We know God as Creator, Ruler, Judge, Provider, Guide, Protector, and to this list we now add Warrior. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob do not go to war to fulfill their covenants. Instead they make peace with their neighbors. But in Exodus God goes to war to bring justice.
With Moses, God fights when Moses recognizes that he can’t do it himself. Whenever Moses tries to fight in his own strength, God holds back and lets him try. When Moses raises his staff, God goes to work (Exodus 14:16,17:9). In the battle with the Amalekites, it is the Israelites who fight, but it is clearly God who has the power.
In Deut. 7:17-24 God outlines the process by which Israel will free the land of Canaanite influence. Interestingly, He says that they will not be able to do it all at once – that it will be a process. The power belongs to God. He leaves some Canaanites for later generations as a test (Judges 3:1-4). When King David takes a census (2 Samuel 24), God punishes the nation, because a census (which delivers a count of the fighting men) is a declaration of the king’s power.
When in later years Israel decides to have a king, God places limits on the king’s power, so that the king must acknowledge God as the real power. Of course the king is tempted to rely on his own power anyway – so God installs a prophet to speak for Him, even against the king. Samuel is the first of these, and God uses Samuel to reject Saul as king because Saul does not submit to God’s authority.
There is a strange line quoted at the death of Elijah and again at the death of Elisha, the prophets of God. “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” (2 Kings 2:12, 13:14) Chariots and horsemen represent a kingdom’s power, but Elisha and King Jehoash knew that Elijah and Elisha, respectively, represented the real power.
“In the economy of God’s kingdom, one must be weak to be strong (2 Cor. 4:7-12).” Israel’s failure to finally understand this principle is what caused them to fail to recognize the Messiah.