Yahweh is a warrior

The motif of Yahweh as a divine warrior is clearly established in the Hebrew Bible. Following the paramount event of deliverance in the life of Israel, the exodus, Moses says that “Yahweh is a man of war; Yahweh is his name” (Ex 15:3). In the deliverance of his people, Yahweh himself waged war against their captors, leading the people of Israel to himself, and establishing his reign forever.

The progression of the Hebrew Bible further promulgates the reality of Yahweh’s warfare. Yet it becomes clear that the object of his warfare is not limited to those outside the camp of Israel. Anticipated in the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-68, Yahweh warned Israel of the results of covenant infidelity, the climax of which was seen in the exile in 587 BC at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar II. Yahweh is the God who fights both for his faithful covenant people and against them in their rebellion.

In the context of Zechariah, this theme is elucidated mostly clearly in chapter 14, which opens with Yahweh’s congregation of foreign armies against Jerusalem for war. The warrant for such judgment is not clearly stated in the text, but may be assumed from the cyclical nature of covenant infidelity frequented in the Book of the Twelve. The spiritual adultery found at the opening of Hosea reaches its end point here on the Day of Yahweh.

The horrors of this day of judgment can hardly be stomached by modern hearers, as the city is razed, houses are plundered, women are sexually assaulted, and a portion of the population goes into a second exile. Yet, when put in perspective, the devastation brought on that day is not what is due the people for their offense against their God. For the fact that a remnant is left is a testimony of Yahweh’s mercy. As the Scripture makes clear, sin has severe consequences.

And though judgment is often found on the lips of Israel’s prophets, hope is never far behind. After bringing judgment upon rebellious Israel, Yahweh goes out to fight with the very nations he has brought against her.  And it becomes clear that he is no ordinary opponent, for he has the cosmos as his arsenal. The effect of his warfare is the universal recognition of his sovereignty, as he leads a new exodus and establishes a new Eden, free from any future conflict.

The warfare of Yahweh in Zechariah 14 functions to demonstrate his devotion to his own name, vindicating his justice against those who violate the covenant, as well as his rich mercy in causing the reconstructed city to be at peace. These dual themes are not simply found under the old covenant, but are most clearly seen on the cross of Jesus Christ, where the Father waged war on the Son as judgment for the sins of his covenant people. Now, those who have been saved through judgment have the hope of a new Eden, where God himself will dwell. The good news of gospel is that God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith, because Jesus was crushed by the warfare of the Father for the sins of his people. Jerusalem will indeed dwell in security.

For more on the Divine warrior motif in the Bible, see the following resources:

Tremper Longman and Daniel G. Reid, God Is a Warrior, Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).

Philip R. Bethancourt, “Christ the Warrior King: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Analysis of the Divine Warrior Theme in Christology” (Ph.D. diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2011.

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