The number of times the word "victory" occurs in the English Bible depends very much on the particular version one uses. For example, "victory" occurs only eleven times in the Authorized Version, while the Revised Standard Version contains forty-four occurrences of the word. This is because a variety of Greek and Hebrew words are used to communicate the concept.
In its Old Testament use, the concept of victory signifies more than just a military conquest, though it includes that. For many of the writers of the Old Testament, victory is ultimately something that comes from the Lord, and it is the Lord who carries on the fight. The Lord will go with the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. He will fight against their enemies, and he will give them the victory ( Deut 20:4 ). Jonathan's role in Israel's victory over the Philistines was possible only because he and God fought together against the enemy ( 1 Sam 14:45 ). David's defeat of Goliath was in fact the Lord's victory wrought for all Israel ( 1 Sam 19:5 ). David's conquest of the Edomites was a victory that the Lord gave to David ( 2 Samuel 8:6 2 Samuel 8:14 ). Similar victories, wrought by the Lord through human agency, are found in the stories of Eleazar, son of Dodo the Ahohite ( 2 Samuel 23:10 2 Samuel 23:12 ) and many others. All ascription of victory must go to the Lord, for his is the greatness, power, glory, and majesty, as well as victory ( 1 Chron 29:11 ). In fact, the prophet Jahaziel on one occasion communicates the word of the Lord to the people of Judah that they need not fight, but simply stand still and see the Lord's salvation ( 2 Chron 20:17 ). So complete is God's sovereignty in victory that he even gives victory to Syria through the agency of Naaman, who is called a mighty man of valor, despite being a leper (cf. the angel of the Lord's similar words to Gideon in Judges 6:12 ).
In the Psalter, the psalmist petitions for victory (i.e., salvation, deliverance) through God's co-regent, the Davidic king. Such victory belongs to the king ( Psalms 20:5 Psalms 20:9 ), even though it comes from the right hand and arm of God ( 44:3 ). However, such victory is not guaranteed by simply military superiority ( 33:17 ), but comes only from God (c.f. 60:5 ; 98:1-3 ; 118:15 ; 144:10 ; 149:4 ). Proverbs reminds the reader that, while human preparation is necessary for battle, victory belongs to the Lord ( 21:31 ).
The prophets comment very little on the notion of victory. Isaiah reminds the inhabitants of Judah living in the postcaptivity restoration that the victorious Babylonian army completes its conquests only because the Lord gives them nations and kings ( 41:2 ). When there is no human agent to intervene, it is the Lord's own arm that brings victory ( 59:16 ; 63:5 ). The Lord, through Jeremiah, promises to avenge himself against arrogant Babylon by sending his own locust-like army to conquer them ( Jer 51:14 ). Zechariah reminds Judah that the Lord himself, as a warrior who gives victory, will restore Judah, renewing his love and exulting over them with loud singing ( 12:7 ).
In the New Testament, the noun form "victory" (nikos [ÅAndrovniko"]) occurs only five times, three of which are Old Testament citations. Matthew 12:20, quoting from Isaiah 42:1-4, states that Jesus (the Suffering Servant) will neither break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick, until he brings justice to victory. Paul states that the resurrection will result in victory over death, rather than death having the victory ( 1 Cor 15:54-55 ; cf. Isa 25:8 ; Hosea 13:14 ). For John, the victory that triumphs over the world is our faith, and the one that overcomes the world is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God ( 1 John 5:4-5 ).
In traditional diatribe style, Paul first asks rhetorically if Israel's unbelief makes God's faithfulness ineffective. Paul rejects such a suggestion outright, instead insisting that even if every man is false, God will be true, insisting that God will triumph in victory when He is judged ( Rom 3:4 ). Likewise, believers are not to be overcome with evil, but are to have the victory over it ( Rom 12:21 ). For Paul, life in Christ is similar to a military battle or an athletic contest, in which it is crucial that one triumph. It is crucial that those who run in this race run so as to obtain the prize ( 1 Cor 9:24 ). Paul describes his own life as pressing on toward this same prize, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus ( Php 3:14 ). However, believers can be thankful to God, who, in Christ, always leads them in triumph ( 2 Cor 2:14 ). In fact, Christ has already publicly triumphed over the hostile principalities and powers ( Col 2:15 ).
Revelation makes much of the language of conquest and victory. In each of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor there is a reference to him to "overcomes." The Lord will grant to the one who overcomes the following: eating of the tree of life, in the paradise of God ( 2:7 ); immunity to the second death ( 2:11 ); receipt of the "hidden manna, " a white stone with a new name inscribed on it, known only to the person himself ( 2:17 ); power over the nations, to rule over them with a rod of iron ( 2:26-27 ); being clad in white garments, name not being blotted out of the book of life, and the confession of his name before the Father and the angels ( 3:5 ); made a pillar in the temple of God; and three new names: the name of God, the name of the city of God, the new Jerusalem, and the Lord's own new name ( 3:12 ); and sitting on the Lord's throne with him ( 3:21 ). The Lord himself, on a white horse, rides forth to conquer ( 6:2 ). The beast will conquer the people of God temporarily ( 11:7 ; 13:7 ), but they will eventually conquer the beast ( 15:2 ). The Lamb, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, will conquer them ( 17:14 ). Finally, the Lord promises that for the one who conquers, the Lord will be his God, and he will be God's son ( 21:7 ).
Andrew L. Smith
Bibliography. O. Bauernfeind, TDNT, 4:942-45; 6:502-15; G. Deling, TDNT, 3:159f.; G. von Rad, Studies in Deuteronomy, pp. 45-49; E. Stauffer, TDNT, 1:134-40; L. E. Toombs, IDB, 4:797-801; L. Williamson, Inter p22 (1968): 317ff.; Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Victory'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".