I would like to follow-up on two of my earlier posts: Deliver Us From Evil, and The Lion and the Lamb. These posts deal with the issue of using physical force in defense. Are we called by Scripture to be pacifist? That is the question.
I know the views stemming from the sacrifice of Jesus, or from using the verse that is paraphrased in the title of this post. I do not intend to develop these here, but will address these views later. I intend to offer something to the contrary – as I have in these earlier posts. Several verses are offered, interspersed with my thoughts. Note: where indicated with an asterisk, these passages were found here:
Psalm 82: 3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Isaiah 1: 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
Proverbs 31: 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Here are several verses about defending the weak, those who are oppressed. I wonder: are we to defend them only with words, perhaps just in court, in front of a judge? Are we only to act passively, after the injustice has been committed – perhaps even their murder? What if defending them requires something more…like a sword?
Jeremiah 22: 3 This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
This is another verse on defending those oppressed. It requires that one does not shed innocent blood while doing so. It offers no prohibition regarding the blood of the guilty. The following verse offers an insight regarding what the guilty can expect:
Exodus 22: 2 “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; 3 but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed. *
At night, intentions are not clear. In the daytime, presumably, intentions can be better understood.
Proverbs 24: 11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
How would we rescue those being led away to death? Again, with words, a judge – after they are killed? God will repay us according to what we have done. Continuing with this passage:
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?
According to this verse, it seems this also includes being repaid for what we haven’t done. Perhaps like not using the sword to defend those being led away to death. This might be better understood by the following:
Exodus 21: 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death. 15 “Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death. 16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession. *
Deuteronomy 24: 7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. *
Am I on safe ground to suggest that if these actions are worthy of the perpetrator being put to death, these are also actions for which one may physically intervene to defend the poor and oppressed? Again, what does “defend” mean? Is it only in court, in judgement? It doesn’t seem to be helpful to the dead victim if this is the case.
Are weapons allowed? In Nehemiah, the Jews have returned to rebuild the walls. The locals are opposed to this.
Nehemiah 4: 13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” *
Half the men did work while the other half held swords. This was to defend against the locals – not against animals of prey, but human beings.
But enough of the Old Testament. Many, like Marcion of Sinope, believe that the Old Testament doesn’t really count anyway. Let’s go to the New Testament.
Matthew 18: 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
Jesus is making the comparison to the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one lost sheep. What if we are the only ones standing in between the little one perishing or not? What if that lost sheep was surrounded by wolves? Sword, or no sword?
1 Timothy 5: 8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Food? Check. Clothing? Check. A roof over their heads? Check. Oh, you want to rape my daughter and kill my wife? Sure, go ahead. Is this how we should understand the word “provide”?
Romans 13: 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Now, I do not want to debate here what is meant by the word “authority.” I have given my thoughts before (most recently here), and in any case the precise meaning is irrelevant here.
So, what is relevant here? Someone is entitled by God to bear the sword, to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Finally, the passage that inspired the title of this post – considered in all four Gospels:
Luke 22: 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.
We are to buy swords. For what purpose? To slice cheese?
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied.
He didn’t say that they misunderstood Him.
John 18: 11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
Jesus didn’t tell Peter to put the sword away because he shouldn’t use a sword. Jesus didn’t say put it away because it was only to be used against wolves. He told Peter to put it away because Jesus was sent to drink the cup.
In Mark, there is no comment from Jesus to Peter after Peter uses his sword. Finally, Matthew:
Matthew 26: 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
Jesus had Peter put away the sword, as He was to drink the cup; it must happen in this way.
Astute readers will note that I skipped over a key verse:
Matthew 26: 52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
If there is one passage in all of Scripture pointed to by those who believe in pacifism or non-violence in all situations, it is this (along with the “love your enemies” passages, which I have addressed in the two posts cited in the first paragraph, above).
In any case, Jesus offers fine advice. But Jesus does not say that it is sinful. He just says that one will die if he draws the sword – it would likely have been the case for Peter that night. Of course, we also know that many who do not draw the sword also die by the sword.
John 15: 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
The context, for Jesus, was our eternal salvation. We do not have this same character; we are not unblemished, a perfect sacrifice. In what context, therefore, would we ever have reason to lay down our life for a friend?
According to the several verses cited, we are responsible to defend those who are oppressed and defenseless. Sometimes this requires a sword. Sometimes drawing a sword will cost us our life.
Hence, the greatest love. There is no love greater.