Study War No More
(1 Chronicles 20: 1-21: 5)
Growing up as a child in the 50s and 60s I watched a lot of war movies with only the fascination a young boy can have. The glory of battle and vanquishing the foe. I was a Civil War buff and my best vacation was when my parents took me to Gettysburg. The thousands of men in their uniforms with flags flying, drums beating and bugles blowing engaged in an epic three-day battle for the life of the nation. I liked WWI movies such as Sergeant York and anything to do with bi-plane dog fights. The WWII films were even more fascinating because I actually knew some men who had been in World War II, like my uncle Phil who was a crew member on a B-17 Flying Fortress bombing the Nazis into submission. Then I got a little older. In my teenage years, like when I was 16 in 1968, it began to get real. The older guys in my town started coming back from Vietnam. One, who had been in Scouts with me as a leader, was changed. He was really different. It was spooky. History was being made, we could watch the Vietnam War on tv every evening with reporters in the battle field reporting live. It didn’t look nearly as glamourous. Several years later, the war was still raging, and I wasn’t doing so good in college. My grandfather, who was a Methodist minister, informed me that he would take me to Canada before he sent another one of his boys off to war. He had previously sent his oldest son, Phil, off to fight in WWII and, now his two oldest grandsons were in the service. Jim was in the Army and was serving in Vietnam and Jack was in the Navy on some ship off the coast of Vietnam. I thanked my grandfather for his concern but told him Canada was not an option. My draft number, 188, was right in the middle of the pack and if it started getting close, I would pick my branch of the service. I had heard stories about the snakes in Vietnam, so I figured I could fly something, not realizing the North Vietnamese hated anything American with wings. Since then, I’ve read just about every book I can get my hands on regarding the wars in which America has been engaged, to learn more about not only what it was really like, but how we got embroiled in some of these conflicts to begin with. Some could have been avoided and others were inevitable.
Our scripture reading for this morning is a perfect example of our war-faring mentality. It starts out rather matter-of-factly by stating, In the spring, the time when kings go to war, Joab marched out with the army, destroyed the land of the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. Wow! It’s spring, time to go to war against somebody, anybody. According to my Study Bible, kings went out to battle following the spring harvest because the farm work had eased off and the armies could live off the land. So, during the winter, they plotted and planned future conquests. Then, when fair weather permitted it, their armies went to war.
So, in our reading, we learn that Joab attacked Rabbah and overthrew it. King David then shows up and takes the crown from the vanquished king’s head, finding that it weighed one kikkar of gold, was set with a valuable stone, and had it placed on his head. We are told the amount of loot David took from the city was huge. After removing the people who were in the city, David demolished the city with saws, iron picks, and axes, as he did to all the Ammonite cities. Then David and all his troops returned to Jerusalem until next spring.
In Chapter 21 we learn that David called for a census to be taken. He told Joab and the leaders of the people: Go throughout all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people so I know how many people there are. When Joab returned, he informed King David that there were 1,100,000 men available for military service in all Israel, while Judah alone had 470,000 men. David took this census to determine the size and strength of his army as he planned his next spring-time offensive. We’re not told that he did it in anticipation of an attack from a neighboring king or needed to mount a defense against some foreign invader. It wasn’t like the survival of God’s chosen people was at stake. In verse seven we are told that God was offended by this census. God could see what David was up to and it angered him because David forgot that his real strength came from God and not the size of his army or his military might.
The prophet Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 2: 4,5, He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. We don’t have to wait for the day of the Lord to come. We can start living in peace now.
So, where do we stand as United Methodists? Paragraph 165C of our Book of Discipline, War and Peace states: We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to work together to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them. We advocate the extension and strengthening of international treaties and institutions that provide a framework within the rule of law for responding to aggression, terrorism, and genocide. We believe that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
What struck me was the sentence that said; As disciples of Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict. Reconcilers of conflict should be at the top of our job descriptions as United Methodists, taking to heart what Jesus said in the Beatitudes when he said; Blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those among us who seek peace of God’s behalf.
As Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ, and United Methodists, we yearn for the day when there will be no more war and people will live together in peace and justice. We long for the days when we can lay down our swords and shields, the days when our weapons of war are turned into implements of peace, the days when we will study war no more.
Please pray with me.
Most merciful and loving Father, teach your ways of peace to your children. Bless us as those of your people who seek peace on your behalf. Remind us that we draw our strength from you. Move us to be reconcilers of conflict so that we can be examples of what it means to walk in the light of the Lord. We yearn for the day when nations will learn to live together in peace and justice, the days when using weapons of war to end disputes come to an end and when they study war no more. In the name of your precious son, the Prince of Peace, we pray, Amen.