silence was that their experience did not fit with the public narrative that prevailed at the time.

The government had promised that the war would be short and the victory quick and easy. The British Empire would put those cheeky Germans back in their place by Christmas.

The war against the Ottoman Turks would be easier still. The primitive Turkish heathen peasants would have no show against the sophistication of the British Empire. The men who volunteered to fight were promised a great adventure. They would come back as heroes, having assured the victory of empire and civilisation.

Unfortunately, reality did not match the rhetoric. The British Empire was soon bogged down in France, and the Gallipoli invasion was a disaster from the first day. The population back in New Zealand was shocked at the number of their sons being killed, injured and maimed.

Up against this raw reality of death and defeat, the public narrative had to change. The men who died were turned into heroes. They had sacrificed their lives for empire and for God. Dying for your country was the most noble thing that any young men could do. Those who gave their lives were following the example of Christ and dying for their friends.

This new narrative sustained the war effort and persuaded the people to keep sending their sons to serve and die in the war. By the end of the war, the casualties were so terrible that the narrative of sacrifice essential to justify it. The sacrifices were worth it, because the men died for their country.

The problem for the men returning home was that their experience did not match with the public narrative. Some of those who died were heroes, but many were not. Some died through stupidity, of their officers, or their own mistakes. Some of those who returned survived, because they found a way of keeping out of danger. Other had survived, because they had pushed their bayonets in their attackers, before they got them. Killing another men in hand-to-hand did not feel like sacrifice.

Like any other group of young men, they were a mixture of personalities, character and motivation. Some of their officers were thoughtful and caring, but many were callous and cruel, taking advantage of weakness and looking after their mates. Many of the survivors had seen men sent on futile sorties that they knew would fail before they started. Many knew that some of the men who died only went over the top, because they were afraid of being accused of cowardice, or before shot for treason if they refused to obey orders.

The young men thrust into war, found themselves living in hell on earth. Some lost their minds and fell apart. Many wished that they had never volunteered, and long to be home. Some injured themselves deliberately, so they could be evacuated. A few realised that they were invading a country where they had no right to be.

When they returned home, the men could not talk about what had happened, because they official narrative comforted the mothers who had lost their sons. They did not want to cause these mothers and families further pain, so they went along with the public narrative, and remained silent. Some accepted the narrative, as a way of coping with what had happened to them.

As time went on, the public myth of glory and sacrifice grew stronger and stronger, and is still the dominant narrative.

However, the men who fought in the First World War chose to remain silent, so their descendants do not respect their loss of lives, by talking up what they did. We should respect their silence, and remain silent too.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

NZ and the Nations

Yesterday was is a hundred years since Australian and New Zealand Troops landed on a beach in Turkey as part of the Dardanelles campaign during the First World War. The cost was high and the campaign was a failure. The troops were withdrawn 9 months later, having failed to achieve their objective.

During the campaign, nearly 3000 NZ men died and twice as many were wounded, leaving many young lives were ruined. These casualties were a huge blow for a nation of just over a million people.

The young New Zealand men who went to Gallipoli were all volunteers. I have often wondered why so many young men volunteered to go and fight in a country on the other side of the world in a place they knew nothing about.

One reason is that New Zealand has a calling to be a prophetic nation. God has two purposes for New Zealand. The first is to be a base from which the gospel is launched into Asia and the Pacific. Our failure to fulfil that calling is one reason why so many people from Asia and the Pacific have come to New Zealand. They are looking for the gospel, but do not realise it.

The second purpose God has for New Zealand is to be a nation where the Kingdom of God is demonstrated to the world.

God wants New Zealand as a nation
that will be a model to the nations
of a people who are living under the government of God.
God intends New Zealand to be one of those nations
where he demonstrates his Kingdom.
New Zealand is a nation that could be brought
under the government of God
and be a light to the nations.
This call is not new, it has always been there. Therefore, it is not surprising that the young men who went overseas were motivated by a strong desire to make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, they were let down by their leaders and they ending up fighting for the wrong kingdom, in the wrong way, so their brave struggles and the sacrifice of their lives was wasted.

They fought and died to protect the British Empire. They had been taught that the British Empire was so noble that it seemed like the Kingdom of God. Their leaders told them that by fighting for this empire they were fighting for God. It is now obvious that this was not true. The British Empire was no better than any other human empire, and it was definitely not the Kingdom of God.

Their chaplains also told them that dying in a war is the kind of sacrifice that Christian who follow Jesus are called to make. Unfortnately that was not true either. Jesus refused to use war to advance his kingdom, because he knew that it strengthens the spiritual forces of evil. In war, they are always the winners. When he was confronted by Roman military power, he suffered and died on the cross.

The true Christian sacrifice is responding to power and violence, with love, compassion and suffering. That is what Jesus did, and that is what he calls those who follow him to do. It is this kind of love and suffering that will bring in his Kingdom. The Kingdom of God will not be established by war and sacrificial death in war. It will be advanced by love and suffering in the face of evil and violence. When Jesus disciples follow his example, the Holy Spirit is free to work and the gospel goes forth in power.

Anzac Day

I do not like war. I hate the terrible death and suffering. I also dislike the political propaganda that tries to turn something dreadful and awful into something to be celebrated. I particularly dislike the way that the media try to make war appear to be noble and good.

Yesterday was ANZAC day. 25 April 1915 was the first day of the Gallipoli campaign at the beginning of the First World War. I dislike the way that this day been captured by the military, and has changed from a day of grieving for lost family and friends into a celebration of the glories of war. Truth suffers in the process. Nothing is said about the folly of war. The disasters and evils that always accompany it are masqueraded as heroism and sacrifice.

Most wars are stupid, but the first World War was particularly stupid. It started when an Austrian archduke was shot by a Serbian in Sarajevo. Most Europeans could not tell an archduke from an archdeacon and no one cared about the Serbs or Sarajevo, but their political leaders decided they would have a jolly good old war anyway.

The politicians and kings started a stupid war and millions of ordinary young men paid full price for it. When the war finally ground to a halt five years later, nothing had been achieved, but 20 million people had died and another 20 million carried serious injuries.

The politicians and leaders never apologized for their mistake. Instead they turned the dead and injured into heroes. This distracted attention from their stupid decisions and made people feel better about an event that was really a terrible disaster. Calling the soldiers heroes makes it seem that what they had done was worthwhile.

The Gallipoli campaign was one of those stupid battles thought up by a politician in London that was never going to work in practice. The Australian and New Zealand troops ended up on stuck on a narrow beach in Turkey. The Turkish soldiers at the top of the cliffs were armed with machine guns and fighting to defend their homes and families. They were defending their own country, so they were never going to lose.

Several months later, the Australian and New Zealand troops withdrew having achieved nothing for a terrible price. One hundred thousand people were dead and another two hundred thousand were injured. The most embarrassing aspect of the fiasco was that white Christian people were supposed to be superior to the Turkish Moslems.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Preston Spinkle - Fight (11)

This is my last post on Preston Sprinkle's book called Fight He covers many other topics including Romans 13, just war theory, capital punishment, participation in the military and self defence.

Preston explains that the Book of Revelation is not a justification for war.

Revelation supports Christian nonviolence more aggressively than any other biblical book. Nowhere does Revelation encourage the church to act violently. Human violence is always condemned and suffering is exalted...

In Revelation, victory belongs to victims, and Lamb-like warriors conquer their enemies by being conquered (Fight chapter 9).
That is true and very important for Christians to understand.

Preston sprinkle has written a really important book with many powerful insights. I would urge every Christian who is interested in the relationship between politics and the gospel to read it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (10) Love One Another

Preston Sprinkle explains in his book called Fight how Love one another is the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon, rather, is the “definitive charter for the life of the new covenant community,” 1 and through it Jesus seeks to sculpt counter-cultural masterpieces—citizens of the great King—to embody a different society and disclose a different God. We should expect these instructions to jar our thinking , challenge our desires, and contradict normality—the way we usually do things around here. If you’re “of the world,” the Sermon will seem outlandish and impractical.

For early Christians, enemy-love was the hallmark of what it meant to believe in Jesus. Oh, how things have changed.

Jesus’s life is peppered with violent attacks, yet He never responds with violence . He embraces suffering, not because He is weak, not because He can’t do anything about it, but because suffering is the God-ordained pathway to resurrection glory. For Jesus and for us.

In a world drowning in violence, Jesus never acts violently. Though evil runs rampant , Jesus never confronts it, nor does He allow His followers to confront it, with violence. Never.

When people around the globe think that American Christians are pro-war, enamored with violence, and fascinated with military might, something is terribly wrong . No one in the first century would have made the same conclusion regarding Jesus and His followers. Whether or not such behavior will lead to chaos, ruin our religious freedom, or allow enemies to rule our country is not our concern.

Our faith is in the King of all creation, who suffered, died, was raised from the dead, and now reigns from on high and seats us with Him at the right hand of the Father. Our life, future, security, freedom, suffering, and destiny —they’re all in His hands. The reign of God on earth—Jesus’s kingdom— does not need military might, thick borders, superior weapons, or economic prosperity for its advancement. What God started two thousand years ago through His crucified Son will triumph, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Fight Chapter 6).

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (9) God's Empire

Preston Sprinkle explains in his book called Fight how Jesus came to set up God's empire.

The most daring word that Jesus throws at Pilate is the term kingdom. As I said, this was the typical Greek term used for the Roman Empire. And it’s the same word that Jewish freedom fighters would use when they tried to oust Rome and set up their own empire (as the Maccabees did). Kingdom, therefore, cannot be reduced to individual salvation, or some immaterial religious experience. If Jesus’s kingdom was restricted to individuals or the spiritual realm, He would use a different word. But He doesn’t. He uses the word kingdom. He uses the word empire. Jesus seeks to set up God’s empire on earth, and it will look different from Rome and the Maccabees in one crucial aspect: Jesus’s empire will not come about through physical fighting. It will be a demilitarized empire where enemies are loved and offenders are forgiven

Jesus’s not-of-this-world kingdom is shaped by nonviolence. This doesn’t always stand out to us, but no Jew in the first century would have missed the radical nature of Jesus’s claim. In a world where king and kingdom were synonymous with coercion, power, and violence , Jesus’s upside-down kingdom stuck out like a baseball team with no bats, or a megachurch with no sound system or comfy chairs. But that’s precisely the point. As God’s reign on earth is enacted through nonviolence, the power of God rather than the power of humans is showcased for all to see (Fight chapter 6).

Something is wrong when the kingdom of God is indistinguishable from that of the world. Christians should contribute to the good of the nation in which they live (Jer. 29: 7). But we are first and foremost citizens of Jesus’s kingdom spread throughout the world. We have more in common with Christians in other nations— nations our country may war against— than we do with neighbors who share the same passport. When nations war against other nations, this critical point gets snuffed out.

It’s sad when American Christians talk about “us” and “them” and use these identity markers solely in terms of different national identities. But “we”— the kingdom of God in America and Iraq— have suffered greatly. Citizens of God’s kingdom did not win the war. We lost (Fight chapter 6)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (8) Jesus and Kingdom

Preston Sprinkle explains in his book called Fight how Jesus refocussed the meaning of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’s central message was not primarily about how to get to heaven when you die, or about becoming a better person. The central message of Jesus was about the coming of God’s kingdom.

But Jesus’s kingdom talk gets Him into hot water. The term kingdom isn’t invented by Jesus or the New Testament writers. Most people in Jesus’s day understand kingdom to mean the empire (kingdom) of Rome. Jewish people, as we have seen, tried to set up their own kingdom. So when Jesus talks about the kingdom, everyone already has a category to understand what He is saying. Jesus isn’t inventing a term or concept unknown to people. Rather, He takes a well-known concept, guts it, and stuffs it with new meaning. What God does with the concept of kingship in the Old Testament (for example in Deut. 17), Jesus does with kingdom throughout the Gospels. And one central feature of Jesus’s unkingdom-like kingdom is the issue of power and violence . Whereas all other kingdoms (Roman, Jewish, or whatever) are breaking in with force and violence, Jesus will erect the kingdom of peace without using violence. Put simply: Jesus preaches a demilitarized Deuteronomy 17-like kingdom.

So what does Jesus mean by “my kingdom is not of this world”? The answer comes in Jesus’s very next words: “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.” Nonviolence is at the heart of Jesus’s definition of kingdom (Fight chapter 5).

John uses the term world (kosmos) throughout his gospel and his letters to refer to “the systems of the world” or “social construction of reality.” 16 Put simply, world often means the way unbelievers do things. For instance, Jesus says that He has come to testify against the world that its deeds are evil (John 7: 7). Or as John will say elsewhere , “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2: 15). This does not refer to the material stuff on earth, nor does it refer to people, whom Jesus and John say we are to love. The “world” refers to the worldly systems that run against God’s way of doing things. Unjust economic systems, dehumanizing social classification, and advancing one’s kingdom through violence. These are all “of the world” (Fight chapter 5).

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (7) Jesus

Preston Sprinkle explains in his book called Fight how Jesus was born in a time when militarism was strong.

The Prince of Peace was born into a world drowning in violence. The years between the Old and New Testaments were anything but silent, as kingdom rose up against kingdom, nation warred against nation, and the Jewish people hacked their way to freedom with swords baptized in blood.

The Maccabees reclaimed their religious and political freedom and set up a quasi-messianic kingdom through violent force. The success of Maccabean swords would shape the way Jewish people in Jesus’s day would understand—and anticipate—the kingdom of God.

This was the world Jesus entered, a world ruled by violence. Many Jews sought freedom through bloodshed. Others kept their swords close at hand, ready for a signal to rise up and conquer. During Jesus’s lifetime on earth, several messianic figures rose up to establish God’s kingdom through violent revolution.

Despite the failure of these many revolts, the earlier success of the Maccabees ensured that messianic zeal was not easily snuffed out. Hope still burned for the establishment of God’s kingdom through force.

Despite the widespread expectation of peace envisioned by the Hebrew prophets, history had gone a different direction. The Maccabean kingdom cultivated a thirst for political independence through the sword. Yet from birth to death, Jesus preached a non-Maccabean kingdom. He would bear a plowshare, not a sword, and set up God’s kingdom without using violence. And He would tell His followers to do the same.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (6) Solomon

Preston Sprinkle explains in his book called Fight how Solomon took Israel further down the road of militarism.

Israel’s march toward militarism continues with King Solomon. Though he is often presented as a good king who fell away in his old age, the Bible views Solomon’s kingship much more critically. First Kings 3:3 sums it up best: “Solomon loved the LORD... only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places.” Solomon loves God, but he also has a thing for pagan gods.

Solomon commits not only religious idolatry but political idolatry as well (the two go hand in hand). Contrary to God’s law for the king (Deut. 17), Solomon has a massive standing army and stockpiled superior weapons beyond imagination—forty thousand stalls of warhorses, fourteen hundred chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. One could say that stockpiling superior weaponry was the cause for much peace during Solomon’s reign. The same logic drove America to amass nuclear weapons during the Cold War. But the Old Testament doesn’t work like this. Solomon’s accumulation of warhorses and chariots blatantly violates Deuteronomy 17: 16, leading Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann to label Solomon’s reign “the quintessence of Canaanization in Israel.” In fact, the Bible makes clear that the peace during Solomon’s reign is not due to his military might, but to God’s covenant with David (1 Kings 11: 11– 12). Solomon’s military might serves only to condemn him Fight Chapter 5).

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (5) David

I really liked the way that Preston Sprinkle dealt with David in his book called Fight. Many Christians assume that because he had a heart for God as a youth that he could do know wrong. Preston explains that David got a lot of things wrong.

Israel’s descent into secular militarism hits rock bottom in 1 Samuel 8. It’s here that Israel explicitly demands a king, “that we also may be like all the nations” (v. 20).

Through and through, Saul represents yet another step away from God’s qualified warfare policy toward a militaristic, king-centered blank check for violence. Samuel’s nightmare about having a king like the surrounding nations becomes a reality. David is Israel’s second king in the monarchy, and in many ways he is God’s corrective for the wayward monarchy. He doesn’t multiply horses or chariots, and he humbly submits to God. In the early stages of David’s reign, God is clearly in charge of Israel’s warfare. Early on, David seems to wage war only at God’s command, as in his early battles with the Philistines (2 Sam. 5: 17– 25).

But something changes with David, though it’s more delayed and subtle than with Saul. Power breeds violence, which breeds more violence and more power. As David continues to wage war against his enemies, he slowly— like Saul— becomes a “me-centered” warrior-king. In later battles with the Philistines, instead of God striking down David’s enemies (2 Sam. 5: 24), it’s now “David” who “defeated the Philistines and subdued them” (8: 1). In fact, 2 Samuel 8’s summary of David’s wars is “a delicate balance between human aggression and divine blessing.” God is mentioned only two times in the chapter. By now David has built a professional army, including a few chariots (vv. 4, 16), and uses excessive violence toward the Moabites in battle (v. 2) even though his own great-grandmother was a Moabite. David has become less concerned with defending the land and more concerned with extending his kingdom to make a name for himself (vv. 13– 14). And in 2 Samuel 10, another summary of David’s wars, God’s name is completely left out. The wars are no longer sanctioned by God. By 2 Samuel 11– 12, David is now waging wars just like the nations— besieging a city outside the land, boasting in his kingly might, and possibly even torturing the city’s inhabitants . The king who once affirmed that “the L ORD saves not with sword and spear” (1 Sam. 17: 47) has now turned to sword and spear, instead of to God, for his military strength. Like Saul before him, David becomes a warrior-king like the kings of the surrounding nations.

Toward the end of David’s life, God confronts him for taking a census. But it’s not just any census— it’s a military census: “Joab, the commander of the army” and “the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel” (2 Sam. 24: 2, 4 ). And when they returned , they counted “800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000” (v. 9). With the census, David wants to “mobilize military power .” And King Yahweh punishes him for it by killing seventy thousand of his people. Once again, God is a warrior against, not for, those who are Canaanized and militaristic. Should we look approvingly on David’s militarism when God opposes it?

Using David’s military exploits to sanction modern warfare— as some Christians do— is a haphazard use of the Bible. Just because it happened (e.g., David torturing his enemies) doesn’t mean it ought to happen. Professional armies, wars unrelated to the land, and king-centered wars do not reflect God’s warfare policy for Israel. God’s critical assessment of David’s military prowess is therefore fitting: “You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth” (1 Chron. 22: 8; cf. 28: 3). To be clear, David was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13: 14). I’m not suggesting that David was wicked or that God had no purpose for him. But I am saying that David was flawed and in need of grace, just as every other character in the Bible was . And his flawed nature shows up particularly in his later approach to warfare. God used David to further His purposes, but setting David’s militarism as an example for the ages was never God’s intention. (Fight Chapter 5)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (4) Offensive Weapons

Preston Sprinkle explains why Israel was not allowed offensive weapons.

Other nations will therefore see that Israel marches to the beat of a different military drum. They have a God in the heavens who guides and protects, who defends and delivers. They don’t need to supplement God with a human army. And when they do actually fight, God wants them to remain a ragtag group of weekend warriors. This way, when they win (if they have faith in God) it will be clear to them and everyone else that victory belongs to Israel’s God, not to Israel’s military. This is why in several instances Israel was commanded to hamstring their enemies’ horses and burn their chariots.

Horses and chariots were the ancient version of tanks. They were superior weapons. The army with the most horses and chariots was bound to win the war. So when Joshua (and others) hamstrings horses and burns chariots , he destroys their potential usefulness to Israel in further battles. It’s like killing an enemy with a knife and not taking his gun. And the reason is clear: “Superior weaponry was rejected, in order to demonstrate trust in Yahweh as warrior.”

When chariots are mentioned in a positive light, they are God’s chariots, not Israel’s. God rides on the chariots of the clouds (Hab. 3: 8; Deut. 32: 13), surrounds His people with angelic chariots (2 Kings 7: 6), and takes His prophet home in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2: 11). Who needs earthly chariots when God fights with heavenly ones? The prophets themselves are even called “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen” (2 Kings 13: 14; cf. 2: 12)— they are bearers of the word of God, who alone secures Israel’s existence.

In contrast to Israel’s comical military policy, the surrounding nations stockpiled horses, chariots, and other superior weapons. Such military strength was essential for their survival and domination. The Assyrians boasted about their enemies being “afraid in the face of my terrible weapons” (Fight, chapter 3).
Preston has some strong words for American Christians, who have more faith in military power than in God.
America’s excessive militarism is inconceivable apart from “the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals.” This is unbelievable. Most of all—as we’ve seen in this chapter— it’s unbiblical.

What the Old Testament does do is critique the massive wave of Christian support for America’s unbridled militarism. Such allegiance is misplaced; such support is unbiblical. The nations— like Assyria— were ruled by militarism, but God’s people should never celebrate military power, and we certainly shouldn’t find our hope and security in it. If God warned Israel against having a strong military— and it was God’s nation— how much more should God’s people today not put stock in the military prowess of a secular country?

Jesus said that the gates of hell will not prevail against God’s kingdom, and no band of terrorists, fascist government, oppressive dictator, or disarmament program will trump Jesus’s promise. Seeing America’s military strength as the hope of the world is an affront to God’s rule over the world. It’s idolatry (Fight, chapter 3).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sprinkle - Fight (3) Laws of War

The laws for war are set out in Deuteronomy 20: 1– 14, 19– 20. Preston Sprinkle explains the main points of this passage.

  • First, God— not military might— determines the victory (v. 4).
  • Second, Israel’s army is made up of volunteers at the time of battle. In other words, there isn’t to be a professional standing army. 10 If anyone has recently built a house, planted a vineyard, betrothed a wife, or is simply “fearful and fainthearted,” he doesn’t have to go to war (vv. 5– 9).
  • Third, if the Israelites do go to war, they are to first offer peace to the city (vv. 10– 11) before they fight against it.
  • Fourth, only if the city rejects peace is Israel sanctioned to go to war (v. 12).
  • Fifth, noncombatants are not to be killed during war (vv. 13– 15).
  • Lastly, even fruit trees aren’t to be destroyed (vv. 19– 20).
Talk about limited objectives!... For now it’s important to underscore the point: Israel’s “army” is deliberately weak so that God will be shown to be unquestionably strong. The intentional weakness of Israel’s army is put on bold display in Deuteronomy 17. God is Israel’s King. However , God will allow Israel to have a human king under certain conditions, and Deuteronomy 17 spells out those conditions—one of which is stripping the king of all military might. Namely, the king is not allowed to build a professional army (“ he must not acquire many horses for himself”) nor can he make military alliances with other nations (Deut. 17: 16– 17). God will shed the king of all military strength so that his faith will be in God, not in military power (Fight, chapter 3).

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.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Preston Sprinkle - Fight (1)

I have just read Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle. It is a really good book, except that it does not go far enough for me. However, it is not written for people like me who are already persuaded. The book is written for Americans who are locked in a military culture. Most American Christians will think that he has gone too far. So I guess that he has got it about right.

Chapter 2 looks at the book of Genesis. He shows that influence for peace was there right from the beginning. For example, he shows how Abraham chose to suffer loss, rather than fight to protect his rights.

Preston Sprinkle takes a narrative approach to Old Testament law. He says that God allowed violence because the culture of the time was violent. That narrative approach does not work. We live in a culture that feeds on TV violence. Does that mean that we can ignore Jesus teaching on violence in our time?

There are two things that he misses.

  1. Prior to the cross, the children of Israel had no spiritual protection. The commands of Leviticus were designed to separate them from the surrounding culture, so they would not be overwhelmed by the spiritual forces that dominated that culture. Some of the laws were given to provide spiritual protection. They have been made redundant by the cross.

  2. The Israelites misunderstood the law and never applied it. Preston says there is not evidence of this. I think there is plenty. The book of Joshua is a record of how Joshua undertook terrible wars, because he misunderstood what Moses had said. I explain this at

Preston argues that Joshua is hyperbole. I don’t think that works. I prefer my approach in God and Violence.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Prophecy and Evil

The spiritual powers of evil are not very creative, so they mostly just repeat what they have done in the past. That is why they are trying to use the Islamic Revival to do what Persia and Babylon did in the past, and Isis to be another Assyria.

Pride and Hubris makes the spiritual powers of evil blind. When they read the prophetic scriptures, they think they describe them winning. When they read the book of Revelation, they think it describes them being victorious, so they are keen to do the things that they read about there.

The powers of evil hope that the events described in the book of Revelation will lead to their success, so they have been trying to get the seven seals started for a long time, but God has been holding them back until the time is right. He has been able to do that because enough people have been praying and calling on him for peace.

So when Jesus opens the first of the seven seals in heaven (Rev 6:1), God removes his restraint, and the powers of evil get straight into it, without God having to do anything. They want to fulfil their warped understanding of God’s plan, so he does not need permission to bring these events to pass.

The same applies with many other prophecies. The powers of evil are looking for new ideas and they think the events described by the prophecy will bring them victory, so they are keen to fulfil them. They usually try to fulfil prophecies too early, so God’s main challenge is to prevent them going to soon. He does this by prompting other groups of spiritual powers to oppose them. The Holy Spirit is skilled at bringing division between them by slipping new ideas into their minds.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

God’s Will and Authority

Although humans have authority on earth, and they have surrendered their authority to the powers of evil, God still manages to get his will done. The Holy Spirit uses whatever authority humans give with such wisdom and power that he achieves more than we would expect.

Although only a limited number of Christians are praying according to his will, many others are crying out to him. Their prayers often align with God’s will by serendipity. Even non-Christians sometimes cry out to God unwittingly, eg “God help me”. The Holy Spirit acts on all these prayers, if they are helpful for his purposes.

More at Prayer and Authority.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Seeing in the Spirit Made Simple

I have just started reading Seeing in the Spirit Made Easy by the Praying Medic. I have just read a couple of chapters but I am really impressed.

In my book Kingdom Authority I explain why understanding the spiritual realms is important. They interact with the physical realms in which we live, so understanding what is happening in the spiritual realms is absolutely essential for understanding what is happening on earth. God has given authority on earth to humans, so he needs us to give him authority on earth to complete his plans. We can only do that if we can see what he is wanting to do.

In Kingdom Authority, I did not go into how to see into the spiritual realms, because that was outside the scope of the book. Praying Medic has filled that gap. Chapter 4 of Seeing in the Spirit is the most straightforward, practical teaching on the topic I have ever read. Most important, he brings it down to earth, and makes it relevant for every Christian. Anyone wanting to grow in this area should read this book.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Fighting Against God (5) Israel

Israel does not need military power for its protection.
Israel does not need the protection of American military power.
Israel could have God’s protection, which is much better.

God’s covenant with Israel still stands. The covenant promised protection from its enemies (Deut 28:7). God is still capable of fulfilling his covenant. The problem is that Israel has refused to live under their covenant (Num:15-16; Deut 17:16; Deut 20:19). They have deliberately rejected the condition of the covenant, so they have lost its protection. That is why they have had to rely on military power and alliances with evil nations.

God warns that those who trust in military power and alliances will be disappointed.

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord
But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God;
their horses are flesh and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
those who help will stumble,
those who are helped will fall;
all will perish together (Is 31:1,3).
Those who rely on an alliance with a superpower will be put to shame.
“Woe to the obstinate children,”
declares the Lord,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;
who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace (Is 30:1-3).
Those who rely on military power and nuclear weapons will be embarrassed. They will find themselves fighting against the Lord.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Fighting Against God's Plan (4) Violence

The Western media have frequent discussions about whether Islam is a violent religion or not. Even Barack Obama has been drawn into the debate. As usual, the media are asking the wrong question.

Religion is not the cause of violence. The cause of violence is the spiritual powers of wickedness. They love violence and death.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).
The spiritual powers of evil love to steal, kill and destroy. When humans sinned, the spiritual powers of evil gained authority on earth. They are the cause of violence in the world.

No religion can protect its adherents from the spiritual powers of evil. Religion does not provide spiritual protection. The only protection from the spiritual powers of evil comes through Jesus. He defeated them on the cross. Those who believe in Jesus and walk in the Spirit have full spiritual protection. If they are part of body of believers with discernment and authority, the powers of evil cannot touch them.

If you visit Moslem people in Iran or Indonesia, you will find them just like other people. Most will just be getting on with their lives, earning a living and caring for their families. They are created in the image of God, so they naturally tend to be peaceful. A proportion of the population will have come under the influence of the spiritual powers of evil and becomes violent. Some will beat their wives and others will get violent if provoked. A few will come under intense attack by the spiritual powers of evil and becomes extremely violent and evil, just like in any other culture.

Some cultures seem to have times when they are more violent than others. This is not the consequence of their religion. It is the consequence of the way that the spiritual powers of evil have chosen to attack them. Sometimes they choose to use violence exert their influence in a culture. At other times, they are more subtle and use more deceptive methods for controlling the society. They are free to choose how they will attack, and the consequences will be different. You do not want to be living in a society where the spiritual powers of evil have decided on the full-scale use of violence.

I am not surprised that some Moslems are violent. Islam does not provide spiritual protection against the powers of evil, so whatever the influence of their religion, some Moslems will be violent. They have no tools for getting free from the influence of evil spiritual powers, so it is not surprising that they can be violent.

What surprises me is that Christian cultures are so violent. Those following Jesus have been set free from the spiritual powers of evil. These powers still attack us, but we have the spiritual armour to deal them. Christians have access to spiritual protection. Yet there is not much evidence of this in Christian cultures. During the twentieth century, millions of people were killed in Europe in two wars between the main Christian empires.

The United States is the most Christian country in the world, yet it also seems to be the most violent nation. It is constantly at war. In this century, American fiascos in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have killed more than a million people, without counting, or caring. Violence permeates its culture and society.

I am not surprised that some Moslem cultures are violent, because they have no spiritual protection. What really surprises me is that America is so violent, given that so many American people do have access to spiritual protection. Maybe it’s spiritual protection is not working, because the people of the United States are so committed to the use of military force and to violent entertainment.