The Lord Is a Warrior, and That’s a Good Thing

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.

Image of four warrior riding toward a sunset, with text from Exodus 15:2-3, NET version: “The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.
This is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior—
the Lord is his name.”
Image by ha11ok from Pixabay

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.
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 63:1-6, WEB

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.
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.

Exodus 15:1-3, WEB

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.

Image of helmet and sword lying on a stone wall, with text from Psalm 24:7-8, WEB version: “Lift up your heads, you gates!
    Be lifted up, you everlasting doors,
    and the King of glory will come in.
Who is the King of glory?
    Yahweh strong and mighty,
    Yahweh mighty in battle.”
Image by ArtCoreStudios from Pixabay

Warrior Messiah

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.
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.

Psalm 45:1-7, WEB

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)

Overcome Evil With Go(o)d

There are a lot of terrible things in this world. If your phone isn’t letting you know about them in news story notifications or you don’t find out when watching TV, a quick Google search or a trip to a news website is all you need to realize the world’s not in a great place right now. As I write this, the homepage for BBC world news has stories telling us the UK and France are fighting over fishing rights, it’s impossible to estimate the death count in Sudan following a coup, global “battles” over climate change continue, and (earlier this week) China forced Amnesty International out of Hong Kong.

When we see stories like this we often feel overwhelmed–overwhelmed by a desire to help, or by the problem being so big it seems impossible to help, or by the sheer number of terrible things. We may think of the verse that tells us to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21), but wonder how we could possibly do enough good to overcome the evils of oppression, wars, persecution, slavery, famine, disease, and more.

Fighting the Evil One

I’ve written before about a little pocket devotional by Chris Tiegreen that I really like. On Day 232, he points out that evil is the result of “a relentless, malicious intelligence,” not simply an “abstract principle” or a “force in this world.” This observation comes straight out of scripture, and it’s accompanied by an interesting implication.

“When the Bible tells us to overcome evil with good, it is not speaking about abstracts. It means we are to overcome the evil one with the Good One.”

Tiegreen, p. 199

If we’re trying to overcome this world’s evil simply by doing good things in hope of tipping the scales so good outweighs bad, then it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed and burned out. We’d be trying to fight an enemy that’s out of our league without armor or backup. In order to be part of overcoming evil with good, we need to understand that overcoming doesn’t happen on our own. It means combatting an evil one with the power and support of the Good One.

You Have Overcome

When John writes to believers, he encourages them by saying, “you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:13-14, WEB). This is made possible by us staying in close relationship with Jesus, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world” by faith “that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5). This same Jesus told His followers, “In the world you have trouble; but cheer up! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, WEB). He has already proved He can overcome the evil in this world.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.

1 John 4:4, WEB

With God on our side, no power in the universe can stand against us (Rom. 8:31-39). That fact ought to humble us while also giving us confidence. Without God we have no hope of overcoming, but so long as we stay with Him there’s no risk of us failing. All that “extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor. 4:6-10, NET). The only possible outcome in the battle between good and evil is that, ultimately, the Good One will overcome the evil one. When the Father and Jesus dwell in us and we’re staying faithful to them, we can be overcomers as well. As Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, WEB).

Continue Overcoming with God

Paul reminds us several times that we’re part of a battle between good and evil. It’s not a battle we can–or should–try to fight alone. To do so would be foolish, especially when God is eager to fight alongside us and equip us for battle.

For 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. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:12-13, NET

The evil forces at work in this world are powerful and can seem overwhelming, but only when compared to us human beings on our own. God’s power totally eclipses anything the evil one can do and He is already giving us victory through Jesus (Rom. 8:37; 1 Cor. 15:57). It is His power and His love for us which enables us to overcome the forces of evil during spiritual battles. It is also His power which enables us to combat evils we deal with on a personal, day-to-day level.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:18-21, NET

Though we’re part of a large, cosmic-scale fight against evil, we also deal with it on a personal level as well. Part of overcoming the evil one with the Good One involves choosing peace and goodness in our actions. We might not be able to stop others from doing evil, but we can choose not to contribute to the wickedness of the world. By aligning ourselves with God and choosing to act according to His goodness, we fight against evil getting a foothold in our lives. And we do make the world a little bit brighter by shining Jesus’s light into dark situations.

Featured image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “I just need U” by TobyMac

A Story of Battle And Victory

Once upon a time, a great King and Prince decided to they didn’t want to be alone anymore. There were other beings in their realm, but none like them. No one else to share their love and unity with, at least not in the way they longed for. So they came up with a plan. They created a beautiful garden and from the earth they molded living, breathing people patterned after their own image. They wanted these people to be their companions, but not as servants or slaves, and that meant the people had to be given free will. They would need the opportunity to choose the King and Prince just as the King and Prince chose to want them.

But there was an evil force at work. One of the other beings, prideful and jealous of the King, led a revolt and became the Adversary. And as Adversary, he made it his goal to thwart the King’s plan, including the great plan to grow his family. The Adversary was not powerful enough to destroy the King. But he knew if he could kill these new people who the King wanted to become his children he would have his revenge.

When tempted by the Adversary, the King’s new creation fell into his lie. They chose a path that led away from the king their Father and the Prince their brother. And that choice changed the battle field between the King and Prince and the Adversary. Now they fought over the fate of the King’s children.

The King and Prince weren’t caught off-guard by the Adversary, though. They already had a plan, but it seemed a strange sort of plan for going into battle. Rather than using force to get the King’s children back they used love. The Prince came as a suitor asking for his adopted sister’s hand in marriage. And some of the people made a covenant with him, but there was still a death penalty hanging over their heads. The Adversary had talked them all into breaking the King’s law and someone had to pay the price justice demanded. So that’s what the Prince did, leaving his kingdom and making himself vulnerable on the battlefield.

The Adversary threw everything he had against the Prince, but he didn’t win. The Prince conquered the Adversary personally and then gave his own life to pay the penalty hanging over his beloved’s head. In doing so he sealed the ultimate victory. The Adversary keeps fighting though, trying to destroy as many people as he can before his time is up.

But even though the Adversary is still doing damage in the world, the King is holding off on the final battle. He wants to get as many people as possible on his side because he knows if they don’t accept the victory he and the Prince already won that they’ll take part in the Adversary’s defeat. And his goal all along was to make every single person part of His family. He’s not giving up on reaching as many of them as he can. So he keeps calling people to join in following the Prince as the Adversary keeps trying to yank them away.

A Story of Battle And Victory | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Ruby-Rose via Lightstock

Called To Fight

That is the situation we’re called into today when we begin a walk as Christians. Our Prince, brother, and rescuing lover Jesus has achieved victory. But His people here on earth are still fighting the Adversary Satan, waiting for the final battle to end all this. Read more

Praying At All Times

We’ve spent the last nine weeks looking at the famous Armor of God passage in Ephesians. There are six pieces of armor named there: the Girdle of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Footwear of the Gospel, the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit. Those six character traits and spiritual items are where most lists stop, since they’re the ones compared to physical pieces of armor. But there’s a seventh item on the list.

with all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the Spirit, and to this end being alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Eph. 6:18, LEB)

All the armor must be put on and used with prayer. In this context, we can see prayer either as the connective tissue buckling the other armor on us or as a necessity before and when using the armor (or both). Whether you count prayer as a piece of armor or not, it’s clear that praying is essential when going into a battle we want God to fight for and with us.

Praying At All Times | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Ben White via StockSnap

Prayer Before Battle

As with the six pieces of armor listed earlier, we have examples of prayer being used in physical battles as well as spiritual ones. People of God have always recognized that even when facing physical enemies there’s a more important spiritual side to the battle. And it’s the Lord of Hosts who determines the outcome.

Three righteous kings left us records of their prayers before battle. Asa prayed when facing “an army of a thousand thousands” (2 Chr. 14:9-12), Jehoshaphat when facing “a great multitude” of Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chr. 20:1-29), and Hezekiah when threatened by a powerful Assyrian army (Is. 37:8-38).

In all three cases, God answered with a powerful victory. “Yahweh defeated the Cushites before Asa” and his army (2 Chr. 14:12, LEB). The Lord sent Jehoshaphat and his men armored into battle, but did all the fighting Himself (2 Chr. 20:16-29). And Hezekiah woke up one morning to find his enemy struck dead outside (Is. 37:36-37). Clearly, prayer is an effective battle strategy for those following God and fighting against His enemies. Read more

Sword Of The Spirit

Thus far, the armor of God we’ve been studying has all been defensive. The girdle, breastplate, footwear, shield, and helmet all protect us. They’re essential in battle, but they’re not something we can use to attack and (with the exception of the shield) they’re not actively defensive either. This next piece of armor, though, is a weapon.

receive … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17, LEB)

Paul tells us exactly what we’re given as the only weapon included in this Armor of God. It’s called the Sword of the Spirit and it is the Word of God. Now it’s up to us to learn how to use the word as a sword.

Sword Of The Spirit | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Paul Kitchener via Flickr

Avoiding Word Confusion

There are two words in Greek for “word,” and we have to start by defining them if we want to avoid confusion. Just looking at the English, we would connect Eph. 6:17 with Heb. 4:12, which says, “the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit” (WEB). But these versus aren’t talking about the same thing.

In Hebrews, it’s talking about the logos (G3056). This word refers to a spoken word of intelligence, and it’s what’s used as a name for Jesus in John 1:1, 14. Reading on in Hebrews makes it clear that He’s being talked about in this passage as well (Heb. 4:13-16).

In Ephesians, on the other hand, the word is rhema (G4487). It refers to the spoken or written sayings of God, but isn’t used as a title for the speaker. So in Hebrews, the Word as a sword refers to Jesus cutting into people’s spirits and knowing them deeply. Ephesians is talking about wielding the word, or scriptures, of God as a weapon. Read more

Helmet of Salvation

No set of armor would be complete without something to protect your head. In our study of Ephesians 6, we’ve already taken up the Girdle of Truth, Breastplate of Righteousness, Footwear of the Gospel, and the Shield of Faith. Now Paul adds,

and receive the helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17, LEB)

Just a short phrase in this list, but it’s an incredibly powerful piece of armor. As every Christian knows, salvation is one of the core tenants of our faith. We wouldn’t be here without Jesus dying to save us and continuing to work on bringing His followers into the family of God. But usually we think of salvation as something we’re given, like grace, rather than something that we keep carrying around as part of our armor. So let’s take a look at the idea of salvation in that context.

Helmet of Salvation | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Thomas Quine via Flickr

A Helmet On God’s Head

One of the most interesting things about the Helmet of Salvation is that it’s one of the armor pieces that God Himself wears. We referenced the verse about God’s helmet a few weeks ago when talking about the Breastplate of Righteousness. It reads,

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head. He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a mantle. (Is. 59:17, WEB)

When we’re told, “receive the helmet of salvation,” we’re being given a piece of armor identical to one that God has worn on His own head. “Salvation belongs to Yahweh,” which gives Him the absolute right to wear it as a helmet and to share it with whomever He wills (Ps. 5:8, WEB). Read more