In an evil world, a community will sometimes need protection against an invading army. A temporary military leader is the biblical solution to this problem. Military leaders are only needed when there is a threat of war, so this is a temporary role (permanent military leaders are kings). If the people are loyal to God, threats will be rare, so a permanent army will not be needed.

Israel did not need a permanent military leader, because God had promised his protection. Moses and Joshua took the military leader role until Israel had conquered the promised land. No successor to Joshua was appointed; because the role was unnecessary once Israel was in the promised land. God has promised to protect his people and keep them safe from invasion.

Israel only had a need for a military leader when they lost God's protection by turning away from him. According to the book of Judges, this happened quite frequently. The people would become complacent and stop trusting in God. He would withdraw their protection and they would be invaded. When the nation repented, God would send them a military leader to rescue them from the invaders.

Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD's commands. Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshipping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways (Jud 2:17-19).
A king is a sub-optimal option. Israel wanted a king because they had become dissatisfied with judges, because they had lost God's protection so frequently, that they wanted permanent military protection.

Kings are dangerous, because most wars are started by political leaders (see Governments and War).

Choosing Military Leaders

In the scriptures, God raised up a new military leader whenever the people faced a new disaster. The people would recognise the new leader's military prowess and agree to follow him. The senior people in a community would sometimes make this choice (Jud 11:11).

The book of Judges gives many examples. Othniel was a nephew of Caleb, a man with a reputation for doing the right thing (Judges 3:9). He had helped Caleb to take his possession in Hebron (Judges 1:12,13). Ehud demonstrated guile and courage in killing an enemy king. Shamgar was recognised as a leader when he killed 600 Philistines with an ox goad. Often the military leader will be the person to recognise the threat.

Sometimes a leading prophet will identify the person who should command the troops in battle. Barak took up the role when Deborah the Prophet announced that God had anointed him to be a military leader.

In Old Testament times, physical strength, courage a fighting skill were the most important characteristic of a military leader. In modern times, tactical sense and strategic understanding will be more important. Strong leadership skills will be needed to hold a volunteer army together.

Calling an Army

When danger arrives, the military leader will call together an army. Once Ehud had established his credibility by killing an enemy king, he sounded a trumpet.

He blew a trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went down with him from the hills, with him leading them. "Follow me," he ordered, "for the LORD has given Moab, your enemy, into your hands. So they followed him down (Jud 3:27,28).

The sounding of the trumpet was a call to the people to come together and form an army. If the people did not recognise the leader's authority, they would not bother to respond. The people make a person into a military commander, by coming together in response to his call.

The people made him head and commander over them(Jud 11:11).

The trumpet is a "call to arms".

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms so that they too went up to meet them (Jud 6:34,35).

Gideon sent out an email when the Holy Spirit came upon him. A call to war should only be initiated by the Spirit.

Sometimes a prophet will call the armies together. Samuel made this call on one occasion (1 Sam 7:5-11). When the Philistines saw the people gathered they attacked, but God thundered and threw them into a panic. Israel had a great victory.

Local Units

The army will be built around military units be based in local communities called Tens and Hundreds. They might have a role in providing civil defence and fire services for their community. They could also get together at weekends to develop their skills. By training together, they will learn to trust each other. When the alarm is sounded, these men will come together and serve as a unit in the army. They will choose one of their members who is wise and trustworthy to be their officer.

The local communities that are affected by the military threat will hear the call and join together to defend their land. Connections between people will determine the shape of the army.

There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else (Judges 18:28).

The people of Dan had cut themselves off from their neighbours, so no one came to assist when trouble came. Maintaining relationships with the people in neighbouring districts will be important. If people know each other well or are connected by marriage, they are more likely to support those being attacked.

The leaders of the Tens and Hundreds would choose one of their members to command their company. This leader will have to keep the confidence of the various units that make up his company. If the leader fails, another leader may emerge in his place. The company leader will report to the overall military commander for orders. The army will be made up of local units (Tens and Hundreds), formed into companies (Thousands). Each company will have its own officers serving under the overall military commander.

Volunteer Armies

Service in the army will always be voluntary. When Gideon gathered his army, he sent home all those who were afraid or poorly trained (Judges 7:1-7). Only a small army is needed, if God is with it. Ensuring that God supports the war will be more important than getting a large army.

All soldiers must be volunteers. Anyone who is faint-hearted or afraid should not be forced to fight. People who are at a critical stage in their lives should not be forced into military service. For example, men who have recently married, started building a house or started a business should be freed from service, because they would not be focussed on the battle (Deut 20:5-9).

Most of the soldiers will be trained civilians who can be called up when a defence force is needed. As they have other interests, there will be no danger of them becoming over militant and fighting unnecessary wars. However, because they will be defending their families and friends, they will be highly motivated.

Depending on a volunteer army will change the nature of warfare. Military commanders will have to maintain the respect and loyalty of their troops. They will not be able to order thousands of men to their death in pointless attacks. If the soldiers stop trusting their commander they will be inclined to walk. If there is a risk of defeat, company officers will take their troops home to be with their families, rather than continue a foolish war. Their troops will be their friends, so they will be more loyal to them than to the military commander.

Private Security Guards

Some wealthy people will have private security guards will allow them to join the assembling army. An example is Abraham.

When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people(Gen 14:14-16).

This is a good example of a military leader in action. Abraham had 318 trained security guards to protect his possessions. When he heard that Lot and his household had been captured he immediately took action. He tracked down the captives and rescued Lot.

The 318 security guards were Abraham's employees. He had trained them to protect his flocks and herds from marauding bandits. He was able to use them as an army in battle. Esau is another example. He had 400 security guards to protect his property (Gen 33:1-3). The same could apply in the modern world. Private security guards might take an important role in the army called together to defend a nation from external attack.

Rules for military leaders

Deuteronomy outlines God's rules for the behaviour of kings.

Be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people Return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, "You are not to go back that way again. "He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold (Deut 17:15-17).

Since kings are a suboptimal option, these are really instructions for military leaders. There are several important principles.

  1. The military leader must be a local person, not be a foreigner. Giving military power to an outsider is dangerous because he will have mixed loyalties. He might use his power to subjugate those who appointed him as leader.

  2. A stock of offensive military weapons should not be accumulated. Horses and chariots were the main offensive weapon in Moses time. They were used when attacking a neighbouring nation, as they allowed soldiers to advance quickly. The role of the military leader is limited to defence, so he should not need offensive weapons. He should only build up weapons that can be used for the defence of the people.

  3. The military leader should not accumulate too much money. This will keep him loyal to the people he is defending. If he has large independent means he might be tempted to start military actions that are not supported by the people. He might also be tempted to plan the defence of the area in the way gives priority to his own property. If a military leader becomes too wealthy, he should step down an allow someone else to take over the role.

  4. A military commander must not have a large "standing army". An army that is constantly training for war is dangerous, because it might start looking for action. Professional soldiers might get bored with training and seek real action in unnecessary military adventures. A permanent army requires enormous resources that could be used for more productive purposes. The burden for these wasted resources will fall on ordinary people.

  5. The military leader must be a man of God. If a leader's heart turns astray, he is no longer suitable for the role. This next command recorded in Deuteronomy fives an antidote.

    He is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers (Deut 17:18-20).

    The military leader should study God's law every day, to love God and understand his commands.

  6. The military leader must not start to think that he is better than other people. If he has physical strength and military acumen, these are a gift from God. These gifts are not superior to the gifts that God has given other people. They are just different.

  7. If God is with a people who are being attacked by a foreign army, victory will come easy. A few of them will be able to drive a powerful attacker away.

    The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the LORD your God (Jos 23:9-11).

    An army of a few hundred can rout several thousands, if God is with them. Gideon defeated a large army of Midianites with just 300 men chosen by God (Jud 6:7:7).

Excessive Power

A military leader should also study the book of Judges. Christians are generally not very enthusiastic about this book, but it contains much of God's teaching about military leaders. Judges teaches that a military leader must not be given to much power. When Jephthah was appointed to lead the army, the people tried to make him their political leader as well.

The elders of Gilead said to him, "Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead." So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah (Jud 11:8,11).

This is a common mistake. The people of Gilead assumed that Jepthah would be a good political leader, because he was a successful military commander. He had been brought up by a group of adventurers, so he was a courageous fighter, but this experience made him unsuitable to be a political leader. The role assigned to a political leader must be clearly defined. He should not be given powers that he does not need. The military should not be given too much political power, as they have a tendency to use war to solve every problem.

Paying Military Leaders

Samuel warned the people of Israel that a king would be costly to maintain. The reason is that a king is a permanent military leader with the power to tax.

Military leaders are dangerous because they have control of powerful weapons. They have the means to impose their will on the people they are supposed to protect. If they also have the power to impose taxes, there are no limits their power. A misguided military leader could build a large empire without opposition.

Giving military leaders authority to levy taxes allows them to decide the level of military protection needed by a community. This is inappropriate because they will have a biased view of the value of the services to their citizens. The person providing a service cannot decide its value. Only the person receiving the service can decide its value.

Citizens are the only ones who can decide what value they put on military protection. Paul said that we should pay military leaders what they are owed, based on the value of what we have received (Rom 13:7). Citizens are the only ones who can decide what I owe to the military leaders.

If military leaders can decide what they are owed, they will become dangerous. They will tend to have an inflated view of their own importance and will demand more than they are worth. As military leaders have the power of the sword, they will be able to force people to pay what they believe is needed. This can only lead to tyranny.

The best way to limit the power of a military leader is to limit the resources they control. Just as payments to judges are voluntary, military leaders should not have authority to impose taxes.

Voluntary Payment

The best protection against tyranny is to make payments to military leader voluntary. They will then have to persuade citizens that their service is of value to them. In a peaceful situation, they may need to provide additional services, like civil defence and fire services to encourage people to support them.

The amount that people would be willing to pay for military protection would depend on the risk of invasion. If the nation were loyal to God, the risk would be quite low. If there was no permanent army, military protection would be quite cheap. Insurance companies might be prepared to pay some the cost of military protection, but it would still be a voluntary payment and not a compulsory levy.

Most people freely pay house insurance to get protection in case their house burns down. In the same way, most people would be willing to pay a military leader to provide defence against the threat of external attack. Some people would refuse to pay and freeload on those who did pay. We should not complain, because we are all freeloaders on Jesus salvation.

A military leader that is dependent on voluntary contributions will be forced to be a servant. If he got too big for his boots, his income would rapidly decline, so he would be forced to change his ways. Voluntary payments for military protection are the best protection against unruly military leaders.

Risks to a Peaceful Society

A peaceful community that relies on judges for justice would be a great place to live, so only a fool would not want to change it. Foolishness cannot be eliminated, so a wise community should think about risks to its peace. A community under the government of God will face three different risks.

  1. A foreign nation or government might try to invade the peaceful community. A temporary military leader to lead resistance is the best solution to this problem.

  2. A temporary military commander may try to become king and the people might be afraid to resist. The best solution to this problem is to limit payments to the military commander and ensure that all soldiers are volunteers. If the military leader is dependent on the community for his resources, they can desert him, if he gets too big for his boots.

  3. A criminal may become a predator and use his unjust gains to terrorise his community. If justice is effective, then offenders should be dealt with before they become hardened criminals preying on their communities. Prophets will have a role in warning against potential predators.

A free society that lives under God's law and good judges will be able to deal with all threats to its peace, provided people are alert to the dangers.