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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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or WARFARE, the attempt to decide a contest or difference between princes, states, or large bodies of people, by resorting to extensive acts of violence, or, as the phrase is, by an appeal to arms. The Hebrews were formerly a very warlike nation. The books that inform us of their wars display neither ignorance nor flattery; but are writings inspired by the Spirit of truth and wisdom. Their warriors were none of those fabulous heroes or professed conquerors, whose business it was to ravage cities and provinces, and to reduce foreign nations under their dominion, merely for the sake of governing, or purchasing a name for themselves. They were commonly wise and valiant generals, raised up by God "to fight the battles of the Lord," and to exterminate his enemies. Such were Joshua, Caleb, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, David, Josiah, and the Maccabees, whose names alone are their own sufficient encomiums. Their wars were not undertaken upon slight occasions, or performed with a handful of people. Under Joshua the affair was of no less importance than to make himself master of a vast country which God had given up to him; and to root out several powerful nations that God had devoted to an anathema; and to vindicate an offended Deity, and human nature which had been debased by a wicked and corrupt people, who had filled up the measure of their iniquities. Under the Judges, the matter was to assert their liberty, by shaking off the yoke of powerful tyrants, who kept them in subjection.

Under Saul and David the same motives prevailed to undertake war; and to these were added a farther motive, of making a conquest of such provinces as God had promised to his people. Far was it from their intention merely to reduce the power of the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Idumeans, the Arabians, the Syrians, and the several princes that were in possession of those countries. In the later times of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, we observe their kings bearing the shock of the greatest powers of Asia, of the kings of Assyria and Chaldea, Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Nebuchadnezzar, who made the whole east tremble. Under the Maccabees a handful of men opposed the whole power of the kings of Syria, and against them maintained the religion of their fathers, and shook off the yoke of their oppressors, who had a design both against their religion and liberty. In still later times, with what courage, intrepidity, and constancy, did they sustain the war against the Romans, who were then masters of the world!

We may distinguish two kinds of wars among the Hebrews: some were of obligation, as being expressly commanded by the Lord; but others were free and voluntary. The first were such as God appointed them to undertake: for example, against the Amalekites and the Canaanites, which were nations devoted to an anathema. The others were undertaken by the captains of the people, to revenge some injuries offered to the nation, to punish some insults or offences, or to defend their allies. Such was that which the Hebrews made against the city of Gibeah, and against the tribe of Benjamin, which would support them in their fault; that which David made against the Ammonites, whose king had affronted his ambassadors; and that of Joshua against the kings of the Canaanites, to protect the Gibeonites. Whatever reasons authorize a nation or a prince to make war against another, obtained, likewise, among the Hebrews; for all the laws of Moses suppose that the Israelites might make war, and might defend themselves, against their enemies. When a war was resolved upon, all the people that were capable of bearing arms were collected together, or only part of them, according as the exigence of the existing case and the necessity and importance of the enterprise required. For it does not appear that, before the reign of King David, there were any regular troops or magazines in Israel. A general rendezvous was appointed, a review was made of the people by tribes and by families, and then they marched against the enemy. When Saul, at the beginning of his reign, was reformed of the cruel proposal that the Ammonites had made to the men of the city of Jabesh-Gilead, he cut in pieces the oxen belonging to his plough, and sent them through the country, saying, "Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and Samuel, to the relief of Jabesh-Gilead, so shall it be done unto his oxen," 1 Samuel 11:7 . In ancient times, those that went to war generally carried their own provisions along with them, or they took them from the enemy. Hence these wars were generally of short continuance; because it was hardly possible to subsist a large body of troops for a long time with such provisions as every one carried along with him. When David, Jesse's younger son, stayed behind to look after his father's flocks while his elder brothers went to the wars along with Saul, Jesse sent David to carry provisions to his brothers, 1 Samuel 17:13 . We suppose that this way of making war prevailed also under Joshua, the Judges, Saul, David at the beginning of his reign, the kings of Judah and Israel who were successors to Rehoboam and Jeroboam, and under the Maccabees, till the time of Simon Maccabaeus, prince and high priest of the Jews, who had mercenary troops, that is, soldiers who received pay, 1Ma_14:32 . Every one also provided his own arms for the war. The kings of the Hebrews went to the wars in person, and, in earlier times, fought on foot, as well as the meanest of their soldiers; no horses being used in the armies of Israel before David. The officers of war among the Hebrews were the general of the army, and the princes of the tribes or of the families of Israel beside other princes or captains, some of a thousand, some of a hundred, some of fifty, and some of ten, men. They had also their scribes, who were a kind of commissaries that kept the muster roll of the troops; and these had others under them who acted by their direction.

Military fortifications were at first nothing more than a trench or ditch, dug round a few cottages on a hill or mountain, together with the mound, which was formed by the sand dug out of it; except, perhaps, there might have sometimes been an elevated scaffolding for the purpose of throwing stones with the greater effect against the enemy. In the age of Moses and Joshua, the walls which surrounded cities were elevated to no inconsiderable height, and were furnished with towers. The art of fortification was encouraged and patronized by the Hebrew kings, and Jerusalem was always well defended, especially Mount Zion. In later times, the temple itself was used as a castle. The principal parts of a fortification were,

1. The wall, which, in some instances, was triple and double, 2 Chronicles 32:5 . Walls were commonly made lofty and broad, so as to be neither readily passed over nor broken through, Jeremiah 51:58 . The main wall terminated at the top in a parapet for the accommodation of the soldiers, which opened at intervals in a sort of embrasures, so as to give them an opportunity of fighting with missile weapons.

2. Towers, which were erected at certain distances from each other on the top of walls, and ascended to a great height, terminated at the top in a flat roof, and were surrounded with a parapet, which exhibited openings similar to those in the parapet of the walls. Towers of this kind were erected, likewise, over the gates of cities. In these towers guards were kept constantly stationed; at least, this was the case in the time of the kings. It was their business to make known any thing that they discovered at a distance; and whenever they noticed an irruption from an enemy, they blew the trumpet, to arouse the citizens, 2 Samuel 13:34; 2 Samuel 18:26-27; 2 Kings 9:17-19; Nahum 2:1; 2 Chronicles 17:2 . Towers, likewise, which were somewhat larger in size, were erected in different parts of the country, particularly on places which were elevated; and these were guarded by a military force, Judges 8:9; Judges 8:17; Judges 9:46; Judges 9:49; Judges 9:51; Isaiah 21:6; Habakkuk 2:1; Hosea 5:8; Jeremiah 31:6 . We find, even to this day, that the circular edifices of this sort, which are still erected in the solitudes of Arabia Felix, bear their ancient name of castles or towers.

3. The walls were erected in such a way as to curve inward; the extremities of them, consequently, projected outward, and formed a kind of bastions. The object of forming the walls so as to present such projections, was to enable the inhabitants of the besieged city to attack the assailants in flank. We learn from the history of Tacitus, that the walls of Jerusalem, at the time of its being attacked by the Romans, were built in this manner. These projections were introduced by King Uzziah, B.C. 810, and are subsequently mentioned in Zephaniah 1:16 .

4. The digging of a fosse put it in the power of the inhabitants of a city to increase the elevation of the walls, and of itself threw a serious difficulty in the way of an enemy's approach, 2 Samuel 20:15; Isaiah 26:1; Nehemiah 3:8; Psalms 48:13 . The fosse, if the situation of the place admitted it, was filled with water. This was the case at Babylon.

5. The gates were at first made of wood, and were small in size. They were constructed in the manner of valve doors, and were secured by means of wooden bars. Subsequently, they were made larger and stronger; and, in order to prevent their being burned, were covered with plates of brass or iron. The bars were covered in the same manner, in order to prevent their being cut asunder; but it was sometimes the case that they were made wholly of iron. The bars were secured by a sort of lock, Psalms 107:16; Isaiah 45:2 .

Previously to commencing war, the Heathen nations consulted oracles, soothsayers, necromancers, and also the lot, which was ascertained by shooting arrows of different colours, 1 Samuel 28:1-10; Isaiah 41:21-24; Ezekiel 25:11 . The Hebrews, to whom things of this kind were interdicted, were in the habit, in the early part of their history, of inquiring of God by means of Urim and Thummim, Judges 1:1; Judges 20:27-28; 1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 28:6; 1 Samuel 30:8 . After the time of David, the kings who reigned in Palestine consulted, according to the different characters which they sustained, and the feelings which they exercised, sometimes true prophets, and sometimes false, in respect to the issue of war, 1 Kings 22:6-13; 2 Kings 19:2 , &c. Sacrifices were also offered, in reference to which the soldiers were said to consecrate themselves to the war, Isaiah 13:3; Jeremiah 6:4; Jeremiah 51:27; Joel 3:9; Obadiah 1:1 . There are instances of formal declarations of war, and sometimes of previous negotiations, 2 Kings 14:8; 2 Chronicles 25:27; Judges 11:12-28; but ceremonies of this kind were not always observed, 2 Samuel 10:1-12 . When the enemy made a sudden incursion, or when the war was unexpectedly commenced, the alarm was given to the people by messengers rapidly sent forth, by the sound of warlike trumpets, by standards floating on the loftiest places, by the clamour of many voices on the mountains, that echoed from summit to summit, Judges 3:27; Judges 6:34; Judges 7:22; Judges 19:29-30; 1 Samuel 11:7-8; Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 13:2; Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 30:17; Isaiah 49:2; Isaiah 62:10 . Military expeditions commonly commenced in the spring, 2 Samuel 11:1 , and were continued in the summer, but in the winter the soldiers went into quarters. The firm persuasion that God fights for the good against the wicked, discovers itself in the Old Testament, and accounts for the fact, that, not only in the Hebrew, but also in the Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldaic languages, words, which originally signify justice, innocence, or uprightness, signify likewise victory; and that words, whose usual meaning is injustice or wickedness, also mean defeat or overthrow. The same may be said in respect to words which signify help or aid, inasmuch as the nation which conquered received aid from God, and God was its helper, Psalm 7:9; 9:9; 20:6; 26:1; 35:24; 43:1; 44:5; 75:3; 76:13; 78:9; 82:8; 1 Samuel 14:45; 2 Kings 5:1; Isaiah 59:17; Habakkuk 3:8 .

The attack of the orientals in battle has always been, and is to this day, characterized by vehemence, and impetuosity. In case the enemy sustain an unaltered front, they retreat, but it is not long before they return again with renewed ardour. It was the practice of the Roman armies to stand still in the order of battle, and to receive the shock of their opposers. To this practice there are allusions in the following passages: 1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 5:1; Ephesians 6:14; Php_1:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 . The Greeks, while they were yet three or four furlongs distant from the enemy, commenced the song of war; something resembling which occurs in 2 Chronicles 20:21 . They then raised a shout, which was also done among the Hebrews, 1 Samuel 17:52; Joshua 6:6; Isaiah 5:29-30; Isaiah 17:12; Jeremiah 4:19; Jeremiah 25:30 . The war shout in Judges 7:20 , was as follows, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon." In some instances it seems to have been a mere yell or inarticulate cry. The mere march of armies with their weapons, chariots, and trampling coursers, occasioned a great and confused noise, which is compared by the prophets to the roaring of the ocean, and the dashing of the mountain torrents, Isaiah 17:12-13; Isaiah 27:2 . The descriptions of battles in the Bible are very brief; but although there is nothing especially said, in respect to the order in which the battle commenced and was conducted, there is hardly a doubt that the light- armed troops, as was the case in other nations, were the first in the engagement. The main body followed them, and, with their spears extended, made a rapid and impetuous movement upon the enemy. Hence swiftness of foot in a soldier is mentioned as a ground of great commendation, not only in Homer, but in the Bible, 2 Samuel 2:19-24; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Psalms 18:33 . Those who obtained the victory were intoxicated with joy; the shout of triumph resounded from mountain to mountain, Isaiah 42:11; Isaiah 52:7-8; Jeremiah 50:2; Ezekiel 7:7; Nahum 1:15 . The whole of the people, not excepting the women, went out to meet the returning conquerors with singing and with dancing, Judges 11:34-37; 1 Samuel 18:6-7 . Triumphal songs were uttered for the living, and elegies for the dead, 2 Samuel 1:17-18; 2 Chronicles 35:25; Judges 5:1-31; Exodus 15:1-21 . Monuments in honour of the victory were erected, 2 Samuel 8:13; Psalms 60:1; and the arms of the enemy were hung up as trophies in the tabernacle, 1 Samuel 31:10; 2 Kings 11:10 . The soldiers who conducted themselves meritoriously were honoured with presents, and had the opportunity of entering into honourable matrimonial connections, Joshua 14; 1 Samuel 17:25; 1 Samuel 28:17; 2 Samuel 18:11 . See ARMIES , and See ARMS .

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'War'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​w/war.html. 1831-2.
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