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holy war


A basic component of covenant theology that emphasizes Yahweh’s role as deliverer, protector, and judge of the chosen people, Israel. Up to the time of the monarchy (tenth century BCE) every war was a holy war, or, in the preferred terminology of the OT, a war of Yahweh (Num 21:14). It was the means by which Yahweh guided his people into that condition of well-being the OT calls peace. This always conveys the idea of Yahweh fighting for Israel, not of Israel fighting to spread or defend its belief in Yahweh. Furthermore, the OT repeatedly stresses that when Israel forgets its proper covenant response, war becomes Yahweh’s means of judgment upon them. The concept of holy war changed considerably under the monarchy, when it was the king who instigated wars to serve national policy. The classical prophets often criticized such wars because they were not the wars of Yahweh.

  • Powell, Mark Allan, ed. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Abridged Edition. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.