I’ve been revisiting my Spiritual Warfare series of posts as I work on my next study guide about the Armor of God. While most of that series’ focus is on us fighting spiritual battles with God’s help, studying that topic also highlights a role God fills which I don’t think we talk about all that often. We often discuss the Lord as shepherd, priest, savior, king, deliverer, and much more. He’s also a warrior, but when was the last time you heard anyone quote Isaiah 63:1-6, where the Lord is dressed in garments stained red with the blood of those who opposed Him?
I suspect part of the reason we shy away from discussing verses like that is we’re not really sure what to do with them. I’m as much guilty of that as anyone else. Take, for example, God’s command that ancient Israel completely wipe out the inhabitants of the promised land when they went in to claim their inheritance. I understand that God is righteous in all He does and that His perspective is different than mine, and I know this is a command He was within His rights to give. I trust Him, but I still don’t want to think too much about the violence of that.
At the same time, knowing God can and does fight is strangely comforting. I want the Warrior God by my side when I read that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Eph. 6:12, NET). I can’t fight that on my own. Maybe knowing what kind of enemy we face and how helpless we’d be against it on our own is why so many Bible writers find the image of God as a warrior something to rejoice about.
The Warrior God
It’s a long passage when typed out in verse like this, but I want to quote the first part of Isaiah 63 so we can take a closer look at it together. While the violent imagery is probably the first thing we notice when reading this, I also want to notice the tone. How does the author want us to feel about this picture of God?
Who is this who comes from Edom,
with dyed garments from Bozrah?
Who is this who is glorious in his clothing,
marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I who speak in righteousness,
mighty to save.”
Why is your clothing red,
and your garments like him who treads in the wine vat?
“I have trodden the wine press alone.Isaiah 63:1-6, WEB
Of the peoples, no one was with me.
Yes, I trod them in my anger
and trampled them in my wrath.
Their lifeblood is sprinkled on my garments,
and I have stained all my clothing.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year of my redeemed has come.
I looked, and there was no one to help;
and I wondered that there was no one to uphold.
Therefore my own arm brought salvation to me.
My own wrath upheld me.
I trod down the peoples in my anger
and made them drunk in my wrath.
I poured their lifeblood out on the earth.”
Isaiah isn’t startled or horrified by the idea of God trampling His enemies in a winepress. He’s impressed. He uses words like, “glorious,” “greatness,” and “righteousness” to describe the Lord in this passage. When Yahweh is speaking, He talks of His vengeance and wrath as being connected to salvation and redemption.
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of God, but the Lord as a warrior is a solidly Biblical image. And, like everything else God is, His actions as Warrior are a good thing. There are many other passages that speak to this theme as well, particularly in songs praising the Lord for filling the role of warrior king. For example, after ancient Israel crossed the Red Sea and saw the Egyptian army destroyed, the song they sang started out like this:
“I will sing to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously.Exodus 15:1-3, WEB
He has thrown the horse and his rider into the sea.
Yah is my strength and song.
He has become my salvation.
This is my God, and I will praise him;
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
Yahweh is a man of war.
We’re probably far more familiar with “God of peace” as a title for Yahweh, but “man of war” is just as valid a description. That seems contradictory at first, but sometimes peace requires a warrior to maintain it. For example, Paul writes, “The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20, NET). There’s no disconnect for God to fill both roles.
Continuing this theme of exalting God as a Warrior, David praises “the King of glory” who is “Yahweh strong and mighty, Yahweh mighty in battle. … Yahweh of Armies is the King of glory!” (Ps. 24:8, 10, WEB). That’s a Messianic psalm, which means this mighty warrior God is the being we now know as Jesus Christ. This psalm isn’t an isolated passage. The sons of Korah also write a similar Messianic psalm:
My heart overflows with a noble theme.Psalm 45:1-7, WEB
I recite my verses for the king.
My tongue is like the pen of a skillful writer.
You are the most excellent of the sons of men.
Grace has anointed your lips,
therefore God has blessed you forever.
Strap your sword on your thigh, mighty one:
your splendor and your majesty.
In your majesty ride on victoriously on behalf of truth, humility, and righteousness.
Let your right hand display awesome deeds.
Your arrows are sharp.
The nations fall under you, with arrows in the heart of the king’s enemies.
Your throne, God, is forever and ever.
A scepter of equity is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness, and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.
Reading these messianic prophecies, it’s easy to understand why so many Jewish people of Jesus’s day were confused about why He wasn’t overthrowing the Romans and restoring the kingdom to Israel right then. Even the 11 apostles thought He might do that (Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6). They didn’t realize until later that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of a Messiah who would suffer for our sins in His first coming–winning victory in the spiritual battle against the devil–and that He’d return a second time with His warrior role more visible.
Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called “Faithful” and “True,” and with justice he judges and goes to war. His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself. He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is called the Word of God. The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful. He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: “King of kings and Lord of lords.”Revelation 19:11-16, NET
This sounds a lot like that passage where we started in Isaiah, doesn’t it? Here’s the King of kings and Lord of lords wearing a garment dipped in blood and treading the winepress of God’s wrath. This shouldn’t surprise us, knowing that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!” (Heb. 13:8, NET). He’s just as much a warrior today as He will be in the future and as He was in the past.
Making Warriors of Us
As we continue to walk with God, we learn more and more about the spiritual warfare that’s part of our Christian experience. When God called us to join His family, He also revealed our part in a grand metanarrative that spans creation’s history. There’s a battle going on in the spiritual realm between good and evil and we’re right in the thick of it. As a Warrior, God is perfectly capable of defending us. He also equips us to defend ourselves and to fight alongside Him.
Now I, Paul, appeal to you personally by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (I who am meek when present among you, but am full of courage toward you when away!)— now I ask that when I am present I may not have to be bold with the confidence that (I expect) I will dare to use against some who consider us to be behaving according to human standards. For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.2 Corinthians 10:1-5, NET
Here again we have this contrast between peace (in this case meekness and gentleness) and war. Paul is appealing to His readers using Jesus’s meek, gentle character in order to stir them up to fight. I think part of this seeming disconnect has to do with the way God fights. When God goes into battle, He does so from a standpoint of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness (Is. 11:5; 59:17). His warfare is consistent with the rest of His character, and ours should be too.
Paul told Timothy that in order to “fight the good fight,” he “must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:18-19). God equips us with weapons that are effective against spiritual enemies and even for taking our own thoughts captive as we wage war inside our own minds (Rom. 7:23). As we draw nearer to Him and learn more and more about who He truly is, we’ll be better equipped to face spiritual battles with the Warrior God at our side.
Featured image by azboomer from Pixabay
Song Recommendation: “Out of Bozrah” by The Lumbrosos (this video also shows a dance that goes with the song; I always loved dancing this one)