God as Warrior

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Question
What does Joshua teach us about God's character as a warrior for his people?
Answer
In the book of Joshua, God's character is manifested in many ways, and one of the traits of God, as a warrior, is a wonderful lesson for all of us — for the people then and for us — that God is characterized as a divine warrior. And of course, Joshua, you have to read Joshua in light of the exodus, and what happens during the exodus. And what happens during the exodus is that Yahweh manifests himself as the divine warrior. It's in Exodus 15 when he has conquered all the armies of Egypt through their passing through the waters there, it says, "Yahweh is a man of war." So, that's one of his titles as divine warrior. And so, that's picked up in the book of Joshua. But how does he wage warfare? That's the key to not just exodus and the book of Joshua but throughout Israelite history, the high points being David and the Philistine, Goliath. How does Yahweh wage warfare for his people? And it's always through unconventional means. And so, this, of course, prepares us for the way Jesus, the divine warrior — the manifestation of Yahweh on earth as the divine warrior — how does he wage warfare, and how does he conquer the mightiest of his enemies: Satan, sin and death? Right? The three: Satan, sin and death? How does he conquer the mightiest of his enemies? It makes Pharaoh look like a small insignificant opponent compared to Satan, death and sin. And just like Pharaoh was conquered through unconventional warfare means, it's not like the Israelites came up with twelve hundred chariots, so a massive main battle tank of the ancient world — six hundred chariotry of Pharaoh versus twelve hundred of the Israelites. That's not how the victory was secured. It was a mighty act of Yahweh, God's intervention, that a bunch of slaves defeated the most powerful army of the ancient world. David, same thing, he shows up in the field of battle, he's just a shepherd boy with a stick and a couple of stones and a sling, and he defeats the mighty Philistine completely adorned in full battleware, invincible, giant. And Jesus does the same thing. He's going to conquer by being a servant unto death. And boy, is there is a lesson there for us. In the time of Joshua, the conquest was all by God's hand — walking around the city seven times; what is that going to do? This is not warfare; this is worship to Yahweh. And that's how we wage warfare today. So, when Paul says in Ephesians 6, we don't wage warfare through conventional means of flesh and blood but spiritual means. This is not just a New Testament idea. This goes right back to the exodus, Joshua, the rise of David, and then throughout the time of the monarchy. And then, of course, this speaks to us. How do we wage warfare? We don't wage warfare through the sword. We secure God's victory and God's kingdom through spiritual means.

Answer by Dr. Thomas Petter

Dr. Thomas Petter is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.