“The LORD Is a Warrior, the LORD Is His Name”

by Gjergji Evangjeli

 

Exodus 15:1-18 is one of the most fascinating texts in the Bible. For one, there is some textual evidence to suggest that it was composed by Miriam, Moses’ sister, hence its being known as the “Song of Miriam.” If this is the case, the Bible contains the oldest known poem written by a woman. It praises the power of God in miraculously allowing the children of Israel to walk through the sea while drowning the pursuing army of Pharaoh. Somewhat amusingly, the Lord splits the Red Sea “at the blast of His nostrils” (Ex. 15:8), demonstrating that He did not even need to break a sweat.

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The most emphasized feature of God in the Song of Miriam, however, His identity as a warrior. God rises to defend His people against Pharaoh, and all the future enemies of Israel are dismayed (Ex. 15:14-15). He will continue to defend His people to perpetuity as they enter into the Promised Land, and He “shall reign forever and ever” (15:18). The drama of the earlier part of Exodus is thus concluded. Yahweh has categorically defeated the King of Egypt and his gods and reigns supreme.

 

Isaiah returns to the theme of God as a warrior when he proclaims the kingship of God over all the earth.

“The Lord will go forth like a warrior,” he says, “He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. ...He will prevail against His enemies” (Is. 42:13).

 

The motif of God as a warrior reappears several times in the Old Testament, elsewhere in the Torah as well as in the Prophets and the Psalms.

 

Given the prominence of this theme, therefore, it is interesting to consider whether Jesus is cast in this light in the New Testament. One might miss these references because the writers of the New Testament emphasize Jesus’ seemingly effortless triumphs. Consider, for example, the encounter with Legion (Lk. 8:26-39). We are told that many attempted to seize the man beforehand, “yet he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert” (8:29). When Jesus comes to him, however, the demon responds, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me” (8:28). The demon capitulates before Jesus even opens His mouth.

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More importantly, in the Great Discourse (Jn. 14-16), Our Lord says, “Take courage; I have conquered the world” (Jn. 16:33). The Greek word νενίκηκα and its translation in the Vulgate, vici, carry explicit martial connotations. In reasserting this motif from the Old Testament, Jesus portrays Himself as a warrior, victorious over the ruler of this world—the spiritual Pharaoh, who has held all humanity under bondage.

 

But, one might point out, what about the Agony in the Garden and the Crucifixion? How can Jesus declare victory at that point? He can do this for two reasons. First, as he points out to Pilate and to the Apostles beforehand, “No one takes [My life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again” (Jn. 10:18, cf. Mt. 26:53). Second, Jesus here recapitulates another motif from the Old Testament, essentially saying, “I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done” (Is. 46:9). He tells as much to the Apostles beforehand, “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I AM” (Jn. 13:19, cf. Is. 43:10). In this one verse, therefore, we see Jesus applying to Himself two of the qualities of the God of the Old Testament.

 

We are approaching Easter, which the Church Fathers—taking example from St. Paul—see as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s triumph over the ultimate Pharaoh (sin and the devil). Let us be grateful that we are guarded by none other than God, the most fearsome of all warriors, and that He will always rise to defend us against the forces of evil, as marvelously as He did when he split the Red Sea with a blast from His nostrils.

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