What Does the Bible Say About Women in Combat?

Mythical Amazon Queen Antiop

Mythical Amazon Queen Antiop (Courtesy of wikipedia.org)

I suppose it was the ancient Greeks who came up the mythology of all female armies that defended their civilizations or lead invasions of others in the pursuit of conquest.  Yet, there is no verifiable record of any such forces by any of the super powers of antiquity.  You don’t think that might have had something to do with the obvious differences on average between the physical capabilities of men over women do you?  Yet today there is a constant growing cry for American women to be registered for front line combat in the American military.  Another bill has been filed in Congress calling for women 18-25 years old to be registered for the Selective Service.

Well, I’m a Christian and I’m against the idea all together.  I think we should rely on the facts that the Greeks and Romans were obviously thinking about the concept but they never actually followed through on it.  But going to the backstop of my and I hope your faith what did Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ say about women in combat?

220px-Mars_Pyrrhus_cropped

Mars, God of War. (Courtesy of wikipedia.org)

Now let’s remember that warfare in ancient times was always of the close quarter variety.  You may enter the conflict with a spear, or a bow but eventually you had to throw the thing or you ran out of arrows leaving no other option than to pull your sword and get up close to your opposing soldier to engage him.  Today, with all the advanced means of waging war it seems like it’s almost a video game in itself but it isn’t completely.  Our military is the finest trained, the best equipped and has the most modern weapons for use in all kinds of air, undersea and surface warfare than ever before but there will always be a need for ground forces to eventually capture and hold a geographic area.  I don’t think Christ would have an issue of women serving in our military at all except for the front line ground forces portion of it.  I think He implies this in the scriptures so let’s check it out.

Right up front I admit I think He implies that women shouldn’t be allowed in combat.  There isn’t any specific wording in either the Old or New Testaments banning women from combat but that doesn’t mean God is silent about the role of women and men in general.

Old Testament References to Who Goes to War

First, God laid out the way to properly select personnel for a military campaign in Deuteronomy 20.  In verses 5-8, he tells how men who meet certain conditions shall be allowed exemption from service in the army.  Those who had a home they had never dedicated, or had an on-going business, or were engaged to be married, or even if they were an admitted coward could avoid military service with no shame.   It was a pretty smart thing to do and note:  There is no mention of women being exempt.  That’s because it was so obvious that they didn’t serve in the military at all.

“So by the time you were left with your army you had a pretty good group of really fighting men. You know, they weren’t afraid and they were ready to go and they didn’t have any, you know, distractions like some girlfriend that they were engaged to and looking forward to the wedding or these kinds of things. The fellows that remained to fight were those that were really ready to go.”

“Now the idea, and it was a very good idea, of sending home those that were fearful is that in the midst of the battle because they are afraid they might panic and start to run and that has a kind of an infecting effect upon the other troops. And so those that were fearful were sent home. They didn’t want fellows there who were apt to panic in the midst of the battle, and thus, create a panic among the troops. So it was a very wise kind of a move indeed. It left you with just really quality fighting men.”  Chuck Smith, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel of Costa Nostra, courtesy of blueletterbible.org

The book of Nehemiah tells how Nehemiah was viewed favorably by King Artaxerses of Persia; so much so that he was allowed to return to Jerusalem with a contingent of others to rebuild the wall of the city.

Now, there was living in the area of Jerusalem people known as the Samaritans.  They were transplanted there by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar after his armies conquered the lower kingdom known as Judah in 586 B.C.  He exiled the Jews living there back to Babylon and to the outer reaches of his empire.

See, it was a common practice in ancient times for a conquering power to banish the indigenous people off their lands.  They would be forced into slavery working in faraway parts of the conquerors kingdom.  With them out of the way then people friendly to the conqueror were given the now vacant farms, homes, cities and land.  This helped to ensure peace and stability toward the benevolent power while his forces were off conquering other peoples elsewhere.

So, the Samaritans had been living there for four generations living on land they didn’t acquire forthrightly.  They look up one day and seek this Jewish contingent re-occupying Jerusalem and re-building its walls.  They had to have been fearful that the Jews would soon be making claims for the lands their grandparents had stolen from them.  So the Samaritans took a hostile attitude against them.  So in chapter 4, Nehemiah is trying to instill courage among the workers to not fear the Samaritans who probably outnumbered them greatly.

In verse 14-18, he encourages half of the men to stand guard while the other half performs the wall re-building work.  Naturally there were women, wives and daughters present as they are referenced in the passages but the call to stand guard and be ready to fight is for the men only.  Once again no mention of women standing guard or ready to fight.

“Who is always on hand to deliver his out of danger: and therefore seeing they should fight for the maintenance of Gods glory, and for the preservation of their own lives and of theirs, he encourages them to play the valiant men.”  Geneva Study Bible, courtesy of biblestudies.com

“[I]ntimating, that they were in danger of losing all that was near and dear, valuable and precious to them, if they did not fight for them; and therefore it became them to quit themselves like men, and be strong.”  John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible, courtesy of biblestudies.com

Going Over the Side

G.I.’s Boarding Landing Craft, D Day 1944 (Courtesy of National Archives)

Now, no doubt there are those (probably men) who would gladly allow a woman to take his place in a front line battlefield event.  There’s probably enough of them to have entire divisions composed of women only taking their place.  I can understand how getting shot at, crawling under barbed wire, hiking many miles in heat, cold, wet conditions with 100+ pound back packs, kneeling in a fox hole while artillery barrages are slamming all around, or repelling an assault of overwhelming forces is most probably no fun.  I sure wouldn’t want to be there.

On the other hand there are probably many women who could pull it off and want to serve in a front line capacity.  But neither perspective is the issue.  The real issue is what does Christ tell or imply to us His position on the matter is?  We used to listen and search for His say but now not so much.   If we refuse to follow the biblical example where women were to be protected and safe guarded could we at least follow the wisdom of the ancients, or do we have a much bigger problem; a problem of not enough men being men?

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5 Responses to What Does the Bible Say About Women in Combat?

  1. Josh L. says:

    If you are going to use Deuteronomy 20 as a basis for operating a modern army then use everything in the chapter – are we to not allow engaged men to serve overseas? Are we to kill all the males of the countries we fight in? If you are going to use Biblical principles as the basis for your argument then you can’t do so selectively. It is accurate to say that Israel did not have women serving in their military at that time, it is not accurate to say that it was because God specifically prohibited them from doing so (e.g. Deborah and Barak lead Israel’s army against Sisera’s forces in Judges 4). Deuteronomy 20 does mention women when God says that they may be taken as spoils of war. If you are going to use the Bible to support your position, then you have to use everything, not just the parts that you like.

    • Dear Josh: First, thank you for stopping by my blog. I wanted to reply to you issue by issue so to do that I’ve set your questions/comments first with my response to each, one at a time.

      #1, If you are going to use Deuteronomy 20 as a basis for operating a modern army then use everything in the chapter – are we to not allow engaged men to serve overseas?

      Answer: To begin Josh the main issue was what did God have to say about women being involved in front-line combat. His opinion is what’s at issue in my article not mine or yours. It is clearly written that men engaged were allowed to visit their wives. It was a propagation of the next generation thing meaning that if a soldier was killed in battle his widow would not be left without some future asset, a young child, that would one day grow to support her in her old age in the event she never remarried. That was a pretty far sighted and considerate thing to allow.

      #2, Are we to kill all the males of the countries we fight in?

      Answer: Yes. Let’s put ourselves into the shoes of the ancient Israelites. If the God of the universe, who liberated your ancestors with miraculous wonders and parted the Red Sea tells you to go and kill everything living thing you did it. Now the question is why did He order it? He did so to exterminate the pagan nations who for centuries had kindled his wrath with their false god worship, their child sacrifices, etc.

      #3, If you are going to use Biblical principles as the basis for your argument then you can’t do so selectively. It is accurate to say that Israel did not have women serving in their military at that time, it is not accurate to say that it was because God specifically prohibited them from doing so (e.g. Deborah and Barak lead Israel’s army against Sisera’s forces in Judges 4).

      Answer: Take a closer look at Judges 4 Josh. Deborah was a prophetess who told Barak that if he assembled an army against Sisera he would prevail. She was present at the battle but not as a combatant. She was somewhere watching it unfold.

      #4, Deuteronomy 20 does mention women when God says that they may be taken as spoils of war. If you are going to use the Bible to support your position, then you have to use everything, not just the parts that you like.

      Answer: There’s no need for me to be selective, or just use the parts that I like, as you put it for in the entire Holy Bible there is nothing about women being routinely deployed in battles in the Israeli army. Hebrew women and children were to be protected and safely somewhere behind the battle lines. Now does that mean they didn’t know how to defend themselves? Of course not as Jael demonstrated near the end of Chapter 4.

      Josh I hope this answers your concerns.

  2. teddy emeka says:

    Should Women even be in the military AT ALL?

    • Teddy, I think God would say there a lots of roles that women are and can play in the military. We know that they make great military police, supply, support, aircraft pilots, artillery and logistic officers. I speak from experience at living around the Ft. Hood/Killeen & Charleston Naval Base area many years ago. I think God is trying to tell us that he draws the line at front-line, direct combat duty. Right now they do they things they do in the military with a certain amount of danger but not like that in direct combat; i.e. the risk of being captured and tortured, raped and mutilated. I’m an old fashioned guy and I think God is too from what he tells us in his word. I hope you understand.

  3. Josh Michel says:

    thanks man this article really helped, i was wondering a lot about this subject and i wanted some scripture to bank on.

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