Monday, June 3, 2024

God of Armies

There's no way around it - the Old Testament includes many narratives centered around warfare; it's no wonder, then, that the Israelites often referred to God as "Lord of Armies." 

Specifically, of course, they meant their army. 

This was not a unique belief in the ancient middle east region. Most people groups had at least one god they believed was responsible for their military prowess, victory or defeat, the size and skill of their army. Generally, it was a specific war-type god they worshiped, usually in a pantheon of other gods (their war god might not even be their primary god), but it was common for peoples to believe that their god, whoever it was, was in control of their army. 

Certainly, this might very well be what Israel meant by "Lord of Armies," but then, why is it plural? Why not just Lord of Army? Lord of Our Army? Lord of one Army?

Because the Israelites always recognized that the Lord has more than one army. 

He is responsible for Israel's army, which is one thing. Which is to be expected. We see Him credited with this again and again, in places like 1 Chronicles 12. "Every day the numbers of David's army increased...large in number and justified by God's will." Remember, it was God who prepared, then pared down, Gideon's army. It was God who gave Israel the battle plan at Jericho and the specific instructions at Ai. The Old Testament repeatedly reminds us that God controls Israel's army. 

But that little ellipsis in that verse, that little part I cut out, tells us something even more. In that little ellipsis, what the Bible says is that David's army increased "until it was as great as the army of God." 

Wait a minute. 

The Lord doesn't just have Israel's army? He's got His own, too? 

And of course, the Bible very well tells us this, too. When the angels with the flaming swords are placed at the entrance to the garden. When a warrior of the Lord stands in front of Balaam's donkey on the road. When the prophet is told to look out over what looks like a dangerous landscape littered with an invading people, and his eyes are opened to see the entire army of God on the hills - "those on our side are greater than those against us." 

Oh, yes, the Lord has His own army. And this is very important. 

Because at the very least, what it means is that the Lord who fights with us also fights for us, and He has the resources to do that. 

And it also means that God doesn't need us to fight all of His battles for Him; He has His own forces to do that. 

Aren't these two things good news? 

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