As futile as such striving may be, fallen human beings continue to wage war against their Creator. No purpose of His can be thwarted (Job 42:1–2), but sinners routinely attempt to throw off His rule, denying His authority and doing whatever they can to put Him out of their minds. It is no surprise, then, that the Lord, as the divine Warrior, takes up arms against such foes (Ex. 15:1–21).
Yet God fights not only against blatant enemies but also against those who bear His name when they refuse to repent. This is seen clearly in the history of old covenant Israel, and it is one of the main points of today’s passage. Looking at the destruction that Babylon wrought upon the city of Jerusalem, the author of Lamentations saw beyond what was empirically observable to those who lived in those days. The ultimate cause for the razing of Jerusalem in 586 BC was not the rebellion of Zedekiah against Babylon; it was the Lord taking up of arms against the covenant community when it refused to turn from idolatry back to Him (2 Kings 24:18–25:21). Having seen the hardness of the people, the divine Warrior took up His bow, wielding Babylon like an arrow, and devastated Judah, piercing the hearts of His children in order to bring them to repentance (Lam. 2:4).
The Lord named His people Israel, which literally means something like “God strives” or “he strives with God” (Gen. 32:28), and, as we have seen in past studies, it is a double entendre. Israel could strive or fight with God in that the people were on His side, or they could strive with God in that they waged war against Him. When ancient Israel lived up to the covenant — when they strove to obey Him and were quick to repent for their failures — the Lord fought with Israel, subduing all the nation’s enemies (2 Kings 18:1–8). But when the Israelites disobeyed Him flagrantly and refused to turn from their evil, God fought or strove against Israel, endeavoring to turn the hearts of the people back to Him (Judg. 2:11–23).
Today, the church as new covenant Israel exists in a similar relationship. As we repent, we know that God is indeed fighting on our behalf against all our foes (Mark 10:28–30; Rev. 12:12–16). But when we are impenitent, the Lord has promised to fight against us in order that He might discipline us unto holiness (Heb. 12:3–11).