The LORD Is A Warrior

I recently received a request for help understanding the actions of King David and the Israelites in 2 Samuel 12:29-31. The person who asked for help was confused that though Jesus is kind, merciful, and loving (and we are supposed to be the same-Ephesians 4:32), God's people in the Old Testament were often commanded to destroy their enemies brutally. The specific passage reads as follows:

 So David gathered all the people and went to Rabbah, fought against it, and captured it. Then he took the crown of their king from his head; and its weight was a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone; and it was placed on David's head. And he brought out the spoil of the city in great amounts. He also brought out the people who were in it, and set them under saws, sharp iron instruments, and iron axes, and made them pass through the brick kiln. And thus he did to all the cities of the sons of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem. (NASB)

The following thoughts are my response to the person along with a few more points.

I understand your uncomfortable feelings as you read that passage (and others). There are a few things to consider.

#1 There are alternative readings. If you read that passage in the ESV, they translate it as David made the Ammonites work with saws, picks, and at the brick kilns...he made them slaves. If that makes you feel better, you could go that route. However, I don't like that translation. I won't bore you with a lot of complicated grammar points...but they stretched to make that work.

#2 The Ammonites were not nice people. 1 Samuel 11 tells the story of a Jewish town that tried to make peace with the Ammonites, but the Ammonites insisted each Jew gouge out one of their own eyes as a show of subjection. In Amos 1:13 God declares judgment on Ammon because they used to rip open the bellies of pregnant women when they conquered a place.

#3 God is very kind, loving, and merciful, but He is a warrior. (Psalm 24:8  Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. ) We often hear preachers talk about passages that mention fearing the LORD as merely a kind of respectful reverence, but I disagree. There should be real fear. God is infinitely powerful, He hates sin, and we sin all the time. When Jesus returns to earth for the final confrontation with His enemies, He will appear as a terrifying warrior. He wields a sword from His mouth, and all His enemies spontaneously explode-their blood soaks the land (Revelation 19:11-21). C.S. Lewis captured this concept well in his story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If you have not read the story, it is an allegory that loosely depicts the redemptive story of Scripture. The messiah character is Aslan, a lion. When the protagonists (four children) are about to meet Aslan for the first time, one girl, Susan, asks, "Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." Another character, who knows much more about Aslan replies, "If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly." Susan's sister, Lucy, then replies, "Then he isn't safe?" To which the reply is "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King."

Jesus is not one to be trifled with in battle, and the Ammonites did everything in their power to cause problems for God's people. It's brutal, no doubt, but these people were very wicked. These are the same people that offered their own children as burnt sacrifices to the demon-god Molech. God wanted them destroyed.

One of my favorite songs (by Caedmon's Call) properly depicts Jesus as what He is--a Warrior.

The Lord is a warrior
The Lord is mighty in battle
The Lord is a warrior
The Lord of hosts is He

My Lord is a fortress
He is a Sun and a Shield
The Lord is a Deliverer
To those who put their trust in Him

He gives strength unto His people
He guards His own with His Right Hand
The Angel of the Lord camps around the ones who fear Him
And delivers them



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