I don’t believe in allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures. I believe in understanding the Bible in its historical and grammatical context and interpreting passages of Scripture in light of human and divine authorial intent. Some might think that applying how OT Israel struggled with their physical enemies to how NT Christians struggle against the enemy is allegorical interpretation. Here’s why that’s not true.
First, OT Israel’s struggle against their physical enemies (neighboring pagan nation-states such as Philistia, Ammon, Moab, etc.) was not purely physical warfare. As Danny Carroll, my OT prof, would frequently point out as we walked through OT historical narrative, many times as a nation-state would go out to war, they would invoke their deity and perhaps even carry it (or its symbol) into the battlefield. Israel had the ark as its symbol, and, as Dr. Carroll would say, they’d bring “God in a box” out into the fight on occasion. In a real sense, when nation-state would fight nation-state, it was “my god vs. your god,” and the victor could claim the superiority of their deity. Was this all just primitive superstition? Of course not. God does enter the fray and proves Himself time and again. Israel’s physical warfare was spiritual warfare.
Second, individuals in the OT claimed struggle against physical enemies, but the Scriptures are quick to acknowledge a spiritual component even there. Remember, for instance, Psalm 18; the heading of which acknowledges that its context was David’s fleeing the hand of Saul. David says, in an earthly sense, that he was saved from his enemies (v 3, the physical component). But that salvation came about because God arose, flared his nostrils, came down, and went to work (vv 8-9, the spiritual component). If that is not satisfactory, know that part of Saul’s enemy-hood was because “an evil spirit” would come upon him (1 Sam 16).
So, as many have noted, the line between earth and heaven is not so easily divisible, and perhaps it is our post-Darwin, naturalistic bent that makes us draw distinctions which are too sharp, causing us to lob accusations that applying OT physical war to our context of spiritual war is unwarranted allegorical interpretation of Scripture.
This morning, God spoke to me through the astonishing events during King Jehoshaphat’s reign, recorded in 2 Chronicles 20. What is eye-opening about this passage is that God brought together two seemingly disparate acts–corporate worship and war:
As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another. When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped. (2 Chronicles 20:22-24)
Earlier in the passage, we read of Jehoshaphat’s fear put to ease by a prophetic word from Jahaziel, who told him, basically, “Just stand here and watch how God will totally destroy your enemies.” Jehoshaphat, however, did more than “just stand there.” He ordered a worship service (20:21). And the Scriptures are clear to point out that it was “as they began to sing and praise” that God defeated their enemies.
We modern-day Christians have real enemies today. We’ve got physical ones and spiritual ones. How can we wage war? Corporate worship, baby. In a previous post, I relayed Doug Wilson’s comparison of the Maori ritual of “Haka”–taunting the enemy before battle–to Christian corporate worship. Because of passages like the one above, I’m becoming more convinced that our primary battle-strategy, beyond spiritual disciplines, personal piety, and mission work, is simply to worship together, regularly and ongoingly.