In the United States, the Secretary of Defense just lifted the ban on women in combat. Many Christians seem to oppose this idea and believe that women should not be put in combat.
What is the biblical basis or precedent for this position?
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If we go by direct statement, no, the Bible never explicitly states women should serve in active combat. However, as Affable points out, there are plenty of things Scripture doesn't condemn directly that we can assume are wrong by using principles based on extrapolation of direct statements and precedent, in a legal sense. And since the question asked "or precedent", here's one:
For this question, we can look to precedent in that nowhere in Scripture were women appointed to fight in battle. Only men are chosen for battle in Scripture:
Numbers 1: (KJV)
1 And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
2 Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls;
3 From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.
4 And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers.
19 As the Lord commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.
20 And the children of Reuben, Israel's eldest son, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, by their polls, every male from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
This article lists several other hints that apply. One example:
See also Deuteronomy, chapter 20. God’s reference to military conscription in time of war (His rules for deferments, exclusions, exemptions, etc.) apply to men 20 years or older, only. (Each of the exemptions or deferments deal with the preservation of the family.) Women are to remain at home front, care for children, maintain the family unit, engage in homefront support duties. “The family has priority over the military and over warfare. As important as defense is, the continuity of life and godly reconstruction is more important,” emphasizes Rev. Joseph C. Morecraft, III.
Of course, these aren't direct statements, and it's possible, and even easy to mistake what's said when we try to "read between the lines", so not everyone is going to agree with the conclusion that it's contrary to Biblical principles to send women to war. I'm simply presenting the above, not arguing for or against it.
Just because there is no explicit prohibition on a thing does not mean that the Bible "endorses it."
There is, for example, to the best of my knowledge, no biblical prohibition cannibalism. Possibly it wouldn't fall under definition of kosher, but it is at best ambiguous! In spite of this, the author of the text rightfully expects that the reader is revolted when, (in 2 Kings 6:24-33), during a siege, two women concoct a plan to eat their children. When the second woman reneges and the first brings it before the King, the King rends his garments to show how he too understands how appalling this situation is. That, even in the absence, of an explicit prohibition in the Torah.
Likewise, the idea of women in combat would have simply been so outrageous as to not need explicit mention. Women simply did not fight* or if they did, something was wrong.
This is not to say that every Jewish custom is somehow holy - but "unthinkable" things don't need explicit mention in a contract between two parties - which is what the Old Testament laws were.
*But back to that "women didn't fight." There are two notable exceptions to that rule, but both fall into the category of 'the exception that proves the rule':
In the apocraphyal book of Judith, for example, Judith uses sex and cunning to murder Holofernes, the invading general. Scholars all agree, this fictional tale was written, in many ways, for its shock value. Like David defeating Goliath, this story simply assumes the incongruity of the weak defeating the strong in combat, leaving the reader to marvel at the tables being so turned.
2. Deborah and Barak
Within canonical Scripture, however, the most important story to remember is that of Deborah and Barak (no relation to the current President). Here, like in most of Judges, the Children of Israel have been beset by the enemy for their wickedness, and must now rise up and defeat the enemy. The chosen leader, however, is too reluctant. (Yeah, it really is a different Barak!) He demands that Deborah - the woman God sent to encourage Barak, must accompany him and assist in leading.
Now, on the face of it, you might say: Hey! See - a Woman fighting in combat! The precendent is not only absent, but wrong!
But here's the rub - God (and Deborah) bring judgement against Barak for his lack of cohones. The author writes:
8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
9 “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh.
That Barak would have no honor from this battle is quite the indictment. The assumption that a woman should not be in battle is so implicit as to be laughable.
Women encourage, Men fight. That's the model. Are there exceptions? TO be sure - but the Bible is clear its not the model to follow.
It is not lawful for women to be mustered for combat service, for our Lord has declared it an abomination for women to don the martial attire of a man (Deut. 22:5).
A pastor named Douglas Wilson explains this reasoning in more detail on his blog:
First the Scripture:
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Dt. 22:5).
This verse is a prohibition for cross-dressing when it comes to men. But the restriction placed on women here is not simply the reverse of that. When a man is getting kinky in the way described here, it is a straightforward transvesite problem. But going the other way, we should notice a different problem. Notice the odd construction — “that which pertains to a man.” The Hebrew underneath is keli geber, and should be read as the “gear of a warrior.” Whether we are talking about a man in fishnet stockings, or a woman decked out in full battle regalia, we need to recognize that God finds it loathsome. So should we.
I don't think the Bible mention about these. But if the Government make rules, then I think we should follow it unless it is a sin.
Hebrews 13:17 (NIV) Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.