The Battle is Not Yours

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(This post is part of a series. For an introduction to the topic read, “How ought we read the Bible?” To see all posts in this topic, go to “Does the Bible really say that?”)

 

Some time ago I blogged on the following passage, so I thought this class would be a good opportunity to revisit my notes and even do a bit more research on it. Here’s the reference – let me know if any of you are familiar with it.

“…Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.” - 2 Chronicles 20:15 & 17

I blogged on this one because I had seen it on the web page of a fairly prominent ministry. I’ve heard the highlighted phrase countless times in my life, and it never quite made sense to me so I did some research to see what the author had in mind. I think the popular usage is out of line.

This passage is found in an account of God’s dealings with the people of Judah in the midst of war. I figured if this was a principle we are to take in all situations, we should see Judah and Israel doing the same, right? So let’s look at just a few examples of battles (since that’s the subject of the passage) about which God gave direction:

 


 

Passage: Numbers 14

Situation: People are grumbling against God about what the spies reported about the residents of the Promised Land

God’s instruction: You are wicked and faithless people. Go back into the wilderness where you will die.

What they did: Charged into battle where they were soundly defeated.

Lesson: God had an end in mind, and it did not include victory. Going against God’s will did not bring a very happy result. God said not to fight because they would lose the battle. They ignored him and died.

 


 

Passage: Joshua 6

Situation: After Moses died, God put Joshua in charge and said it was time to finish the conquest of the Promised Land.

God’s instruction: Follow my instructions carefully, and you will take Jericho.

What they did: They followed God’s commands precisely and Jericho fell just as God had said.

Lesson: God said to fight because they would win the battle. They followed his instructions and were victorious.


 

Passage: Judges 1

Situation: Joshua just died. The people are asking God who should go after Canaan now.

God’s instruction: Send Judah, for I have given him the land.

What they did: Charged into battle where they had incredible success against the Canaanites and others. However, they did not finish the job and allowed the surrendered Canaanites to live among them.

Lesson: God had an end in mind, and it was the victory of His people. This victory would be theirs if they fought for it. They mostly did what God said, but did not follow the instructions he had given. Again, going against God’s will – even if just a little – does not bring a very happy result. God said not to fight because they would lose the battle. They ignored him and died. God said to fight because they would win the battle. They followed him partially and had only partial victory.

 


 

Passage: 2 Chronicles 17-18

Situation: Jehoshaphat ruled Judah and followed God. God was pleased and brought Judah and Jehoshaphat much success. Surrounding kingdoms saw this and did not dare attack. Some years later, Jehoshaphat entered into a marriage treaty with Ahab (Israel). Ahab said, “Hey – let’s attack the Syrians in Ramoth-gilead together!” Jehoshaphat said, “Ummm….  Ok, but first let’s check with God.” Ahab called all the prophets he had on staff and asked. They said, “Definitely – you should do it. God will grant you victory.” Jehoshaphat said, “Are these all you got?” Ahab said, “well there’s this other guy, but he never gives me good news.” Jehoshaphat said, “Let’s check with him.”

God’s instruction: Micaiah came at Ahab’s request and said, “Your prophets are being deceived. Your army is going to be scattered. Don’t do it.”

What they did: Following his original desires, Ahab led the joint army into battle against the Syrians. True to prophecy, the northern army was scattered and Ahab was killed, but Jehoshaphat escaped. God told him that he was incredibly unhappy with Jehoshaphat, but he saw good in him. Jehoshaphat took this opportunity to get right with God and initiated a number of reforms in Judah.

Lesson: Despite being warned that 400 prophets were lying to him, Ahab proceeded to battle anyway. True to prophecy, Israel’s army fell and Ahab died. As always, going against God’s will brings failure. God said not to fight because they would lose the battle. They ignored him and died.

 


 

Passage: 2 Chronicles 17-18

Situation: Jehoshaphat ruled Judah and followed God. God was pleased and brought Judah and Jehoshaphat much success. Surrounding kingdoms saw this and did not dare attack. Some years later, Jehoshaphat entered into a marriage treaty with Ahab (Israel). Ahab said, “Hey – let’s attack the Syrians in Ramoth-gilead together!” Jehoshaphat said, “Ummm….  Ok, but first let’s check with God.” Ahab called all the prophets he had on staff and asked. They said, “Definitely – you should do it. God will grant you victory.” Jehoshaphat said, “Are these all you got?” Ahab said, “well there’s this other guy, but he never gives me good news.” Jehoshaphat said, “Let’s check with him.”

God’s instruction: Micaiah came at Ahab’s request and said, “Your prophets are being deceived. Your army is going to be scattered. Don’t do it.”

What they did: Following his original desires, Ahab led the joint army into battle against the Syrians. True to prophecy, the northern army was scattered and Ahab was killed, but Jehoshaphat escaped. God told him that he was incredibly unhappy with Jehoshaphat, but he saw good in him. Jehoshaphat took this opportunity to get right with God and initiated a number of reforms in Judah.

Lesson: Despite being warned that 400 prophets were lying to him, Ahab proceeded to battle anyway. True to prophecy, Israel’s army fell and Ahab died. As always, going against God’s will brings failure. God said not to fight because they would lose the battle. They ignored him and died.

 


 

Passage: 2 Chronicles 19-20

Situation: After learning his lesson with Ahab, Jehoshaphat returns to following God completely. After this, the Moabites and the Ammonites came to battle Judah. Jehoshaphat went to God and said, “Didn’t you promise this land to us? What gives?”

God’s instruction: God replied, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

What they did: Jehoshaphat led Judah to do exactly as God instructed.

Lesson: God said not to fight because he would win the battle for them. They obeyed him and were victorious.

 


 

These are just a few examples of battles between Jacob’s descendants and other nations. Do they prove out the notion that we ought to stand back and let God fight for us? Hardly! What do they prove? The circumstances are quite varied with respect to God’s instructions, Israel’s/Judah’s  actions, and the outcome of the battles. What is consistent is this:  when Israel did what God told them to do, the outcome was as God promised it would be.  Should this be any surprise? If God is omniscient and omnipotent, should it be surprising that following his instruction is the prudent thing to do?

Just as this mini-study has shown, the children of Israel didn't even hold to the suggested axiom “the battle is not yours but God's.” Why? Because God only said to do that in isolated instances. Just as we discussed in the first class, we should never read a bible verse apart from its context, and we should never presume something applies to us unless there is good reason to believe that to be the case. So… is there?

We’ve seen that even the children of Israel did not hold the belief that God would always fight on their behalf as they sat idly by. Is there any reason we should think that claim applies to us today? Let’s look at some concepts from the New Testament directed to the Christian church and see what we ought to expect.

  • Why would we put on the full armor (Eph 6) if we were never to fight?
  • What about Paul’s instructions to destroy arguments and lofty opinions (2 Cor 10)?
  • Why did Jesus say we would have trouble (Jn 16:33)?
  • Why did Jesus say to take his yoke (Mt 11:29)?
  • Why does Paul talk in terms of fighting the good fight (1 Tim 6:12)?

Numerous times, God explicitly told the Israelites to fight. While the battles we engage in today are not military confrontations, that doesn’t mean we are without struggle. All of us have to deal with sins like pride, lust, gluttony, and greed. Many of us struggle with various addictions. Some of our struggles are common to all mankind, some are due to our own sinful creativity, and some we have inherited in a sense. Regardless, they are all things we need to avoid or battle against in a manner of speaking. God absolutely is there to help us. But that doesn’t mean he will deliver us at conversion or by the recitation of some simple prayer. He certainly has the power to do so, but that is not his typical way of dealing with things. The “body of Christ” is the terminology used to describe the notion that we are all part of a larger whole – part of Christ. Through us, Jesus’ love is shown and his mission is completed. This earthly battle is not one in which we are to “Let Go and Let God.” Unlike Jehoshaphat, for us it would be irresponsible to presume that the battle is not ours. We can’t build theology on one verse. Especially when we impose the unbiblical notion of “claiming a promise”. Sometimes verses are not about us. But He has not left us alone and helpless. He gave us His word. He sent the Holy Spirit. He provided the church (check out all the “one another” verses!)  Quite often the battle is ours. And as always, the solution is not found in a bumper sticker, but in reading the whole Bible and coming to an understanding of God’s plan in community with other believers.