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The Art of War - Man's Way vs. God's Way

Updated on May 30, 2020

I recently read 'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu because over the years I had been hearing a lot about it. It was one of those books on my must-read list and I suddenly felt a mad urge to pick up the book and read it already. I had heard that the strategies in the book were not only for war but could also be used for business because it told of certain principles that, if perfected, could never steer you wrong. Sun Tzu, along with many other generals in history followed these principles to win battles. When they stepped away from these rules, then the battle was lost.

I have to admit that the book intrigued me. There were certain principles in it that made complete sense. Afterward I watched a documentary about the book then I went to the Bible to see how Sun Tzu's wisdom about war stood up against God's wisdom.

The Art of War Audiobook

Sun Tzu said: Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

— Sun Tzu, 'The Art of War'

The Army of Israel, King Saul and David the Shepherd

Have you ever heard about a board game called 'Risk'? It is a strategy game that was originally called 'The Conquest of the World'. This game is about capturing territories and eliminating players/enemies until one player dominates and therefore wins. I suppose that Brain from 'Pinky and the Brain' would love 'Risk'.

Sun Tzu's calculations are strategies. If a general has a good plan, strategy, or has calculated everything properly, then he is bound to win. If a general has calculated incorrectly or if he has failed to calculate completely then he is sure to lose. This reasoning is quite sensible for both Mathematicians and non-Mathematicians alike.

The nation of Israel often warred with the Philistines and Abner, the general, did not know how to conquer a certain foe. He looked to the direction of the sovereign as Sun Tzu suggested. Yet Saul had no idea how to deal with the giant Goliath and offered wealth, as well as the hand of his daughter, to anyone in his army who could slay the giant. Even with this reward, no one dared to go against Goliath because he:

  • robbed the army of its spirit and the commander-in-chief of his presence of mind
  • imposed his will on the enemy but did not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him
  • measured, estimated, calculated, balanced his chances and saw his victory

Goliath successfully intimidated the army of Israel (according to The Art of War) and there was no man able to find a strategic way to defeat him.


David, the future king of Israel, went to the army camp to drop food for his brothers. His father had sent him and his oldest brother, Eliab was none to pleased to see him. He was simply a shepherd, and Eliab saw no reason for David to be there.

David asked the men about Goliath and wanted to know why he thought that he could defile the armies of the living God. He spoke boldly and fearlessly even to King Saul.

And David said unto Saul, 'Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock:

And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.

Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.'

— 1 Samuel 17:34-36

Therefore Saul gave him his armor and sent him out. David was not accustomed to such armor and took it off. He chose five smooth stones, took his sling and went out to face Goliath who disdained him at once. He did not have a plan, he simply had faith that God would not let His army be defiled and that God would give him the victory so that the entire earth would know that there is a God in Israel.

David had no plan or strategy going in to fight Goliath. He simply believed that God would give him the victory because the nation of Israel belonged to God. God would protect His own and David feared Him for this reason along with many others.

With one smooth stone he was able to disarm Goliath and, having no sword of his own, used Goliath's own sword to behead him. I think that it is safe to say that Sun Tzu would be baffled by this victory.

Sun Tzu said: With regard to precipitous heights, if you are beforehand with your adversary, you should occupy the raised and sunny spots, and there wait for him to come up.

If the enemy has occupied them before you, do not follow him, but retreat and try to entice him away.

— Sun Tzu 'The Art of War'

Jonathan and the Philistine Army

Yet another victory that was won by the Israelites would confuse Sun Tzu and that was the battle that was fought by Jonathan and his armor bearer. Jonathan took his armor bearer with him to the Philistine garrison. Then he told the armor bearer that if the Philistines said that they would come down to meet them they would do nothing, but if they told Jonathan and his armor bearer to climb up to meet them, then that would be a sign from God that they had been delivered into their hands. The Philistines told Jonathan to come up to them and he and his armor bearer climbed up and slew about twenty men. The Philistine army became thoroughly intimidated, the men of Israel were strengthened that day, and the army was saved by the hand of God. (See 1 Samuel 14)

Although they disregarded Sun Tzu's principle regarding high and low ground, they still achieved an astounding victory. It would appear that in regular circumstances, when man fights against man that these rules apply, but when man fights against God the rules made by man are smashed into pieces.


Gideon also defies Sun Tzu's statement that when an army is quite unequal to another it should flee.

Gideon takes 300 men and defeats an army of 132,000 men. This army was camped in the valley and Gideon's men surrounded the camp and smashed some jars and shouted,'The sword of the Lord and of Gideon'. Those in the camp panicked (the Bible says that this was from God) and turned against each other. 120,000 men of the 132,000 men were killed and then the remaining 15,000 were hunted down by Gideon and his same 300 men and routed the remnant of the army. (See Judges Chapters 6-8)

How was it that 300 men were able to defeat 130,000? It is inconceivable in the mind of man.

Gideon Chooses the 300
Gideon Chooses the 300 | Source

After examining this topic it is clear to me that although Sun Tzu's principles work in matters of wars between men, they do not work in matters of wars between man and God. If God has decided the outcome of the battle, He will use anything to achieve victory and the more outrageous the better because then only He can be given the glory.

"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." 1 Corinthians 3:19 K.J.V.

Therefore these principles matter as long as it is between men who are not on the side of the Lord. If someone is ignorant of the ways of war or full of the knowledge of waging war against another, if that person wages war yet is on the side of God, then these principles do not matter because He uses ways we cannot imagine (such as the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) to bring about victory.



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