Chapter 9: National Defense
9.1 National Defense in a Free Society (Part 1)
It is now time to focus on some of the most vitally important topics in this project: the military, war, defense. It may seem odd to have left what is “vitally important” until near the end of the project. Remember, however, that this project prioritizes according to those things average people can most readily and extensively effect right now. While it also provides larger long-term goals which are perfectly relevant and highly important—which we can indeed work toward and would not for a moment be disappointed with any progress—it nevertheless begins with things like pulling your children from public schools, focusing on local politics, etc. This is also not to say that we believe no headway can be made in this area today, or that no practical steps for average people exist; this also is not true, as we shall see later.
Why do I say this topic is vitally important? Because in general, historically speaking, no tyranny can rule without military force. And conversely, when a central government can access a standing army, then not even long traditions or well-entrenched legal systems can prevent the tyrants’ whim. Further, such a military power soon grows intertwined with every other branch of tyranny which we have covered and will cover in the project: education, welfare, political power, special interests, taxation, money and banking, manufacturing and trade, courts, and of course the other Executive power functions. In turn, each of these becomes molded and shaped, and in some cases grows dependent upon a large, imperialistic, standing army. Thus, the lust for a standing army transforms the entire character of a nation from liberty to centralized nanny-state, as we shall further see in the second part of this topic.
While to today’s mind it presents a nearly radical picture, the biblical teaching on war and military are the only proper place to find foundations for the topic, “National defense in a free society.” Indeed, the biblical direction is so opposite from what we have known and come to accept as normal, that were it not God’s Own Word, many Americans would refuse even to tolerate hearing it for a second. But hear it we must, because change we must.
Preventing a Warfare State
That picture is found primarily in two passages of Deuteronomy: the laws for kings (Deut. 17), and the laws for warfare (Deut. 22). First, let us simply read the laws for kings, stated in Deuteronomy 17:14–20:
When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, “You shall never return that way again.” And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.
While not all of these criteria explicitly refer to the military, they are still proper to review here. First, the law stipulates that rulers should be “From among your brothers . . . not a foreigner.” In other words, to use a catch phrase commonly heard today, the ruler must be a “natural born citizen.” The U. S. Constitution exhibits this biblical idea, which was a response in part to the fact that King George III was not a native Brit, but of the German House of Hanover. Moreover, he had a alliance with continental banking interests, and when Parliament wished further to tax the American colonies, he remained indifferent to the Colonists he was sworn to defend. The U.S. Constitution returned to the pre-1066 Anglo-Danish standard of “kith and kin.” The word “King” is related to the English “kin” which has an ethnic reference. “Kith and kin” means “same country and family.” Without this quality among a leader, there cannot be any true loyalty to the people. And while this sounds like a side matter, it is not: a ruler who identifies with the people almost as a family will fight to defend them and their liberties. A ruler, however, without that loyalty will more likely be less interested in defense. It’s the difference which Jesus taught between the shepherd and the hireling:
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep (John 10:11–13).
Notice how the issue manifests especially in times of defense and protection, when the hireling’s own life or goods may be at risk.
The King’s self-interests can pervert society in other ways as well, and the law therefore forbids him to acquire three categories of things: horses, wives, and wealth. While it may not be apparent to the modern reader immediately, these three things all relate to foreign policy, the military, and war. First, horses. In those days, horses were an offensive weapon with great range and quick-strike ability; they were thus a means of military conquest. To acquire many horses was to have a standing cavalry ready for an expansive empire. God didn’t save His people to be a large War State. Horses were the favorite tool of a War State. There were other means sufficient for defense.
This also means in principle that God’s people, with their King, were not allowed to have a standing army. This does not mean they could not have a well-trained, well-prepared and ordered militia system, as we shall see; it means no permanent standing army. A standing army is a perpetual temptation for a king to impose his will by force somewhere, if not abroad in imperial conquest, then in tyranny upon the people at home—or both. This is the very reason God punished David for taking a census, which was the first step in raising an army (2 Sam. 24).1 For this sin of militarism, God plagued Israel.
The law against multiplying horses had a second part: forbidding the King from causing “the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’” This is, on its surface, a law against foreign arms exchanges, but it is much more. Two things stand out. First, the king is not to “cause” the people to do this act. The Hebrew verb “return” is specifically in the causative form: the King shall not cause them to return—that is, he shall not force them to return to Egypt. This is not a literal blanket prohibition against visiting or even migrating to Egypt (Jesus did so with his parents by divine prompting—Matt. 2:13ff.) Rather, this is speaking of the King forcing people into service, presumably as mercenaries or perhaps plain slaves for Egypt in exchange for horses. This is made clearer when we study the second aspect, God’s command that the people “shall never return that way again.” By “that way” God is not talking about the literal road to Egypt—again, Jesus’ flight to Egypt makes this understanding impossible. By “that way” God is speaking of the slavery involved in the people being forced into State servitude. How is this clear? Ironically, from something that is unclear: the verse clearly says that God told the Israelites this command: “since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’” Yet this command appears nowhere in the story of God’s people up to that point—indeed, it appears nowhere else in Scripture. We have no record of any prohibition of a return to Egypt like this, let alone a literal return. While it is possible God told them this beforehand and that revelation was not recorded, it makes much more sense if understood in reference to the slavery of Egypt. For in reference to slavery to a god-State like Egypt, God did give His people a general prohibition. It was given to all of them clearly and loudly:
And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:1–3).
This is the preamble to the Ten Commandments and the First Commandment. Here God makes it clear that His relationship to them as their God was one of a deliverance from a total State which was slavery. Egypt here is equated with slavery, and God brought them out of it. He subsequently commanded them to have no other God but Him—the God of liberation and deliverance. In other words, the people were not to return to the way of Egypt—in the judicial sense of the word.
This understanding is further increased when we read the sanctions of Deuteronomy 27 and 28, where God detailed the blessings Israel would enjoy if she remained faithful, as well as the curses the nation would suffer should they disobey. The very last sentence of the list of curses makes out point:
The LORD will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer (Deut. 28:68).
Should Israel disobey, they would be returned to the slavery of Egypt—not necessary literal Egypt, by the way (for when the nation did disobey, it was carried captive into Assyria and into Babylon), but certainly a physical bondage, even if self-imposed.
So the law against horses is, in its fullness, a law against offensive armies, standing armies, imperialism, and conscription all based in God condemnation of salvation by conquest, by man, and slavery. All of these things are manifestations of humanism and idolatry: man trusting man, man exalting man, man serving man, man being forced to serve man.
Second, the King was not allowed to have many wives. In today’s culture—where we have the strange mixture of a general repugnance of polygamy in conjunction with easy divorce and growing acceptance of homosexuality among politicians and leaders—it may be difficult to comprehend why a King should be prohibited many wives. But the reason is quite simple. In the ancient days—and really right up until modern times—Kings would engage in marriages as means of political alliances. Thus polygamy was often intertwined with foreign policy. Again we have an allegiance issue, just as with the requirement that the King come from among the people. If he is married to many foreign women, his heart is susceptible to compromise in favor of her people and against his. The same is true of multiple marriages (or women) even of his own people—there is in that case an increased competition for his heart, will, and capacities which detracts further from his ability to do his job as King. We see these problems develop in Solomon’s womanizing (1 Kings 11:1–4), and his “heart was not wholly true.”
Third, the King was also not allowed to have much money—that is, “excessive silver and gold.” This is a prohibition against a large public treasury, and certainly against a virtually infinite public treasury like the Federal Reserve. Again, this is about loyalty: a King with independent wealth can have a divided heart as he has no need for trust or dependence upon the people. The issue, however, more importantly is about power. A large treasury has the power to do just the opposite: to make large portions of the public dependent upon the government. It can also be used to buy those war toys and standing armies and to wage wars. In fact there is a powerful connection between money, power, and war. As Cicero said, “The sinews of war are infinite money.”2 God’s people were not to be a people of conquest; their King should not have the tools of conquest, including excess funds (and certainly not a central bank with fiat powers!).
The final verse of this passage tells us that the King is to make himself a personal copy of God’s law, and have his copy approved by the priesthood (for accuracy at least). He must read in that law daily, and most importantly obey it. In all of these things we see a King who is not a self-motivated, power-hungry leader, but rather a man first and foremost submitted to God’s Word. And that Word continues on to tell us exactly why that King should do so: so that he remains in the fear of God, with humility and equal station with his constituents, to preserve justice according to God’s law, and to maintain peace and prosperity in the land for the long-term.
The goal here is a State or civil society that is small, restricted by God’s law, not equipped for offensive conquest, with no standing army and thus not tempted to wars of imperialism, expansion, colonialism, or nation building; not having a large treasury and thus not capable of acting as a Welfare State or a Warfare State. It will have a public and constant emphasis on the ruler not having his heart lifted up above the people—thus, no elitism, and no sense of government being the highest leaders of every facet of life, for they are not messiahs or saviors of the people. They are there for civil justice according to God’s Law, only.
(Continued. . . . )
Next section: The military and war in a free society (2)
- Compare Num. 1:1–3 where numbering the people was in reference to those able to go forth to war. Numbers is the account of God’s holy army in its first days in the holy land.(↩)
- Quoted in John Brewer, The Sinews of Power: War, Money, and the English State, 1688–1783 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), v.(↩)