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David Bachelor, PhD
Pastor, Pearsall 1st Methodist Church
Since Sunday the world has been focused on the collapse of Afghanistan’s armed forces to the Taliban. USA Today summarized events, “A Taliban offensive that began with vacuuming up countless district centers manned by small numbers of security personnel in July accelerated in August to the capture of all major cities north, south and west until insurgents reached the gates of Kabul.”
It has not only been cities that have been captured. Along the way the Taliban have been accumulating an arsenal of American equipment. MSN.com noted “Their capture is a symbolic boon for the insurgents and an embarrassment for the Western coalition… The insurgents have been quick to show off their war spoils in the southern city [Kandahar] – their spiritual birthplace and now one of the biggest prizes.” The possession of these spoils seems to lend credence to the Taliban’s battle cry, “Allahu akbar” (Our god is greater).
Texas knows about war trophies. In 2016 a Wall Street Journal article declared, “The War of Santa Anna’s Leg has raged for 169 years. It started when the Mexican general abandoned his wood, cork and leather prosthetic in a carriage, and resumed most recently when a group of classmates from Texas took a 20-hour pilgrimage by bus to a small museum in a bid to get it back.” The museum that holds this spoil of war is in Illinois. The petition on the webpage of the Texas museum that wants Santa Anna’s leg (the San Jacinto Museum) says, “The trophy belongs at the site of Santa Anna’s surrender to the forces under General Sam Houston at San Jacinto.” There was no comment from the heirs of General Santa Anna for the return of his property.
The power of war trophies is featured in the Bible. In the book of 1 Samuel the Israelites thought the Ark of Jehovah (if carried into battle) would give their army supremacy over the Philistine army that opposed them. In this instance, the Israelites were mistaken. Victory did not come through the equipment the soldiers carried into battle.
The text of 1 Samuel 4:10-11 says, “The Philistines fought hard, and Israel was beaten, and each one of the Israelites fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter and the Ark of Jehovah was taken.” The Philistines put the Ark on display in the temple of their god Dagon. This was an early version of “Allahu akbar.” The God of Israel did not like His ark being treated like a trophy so He arranged for its return to the rightful owners (1 Sam 5:6). The Philistines acknowledged the supremacy of Jehovah and returned the Ark. The Philistines even paid the handling charges (1 Sam 6:8).
In the e-newsletter Defense One (for national security professionals, stakeholders, senior leaders in Washington and commanders abroad) Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, opines on the Afghan army, “We thought things like Humvees and tanks and artillery pieces and helicopters made it strong.”
Our military has now learned the lesson of the Israelites of 1 Sam 4. Victory is not assured by the equipment a soldier carries into battle.
The question is whether the American public has learned the lesson of the Israelites. The lesson they learned was that they could not make God come with them into war.