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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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WAR . 1. In the days before the monarchy the wars of the Hebrew tribes must have resembled those of early Greece, when ‘the two armies started out, marched till they met, had a fight and went home.’ Rarely, as in the case of the campaign against Sisera ( Judges 4:1-24 ), was it necessary to summon a larger army from several tribes. From the days of Saul and David, with their long struggle against the Philistines, war became the affair of the whole nation, leading, also, to the establishment of a standing army, or at least of the nucleus of one (see Army). In the reign of Solomon we hear of a complete organization of the kingdom, which undoubtedly served a more serious purpose than the providing of ‘victuals for the king and his household’ ( 1 Kings 4:7 ).

Early spring, after the winter rains had ceased, was ‘the time when kings go out to battle’ (2 Samuel 11:1 ). The war-horn (EV [Note: English Version.] ‘trumpet’), sounded from village to village on their hilltops, was in all periods the call to arms ( Judges 6:34 , 1 Samuel 13:3 , 2 Samuel 20:1 ). How far the exemptions from military service specified in Deuteronomy 20:5-8 were in force under the kings is unknown; the first express attestation is 1Ma 3:55 .

2 . War, from the Hebrew point of view, was essentially a religious duty, begun and carried through under the highest sanctions of religion. Israel’s wars of old were ‘the wars of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’ ( Numbers 21:14 ), and was not Jahweh TsÄ•bâ’ôth , especially ‘the God of Israel’s battle-array’ ( 1 Samuel 17:45 ).? His presence with the host was secured by ‘the ark of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’ accompanying the army in the field ( 2Sa 11:11 , cf. 1 Samuel 4:3 ff.). As an indispensable preliminary, therefore, of every campaign, the soldiers ‘sanctified’ themselves ( Joshua 3:5 ) by ablutions and other observances preparatory to offering the usual sacrifices ( 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 13:9 ). The men thus became God’s ‘consecrated ones’ ( Isaiah 13:2 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), and to open a campaign is in Heb. phrase ‘to consecrate war’ ( Joel 3:9 , Jeremiah 6:4 etc.). Isaiah 21:5 ‘anoint the shield’ (cf. 2 Samuel 1:21 ) is commonly taken to allude to a practice of smearing shields with oil, that hostile weapons might more readily glance off (see, for another explanation, Marti or Duhm, Jesaia, ad loc. ).

To ascertain the propitious moment for the start, and indeed throughout the campaign, it was usual to ‘enquire of the Lord’ by means of the sacred lot (Judges 1:1 , 1 Samuel 23:2 and oft.), and in an age of more advanced religious thought, by the mouth of a prophet ( 1 Kings 22:6 ff.). Still later a campaign was opened with prayer and fasting ( 1Ma 3:47 ff.).

As regards the commissariat , it was probably usual, as in Greece, to start with three days’ provisions, the soldiers, for the rest, helping themselves from friends (cf. however, the voluntary gifts, 2 Samuel 17:27 ff.) and foes. The arrangement by which ‘ten men out of every hundred’ were told off ‘to fetch victual for the people’ ( Judges 20:10 ), is first met with in a late document.

3. As the army advanced, scouts were sent out to ascertain the enemy’s position and strength ( Judges 1:24 [AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘spies,’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘watchers’], 1 Samuel 26:4 , 1Ma 5:38 ). Where the element of secrecy enters, we may call them spies (so Joshua 2:1 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , 2 Samuel 15:10 , 1Ma 12:28; cf. Gideon’s exploit, Judges 7:11 ff.).

Little is known of the camps of the Heb. armies. The men were sheltered in tents and booths ( 2 Samuel 11:11; this reference, however, is to a lengthy siege). The general commanding probably had a more elaborate pavilion’ ( 1 Kings 20:12; 1 Kings 20:16 , see Tent). The obscure term rendered by RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘place of the wagons’ ( 1 Samuel 17:20; 1 Samuel 26:5; 1 Samuel 26:7 ) is derived from a root which justifies us in supposing that the Hebrew camps were round, rather than square. Of the 20 Assyrian camps represented on the bronze plates of the gates of Balawat, 4 are circular, 14 almost square, and 2 have their long sides straight and their short sides curved outwards. Two gates are represented at opposite ends, between which a broad road divides the camp into two almost equal parts (Billerbeck u. Delitzsch, Die Palasttore Salmanassars , II. [1908], 104). The Hebrews divided the night into three watches ( Judges 7:19 , 1 Samuel 11:11 ).

4. The tactics of the Hebrew generals were as simple as their strategy. Usually the ‘battle was set in array’ by the opposing forces being drawn up in line facing each other. At a given signal, each side raised its battle-cry ( Judges 7:21 , Amos 1:14 , Jeremiah 4:19 ) as it rushed to the fray; for the wild slogan of former days, the Ironsides of the Jewish Cromwell, Judas the Maccabee, substituted prayer ( 1Ma 5:33 ) and the singing of Psalms ( 2Ma 12:37 ). It was a common practice for a general to divide his forces into three divisions ( Judges 7:16 , 1Sa 11:11 , 2 Samuel 18:2 , 1Ma 5:33 ). A favourite piece of tactics was to pretend flight, and by leaving a body of men in ambush , to fall upon the unwary pursuers in front and rear ( Joshua 8:15 , Judges 20:36 ). As examples of more elaborate tactics may be cited Joab’s handling of his troops before Rabbath-ammon ( 2 Samuel 10:9-11 ), and Benhadad’s massing of his chariots at the battle of Ramoth-gilead ( 1 Kings 22:31 ); the campaigns of Judas Maccabæus would repay a special study from this point of view. The recall was sounded on the war-horn ( 2 Samuel 2:23; 2 Samuel 18:16; 2 Samuel 20:22 ).

5. The tender mercies of the victors in those days were cruel, although the treatment which the Hebrews meted out to their enemies was, with few exceptions ( e.g . 2 Kings 15:16 ), not to be compared to what Benzinger only too aptly describes as ‘the Assyrian devilries.’ It is one of the greatest blots on our RV [Note: Revised Version.] that 2 Samuel 12:31 should still read as it does, instead of as in the margin (see Cent. Bible, in loc ). The Hebrew wars, as has been said, were the wars of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , and to J″ [Note: Jahweh.] of right belonged the population of a conquered city (see Ban). Even the humane Deuteronomic Code spares only the women and children ( Deuteronomy 20:13 f.). The captives were mostly sold as slaves. A heavy war indemnity or a yearly tribute was imposed on the conquered people ( 2 Kings 3:4 ).

The booty fell to the victorious soldiery, the leaders receiving a special share ( Judges 8:24 ff., 1 Samuel 30:26 ff.). The men ‘that tarried by the stuff’ in other words, who were left behind as a camp-guard shared equally with their comrades ‘who went down to the battle’ ( 1 Samuel 30:24 f., a law first introduced by David, but afterwards characteristically assigned to Moses, Numbers 31:27 ). The returning warriors were welcomed home by the women with dance and song ( Exodus 15:20 ff., Judges 11:34 , 1 Samuel 18:6 etc.). The piety of the Maccabæan age found a more fitting expression in a service of thanksgiving ( 1Ma 4:24 ). See also Army, Armour Arms, Fortification and Siegecraft.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'War'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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