No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. – Proverbs 21:30-31
The outcome of war is in God's hands. This truth will cause some Christians to pray and fast in times of conflict and others to wait in apathy for God’s determination.
How can one truth lead to such a polarizing application?
It comes down to one’s understanding of how God’s sovereignty interacts with human activity. The Bible demonstrates that the actions of God and humans are compatible. Embracing this truth can make all the difference in the way we honor God and live faithfully before Him.
Think about other wars in the Bible. How did God’s choices and human behavior interface in Israel’s battle against Amalek in Exodus 17? When Amalek came to fight against God’s people, Moses came up with a battle plan: “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” (Exod 17:9) Moses accounted for both human and divine components.
Moses knew what God was like. He had seen God’s sovereign power over Egypt and all creation in the ten plagues and parting of the Red Sea, just to name a few examples. When it was time for war, Moses made two plans. First, he made a plan for how to engage the enemy in combat. Second, he made a strategy for interceding with God during the battle. Moses knew that both God’s sovereignty and human activity contribute to the end result.
As the story continues, so do the insights. “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.” (Exod 17:11) So, was Moses determining the trajectory of the war or was God? The correct answer is “Yes.” The position of Moses' hands affected the battle. But the only reason that the hieght of Moses’ hands mattered is because they were lifted to the God of the universe.
Moses, Aaron, and Hur understood this lesson and made sure that they would continue to seek God for the battle’s victory.
But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Exod 17:12-13)
How did victory come against Amalek? Surely, the Lord gave Israel victory, but not without human agency. In fact, God’s decision was directly in cooperation with human agency. If Joshua and other Israelite men did not go to the battlefield, there would be no victory. If Moses, Aaron, and Hur did not persist in seeking God’s favor, there would be no victory.
The lesson of Exodus 17 and Proverbs 21:30-31 is not that humans are powerless at the hands of dictatorial God. The lesson is that since God determines the outcome of wars, and everything else, humans should engage in God’s work and seek Him for His mercy and grace. He is faithful to exalt those who humble themselves.
Almighty God, bring safety and peace to Israel and the surrounding nations. Protect Your people in those places and embolden them to witness to others. Lead many to faith in Christ. Enact Your perfect plans for this world. Do not let Christians shrink in complacency because of a misunderstanding of Your reign over the world. Instead, make us active to engage where needed and appeal to You persistently for Your victories and purposes to be established. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Chuck Hetzler, PhD
VP of Biblical Theology, Christian Union
FREE OFFER: Get the "Seeking God Lifestyle" Bible Course Manual. Download this 67-page, 5-lesson course in PDF format.