What Does The Bible Say About War in Israel? Exploring Biblical Views on Conflict

The issue of war in Israel has been a major point of theological and ethical debate for centuries among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. With Israel’s founding in 1948 and subsequent wars with its Arab neighbors, the theological questions around war have taken on new urgency. Understanding the biblical perspectives on war, especially as it relates to modern Israel, is key to having informed discussions on this complex topic.

This issue holds great importance for people of Abrahamic faiths, as events in Israel represent the intersection of religion, ethics, and geopolitics. Examining what the Bible and later traditions say about the ethics of war can help people of faith navigate these issues. Given Judaism, Christianity, and Islam’s shared roots and interest in the Holy Land, analyzing their distinct perspectives can foster mutual understanding. This overview aims to explore the diversity of thought on war in Israel, assessing texts and traditions in a spirit of nuance and empathy.

Old Testament Views on War

Bible About War in Israel

The Old Testament contains many examples of God commanding war against other nations. God often instructed the Israelites to completely destroy their enemies (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). Rules of engagement were given, such as not destroying fruit trees (Deuteronomy 20:19).

Famous examples of war include the conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites (Joshua 6) and the many wars of King David (2 Samuel 8). God could even command genocide, as seen with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:2-3). The OT presents God as a “man of war” who leads armies into battle (Exodus 15:3).

New Testament Views on War

The New Testament presents a radical shift in perspective on war and violence compared to the Old Testament. Jesus’ teachings emphasized nonviolence, peace, and love – even for one’s enemies.

For example, in Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus tells his followers to “turn the other cheek” rather than retaliate when struck:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

He also taught his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This ethic of nonviolence and enemy love represented a radical break from prevailing attitudes toward violence and conflict at the time.

Other New Testament writers reinforced Jesus’ teachings. For example, Romans 12:17-21 instructs:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So while the Old Testament allowed warfare in some contexts, Jesus and New Testament writers called his followers to a higher standard of nonviolence, even in response to enemies and persecution. This represented a radical shift in perspective.

Just War Theory

Just war theory originated with Catholic theologians St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas in the 4th and 13th centuries, respectively. It aims to provide moral justification for war under certain conditions.

The key principles are:

  • War must be waged by a legitimate authority. Private individuals or groups cannot declare war.
  • War must be in response to actual or imminent aggression. Preventive war is not permitted.
  • War must be waged only as a last resort after other options have failed.
  • The violence used must be proportional to the injury suffered. Excessive force is not permitted.
  • The weapons and tactics used must not produce evils greater than the evil to be eliminated.
  • Noncombatants must be given immunity. Deliberate attacks on civilians are forbidden.
  • There must be a reasonable chance of success in achieving the war’s aims. Futile acts of violence are not permitted.
  • The aim of the war must be to establish a just and lasting peace. Revenge and destruction are not legitimate aims.

The just war theory continues to be influential today in evaluating the morality of warfare. Leaders may appeal to its principles to justify or criticize particular wars. However, the interpretation and application of just war tenets remains controversial.

Modern Warfare in Israel

War in Israel

Israel has been involved in a number of wars and conflicts since its founding in 1948, most prominently with Arab nations and the Palestinians. The Arab-Israeli wars, including the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Six-Day War in 1967, the War of Attrition from 1967-1970, and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, involved neighboring Arab countries attacking Israel. These wars resulted in Israel capturing additional territory, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and Sinai Peninsula.

The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also led to periodic wars and clashes. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This led to the First Intifada from 1987-1993 and the Second Intifada from 2000-2005, Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation involving civil disobedience, mass protests, riots, and attacks against Israeli forces and civilians. More recently, there have been wars between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014. The conflict remains unresolved as Israel continues to occupy the Palestinian territories.

The continuation of this conflict began on the morning of October 7, 2023, when at least 3,000 rockets were fired at Israel, as well as incursions by vehicles and paragliders.

Israel has also pursued preemptive strikes against perceived threats. In 1981, Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction. In 2007, Israel bombed a suspected Syrian nuclear facility. Israel has justified such strikes as necessary self-defense against existential threats. However, preemptive strikes remain controversial under international law.

Christian Perspectives

Christians hold a range of views when it comes to war in Israel. Some Christians take a pacifist stance, believing that violence is never justified. They point to Jesus’ teachings on loving one’s enemies and turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-48). From this perspective, neither side in the Israel-Palestine conflict has the moral high ground when using violence.

Other Christians support Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist attacks but criticize Israel’s use of disproportionate force and collateral damage to civilians. A 2021 survey found that 30% of American Christians believed Israel’s response in Gaza was justified while 38% thought Israel used excessive force. They argue that just war principles should guide the use of force.

Some evangelical Christians take a pro-Israel stance, believing Israel has a biblical right to the land. They emphasize God’s promises in the Old Testament and downplay Jesus’ teachings that seem to contradict this. Critics argue this perspective overlooks injustice against Palestinians.

Jewish Perspectives

Many Jewish Americans believe Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas, citing Israel’s need to protect its citizens from terrorism. However, some criticize the collateral damage caused by Israeli military strikes in Gaza as excessive.

Within Judaism, there are differing views on the justification of war. The Torah recognizes Israel’s need for self-defense but also emphasizes the importance of protecting innocent life and pursuing peace. Some more hawkish Jews cite biblical wars of conquest as justification for aggressive action, while dovish Jews point to rabbis who argue defensive wars should be fought only as a last resort. Ultimately, most Jews agree that minimizing casualties and seeking a just resolution to conflict should be the goal.

Islamic Perspectives

Many Muslims view the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as unjustified aggression and criticize Israel’s policies toward Palestinians as oppressive. There is sympathy and solidarity with Palestinians who are seen as oppressed and mistreated under Israeli rule.

Defending Palestinians against perceived injustice is considered a religious duty by some Muslims. However, mainstream Islamic thought rejects terrorism and the killing of civilians. There are debates within Islam regarding the appropriate response to the conflict, with most scholars arguing that military jihad is not justified in this context, though some fringe groups use the conflict to promote extremist ideologies.

Most Islamic scholars differentiate between terrorism and legitimate resistance or defense against oppression. Mainstream Muslim leaders condemn groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad that target Israeli civilians through suicide bombings and rocket attacks. However, there is also criticism of Israel’s disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of Palestinians. Overall, many Muslims aim to defend the rights of Palestinians through nonviolent means.

Ethical Considerations

Circumcision in the Bible

All warfare raises ethical considerations, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict brings some unique ethical challenges. Both sides have an obligation to uphold principles of just war theory and international humanitarian law, even amidst a volatile conflict. Two key ethical principles are minimizing civilian casualties and proportionality of force.

Israel has a duty to avoid harming civilians as much as possible when responding to Hamas rocket attacks. With advanced weaponry and intelligence gathering, Israel may be able to target Hamas militants and infrastructure precisely, while sparing the civilian population. However, critics argue that Israel has at times used disproportionate force in Gaza, leading to high civilian casualties. Defenders contend that Hamas deliberately operates among civilians, creating difficult dilemmas for Israeli forces. Nevertheless, upholding ethical standards requires Israel to thoroughly examine if civilian casualties were truly unavoidable.

The principle of proportionality also comes into play. According to just war theory, the force used must be proportional to the threat faced. When Hamas launches sporadic unguided rockets, critics question whether large Israeli bombing campaigns are an ethical response. However, others argue that destroying rocket launchers and tunnels is a proportional and necessary response to protect Israeli civilians. There are reasoned arguments on both sides. Ultimately, whether a response meets the proportionality test depends on context and must be continually re-evaluated.

Beyond addressing immediate conflicts, ethics also requires all parties to pursue paths to lasting peace. While defending citizens is important, leaders also have a moral duty to take steps towards reconciliation and addressing root causes of conflict. Though the path is difficult, ethical considerations demand more than just military responses.


In summary, the Bible contains a complex range of perspectives on war, reflecting the historical circumstances in which the texts were written.

Key points include:

  • In the Old Testament, war was seen as a necessary reality, and rules were created to try to limit bloodshed and offer mercy. There are debates over interpretation of these texts.

  • Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament emphasize nonviolence, love of enemies, and peacemaking. However, there are also interpretations justifying self-defense and protecting the innocent.

  • Just war theory tries to balance pursuing justice and defending the innocent with minimizing violence. But there is disagreement over how to apply it.

  • In the modern context, perspectives vary greatly on the ethics of war in Israel among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Each draws on different texts and traditions.

Debates remain over how to apply the Bible’s complex teachings on war and peace to modern conflicts. More discussion is needed, considering scriptural interpretation and current circumstances. Ultimately, the biblical call to peacemaking remains relevant. Though war is a tragic reality, we must keep pursuing creative solutions to conflict.

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Daniel Powell

In my twenties, I began to approach the Bible with fresh eyes. I was no longer content to simply accept what I was told. I wanted to dive deeper, to question, and to understand. My faith demanded it.

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