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The Biblical Duty of the Militia

When foreign nations attacked Israel in the Old Testament, the men of Israel had more to fight for than “my country.”

  • Judd Wilson,
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When foreign nations attacked Israel in the Old Testament, the men of Israel had more to fight for than “my country.” It is true, as many commentators have noted, that God’s enemies wanted to destroy Israel for the sake of destroying the Messiah’s ancestors. This surely motivated the Israelites. But in utter rebellion against God, Israel’s enemies set out to do more than that. They were going to enslave, murder, rape, and rob God’s people. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, as well as the Biblical records of Israel’s sieges, wars, and exiles, make that clear. War meant that the lives and liberties of moms, dads, daughters, and sons in Israel were at stake.

Israel faced this crisis immediately upon leaving Egypt. Deuteronomy 25:17–19 says that the Amalekites “had no fear of God” as they “cut off all who were lagging behind” (NIV), which John Calvin and Matthew Henry tell us were the feeble and the infirm of the exodus procession. As the civil magistrate, Moses and the elders of the republic of Israel had the obligation to defend their people with the sword. Romans 13:3–4 tells us that this sword is borne by the civil government, which is God’s servant to commend those who do right and is “God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (NIV).

Faithful to do his duty, Exodus 17:9–10 and verse 13 tell us, “Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites’ … So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered … So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (NIV). The passage records how the Israelites prevailed whenever Moses held up his arms and that Aaron and Hur helped him do so until the battle was won. God used Moses to save His people.

But Providence also used an army to destroy the Amalekites that day. Without Joshua and his troops, the Israelites would have been slaughtered, plundered, and extinguished forever. So a question arises. Who were these heroes who rose up in defense of their kinsmen and nation? Who made up the companies and regiments of Joshua’s army? Who wielded the weapons of war against the enemies of God’s people? The answer is the militia. In the first chapter of the book of Numbers, God commands Moses to do the following:

Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army. (Numbers 1:2–3 NIV)

In the first volume of his Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry comments on these verses from Numbers, saying:

(1.) None were to be numbered but the males, and those only such as were fit for war. None under twenty years old; for, though some such might have bulk and strength enough for military service, yet, in compassion to their tender years, God would not have them put upon it to bear arms. (2.) Nor were any to be numbered who through age, or bodily infirmity, blindness, lameness, or chronical diseases, were unfit for war. The church being militant, those only are reputed the true members of it that have enlisted themselves soldiers of Jesus Christ; for our life, our Christian life, is a warfare. (3.) The account was to be taken according to their families, that it might not only be known how many they were, and what were their names, but of what tribe and family, or clan, nay, of what particular house every person was; or, reckoning it the muster of an army, to what regiment every man belonged, that he might know his place himself and the government might know where to find him.

Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language describes this group of people. A militia is defined as:

The body of soldiers in a state enrolled for discipline, but not engaged in actual service except in emergencies; as distinguished from regular troops, whose sole occupation is war or military service. The militia of a country are the able bodied men organized into companies, regiments and brigades, with officers of all grades, and required by law to attend military exercises on certain days only, but at other times left to pursue their usual occupations.

Previously, I wrote about our duty as Reformed men to defend ourselves and our families when attacked. I also wrote of our need to obtain knowledge and training to enable us to fulfill this duty. This chapter of Numbers, and other passages in the Bible, reveal that our duty of self-defense extends beyond the family. It is through the organized militia that God delivers His people from their belligerent foes. We therefore ought to study not only the skills needed to defend ourselves and our families, but the skills to enable us to defend our cities, states, or nations under the civil magistrate. I challenge Reformed men to consider how they may train and equip themselves, their families, and their neighbors to meet this Christian duty in their day.

  • Judd Wilson

Judd Wilson is a former military officer stationed in Japan, a former newspaper supervisor, a husband, and a father of two.

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