by Bryan Matthews Dockens, Las Vegas NV church of Christ
Knowing what content to trust from the mainstream media is a challenging task, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine has certainly occupied a great deal of attention recently. If all that has been reported is accurate and reliable, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy is worthy of tremendous respect in that he is literally standing with his troops in the front lines of the war. Whether the reports are truthful or not, the lesson is being taught that heads of State ought to face the risks of war together with their people.
It has been disconcerting for generations to observe so-called commanders in chief of the armed forces of major world powers sit in their “war rooms,” giving orders to soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen to kill and be killed without putting themselves in harm’s way. It was 1814 the last time a President of the United States commanded troops in the field when James Madison led American forces against the British at the Battle of Bladensburg. Despite Congress declaring war eleven times since the Constitution was ratified, the War of 1812, when Madison presided over the Republic, is the only occasion when the Commander in Chief ever fulfilled his role so directly. Numerous other military operations that were never officially declared as wars by Congress certainly did not garner as much personal attention by the Presidents who oversaw them.
George McGovern once said, “I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” Regardless of the Senator’s politics, that one statement deserves universal agreement.
One often overlooked factor in David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba is the timing: “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem” (2nd Samuel 11:1). The king of Israel took an immoral interest in another man’s wife when he was home but should have been on the battlefield. In this easily ignored fact, astute readers should infer that heads of State belong with the forces they command, not idling comfortably at home. From Joshua to the judges to the kings of Israel and Judah, Scripture consistently depicted national leaders shoulder to shoulder with their troops at the front. This was not unique to inspired history either; it was the ways things had always been throughout the world until recent generations. Zelenskyy’s example is so refreshing and encouraging not because it is unprecedented, but because it follows precedents long ago abandoned by weak leaders the world over.
Instead of merely ordering air strikes, artillery attacks, and infantry to march on the enemy, heads of State should assume a more direct approach to armed conflict. Let the commander in chief be the first to spill blood. Let those who agitate for war accept personal risk before ordering other personnel into harm's way.
Observe the example of Ehud:
“So the children of Israel served Eglon king of Moab eighteen years.
But when the children of Israel cried out to Jehovah, Jehovah raised up a deliverer for them: Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. By him the children of Israel sent tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh. So he brought the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. (Now Eglon was a very fat man.) And when he had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. But he himself turned back from the stone images that were at Gilgal, and said, ‘I have a secret message for you, O king.’
He said, ‘Keep silence!’ And all who attended him went out from him.
So Ehud came to him (now he was sitting upstairs in his cool private chamber). Then Ehud said, ‘I have a message from God for you.’ So he arose from his seat. Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. Even the hilt went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the dagger out of his belly; and his entrails came out. Then Ehud went out through the porch and shut the doors of the upper room behind him and locked them.
When he had gone out, Eglon’s servants came to look, and to their surprise, the doors of the upper room were locked. So they said, ‘He is probably attending to his needs in the cool chamber.’ So they waited till they were embarrassed, and still he had not opened the doors of the upper room. Therefore they took the key and opened them. And there was their master, fallen dead on the floor.
But Ehud had escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the stone images and escaped to Seirah. And it happened, when he arrived, that he blew the trumpet in the mountains of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mountains; and he led them. Then he said to them, ‘Follow me, for Jehovah has delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.’ So they went down after him, seized the fords of the Jordan leading to Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross over. And at that time they killed about ten thousand men of Moab, all stout men of valor; not a man escaped. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years” (Judges 3:14-30).
Ehud led by example. He led from the front, not behind. He dared. He risked. He put himself in mortal jeopardy, assassinating the enemy king, before rallying the fighting men of Israel to the cause.
“Governing authorities” continue, under the present covenant, to “bear the sword” as “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:1-7). May they do so with honor and integrity, accepting for themselves the dangers they order others into.
The Lord Jesus abhors hypocrisy. He called out the Pharisees of His time, telling the people, “Do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:3-4).
If more leaders would personally bear the risks of military engagements, there might just be fewer wars to fight.
"Grace and peace be with you. Amen."
Bryan Matthew Dockens, evangelist