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Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) came out, and they joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer, the king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell in them, and the rest fled to the hill country. Then they took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and departed. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who lived in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way. Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living near the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshkol and Aner, and these were allies with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants born in his own house, and... — Genesis 14:8–20

The Just War Theory

The Scripture passage in Genesis 14:8–20 describes the first “just” war. Let me say, unequivocally, that I hate war. In fact, every right-minded person hates war. War is a great evil. Only tyrants, aggressors, madmen, and the devil love war. Thousands, millions, even tens of millions of people have lost their lives in the thunderous inferno that is war.

I am definitely not a materialist or a militarist. But, on the other hand, I am not a pacifist either. The pacifist position is that no war is justified; there is no such thing, they say, as a “just” war. In perusing the Holy Book, you will find that the Bible nowhere says war is justified or war is not justified. It doesn’t deal specifically with the issue, but there are a great many instances from which we can draw very definite conclusions.

This passage where Abraham rescues Lot does indeed describe the first just war. In fact, it grows out of the first war in all of recorded history—about two thousand years before Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, about seventeen hundred years before Alexander led his phalanxes from Macedonia into Persia, and about a thousand years before the wooden horse was pulled foolishly through the gates of Troy in the Trojan War.

In this example those early kings made one mistake (aggressors always seem to make fatal mistakes): they took Lot, his family, and his  possessions captive and made their way back to Mesopotamia, the land of Shinar. One of Lot’s servants managed to escape. He ran back to Abram (or Abraham) and told him what had happened—that Abraham’s nephew Lot (the son of his brother), together with his family and all of his goods, had been taken captive.

Many a person in those circumstances might say to himself, “Is that a fact? Tell me about it. You mean my nephew Lot, who had the audacity to choose the most fertile region when I offered him his choice of the southern or the northern part of what is now Israel, has been taken captive? Not only did he set his tent toward Sodom [that wicked city which has lent its name to the vile perversion and sin now known by that name], but soon he was close by—and then he was living within the gates of that city. Well, he made his bed; he can just lie in it. It serves him right, taking up with such sinners as those.” But Abraham rescued Lot and took nothing for his efforts. He acted in a completely righteous way.

Abraham was a man noted for his piety and godliness. He would certainly not be a man who would be likely to engage in warfare. Or, if he were, that he would do it successfully. But Abraham’s piety did not prevent his military exploit. In fact, it undergirded and strengthened him in the task, because he trusted in God. They sang hymns as they marched into war and never lost a battle.

However, what about the New Testament? Doesn’t Jesus, the Prince of Peace, change all of that? Didn’t He tell us that we are to be peacemakers? Didn’t He tell us that we should resist not evil? Absolutely He did! Unfortunately there are many people who do not understand this teaching and twist it and distort it to the hurt of many. These statements, found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, are part of His teaching of personal Christian ethics. They are not intended to be instructions on how nations are to govern themselves in the courts of law or how they are to behave in their dealings in international relationships.