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The war we’re in

All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

When you read the Bible book of Joshua – as we’re doing at our 5pm services this term – you can’t help noticing that it is full of war. Page after page of the book is spattered with blood.

Not only does this make us queasy as we think about all those deaths, but we also find ourselves wondering what on earth this has to do with us. It seems so distant from our situation.

The answer might surprise us: if Joshua and his people had lost the war they were in, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. Moreover, Joshua’s battles were just one phase in a war which includes us.

It turns out that the whole Bible is the story of a conflict, in which God comes to save His people from the kingdom of darkness. All the way through, His purposes are opposed. Right at the beginning, war is engaged: God announces enmity between the serpent (a figure for the devil) and the woman’s offspring (His people) (Genesis 3:15).

God establishes a people for Himself by covenant with Abraham, through whom He promises to bring blessing to every nation. But God’s plans are opposed, and His people are never far from threat. There are moments when the line from Abraham is nearly cut off, and it looks as if both God’s people and His plans are to be annihilated. A further threat comes internally, when God’s people adopt the idols and practices of their pagan neighbours.

The war climaxes in the great defeat of the devil by the Son of God in His earthly coming, and takes a new shape as gospel workers leave geographical Israel to invade the wider world with Christ’s saving message. But still the church remains under attack from the same two forces: persecution and false teaching. This war is fought not with swords or guns, but the Word of God, compelled by love. And yet the ultimate enemy is the same: the devil and his hosts (Ephesians 6:12).

Now the relevance of Joshua’s battles (and the many others which dominate the Old Testament history) becomes clearer. The church is in a situation closer to Joshua’s than we might think. We are not in Switzerland but Ukraine. Gospel workers are – as Paul calls them – soldiers. We should expect the churches always to be opposed by the devil. Christian service will contain ups and downs, victories and defeats, terrible opposition and many trials.

So often, when such trials come, we find them surprising. Could one reason for our bafflement be that we’ve failed to take account of the great war in the Bible’s storyline?

The good news is, though, that this is a war which God will win. As we were reminded last Sunday, God proves all the bookmakers wrong!

And He will indeed have the victory: if you want to know how the war ends, read Revelation 19:11-21. In Him, we are on the winning side.

We continue in Joshua this Sunday at 5pm.