What is the difference between warfare in the Old Testament and Islamic jihad?

One of the great things about preaching through books of the Bible is that it forces you to preach about topics that you might normally never discuss. Let me give you an example. I am preaching through the book of 1 Samuel right now. Just this week I came to 1 Samuel 15:3…

“Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

God is telling King Saul to completely wipe out out the Amalekites. Men, women, children. The reason God is directing Saul to do this is because when Israel was leaving Egypt the Amalekites attacked Israel before they even reached Sinai (Exodus 17:8-16).

Maybe I am weird, but I got excited when I read this passage. The reason is that I knew it would force me to study hard to understand what exactly is going on. I like the challenge.

Quick side note. If you don’t believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God then you simply disregard passages like this and claim that these holy wars were done by people who were acting outside of God’s will. Your culturally influenced view of who God is leads you to change the clear teaching of Scripture. This kind of loose handling of Scripture has obviously infiltrated the church and has led us into all kinds of false teaching and Biblical compromises.

The more I thought about it the more I realized how important this passage is for us today. This is one of the passages that people use to discredit Christianity. Their argument goes something like this, “if God is good how in the world could he give such a command for his people to engage in a holy war?” Or they will make statements like, “Christianity and Islam are really no different, both encourage holy wars and genocide.”

Here is a quote from Richard Dawkins that lets you know what we are up against, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

How do we respond to these kinds of statements? What will your kids say when they hear this from their college professor? Is there a good, biblical way to respond?

What I want to do now is answer the question, is there any difference between warfare in the Old Testament and Islamic jihad? The answer is an emphatic yes. 

  1. God is holy and he has the right to judge sin and sinners. Allah is not the one true god and has no right to judge sin and sinners. I am convinced that this is the place you must start with this conversation. In Isaiah 6:3 we read this, “And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” God is holy (1 Samuel 2:2, Isaiah 57:15, 1 Peter 1:15-16), humanity is sinful (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23). Unless a person repents and turns to Jesus Christ they will face the judgment of a holy God. Yes, culture would love Christians to dial down the holy God, sinful man talk. As faithful messengers of God’s Word we can not do that. God is the rightful judge, not Allah.
  2. Acts of “war” in the Old Testament were for a specific time and place. Not a command to be repeated. The Quran commands Muslims to still wage jihad today. The holy wars that we see in 1 Samuel 15 (and other places in Scripture) were not meant to be perpetuated by future Christians. They were specific acts of God’s justice against people who were living in rebellion to his righteous laws. The jihad we see in the Quran is expected to be modeled and lived out by all future Muslims.
  3. If you follow Jesus you get peace, if you follow Muhammad you get jihad. We need to stop and think about the founders of Islam and Christianity. Jesus came to earth he brought peace. In Matthew 5:44 we read these words from Jesus, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Some people will argue that if Jesus taught peace then how did we end up with the Crusades? We need to keep in mind that the Crusades came about a thousand years after Jesus and they were the result of people disobeying the clear commands of Jesus. Here is where the difference is clearly seen. The jihad that we see going on all around us in the world today is the direct result of the violence that Muhammad modeled and commanded to his followers. Nabeel Qureshi puts it like this…

“The historical Jesus never sanctioned violence and endorsed nothing like the Crusades, whereas the historical Muhammad engaged in jihad as the greatest deed a Muslim can perform. Violent jihad is a result of adherence to the life and teachings of Muhammad, whereas strict adherence to the life and teachings of the historical Jesus results in pacifism and sacrificial love for one’s enemies.”

Final thoughts

It is very important that we make a distinction between the religion of Islam and the people of Islam. Here is what I mean. Islam is a false religion. We don’t need to apologize for saying it. We do no one any favors by hiding the truth and denying that there are significant differences between Islam and Christianity. Yet at the same time we are called to love all Muslims. Our heart should break for the fact that there are so many Muslims who have not yet understood just how beautiful and amazing Jesus truly is. We stand firmly on the truth while we simultaneously reach out in love to those who disagree with us.

Sources used:

  • “No God But One” by Nabeel Qureshi. If this topic interests you I would strongly encourage you to read this book!
  • “Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel” by Heath Thomas and J.D. Greear


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