Some Christians try to argue that international alliances are wrong. Are they correct?
We are all capable of messy thinking in so many areas – and we get plenty of it when it comes to politics, as well as our understanding of Scripture. It can get worse when the two are brought together. Indeed, too often I see some believers with political agendas riding roughshod over Scripture. It seems political ideology takes priority, and exegesis can too easily become isogesis, or worse.
Examples of this are endless, and I often write about such matters. One recent example of this comes in the form of some articles written which decry all alliances and political pacts as somehow being sinful and against God’s will. Because Israel often went astray in this way, they extrapolate this to today and insist that no nation should ever enter into a political alliance with another nation. This seems to me to be silly in the extreme – and unbiblical as well.
Alliances in Scripture
That we find in Scripture God often warning Israel about making alliances with foreign powers for military reasons and for security purposes instead of trusting Yahweh is clear enough. Many texts can be appealed to here. Consider just a few such passages:
Exodus 23:31-32 I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods.
2 Chronicles 16:7-9 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the LORD, he delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 32:7-8 Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
And the reason for this was clear: Israel was to trust Yahweh alone as their shield and protector. The spiritual reality of this is clearly spelled out in passages such as the following:
Psalm 7:1-2 O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.
Psalm 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
Psalm 33:16-17 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
Nahum 1:7 The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.
But as mentioned, regrettably I have seen some Christians try to turn these warnings to Israel into an absolute for all peoples and all times. They even claim that it is sinful and immoral for nations today to make alliances. This is mistaken on so many levels.
Is a trade partnership between nations today sinful and immoral? Are diplomatic relations among nations wrong? Was a military alliance among the Allies to stop Hitler sinful and evil? Is a regional defence pact such as SEATO only ever evil and against God’s will? Are those who sign up for Neighbourhood Watch to help look after each other’s children living in sin? No to all of course.
But let’s go back to what Scripture actually says. As mentioned, when Israel put its trust and faith in pagan nations instead of trusting the Lord, that was wrong. They were meant to fully trust in and rely upon the Lord. But a few things can be said about all this.
First, not everything demanded of ancient Israel is some sort of binding template for secular nations today. Contemporary pagan nations are NOT of course in a special covenant relationship with Yahweh as Israel was. Sure, all nations (and all individuals) today are still answerable to God when they do evil. So I am not saying they have no obligations to God whatsoever. But they are not identical to ancient Israel either.
Second, we can embrace the PRINCIPLE behind not making such alliances. We can make a secondary application for believers today, as in not being unequally yoked with unbelievers in things like marriage. That general principle found in 2 Corinthians 6:14 is certainly binding: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
Third, consider a similar matter found in the Old Testament that had to do with Israel. Often (but not always) God condemned Israel for taking a census. Why? Because when it was done to determine the number and capacity of Israel’s fighting men, that too was often an indication of looking to others instead of to the Lord to be safe and secure.
But that did NOT mean Israel could never take a census for any reason – and the same with us today. Consider the book of Numbers where several such censuses are undertaken. In Numbers 1, 4 and 26 God commands the people to take a census – these were acceptable censuses.
However, in places like 1 Chronicles 21 we read of a sinful census being taken. When Israelite kings wanted to know how strong they were militarily, they were taking their eyes off Yahweh and his promised protection. When that occurred, judgment followed.
But the way some people today carry on about the sinfulness of alliances and the like, the next thing you know they will rebuke modern day Australians or Americans for taking part in a national census. These folks need to think more clearly, and stop letting their political ideology cloud over how they understand Scripture.
Fourth, as I already discussed in my article on 1 Kings 3:1, even the international alliance Solomon made with Egypt may not have been wrong. At the very least, world class scholars who have looked at that passage have been far from unanimous. Many of the ones that I consulted thought it was acceptable, while some argued that it was wrong: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/04/13/difficult-bible-passages-1-kings-31/
Fifth, and most importantly, simply go to 1 Kings 5. In verses 1-6 we read about how Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre made an agreement concerning the building of the temple. It says this:
Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David. And Solomon sent word to Hiram, “You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. And so I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.”
And verse 12 says this: “And there was peace between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty.” At the very least, this was a trade or work agreement between Israel and a pagan nation. It can even be seen as an international alliance of some sort. Patterson and Austel note how the phrase “Hiram always loved David” is “correctly understood by most interpreters as as an expression of friendly covenant relations.”
Or a Lissa Wray Beal puts it:
Hiram is labelled the ‘friend’ of David (’oheb, lit. ‘one who loves’). This is a term of international relations common to the ANE that characterized the loyalty and friendship forged under covenant between independent kings (as here), a sovereign and vassal, or a king and his subject. By it, one treaty partner acknowledges the relationship of covenant commitment owed its partner. David and Hiram appear to have forged such a relationship. The early tenth century and David’s war against the Philistines was a probable setting for a covenant forged against a common enemy, Philistia. Philistia’s defeat would increase Tyre’s coastal dominance, and an alliance with Israel would ensure protected access to inland trading routes.
Iain Provan also speaks to this collaboration between Israel and Tyre: “Solomon had suggested to Hiram a co-operative venture (“my men will work with yours,” v. 6) and, possibly (although the Hb. is ambiguous), that Hiram should set the level of wages to be paid to his men. Hiram responds with proposals of his own.”
And August Konkel explains how this relationship benefited both parties:
The political loyalty between Hiram and Solomon was probably based on a mutual need. Israel lacked technical skills for advancing its material culture, and Phoenicia lacked adequate agricultural production. Hiram took the initiative in affirming Solomon’s accession to the throne. Palestine became Phoenicia’s granary, supplying agricultural products for the king’s household and workers. In return Solomon received skilled labor and materials for his massive building projects.
Since the wisdom of Solomon is stressed so often in the opening chapters of 1 Kings, Paul House makes this comment:
Solomon seizes the chance for Tyre to help him as they once helped his father and to maintain the relationship between the nations. Long correctly states that Solomon’s response to Hiram continues the text’s emphasis on God’s making the king wise (cf. 1 Kgs 3:12–13). Here Solomon is “wise in statecraft, gaining international agreements, establishing peaceful conditions in the kingdom, laying the groundwork for building activities.” So far the Lord has given Solomon judicial (3:16–28), administrative (4:1–28), intellectual (4:29–34), and political (5:1–7) skill. Any one of these abilities is impressive in its own right. As a group they are awe-inspiring. God’s faithfulness is evident.
Thus we clearly have a covenant of sorts between an Israelite king and a pagan king. And nowhere in this chapter do we see this trade pact or alliance condemned by God. And as I said in my previous piece in 1 Kings 3:1, this shows us – at least as a foreshadowing – an important biblical theme about pagan nations coming to serve the Lord. Psalm 72:11 for example says: “May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!”
Dale Ralph Davis speaks to this matter. He quotes one commentator who thinks this aid of Hiram in constructing the temple is very significant indeed:
…so that even heathen nations, whether friendly or conquered, took part in the building of the house for the God of Israel, and so contributed indirectly to the glorifying of God. It was a setting forth in act of the word: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is” (Psalms 24:1); “For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He is governor among the nations” (Psalms 22:28); and “all the heathen shall serve Him” (Psalms 72:11).
Indeed, it is the same as what we find earlier with King David. This same King Hiram also had a working relationship with David, helping him to build his own house (see 2 Samuel 5:11 and 1 Chronicles 22:4). So there were certain times when certain sorts of alliances and the like were fully acceptable. And they could even be used in something so sacred and special as the construction of God’s house.
So those who have a political agenda to push need to be much more careful in seeking to use Scripture to promote it. Scripture should come first, and our political and social commentary should follow from it. That is how believers should operate.
In sum, Israel was often warned not to put all its trust in alliances with pagan nations. Yahweh was the one they should trust in. But that does not mean today there can never be any political and international treaties, pacts or alliances made between various secular nations.
Sure, the ideal is for all nations and all rulers to bow down before the one true God. But we know that is not going to fully occur until Christ returns. So in the meantime, in a fallen world, just as God set up governments to bring order and justice in a fallen world, there can be times for nations to seek mutually beneficial alliances. They are not inherently sinful.