God Is a Warrior

By Tremper Longmann, III, and Daniel G. Reid
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1995). 224 Pages.

Reviewed by
6.2 (Fall 1995) : 252-254

The first in the series, "Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology," the present work purposes to lay bare an outline of the biblical-theological development of the divine warrior theme "and in this way provide a grid for the reader to understand other passages and texts" (27).

The Divine Warrior theme or motif as a window to God's person and works offers great promise to evangelical preachers and teachers.

 . . . The Bible is about Yahweh. It is His self-revelation. The Bible, however, is not about Yahweh in the abstract; it is about God in relation to mankind. Furthermore, this relationship is not so much described as it is narrated. There is a historical dimension to biblical revelation. Thus a proper biblical theology must take into account the subject matter of the Bible, the divine-human relationship, and the fact that the Bible's message is told through time (15).

The present study takes as its impetus the biblical metaphor or picture of God as the Divine Warrior (cf. Exod 15:3, "The LORD is a warrior"). It is recognized that God's relationship with His people is set forth in Scripture through many such metaphors each emphasizing a different aspect of this relationship. "No one metaphor is capable of capturing the richness of God's nature or the wonder of his relationship with his creatures" (15).

 The authors choose a synthetic approach over against a study of individual passages where the metaphor occurs. A truly biblicaltheological approach would be a large and tedious project. In this the authors are justified. Once acknowledged, the book may be appreciated for its true contribution.

Because the divine warrior theme is more difficult to see in the gospels a more textual method is employed. Pauline literature (as opposed to that of Hebrews or Peter) draws out the future of the theme and finally the book of Revelation "as an outstanding example of the motif" (18) receives a thematic treatment.

Even though the present study gives needful consideration to the historical institution of holy war in ancient Israel, its primary focus is upon the image or picture as it is employed by biblical writers. In addition, the authors treat the biblical text "as a single writing that presents an internally consistent message, including an internally consistent, yet unfolding picture of God as warrior" (26).

A second and related methodological issue impinges on the first assumption. An earlier writer (G. von Rad, Holy War in Ancient Israel 52) argued that holy wars (the historical realities) lacked consistency in structure. To this the authors respond that it is the nature of biblical narrative rather than actual "lack of coherence in holy war theory or practice" (33). This leads them to structure the study under the sequential format:

1. Before the War

            (a) Seeking God’s will

            (b) Spiritual Preparation

            (c) Ritual Cleanness in the War Camp

2. During the War

            (a) Numbers and Weapons Technology

            (b) The March

            (c) The Ark

            (d) The Combatants

3. After the Battle

            (a) Praise

            (b) Plunder (Herem Warfare).

 This pattern, argue the authors, is detectable from Genesis through Revelation.

 The book is stimulating reading. As the first in this series, it leaves this reader anticipating more to come. The book is recommended to those committed to the challenge of biblical theology as a basis for systematic theology.