Escalation

The Israelites crossing of the Jordan River initiated a series of military conflicts that escalated over time. At first, the people of Canaan hunkered down and waited for the Israelites to attack them (Joshua 6:1), but as time went on, the kings of the nations joined forces and waged war against Israel (Joshua 9:1-2). Joshua 11:1-5 tells us:

When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

Joshua described the armies that were coming together to fight against Israel as “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4). We know that Joshua was afraid because the LORD said to him, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel” (Joshua 11:6).

Joshua and all his warriors came against the great horde that was encamped against them suddenly and fell upon them (Joshua 11:7). The way that Joshua dealt with the situation was to launch an immediate attack with the intention of overthrowing his enemies as quickly as possible. His strategy was consistent with the message he received from the LORD, indicating that Joshua believed what the LORD had told him. “And the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. And Joshua did to them just as the LORD said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire. And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 8-10). Unlike the battle of Jericho, the Israelites had to engage in hand to hand combat when they attacked the great horde that came up against them in order to overthrow their enemies. The key thing to note was that even though their opponents’ army was “in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4), “they struck them until he left none remaining” (Joshua 11:8). Afterward, there was no one left in the enemy’s army.

The relief that the Israelites felt as a result of the great horde of soldiers being completely wiped out is captured in Psalm 149. It states:

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
    let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
    making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
    he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
    let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
    and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
    and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
    and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written!
    This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the Lord!

The Israelites’ excitement caused them to want to spontaneously praise the LORD, sing to the LORD, be glad, dance, and make melodies to him with their musical instruments. The people of Israel were literally overjoyed because of the great victory they had gained over their enemies.

A statement that is made in the middle of Psalm 149 emphasizes the connection between warfare and worship of God. Psalms 149:6 states, “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands.” The word of God is likened to a two-edged sword in Hebrews 4:12, which states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The writer of Hebrews went on to connect God’s word with judgment by stating, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). The two-edged sword is also used symbolically in the book of Revelation to depict Christ’s gospel (Revelation 1:16). It says in Revelation 19:15 that Christ’s sword will be used to “strike down the nations.” With this in mind, it seems that Psalm 149:6 might by referring to spiritual warfare rather than physical warfare, but it is more than likely both. The psalmist continued, “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 149:6-9). These verses correlate with God’s stated purpose for the Israelites entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 9:4-6) and the outcome of the Israelites’ battles with the armies of the northern kingdoms (11:16-20). The final statement, “This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 149:9) indicates that our desire to praise God is linked to the effect that a victory over our enemies has on us personally.

God’s use of his saints to execute judgment on the people of the world that had rejected him is said to have resulted in “honor for all his godly ones” (Psalm 149:9). The Hebrew word that is translated honor in Psalm 149:9, hadar (haw-dawrˊ) means “magnificence” and is a counterpart to Hebrew words for “glory” and “dignity.” “Thus hadar means not so much overwhelming beauty as a combination of physical attractiveness and social position” (H1926). One of the things that honor is associated with in the Bible is weight. The Hebrew word kabed (kaw-badeˊ) means “to be heavy” (H3513) and is translated honor in the Fifth Commandment which states, “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). The idea behind the Bible’s concept of honor was likely precious metals which were valued by their weight and were an indicator of wealth. Therefore, the more honor a person received, the heavier he was considered to be from a measurement perspective.

Psalm 149:4 explains that the way God bestows honor on his people is through salvation. It states, “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he adorns the humble with salvation.” The Hebrew word that is translated adorns, paʾar (pawˊ-ar) means to beautify or to embellish. In a figurative sense paʾar can mean “to boast” (H6286). Salvation was initially a way for God to differentiate between the Israelites, his chosen people, and everyone else. God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was considered to be salvation in a similar way to what we think of it because it kept the descendants of Jacob from becoming extinct as a people group. “’Salvation’ in the Old Testament is not understood as a salvation from sin, since the word denotes broadly anything from which ‘deliverance’ must be sought: distress, war, servitude, or enemies…The worst reproach that could be made against a person was that God did not come to his rescue” (H3444). The fact that God adorns only the humble with salvation has to do with the way that he works in people’s lives. The primary root of the Hebrew word that is translated humble is ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) which means “to be afflicted, be bowed down, be humbled, be meek…Frequently the verb expresses the idea that God sends affliction for disciplinary purposes” (H6031). ʿAnah is identical with ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) which is properly translated as “to eye or (generally) to heed, i.e. pay attention; by implication to respond; by extension to begin to speak; specifically to sing, shout, testify, announce” (H6030).

God often escalates the conflict or affliction in our lives in order to draw us closer to him. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul spoke of an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison that believers are being prepared for through affliction. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated glory, doxa (doxˊ-ah) is where the English word doxology comes from. “Doxa, ‘glory’ primarily signifies an opinion, estimate, and hence, the honor resulting from a good opinion” (G1391). An example of this expression is the saying, “He’s worth his weight in gold.” “This refers to a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something. A person’s doxa (G1391) may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error [except when used of Jesus]. It always signifies a subjective estimate of a thing, not the objective appearance and qualities the thing actually possesses” (G1380). The point that Paul was likely trying to make when he said that our eternal weight of glory would be beyond all comparison was that our reputation in heaven would be blown way out of proportion, extremely overstated, compared to our actual accomplishments on earth, because of God’s grace and mercy in our lives (2 Corinthians 4:15).

Joshua 11:21-23 tells us:

And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

Joshua was credited with cutting off the Anakim from the hill country and taking the whole land even though he likely had little to no direct involvement in determining these outcomes. When the situation escalated and a great horde of troops encamped to fight against Israel (Joshua 11:4-5), the LORD told Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel” (Joshua 11:6). The LORD indicated that he would give over all of them, slain, to Israel. In other words, the LORD was going to kill everyone and then, transfer possession of the dead bodies from his army to Joshua’s, so that, essentially, Joshua didn’t have to do anything except show up for the battle. Afterward, Joshua recorded, “And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan…in all, thirty-one kings” (Joshua 12:7-24). The reason why Joshua was able to take credit for the defeat of the thirty-one kings on the west side of the Jordan was because his army was present when the LORD’s spiritual battles were taking place.

The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into what will take place when the world’s rebellion against God escalates into a final conflict referred to as the battle of Armageddon. Similar to the war between Israel’s army and the kingdoms of the north, the kings of the earth and their armies will gather together to fight against the LORD. The scene begins with the entrance of a rider on a white horse. John says:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21)

We know the rider on the white horse is Jesus because he is called “The Word of God” and “He is clothed in a robe dipped inblood” (Revelation 19:13). At this point, Jesus has returned to earth in his resurrected body and brings with him the armies of heaven who are “arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” (Revelation 19:14). “Their robes of white indicate this to be the redeemed church—bride of Christ—returning in triumph with her heavenly Bridegroom (cf. 19:8; 17:14)” (note on Revelation 19:14, KJSB), who are prepared to fight with the Lord.

The most interesting thing about the battle of Armageddon is that no fighting actually takes place. John’s account of the battle indicates that the beast and the false prophet “were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse” (Revelation 19:20-21). The Word of God, Jesus was able to kill outright those who were gathered to make war against him. Zechariah’s prophecy provides more detail about what happens to the people that are slain. Zechariah states, “And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh shall rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths” (Zechariah 14:12). Zechariah describes what happens as a plague and says that their flesh, eyes, and tongue will rot away. The Hebrew word that is translated rot, maqaq (maw-kakˊ) means “to melt; figuratively to flow, dwindle, vanish” (H4743). The power that is displayed by the Word of God (Jesus) is His ability to dissolve that which exists in the material world.

The LORD’s instruction to Joshua when he was confronted by a great horde of troops that was “in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4) was “Do not be afraid of them” (Joshua 11:6). “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Proverbs 23:17-18 provides an explanation of why Joshua’s trust needed to remain in the LORD when the situation he was dealing with escalated to the point that he was willing to accept defeat. It states:

Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

In this instance, the phrase all the day has to do with a period of time of unspecified duration (H3117). It could be an entire lifetime or a season of testing or the length of a specific trial you are going through. The Hebrew word that is translated future, ʾachariyth (akh-ar-eethˊ) means “the last or end” and may refer to the outcome of something (H319). The statement “your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18) is intended to reflect God’s involvement in the lives of believers. Hope is an important aspect of faith or believing in Christ. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV). The Hebrew word that is translated hope in Proverbs 23:18, tiqvâh (tik-vawˊ) literally means “a cord (as an attachment)” (H8615) and is comparable to the word qaveh (kaw-vehˊ) which refers to “a (measuring) cord (as if for binding)” (H6961). Figuratively, tiqvâh is used to refer to expectancy in the sense that you are attached to an outcome and you believe that it is only a matter of time until you achieve it. In Jacob’s case, God told him “tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel.” Joshua had to adjust his thinking and do his part in order for this to happen. Joshua 11:7-8 tells us, “So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. And the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining.”

Last chance

Many of the Old Testament prophets talked about the LORD’s judgment of Israel and the surrounding nations that had caused her to brake her covenant with God. In particular, Isaiah portrayed “the day of the LORD” as a time period when the earth would be turned upside down and Jerusalem “ruined” because of her rebellion against the LORD (Isaiah 2-3). Isaiah’s prophecy included a parable of the vineyard that expressed God’s disappointment with the nation of Israel and indicated he would judge them along with the other nations of the world. He said, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down, and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned or digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (Isaiah 5:4-6).

Jesus told a similar parable after his authority was challenged by the chief priests and elders of the people of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:33-44) and then he went on to talk about a marriage dinner for the king’s son (Matthew 22:2-14). Both of these parables seem to coincide with the events that take place in the final chapters of the book of Revelation. After the second beast forces everyone “to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name,” John recorded, “And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harps harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts and elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:1-3).

The 144,000 people that were redeemed from the earth are identified in Revelation 7:5-8 as being 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel that were sealed as servants of God. These people are not Christians, but are described by John as virgins that are the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). Although these individuals are referred to as saints and they keep the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:12), they are not born again, but have apparently obtained salvation through supernatural obedience to God’s word (Revelation 14:5). John said, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13). The purpose of these saints seems to be to stand by the Lord as he confronts Satan’s unholy trinity. The saints do not preach the gospel or try to convert unbelievers. The world’s last chance to hear the gospel is by means of the heavenly proclamation of an angel. John said, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of the waters” (Revelation 14:6-7).

The primary objective of God pouring out his wrath on the earth is to purge Israel from the sins that have been committed in and through her. The 144,000 Jews that are sealed by God at the start of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:4) may represent the remnant that God promised to save (Isaiah 10:20-21). Isaiah prophesied, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing” (Isaiah 10:27). The Hebrew word translated anointing, shemem represents the type of olive oil that is used to anoint a memorial or a future office bearer (H8081). Jacob used shemem when he set up a pillar and poured oil on top of it at the location where he discovered the “house of God” (Genesis 28:17-18). After the first angel proclaims the everlasting gospel (Revelation 14:6), another angel follows, saying, “Babylon is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:8-10).

The last chance that God gives the world to avoid his wrath might be somewhat like giving a man that is about to jump off a bridge and kill himself a chance to turn over a new leaf; his mental state is too deranged to accept such an offer. Instead, there will be a great harvest of unbelief that will trigger God’s final judgment of the nations (Revelation 4:14-20). The prophet Joel described this scene by stating: “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:12-14). After the final call to repentance was given, John recorded, “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God…And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth” (Revelation 15:1, 16:1).

Just before the final vial is poured out on the earth, a gathering takes place in anticipation of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:14, 16). In the midst of this gathering, Jesus interjects with an unusual comment. He says, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!” (Revelation 16:15, ESV). In his parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants, Jesus talked about the need to always be ready for his return because it would happen at a time that was unexpected. He said, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:43-44, ESV). Jesus’ comment in Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I am coming like a thief!” seems to suggest that his second coming to Earth takes place just prior to the battle of Armageddon. John’s declaration in Revelation 14:1 that “on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (ESV) may have been the visual depiction of what actually occurs in Revelation 16:15. Afterward, the seventh vial is poured out “and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne saying, It is done” (Revelation 16:17).