Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents an eight-part series of messages exploring the book of Deuteronomy. This week, Part 6: “The God Who Fights”.
Part 6: “The God Who Fights”
Loving Father, we thank you for this morning and we pray that as we come to your Word you would teach us what we know not, you would give to us what we have not and you would make us the people that we are not. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
I don’t know if you have heard before the story of an old lady who lives with her two sons and also a cat and, one son loves the cat, and one son hates the cat.
The son that loves the cat has to travel overseas. And so when he has been gone a few days he rings back and he says: ‘how’s the cat?’. And the brother answers and says ‘the cat is dead’.
The brother who is overseas says: why are you so insensitive, why have you put this so badly? Why didn’t you say to me – the cat was playing on the roof and then a couple of days later you could say – the cat injured its leg and then you could say a couple of days later – we took it to the Vet and then eventually the Vet had to gently put the cat down. Why are you so insensitive? Why are you so thoughtless?
Anyway – how’s mother? And he said “she is playing on the roof!
And I tell you that because I don’t really know whether there is an easy way to tell the message of Deuteronomy 20. And preaching this at the 8 o’clock service, I tell you seriously some people wouldn’t shake hands with me at the end of the sermon. Some people said they were glad they had come.
This is a very challenging chapter and we are travelling, driving fairly quickly through the Book of Deuteronomy and we come today to chapter 20. This is Moses preparing God’s people for the entry into the Promised Land. We know that they should have gone in about 40 years before but they refused to believe that it would work – to go in. They said this is not going to work. And God caused them to travel through the desert for 40 years – now they are on the verge of the entry into the Promised Land.
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Preparing People for War
This chapter is preparing people for war and I hope that you will remember as a result of this particular chapter and sermon that God is a God who fights.
He is not only a shepherd, He is not only a God of peace, But he is a God who fights. He fights against evil and he fights for his righteousness. And I don’t think as we have a series in Deuteronomy that we can really avoid this issue. I don’t think we can avoid this particular chapter. There is a sense in which reading this is always going to be painful. But I don’t us on the other hand to be embarrassed or apologetic about this chapter as if God has an unfortunate side to him – as if God has a skeleton in the closet or a weakness in his character. We must fix it in our mind that the Bible tells us he is perfect, he is holy, he is loving, he is patient, and he is powerful in ways that we could never imagine. And one day we will begin to see more clearly exactly how perfect he is but in his character and in his behaviour he is perfect.
So we should actually be in a strange way rejoicing in this great truth that he is at war with evil. There is one fictional person in the Universe because Superman and Spiderman and Batman, I presume are attempts of human fiction to create somebody who will appear to us to be dealing with the evil of the world but there is one non fictional person in the universe who can see evil for what it is and fight for its removal and not only fight against it but fight for his people.
We know on a small scale I think what it’s like to have somebody fight for us and somebody defends us. We say they are ‘in our corner’ – ‘they have gone in to bat for us’ and God fights for his people. We read that in chapter 20 verse 4.
Now I want to put the chapter in its context before we dive into it – especially in case there are some here today who are visiting or you are listening for the first time to this little series.
Deuteronomy is a book of preaching – Moses preaching to God’s people as they enter into the Promised Land and chapters 5-26 which is about 4/5th of the Book is one major sermon. And this sermon begins chapter 5 with the telling of the 10 Commandments again.
And then chapter 6-26 is the unpacking of what those Commandments will mean when you get into the Promised Land. So a couple of sermons ago we looked at what it will mean to keep the 1st and 2nd Command – to be devoted to God and to not be a worshipper of idols. And Moses says this means you will have to be very serious about your devotion to Him and you have to be very destructive when it comes to idols.
And then last sermon we looked at what it means to obey Commands No.3 and No.4 – taking his name, enjoying the Sabbath and Moses said you are going to have to be a very distinct and a very different people.
Now we come to really what is the exposition or the unpacking of Commandment No.6. It starts in chapter 19 where Moses begins to speak about ‘murder’ or ‘manslaughter’ and what to do. And then when we come to chapter 20 he begins to talk about ‘war’ which again is under Commandment No.6 and then when we get to Deuteronomy 21 he talks about what to do after a war. What to do when you find a corpse, what to do when you capture somebody.
So we are really under the umbrella of the 6th Commandment and I think it’s very important for us since this is the beginning of an invasion into the Promised Land that we deal with the invasion. And I want to do it this morning by dividing the chapter into 3 parts –
- First of all – verses 1-4 which is really God’s Fight with Evil
- Secondly – verses 5-18 we are going to think about How God is Fair in Dealing with People
- Thirdly – verses 19-20 (the strange verses that talk about trees) to show you that God is Far-Sighted.
God’s Fight with Evil
So first of all let’s look at Deuteronomy 20 and I am going to read again verses 1-4 –
“When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.
When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be faint-hearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them.
For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”
We need to realise that God’s people are on the verge of a serious war. They didn’t ask for this war. I can’t imagine any of them said ‘we would really like to be part of a battle where we might die’ but they belong to Yahweh and Yahweh has plans for them in the Promised Land. They’d have no land, they are without a land, and he has a land planned for them.
The questions that we are asking as we come to this is:
- why invade someone else’s land
- why would you see the occupants as enemies?
- Why be the aggressor?
- Is this not exactly what we condemn today when we see a nation invade another nation?
I hope you will ask these sort of questions. And the answer in a nutshell (and this demands a lot more thought and a lot more study) but in a nutshell this is a unique battle. This is a one-off never to be repeated historical event.
First of all, God is the owner of the land and he is the owner of the people and everything in the land.
Secondly, he has waited about 4 centuries to act. He has been patient for about 400 years. He said in Genesis 15 to Abraham “I will wait and I will wait and I will wait” – incredible patience.
Thirdly, he has let the nations in the Promised Land hear of him. All the nations have heard of him. They have all heard how he brought his people out of Egypt across the Red Sea. They have all heard what happenedd to the Egyptians. They have all heard what’s happening to the Israelites. Rahab in the Promised Land said ‘the whole of the country is trembling’ but not repenting – not responding and so these nations (they are effectively 7 nations) have made themselves God’s enemies. And because they are God’s enemies they are Israel’s enemies as well. And now the time has come.
So this is a unique invasion and you can see this if you look at verse 1 that Moses says “God who brought you out of Egypt will (implication) take you into Canaan” And look at the role of the priest (verse 2) The priest who handles the law – the Word of God – is going to step up in front of the army and is going to say ‘don’t fall into panic because God is with you and he will fight for you and he will give you victory’.
In other words this is not a gamble, this is not pot luck, I am not wishing you good luck, this is not your average army chaplain standing up and saying “let’s say a prayer – we don’t know how this will go, but let’s say a pray”. Not at all – this is a priest giving a promise – Canaan is going to be yours.
There is a plan for war in God’s world. And there is a place for war in God’s world. You remember that John the Baptist on one occasion had some soldiers come up to him and say ‘we want to repent, how should we repent?’ And he didn’t for a minute say ‘give up your job as a soldier’.
You remember that Jesus would deal occasionally with a centurion. It never occurred to him to say ‘become a pacifist’. There is a place for the army and Paul tells us in Romans chapter 13 that the government does not wield the sword for nothing. The government is expected to exercise protection and even punishment. But listen very carefully to this – a legitimate international war is not what’s happening in Deuteronomy 20.
This Deuteronomy 20 is:
- God at work for his Kingdom
- This is God at work for his plans, his purposes and his Kingdom
- He is now judging his enemies and it is a little preview of the judgement day
- He is blessing his people and it’s a little preview of the last day when they will go into glory.
Where do we see God fight today? Well we may see God bless or punish a nation – raising up good leadership, raising evil leadership. We may see God bless or punish an individual giving them success in the poles or failure in the poles, but in the end the Bible tells us that:
- God fights every minute of every day in every area of the whole of the universe for his glory and his purposes and his Kingdom and his people.
The greatest battle of all, believe it or not and you may find this hard to believe, the greatest battle of all took place on Calvary where the Son of God, the Ruler of the Universe, disarmed the principalities and the powers who stand behind national wars and international wars – he disarmed the principalities and the powers, changing the destiny of billions and that battle is the great battle of which all wars and all battles are just tiny symptoms.
And therefore there is a sense in which God who is a fighter for his purposes and a fighter against his non purposes could echo Deuteronomy 20, verses 1-4 to us today and say ‘as you go in the spiritual battle and as you go for the advancement of my glory and my kingdom and my will, I am with you and I will make sure that you are sustained and the victory is sure because God is a fighter for his purposes against his enemies’.
How God is Fair in Dealing with People
The second thing to look at this particular morning in Deuteronomy 20 verses 5-18 is what I have called God’s Fairness to Various People. And the first of these areas of fairness is his fairness to the troops – look at verse 5 – this is very humane treatment. And by the way Israel at this stage has no standing army, they have no mercenaries, they have no regular army, they have no professional army. This is just citizens being called to fight.
But the officer is to get up and he is provide freedom to leave. He can say to a person:
- Have you just built a house? Well free to go
- Have you just planted a vineyard? Feel free to leave
- Have you just got engaged? Feel free to go home
- Are you just plain frightened? Feel free to go home.
Why would God do this in the face of such a daunting prospect? And the answer is that he does it because of his goodness and he does it because of his power.
He does it because of his goodness because when they get into the land and fighting becomes very long drawn out thing – he actually wants his people to be enjoying the land. He has not called them so that they might just give their blood. He is not a God who is extracting the blood of his people. He has called them to enjoy the land. He wants them to enjoy the land. He is gracious.
And the second reason he would do this is because he is powerful. He is not threatened by fewer numbers. He can win the victory with exactly the right people – the willing people. And on a smaller scale this took place in the life of Gideon where Gideon cut back his soldiers to hundreds even though they were facing hundreds of thousands. In other words, God is good and powerful to his people.
Michael Reeves in a little Book on Prayer says in the middle of the Book – he says ‘I want to ask you the question as to why you are disinclined to draw near to God?’ Why is it, he says, in this little Book on Prayer do you (we) are disinclined to draw near to God? It’s a very good question. You might like to reflect on the reason, he says.
And part of the reason of course is that we are perverse and we don’t really want to spend time in prayer with God because if we spend time in prayer with God we have to do business with God and that means being 100% real with God and we would prefer to just say brief things and keep our distance – that’s our sinfulness.
But part of the reason we are not inclined to get near to God is also because of our faulty doctrine that we don’t quite get the goodness and we don’t quite get the power and therefore we need to keep being shaped by the Word.
But here, you see, God is good and powerful to the troops.
The second areas of fairness in where God is gracious to the cities (chapter 20 verse 10). These are the cities that are beyond the Promised Land because we know from chapter 19 that God was perhaps going to expand their borders and God says in chapter 20 verse 10 “when you are dealing with the cities beyond the Promised Land” – again in verse 15 ”the cities that are at a distance” make an offer of peace.
The first thing that you are to say to them is SHAL-OM – we offer you peace. It’s exactly like the Gospel of the New Testament in John 3 where Jesus says “I did not come to condemn but to save”. And the people of God in the Old Testament are to extend the message of peace.
If that is accepted they will begin to serve the people of Israel. If it is rejected, then the people of Israel are to begin a siege and when they begin a siege and they capture it means the death of the men and the capturing of the women, children and the livestock.
Now this sounds harsh to us but it is incredibly fair in the warfare of the time. Not every nation would offer an ‘out’ to troops. Not every nation would offer peace to neighbours. Not every nation would be kind to captives (if you turn to chapter 21 verse 13) you will see for example if a women is taken captive from battle she could not be abused in any way, she was to be given a month to settle, perhaps a month to grieve. Only after a month could a man take her as his wife.
And again this may seem speedy and rough to us but in the world of Canaan it was unheard of. The people of God would be patient and kind like their God. The pagan world of course would attack in a frenzy but Yahweh’s people were to go in his name and offer his peace and then they were to be obedient if the city refused and then they were to be self-controlled if there was a matter of captives. So this is God’s fairness to the neighbour cities.
But now we come to what are really the most difficult 3 verses in Deuteronomy 20. If the chapter itself is difficult – verses 16-18 are the most confronting section of all and I think it is meant to make us recoil. I don’t think that we are meant ever to get comfortable with these verses. I don’t think we are ever meant to read this and say ‘I don’t care’. There is meant to be a recoil as long as we read these verses.
But the cities we read of in verses 16-18 which refuse God in the Promised Land nobody was to be left alive. And the Old Testament records 3 cities that were taken like this – Jericho, Ai and Hazor. And even though verse 18 tells us that this was to remove the idolatry and the evil – in other words it was to remove the cancer for the health of the body – the fact of the matter is that actually what is happening is God’s people have become God’s instrument for God’s judgement. This is judgement brought forward and God’s people have become his instrument in the exercising of that judgement.
Now there is nothing to match this in the Old Testament. This is an invasion ordered by God. It’s very, very confronting. This is what unbelievers criticize and this is what many believers wish was not in their Bible.
One man said to me this morning, he said if I could cut that particular section out, I would. But we are meant as the Lord Jesus is our Master, to treat the Bible as he treated it and to be humbled before it. And the fact of the matter is that God’s judgement is alien to his nature – that is – it’s not glorious – he is glorified in his justice but Isaiah chapter 28 says
“it’s an alien task for him to exercise judgement”. Justice is an alien task although a responsible task for a parent to exercise discipline with children.
And Ezekiel chapter 18 says “the Lord says he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone”.
Lamentations chapter 3 says “he is unwilling to bring hardship on anybody”.
And before we criticize him and I am as careful as I can and perhaps as defensive as I can – we need to remember that in order to save people from judgement, he gave his own son to judgement.
Now I wonder whether this war idea could encourage you? I wonder if you could stand back from this and say ‘the God of the Bible who is so remarkable in love and patience and kindness is also a God who fights against evil’.
I’ve told you before that some years ago I interviewed Clifford Warne who was a great servant of the Lord – he brought the Gospel to television and radio and he was a member of our Congregation for many years and when he turned 70 about 12 years ago I interviewed him in my office with a little tape recorded. I remember saying to him towards the end of the interview – ‘what are you looking forward to now?’
And his answer, you may have heard me say this before, ‘I am looking forward to not having a sinful nature’. I thought of what a funny thing to say.
The longer you go on in the Christian life, the more you realize that your sinful nature dogs you and bugs you and there is some great reality and wisdom in what he said that he longs for the end of the sinful nature. And the reason I say this to you this morning is because evil in our hearts depresses us. We really do wonder, don’t we, how God can go on being as patient as he is and forgiving as he is and as mercifully as he is. The evil inside us bugs us! It depresses us! And the evil around us which is escalating and becoming more aggressive – it also depresses us! And the two are linked because the evil that is in the world is the product of a heart like mine.
Somebody has said the heart of every problem is the problem of every heart.
But God is at work for the eradication of evil.
Education is not going to do it.
The Police and the Army for all the will in the world are not going to eradicate evil.
God is going to do –
And just as we put soap into machines in order to start a cleansing process, God has started a cleansing process. He has made promises that the future will be righteous without evil. You can read about this in Isaiah 25 or 35. Just have a look at the window that he gives us in Isaiah 25 and 35 of what the future will look like.
And he sent his Son and we see in Jesus’ life dealing with evil and then we see in his death the disarming of evil and then we see in his resurrection the overcoming and he will finish the process or eradicating evil. This Deuteronomy should affect our sensitivities but it should also remind us that there is one who is at war with evil for righteousness and one day we will thank him and we will share in all the joy and all the Hallelujahs of Revelation 19, 20, 21 and 22.
God is Far-Sighted
Now I want to finish by just taking 60 seconds on the last two verses – God’s Far-sightedness where suddenly we get to the end of the chapter and there is some instruction on trees. What a strange end to the chapter as if the trees were suddenly the climax of the chapter. But how often a chapter in the Bible and especially in Deuteronomy I’ve noticed – finishes with a verse or an idea which is the key to the whole chapter. And these two unusual verses on trees are the key to the whole chapter. Because God is not elevating trees to greatness as a “greenie” – he says in verse 20 “you can cut them down for siege works if you need to” but he says “don’t destroy the fruit trees”.
Now why does he say this on a chapter on war? And the reason is because he is far-sighted. He is asking the question of his people – why would you destroy what will take years to grow? Why would you destroy what will feed you? This land, God is saying to his people, is for your blessing – war is a necessity for entry but my plans for you are that there would be plenty, quality and quantity.
And I wonder as you listen to this little verse or two about ‘trees’ whether you can stand back and see the whole Bible?
And I wonder whether you can hear an echo of the beginning of the Bible where God said ‘there are trees for you to enjoy’? And the man and the woman as we know turned their back on God and lost all the blessing.
And now God in his great patience and kindness is working again to bring people in for a land with ‘trees’.
And I wonder whether you can see a preview of the end of the Bible (Revelation 21:22) where we are told that in the new creation, which is going to be this world but all evil, sadness and sickness taken away, there will be the plenty of the trees, the fruit, the food, the quality and the quantity of the abundance – all that God, a good God would plan.
And so these unusual verses on ‘trees’ have an echo of the beginning which is ‘lost’ and they have a preview to the end which is ‘being found’ and it has been found if you can believe it through the tree that Christ died on. It’s HIS tree, crucified on the tree which enables God’s people to move from what has been lost to what will be found and God, you see, is interested in the blessing and the plenty, the far-sighted good of his people and that’s what these verses are teaching.
He fights, confronting but we should be thankful he is fair even in justice and he is far-sighted – interested beyond belief in the welfare of his people. So let’s thank him –
Let’s pray – Our gracious God, we bow before you this morning. We bow before this Word and we thank you that you have revealed yourself to be a God who is not only for peace for also for war – that you know what to pursue and you know what to remove.
We thank you that you are a God of great fairness, that you are merciful and just. We thank you that you are a God of far-sighted love and power – that you have planned for your people through your son something which is greater than we could ask or imagine.
We pray our gracious God that you would help us to walk with you in humble, faithful and joyful fellowship and we ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.