Crusade War In The Old Testament And Today -- By: Daniel R. Heimbach

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 09:1 (Spring 2012)
Article: Crusade War In The Old Testament And Today
Author: Daniel R. Heimbach


Crusade War In The Old Testament And Today

Daniel R. Heimbach

Dr. Daniel R. Heimbach is Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Editor’s Note: This article also appears in Daniel Heimbach, “Crusade in the Old Testament and Today,” in Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem, ed. Heath Thomas, Jeremy Evans, and Paul Copan (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 179–-200.

There is no more acute challenge to the moral understanding of Christians than comes with handling the record of the Hebrew Bible concerning Israel’s practice of holy war, a sort of war now more specifically designated “Yahweh war.”1 This is because Israel’s God, being understood as not just a tribal deity but the one true creator of the universe, is recorded as Himself commanding the wholesale slaughter of women, children, the elderly, the infirm and even animals, as well as soldiers, and as ordering the complete destruction of cities, idols and temples, as well as military fortifications. This study will assess the contemporary relevance of the ethic employed in the Yahweh wars of Israel, that ethic being a divinely sanctioned version of crusade war.

War was a topic of great importance in the life and history of ancient Israel. Of the thirty-nine books in the Hebrew Bible, war is directly mentioned in all but two—Ruth and the Song of Songs—and even in these war is in the near background. Ruth is identified as the great-grand-mother of David, Israel’s most famous warrior-king (Ruth 4:17), and soldiers armed and experienced in battle escort the king in the Song of Songs (Song 3:7-8). As Helmut Thielicke well observed, “the Old Testament is full of wars and rumors of wars.”2 War was ubiquitous in the ancient landscape. But most war activity recorded in the Old Testament is not a matter of war in general, but rather of holy war; and is not just a matter of any holy war, but rather of a particular sort pertaining to Israel’s special status with God. While the ethic by which this sort of war operated is foreign to modern thinkers and is for that reason especially hard to grasp, doing so is essential for understanding some very important biblical concepts including the character of God and the development of salvation-history, to say nothing of the nature and coherence of divinely established moral order.

The task of analyzing the ethic of Yahweh war is complex and immense, so it is not surprisi...

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