God can do anything He wants whenever He wants, and no one can do anything better than He can, so when He tells us to do something, it isn’t because He needs our help; He’s giving us an opportunity to become, to grow, to be transformed.
So, I find it very interesting that God tells Israel to conquer cities outside the Promised Land (De 20:15), to besiege any city that doesn’t surrender without a fight (De 20:12), and to design and build engines of war, bulwarks of timber, to subdue it. (De 20:20) In each of these battles, God fights for Israel (De 20:4), yet there’s evidently always danger involved, where He might allow some of His own people to die. (De 20:5)
God could easily move everyone seek Him and obey Him, such that there’s no need for conquering cities; He could just as easily drop the city walls, like He did at Jericho, so there’s no need for long seiges; and God could easily arrange each battle such that no one from Israel ever gets killed. (Nu 31:49) So it makes me wonder, what’s He up to here?
I see it here as I do everywhere: God delights in fully engaging us as He does His will, working in and through our will both to will and to do according to His pleasure. (Php 2:13) God does not fight our battles for us while we sit passively by and watch; He fights within us and through us, transforming us into His likeness through the challenge of adversity as we pursue His commands. So, how does building bulwarks to overcome God’s enemies serve to form the image of God in us?
For one, building devices to safely breach the massive walls of ancient cities took ingenuity, collaboration and tenacity. Every situation was different, and the army was always entirely volunteer (De 20:8); the constant stream of real-life challenges fueled the forges of brotherhood, forming bonds among men as only can be formed in the stress of battle. We learn and grow as much or more from struggling and failing as we do in our success, as long as we are all in, and not halfhearted in our quest. Putting our lives on the line, and the lives of our neighbors, in pursuing the commands of God together inevitably moves us to holiness and godly fear, a gift like none other.
In the final analysis, the goal of a spiritual battle isn’t simply to win it; God could win the war all by Himself without any battles; the ultimate outcome is already known. Yet it is in the crucible of battle that God forms our hearts after His own (He 5:8), and equips us to be workers together with Himself. (2Co 6:1)
While we may not live in the old promised land, and we may not participate in physical battles in spreading the kingdom of God upon the earth today, there is still a very real parallel in the spiritual realm, in the fierce battles for minds and souls, of which the physical ones were merely a type. In these, the need for unity, determination, discipline, holiness, wisdom and strength, the gift of brotherhood in seeking victory in God together, are no less real.