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March Forth

Sometimes Christians are uncomfortable with the military action of the Old Testament or the imagery in the New Testament. Predictably, some find an inconsistency between the teachings of Christ, which almost seem pacifist to them, and the function of the soldier. Old Testament Israel, of course, was a physical nation, ordered by God and required by circumstances to wage wars on combative neighbors. From that experience, and the ubiquity of the Roman occupiers, New Testament writers drew a metaphorical parallel to the warfare in which every Christian must find himself. To reject the imagery is to deny the reality that we are under attack by the tempter and pacifism in this battle means certain defeat.

I. Marching Off To War

A. Seven Times Around

1. Israel did not come to occupy Canaan by being deposited there from the beginning; she migrated and wandered nomadically before being purposed with the conquest of the Promised Land

2. when she arrived en masse on the edge of the Jordan River, she was mustered for battle, destined to dwell along the Mediterranean, but only after ejecting the enemies of God who practiced idolatry along the fertile plain

3. Moses had been replaced by Joshua by the time the fighting began in earnest, most notably at a town called Jericho, which had been spied out and found vulnerable to attack

a. the battle plan against the walled city was a strange one, relying not so much upon military tradition or even scientific understanding, but trust in the Commander of the Army of the Lord (Joshua 6:1-5)

b. they followed this strange custom for six days, during which the people of Jericho must have sat terrified and astonished, until day seven (Joshua 6:15-16, 20)

4. when the people endeavored to march forth as God and Joshua directed, they enjoyed overwhelming success


B. March On, My Soul, With Might

1. Israel planted herself in the Promised Land, but remained very different from her neighbors, existing as a loose confederation of tribes without a king

2. instead, local and sometimes national judges led the people in their conflicts; one of them was a woman named Deborah, who led Israel to cast of another generation of Canaanites, and to pen a song to commemorate the victory (Judges 5:6-8, 19-21)

3. as long as Israel was willing to march forth, rather than retreat into idolatry or surrender to humanistic immorality, she could enjoy victory; troubled always followed when “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

4. God still wanted to be the Commander, but Israel was yearning for more tangible leadership than a spirit in Heaven was providing


C. Turned Back

1. Israel began to suffer military defeats, not only at Ai, but throughout the period of the misguided monarchy; as idolatry and immorality increased, reliance upon and blessing from God continually declined until Israel was wiped out by invaders, who left only a tiny remnant

2. the New Testament says that, “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

3. the church of Christ is  not a physical nation like Israel was and we do not have geography to conquer or enemies breathing down our necks to take away our parcel of sacred dirt; we are engaged, however, in a very real, but very spiritual war with “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).

4. to deny that reality is to concede defeat


II. March Forth

A. War Against Your Soul

1. the hidden reality of modern life continues the theme of the Bible, in which good is constantly in peril of evil, where the devil, the father of lies and a murderer of immortal souls from the beginning, strives to enslave minds and bodies to idolatry and immorality; “The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust” (Proverbs 11:6).

2. most of us, deep down, want to do the right thing, but the immediate gratification of doing the devil’s will instead, is powerful, as is the self-serving theory that repentance requires only words (Romans 7:21-25)

3. the tempter is waging war against the church, against evangelism, and against the redeemed, and until we see it that way, we will continue to lose ground

4. it it past time that we learn to march forth again and take back from the devil the territory he tentatively holds in his wicked clutches; when tempted with complacency, immorality, or instant gratification, fight the intellectual battle that alone promises victory (First Peter 2:11-12)


B. Wars and Fights

1. many of these battles seem to be purely personal conflicts with temptation or personality flaws, but sometimes our conflicts involve others – whether targets for evangelism, dedicated enemies of the cross, or people who have gotten in our way

2. there are battles that are pitched by worldly people or our own worldly ambitions that are plainly not worth fighting, because there is no moral ground to fight upon (James 4:1-5)

a. you will have conflicts at home, at work, at school, and everywhere in between if you are bent on fighting for the maintenance of your pride – that’s just a less tangible form of the idolatry that ruined ancient Israel and continues to disrupt marriages, friendships, and communities

b. these are the interpersonal areas where meekness, compromise, and mutual subjection always work better than combativeness and assertiveness

3. where we are engaged in battles with temptations and personal flaws, we must march forth to win (Ephesians 6:10-18a)


C. Taking Captives

1. in  any war, there is a human cost, and captives are taken – the devil seeks to make slaves of people who become addicted to what he can offer, while the servants of God want to help set people free from him, without causing them to be captured by false teaching (Colossians 2:8-9)

2. any doctrine or system that presents a co-authority with Christ over the church is dangerously false, as is any system rooted in human tradition rather than book, chapter and verse

3. one of the devil’s  most powerful strategies is to reward false religion with the appearance of piety, so that many souls of men are deceived into enlisting in the wrong outfit, one “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (Second Timothy 3:5).

4. unless we march forth with truth, ground will be lost (Second Corinthians 10:3-5)


D. Leadership

1. if we are to march forth and win battles for truth and righteousness, Christians must enlist in the Lord’s service, making him “the captain of their salvation” (Hebrews 2:10)

2. we are soldiers, marching in time with the Lord’s word, answering the bugle’s call to resist the devil and evangelize his territory (see First Corinthians 14:8); even “the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank” (Proverbs 30:27)

3. soldiers of the cross “fight the good fight of faith” (First Timothy 6:12), always being ready to suffer hardship and deprivation to further his cause (Second Timothy 2:1-4)

4. our faith “is the victory that has overcome the world” (First John 5:4), but only to the extent that we are willing to march forth and turn this rotten world upside down for Christ



Have we bivouacked long enough? It’s time to march forth – today!


Questions for Review

  1. Why might some Christians be uncomfortable with war imagery?
  2. How did Joshua’s army conquer Jericho? Why did they fail in Ai?
  3. Why was the Judges period full of lawlessness?
  4. What kind of battle are Christians in today?
  5. When should Christians be willing to yield rather than fight?
  6. How is evangelism like warfare?
  7. How are preachers especially compared to soldiers?

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