While in prayer for this message my mind kept flashing to my son Michael. You see, Michael is a Captain in the US Army and volunteered for a mission to the Middle East. He shipped out a few weeks ago for his 3rd deployment. Of course I prayed for his safety and tried to move on to the task at hand…what to write about? Then it hit me, maybe that’s what I’m supposed to write about!
So what does the Bible say about military service? Does it say anything?
The first example of military service is found in Genesis 14 when Lot, women, and other people and possessions were kidnapped and stolen. Abram gathered 318 trained men and defeated the four kings who kidnapped Lot. Here we see armed forces engaged in the noble task of rescuing and protecting the innocent. This first armed service was seen as praiseworthy by Melchizedek:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of Heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Genesis 14:19-20)
Later in Israel’s history Saul formed the first standing army once a centralized political system was established by Saul, David, and Solomon. (1 Samuel 13:2, 24:2, 26:2) David further expanded the army by hiring troops from other areas who were loyal to him. He also established the first commander turning over the job to Joab. Solomon added chariots and horsemen. All of these are seen as good developments.
In the New Testament, Jesus marvels at the Roman Centurion (in charge of 100 men) who approached Him asking for help healing a servant…but then the centurion said:
“Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. (Matthew 8:8-10, an amazing recognition of Christ’s Authority!)
It seems that many centurions mentioned in the NT are praised as Christian, God-fearing men of great character.
Today our armed forces should be just as valued as the centurions of the Bible. The occupation of soldier was highly respected then, and should be today. When Paul wants to describe a close friend and brother in Christ in a positive light, he calls Epaphroditus “my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier”, again emphasizing soldiers being held in high esteem. (Philippians 2:25).
And perhaps the most obvious example is in Ephesians with the description of strength in the Lord:
“Put on the full armor of God…Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)
So the Bible directly and indirectly references military service as a noble and positive endeavor, consistently given high regard. Of course, it makes perfect sense, since the job description of the soldier is basically John 15:13,
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”