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Three Biblical Pillars of Non-interventionism: Borders and Alliances (Part II)

"Nations have every right to defend themselves or to attack neighbours who are provoking them in dangerous ways. But not to simply extend their power over another nation, or rule another nation."

Read Part I: Three Biblical Pillars of Non-interventionism: Sovereignty of Nations

Nations should not interfere with other nations. Rulers only have authority over their own people. This is the first pillar of biblical non-interventionism. This should be all that we need to be aware of to hold to the position that the Bible is anti-interventionism. But God in his grace gives us even more wisdom on this topic.

Many Christians ignore this wisdom and encourage their governments to get involved in all sorts of unnecessary and unjust wars. Though it is more accurate to note that people are conditioned to support wars that our elites want to take part in.

This reaps chaos across parts of the world, areas where our leaders have no sovereignty. Why do they have no sovereignty there? Because national sovereignty ends at the extent of national borders.

Sovereign Borders

Many people are not aware that the Bible says a lot about borders, walls, demarcations of authority and the like. In fact, this ignorance was used to drum up criticism for Trump’s plans to build a wall on the southern border of the US. Many Christians do not read the Bible and even many who do, do not spend time thinking about it more than simply devotionally.

Bill Muehlenberg explores the issue of borders and walls very well here. But let’s establish a couple of things ourselves.

Borders should not be interfered with, “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbour’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” (Deut. 27:17).

“Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set” (Proverbs 22:28). This is true for internal land markers, and national border markers. When in the process of giving the promised land to the Israelites, God also made sure they knew the limits of their authority and borders;

“Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea, as the Lord told me. And for many days we traveled around Mount Seir. 2 Then the Lord said to me, 3 ‘You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward 4 and command the people, “You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. 5 Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession…And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. 9 And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’” (Deut. 2:1-5, 8-9)

God demarcated the borders of these peoples and told his people not to interfere in the borders of their neighbours. How much more should we not interfere with the borders of faraway nations?

Some people may respond, but Matt, these passages are talking about how nations have overtaken other nations, so therefore God must be ok with nations interfering in other nations at times.

God gave the lands of these other peoples to the Edomites, Moabites, and Israelites. Is this not interference? No. It is conquest because of judgement. God allows wicked nations to be conquered by other nations, and what is one of the ways he judges those nations? How they interfere with their neighbours:

“Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border. 14 So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, and it shall devour her strongholds, with shouting on the day of battle, with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind; 15 and their king shall go into exile, he and his princes together,” says the Lord.” (Amos 2:13-15)

This is just an ancient way of saying that God is judging the Ammonites because they went to war with their neighbour to extend their borders. To take their neighbour’s land. This is what is happening whether a nation annexes another nation’s land or leaves military bases to maintain strong-arm influence. Either way, one nation has transgressed the borders of another nation and has extended its own borders and influence.  

Ammon had every right to the land that God had given them:

“So as soon as all the men of war had perished and were dead from among the people, 17 the Lord said to me, 18 ‘Today you are to cross the border of Moab at Ar. 19 And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.’” (Deut. 2:16-18)

But they had no right to their neighbour’s land, or to invade their neighbour’s land without being provoked. Nations have every right to defend themselves or to attack neighbours who are provoking them in dangerous ways. But not to simply extend their power over another nation, or rule another nation.

This also tells us something else important, there is a very good chance that if a nation is being invaded, it is because God is allowing it to be judged. Indeed, I would say this is almost certain.

So yes, God allows other nations to be invaded and judged. But this does not give us the right to think that we are God and interfere on our own whims. But there is one even more important underlying theme in the Scriptures which speaks against interventionism: Don’t go down to Egypt.

Alliances Are Condemned

It is almost impossible to convince a trad-con[1] that we should not rely on alliances with America or any other nation. They see alliances as inherently good, especially with America or Britain, and they almost all bring up the same argument: so, you think we should not have gotten involved in World War II?[2] Or some other traditional narrative fall-back position that just assumes because we have had one or two successful interventions, this means we now have a responsibility or mandate to do more.

I may respond to the World War II argument in another post, but having successfully done something once doesn’t justify doing it again. Principle should trump pragmatism. One of the most important principles underpinning the rejection of alliances in the Bible is the idea of “not going down to Egypt”, or not relying on the “horses and chariots of Egypt”. For example,

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord! 2 And yet he is wise and brings disaster; he does not call back his words, but will arise against the house of the evildoers and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. 3 The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together. 4 For thus the Lord said to me, “As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey, and when a band of shepherds is called out against him he is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the Lord of hosts will come down to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill. 5 Like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it; he will spare and rescue it.” 6 Turn to him from whom people have deeply revolted, O children of Israel. 7 For in that day everyone shall cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your hands have sinfully made for you.” (Isaiah 31:1-7)

To look to Egypt, which was a superpower in the era of Isaiah, but a declining and fading one was idolatry. Egypt was in many ways to Israel what America has been to Australia. A stabilizing force in their era and region.

It was tempting for Israel to look to Egypt because Egypt was a natural source of military protection from Babylon and Assyria. Indeed, the Israelites had a deep affinity for Egypt because their young nation had formed its identity while it was in Egypt. Israel went into Egypt a family, it came out of Egypt a family of tribes, a nation.

Because of this ancient connection, and the stability of Egypt, there was a continual desire and temptation among the Israelites to flee back to Egypt, to sacrifice their freedom and sovereignty for the safety and security of living in the empire of that day:

“1 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)

Israel’s desire to trust in superpowers like Egypt continually angered God:

“And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Numbers 14:11-12)

This desire to return to Egypt or rely on Egypt remained a constant temptation right up until the destruction of Jerusalem, so much so that Jeremiah prophesied against the Jewish desire to find shelter in Egypt:

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an execration, a horror, a curse, and a taunt. You shall see this place no more. 19 The Lord has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’ Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day…” (Jer. 42:18-19)

It was forbidden for Israel to trust in foreign alliances and nations. Righteous kings of Judah even asked for God’s permission before they allied with their own brethren tribes, the northern kingdom of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 22:1-5).

Those who know Jeremiah well know that many Jews did flee to Egypt, disobeying God’s commands, and God gave Egypt into the hands of the Babylonians. This is a persistent theme in the Bible.

Egypt is synonymous with Babylon in the sense of being an empire that opposes God, and it encapsulates the temptation of small nations to rely on larger nations. In fact, even the king of Assyria points out why this is foolish:

“And the Rabshakeh said to them, ‘Say to Hezekiah, “Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 6 Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 7 But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God,’ is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar?’” (Isaiah 36:4-7)

The king of Assyria’s messenger mocks the idea of Israel relying on a dying superpower, like Egypt. Now the good news for Israel is that in this instance the King of Judah knew this as well.

Hezekiah trusted in God, and God defeated the Assyrians for him. Some, who are given to thinking that all alliances are ok, say that all that is being condemned here is relying on man’s strength, not God’s and that it is ok to trust God and make alliances.

But this is a pernicious misreading of the texts. The texts are saying to rely on foreign alliances is to reject God. As Isaiah 31 said, relying on Egypt was idolatry. Going back down to Egypt was idolatry. Looking to Egypt is idolatry. Relying on other nations instead of God is idolatry.

This is a consistent theme in the Old Testament, which keeps reminding the Israelites of this important fact: only God can save:  

 “1 O God, we have heard with our ears,
    our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
    in the days of old:
2 you with your own hand drove out the nations,
    but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
    but them you set free;
3 for not by their own sword did they win the land,
    nor did their own arm save them,
but your right hand and your arm,
    and the light of your face,
    for you delighted in them” (Psalm 44:1-3).

The Scriptures are clear that a righteous leader and a righteous nation looks to God. You can ignore this, but eventually, the strength of all empires breaks. There have been zero exceptions in history, and we are seeing this again in our day. In fact, all alliances also break. Throughout history, we see example after example of nations going to war or being invaded by those it was once allied with.

So, non-interventionism stands on three powerful biblical pillars: Individual sovereignty of nations; the sanctity of national borders; and the rejection of alliances as a form of security for a nation.

If national leaders are to only have sovereignty over their own people, they have no right to seek to interfere with others. If nations are to maintain their own borders, then nations are not to seek to extend their power outside their borders, lest they be judged, as every empire in the Bible is judged.

If nations are also not to rely on alliances, but rather should trust in the Lord to be their protection, then how on earth can we justify interventionism from scripture? We should not look to America for our protection. We should not seek protection from other nations.

We should only look to the Lord, because if the Lord wants, if he deems us worthy of judgement (and it is looking like he does), then he can determine to have our entire army defeated by 300 men who didn’t put their spears down when they drank from the brook, without them having to take a life themselves.

The temptation of small nations is to rely on foreign alliances. This always backfires in the end. The temptation of large nations is to think they can rule over smaller nations. But invaders and conquerors always get invaded and conquered. It’s an old message, a simple message, but a wise message: look to God, not the chariots of men, that will eventually fail. It is a matter of when they fail, not if. God, however, is everlasting.


[1] Traditional conservative. The term trad-con is referring to modern mainstream conservatives. The non-interventionist position I am arguing for is generally called paleo-conservatism. Paleo-conservatives are against all but minor immigration and interventionism, they believe society should be based on Christian ethics, and that nations should largely leave each other alone, except for necessary trade. They would opposed free trade, and encourage protectionism, so that national worker is protected from outsourcing and other predatory capitalist policies. Some definitions of paleo-conservative define it as traditional conservatism, but I am not using that term in this way. I am using it to mean the mainstream modern Republican or Liberal Party position.

[2] By the way, the correct answer to that question is yes if we could have stayed out we should have, but we didn’t have a choice because Japan was gunning for us. But then again they were gunning for us because we were a base of operations and supply for the American and British military forces. There is nothing wrong with seeking to be like Switzerland and being well-armed and opposed to foreign wars. World War 2 was also more complicated for us, because Australia though being technically sovereign still sat under the power and influence of Britain. This hasn’t really changed, because today we sit under the power and influence of America. So, Australia though being technically a sovereign nation has always acted like a British and now American satellite state. But in general, unless we need to defend our borders, we should stay as far away from European conflicts as is possible, and wars in general.