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Against Women in the Military

This report proposes to show that there is no Scriptural warrant, either stated or inferred, giving grounds for women to serve in the military.

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From 1996 Abstract, 250th Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States

This report proposes to show that there is no Scriptural warrant, either stated or inferred, giving grounds for women to serve in the military.

The Order of Creation
In the creation of woman, God clearly spells out the relationship in which the woman stands to the man. She is to be a "help meet" for him (Gen. 2:18). These words refer to the woman as the counterpart of the man, one who is "opposite" or "over against him." Adam had been working at his calling to dress and keep the garden and to give names [to] (i.e., classify) the animals before God made Eve as a helper for him (Gen. 2:15, 18-20). The woman is brought to the man by God to be his helper in his covenantal work of dominion (Gen. 1:26). As such, though there is a mutual dependence upon each other (1 Cor. 1:11), there is to be a subjection of the woman to the man (1 Cor. 11:9; Eph. 6:22; Col. 3:18). Prior to the fall of man into sin, the woman was led by the instinct of her created nature to this submission. After the fall, the former peaceful coalescence of the man and the woman had to be reinforced by positive law (Gen. 3:16) because of the inevitable collision of wills to which sin now exposed the woman. Therefore, by virtue of the creation order, the role of the woman is defined as that of a helper to man in his covenant calling. She is not called to be the primary agent in the dominion task, but is called to help in it in a subordinate role to the man.

The Bible describes the outworking of this role of the woman more specifically in terms of the home. She is the heart of the home. "Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table" (Ps. 128:3). The phrase "by the sides of thy house" speaks of the inner part of the house. The sense of the text here is that the woman leads a life that is entirely devoted to the happiness of her husband and family.

This is further borne out by Proverbs 31. In Proverbs 31:10-31, the virtuous woman is set forth as a very competent manager of household affairs and very capable of taking over her husband's business affairs, if the need should arise, freeing him for civil service (31:23). But even as her husband's help in business affairs she remains as the heart of the man's home (cf. also 1 Tim. 5:14; Tit. 2:4-5; 1 Pet. 3:1).

Clearly by order of creation, the role of the woman in the work of dominion is more directly related to the nurturing of children and the continuation of the covenant home than the calling of man is. To this her disposition is ably suited. Peter refers, in a similar vein, to the woman as the "weaker vessel" (1 Pet. 3:7). In her role as the heart of the home, a woman is to be protected. Her life is to be protected and preserved by the self-sacrifice of the man for her. His love toward her is a self-sacrificing love (Eph. 5:25) that is patterned after the self-sacrificing love of Christ for His bride, the church. As head of the home, the husband is to preserve and protect his own wife in specific. But this headship is also general as well. "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor. 11:3).

By implication, men in society ought to be self-sacrificing for the good and life of women. This is borne out in 1 Timothy 5:8 — "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (emphasis added). And again in Exodus 22:22-24 —"Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless."

Thus Jesus, just moments before His death upon the cross, takes the care to preserve and protect Mary, His mother, a task which He delegated to John and which John willingly undertook (Jn. 20:26, 27). Very clearly women in Scripture have special rights to be protected from harm and danger, rather than to be exposed to it, including the dangers of battle for which they, by calling, are unfit.

Moreover, the Bible is very clear on the distinctions to be maintained between men and women. Differences in dress (Dt. 22:5, see below) and differences in hair length (1 Cor. 11:14-15), reflect these distinctions. The Bible is also clear on how men and women are to be treated. Men are to be self-sacrificing for women. Thus it is a shame for the men of Israel to ask a woman to go to war with the army (Jud. 4:9, see below).

Clearly, in light of the foregoing, the order of creation calls the woman to be man's helper in his covenantal task. She is governmentally subordinate to the man and by calling, nature, and disposition ideally equipped to be the heart of the home. She is to be preserved and protected from harm, and the man is to be self-sacrificing to ensure that she is. One would, therefore, expect that she would never be called to military service, something borne out in what follows.

Those Mustered out for Military Service
In the period prior to the exodus from Egypt under Moses, there was no formal military organization among the covenant people. Up to that point any military endeavor was an ad hoc venture. The principal account of this kind of ad hoc military venture appears in Genesis 14. The kings of the vale of Siddim (v. 3) revolted from Chedorlaomer (v. 1, 4) under whose vassalship they had served thirteen years. The following year, Chedorlaomer, together with his allies (v. 5), came to punish the rebels, overpowered them and took the goods and victuals of the conquered and returned home (vv. 10, 11). Included in the captives was Abraham's nephew Lot (v. 12). In the account that follows there is a record of Abraham's ad hoc military expedition to recover Lot, an expedition that resulted in the recovery of all that was taken (vv. 13-16). Those Abraham mustered for the expedition were "trained servants" born in Abraham's house (v. 14). These were men practiced in arms. Women were not mustered to serve in this military venture, indicating adherence to the order of creation.

The order of creation calls the woman to be man's helper in his covenantal task. She is governmentally subordinate to the man and by calling, nature, and disposition ideally equipped to be the heart of the home.

In Exodus 7:4, God speaks to Moses concerning his commission to Pharaoh and speaks of those he will bring out of Egypt in terms of "armies": "But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments" (emphasis added). The Hebrew word saba, translated as "armies" has reference to an army of people. Elsewhere in the Old Covenant Scriptures the word refers to the "host" or armies of heaven (1 Kin. 22.19), celestial bodies (Dt. 4:19) or an arrayed army (Jud. 4:2). Here in Exodus 7:4, the reference is to an army of men who would leave Egypt organized (Ex. 6:26), able, equipped, and in full battle array (Ex. 13:18).

In the midst of giving Moses instructions for the erection of the Tabernacle, the construction of its furnishings, and the arraying and consecration of the priests to serve in the tabernacle, God instructs him to number all the men of Israel above the age of twenty for the purpose of collecting the atonement money (Ex. 30:11-16). The Hebrew word for "number" is paqad. This word frequently translated "to number" by the KJV translators means "to muster troops or ascertain available manpower." It is also used throughout the prophets to mean "visit" or "punish." It is not merely a census or counting up. The word "sum" (v. 12) speaks of counting. But the word "number" is a visitation by God to see who is on the Lord's side, who will stand in the army of the Lord. Those who pass over into the camp of the Lord are declaring themselves to be on the Lord's side. It is this same word that will be encountered frequently in the book of Numbers, a book that could well be renamed: The Book of the Mustering of the Army of the Lord. Clearly this muster took in only men twenty years and upwards. No women were mustered into the armies of Israel. Only men twenty years old and upwards were eligible to be soldiers. This male-only muster constituted the army through the wilderness wanderings, the period of the Judges, and up to and including the period of the monarchy.

Concerning dress, Deuteronomy 22:5 says, "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God." This text is commonly urged against cross-dressing (transvestitism) and rightly so. But there is more here than initially meets the eye. The phrase "that which pertaineth to a man" is translated "a man's things" by Keil-Delitzsch. This phrase, in turn, is from the Hebrew word keli which is a noun denoting equipment, containers, tools, etc., pertaining to or appropriate to a given service or occupation. By usage keli is applied to a variety of things. For example, a soldier's equipment (Jud. 18:16), baggage or carriage (1 Sam. 17:22), a musician's instrument (1 Chr. 15:16), a builder's tools (1 Kin. 6:7), jewels (Gen. 24:53) or vessels (2 Kin. 12:13), etc. Much depends on the context to determine what the word keli refers to. Military combat gear pertains to men only. In the Old Testament only men are mustered for war and wore combat gear. Combat military gear is not to be worn by women. A sanctified distinction is to be kept between the sexes.

The fact that Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (Jud. 4:17), was instrumental in the death of Sisera, a captain in the Canaanite army, does not argue for her presence in the army or on the battlefield contrary to the order of creation; rather, Sisera was slain when he fled from the battle to a place of relative safety (Jud. 4:11, 17). He was in fact killed by a woman in a domestic setting removed from the battle (Jud. 4:18-22).

Moreover Deborah's presence with the army (Jud. 4:8, 10; 5:15) was not as a military participant but as a prophetess who went with the commander of the army, Barak (Jud. 4:5, 14), because he refused to go without her (Jud. 4:8). She accompanied the army at the pleading of Barak but was not mustered or conscripted into it. Her presence with the army, contrary to the order of creation, was a shame unto the men of Israel (Jud. 4:9).

In summary, during the period from Moses to the monarchy, there is no direct Biblical precept including women in the military nor can this be justly inferred from an examination of those who were mustered and conscripted, and the casualty lists. Only men saw military service, in harmony with the order of creation.

No Biblical warrant expressed or inferred can be found that either authorizes or permits nations to conscript women into the military, or which authorizes or permits women to serve in combat roles.

With the advent of the monarchy there also arose the custom of maintaining a bodyguard for the king, which formed the nucleus of a standing army. Whereas under the period from Moses to the monarchy the military organization of Israel was a militia, now a standing army is formed under the kings. The forces of both Saul and David served as an active group of professional, first-response male soldiers. Initially there was nothing contrary to the nature of the military organization of Israel under God in this. But this soon changed under David.

In 1 Samuel 8, Samuel had predicted the results of Israel's rejection of God as King of Israel and its desire for a king like other nations (i.e., statism). Samuel predicted that such a king would form a standing army by drafting the sons of Israel into it. 1 Samuel 8:11 says, "And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you; He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots" (emphasis added).

Instead of a general muster and specific conscription, as had been the case from Moses to the monarchy, from the time of the monarchy on there would be an enforced draft with men being ordered from their homes into a professional standing army. But one thing was to remain the same: the army was to be composed of sons, not daughters. Daughters, under the monarchy, were drafted only for domestic duties (1 Sam. 8:13), not for military duty. They did serve "the state" but not as soldiers in the army. Thus, though, the monarchy moved more along the lines of the humanistic state, women did not serve in the military.

During the period in which our Lord was incarnate and during the period in which the New Covenant books were written, Israel lay under Roman occupation and served as vassals of Rome. However, the New Covenant Scriptures do say that under Herod's command there were "men of war" (Lk. 23:11), thus indicating that even under Roman occupation the army under Herod was composed, as it always had been throughout the Old Covenant period, of men.

The New Covenant references to a Christian as a soldier are used metaphorically of being a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough, this metaphor is applied only to Timothy, a man, in his labor as a minister of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3, 4; cf. also 1 Tim. 1:18). This indicates a consistent application of the Old Covenant Scriptures, that soldiers are men while women are the heart of the home (cf. 1 Tim. 5:14; Tit. 2:4. 5). This consistent application is not disturbed when in the book of Revelation the armies that accompany the Lord, who ride on white horses clothed in white linen, are identified in Revelation 17:14 as the "called, chosen and faithful"; in other words, Christians. If in this passage the armies of the Lord are comprised of both men and women seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), this symbolic representation of Christ overcoming His enemies cannot be applied to women serving in the military.

While much of this study has been drawn from the structure of the military under the Old Covenant economy, and while New Covenant believers are not bound to every particular of the Old Covenant military structure, there is an obligation to discern the wisdom given unto us in the Scriptures pertaining to it. We must not attempt to be wiser than God in the establishment of a godly culture and ignore the wisdom He gives, particularly as it pertains to the issue of women serving in the military. Your committee concludes that no Biblical warrant expressed or inferred can be found that either authorizes or permits nations to conscript women into the military, or which authorizes or permits women to serve in combat roles. On the contrary, just the opposite is warranted. Namely, that women are the heart of the home and their equipping disposition is in terms of that high and holy calling, a calling in which they are to be preserved and protected.