He never promised each warrior would survive.
- Teddy James
The question seems absurd, but it crossed my mind recently as I read Deuteronomy 20. In the chapter, God fills the role of Israel’s military general. The people are preparing to conquer the Promised Land, but God knows they will face many battles before the task is complete. It is to be the largest military action for the people of Israel at the time. They are outmanned, outmatched physically, and fighting on foreign soil.
None of these bode well for God’s people. They know this and so God gives them encouragement, saying, “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” (Deuteronomy 20:1, NIV).
After that encouragement, he says the officers will excuse certain men from the battles they face.
If a man has built a new house but has not dedicated it, he is excused from battle.
If a man has planted a vineyard but has not enjoyed its fruit, he is excused from battle.
If a man has betrothed a wife but has not taken her, he is excused from battle.
Why would God excuse these men from battle? Because if any man fitting such qualifications dies in battle, another man may live in his house, enjoy the fruit of his vineyard, or take his wife.
For some reason, I can’t image General Patton or General MacArthur telling a soldier during WWII that he could go home to dedicate his house, see his wife, or eat some grapes in an effort to prevent his death.
Commentaries are full of possible reasons God made these exceptions, but what I find most interesting is the fact that God promised the nation of Israel victory, but He did not promise personal or individual victories. While His presence and blessing guaranteed the people would conquer and possess the Promised Land, He never promised each warrior would survive.
As a practical application, God called these men into a battle in which their lives would be at stake. His calling on their lives may very possibly cost them their lives. Let that sink in for a moment. These men were willing to sacrifice everything to be a part of God’s story.
Because God is unchanging, we know that God may call us to a fight that will end in our death. That makes us uncomfortable for several reasons, the two biggest being that we don’t like the idea of dying and we see ourselves as too important to be a sacrifice.
And that is where we mess up. We are not the general. We are not the major; we are not even the lieutenant. We are the private following orders. Sometimes the orders are mundane and will not make historical headlines. Other times we receive orders to storm Normandy Beach. That requires courage, strength, and faith in the General giving orders.
It also requires a change in perspective. We realize our stories are not ultimate. We do not live for our own safety or preservation. We live to grow the Kingdom of God. We fight to bring God victory and glory. That is our aim, our purpose, our focus – no matter the cost.