(Judg 7:2) The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her,
(2 Ki 19:34) I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”
(Isa 31:4-5) This is what the LORD says to me: “As a lion growls, a great lion over his prey– and though a whole band of shepherds is called together against him, he is not frightened by their shouts or disturbed by their clamor– so the LORD Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights. 5 Like birds hovering overhead, the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem; he will shield it and deliver it, he will ‘pass over’ it and will rescue it.”
(Zec 4:6) So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.
I think these verses are true. But then, so are verses such as —
(Deu 2:32-34) When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz, 33 the LORD our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. 34 At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them–men, women and children. We left no survivors.
(Deu 25:19) When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!
It’s easy enough to find pages of passages where God promises his people special protection, and it’s easy to find pages of passages where he orders them into battle, even to the point of compelling his people to eliminate entire nations from the face of the earth.
Now, correctly I think, we argue that the killing of women and children in a military campaign is not an example we should follow, as the capture and purification of the Promised Land was a special case. Israel, as God’s chosen people, acting under God’s orders, could take actions that would not be proper for others to do. Therefore, we rightly condemn genocide when not specifically ordered by the Lord of the Universe.
However, some within the pacifism camp make this argument: God has promised to protect his people. Therefore, we should rely on God’s promises and not on our own strength. Hence, it is wrong to use violence for self-defense. Hence, it is wrong to serve in the military.
Indeed, God promises his protection in the New Testament —
(John 17:11) I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one.
(1 Pet 1:5) who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
Even assuming these verses promise physical protection (as opposed to protection from damnation or temptation), does that mean we should not participate in the military or the police or use violence to repel criminals? Does God’s promise to protect his people mean we have no obligation to protect others from violence?
Consider the following:
1. God’s protection is promised to his Chosen People — to citizens of the Kingdom — not to everyone. If my country is being attacked by an evil person, I can certainly figure that God will protect me. I’m a member of his family. I’m a son! But what of my neighbor? What of those I’m commanded to love who aren’t Christians? Do I allow them to suffer death, imprisonment, etc. because God will protect me?
You see, the line of reasoning that I shouldn’t pick up a sword because God will protect me strikes me as just a tad selfish.
My unbelieving neighbor’s home is being attacked by a rapist and killer. My neighbor cries to me from a basement window, “Get a gun and save my family!” I respond, “God will protect me!”
That’s not love. That’s something much, much worse.
Perhaps I should, instead, dial 9-1-1. But not if I believe the police sin in using violence. And, of course, not if we live in a nation where nearly all are Christians and therefore there are no police.
You see, the thought process that leads to the conclusion that God’s protection means I should never pick up a weapon assumes that we Christians (at least, the real Christians) are in the distinct minority and so do no harm by refusing to participate in “worldly” affairs. We can safely live as strangers in a strange land, suffer the consequences of our decisions, and yet do no harm to others. But that’s not true in a land where the majority are Christians. In such a case, our refusal to defend both ourselves and our neighbors has serious consequences to our neighbors.
Imagine a democracy where nearly everyone is a Christian and all Christians are committed pacifists. Who defends the weak against evil people?
2. Even in Old Testament times, where God frequently made a point to defend his people with astonishingly small forces or with no army at all, he also often allowed Israel to prevail with a large, even an overwhelming army.
(1 Sam 11:8, 11) When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and the men of Judah thirty thousand. … The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
Sometimes God leaves it to his judges and kings to fight with strength, and sometimes he fights through a small force, and sometimes he fights all on his own.
It’s true, I think, that God’s protection of Israel assured them of their survival without regard to their own strength. They were protected by God — as a people — even when their enemies prevailed. God always preserved a remnant. But I can’t find an over-arching Old Testament principle that God would do all the defending and his people had no reason to lift a weapon to protect themselves.
If we must exclude the militarism and violence of the Israelites because they are a special case, how do we argue that they are not a special case when it comes to God’s protection — when even they had to raise armies and build fortifications to be safe. I mean, why did Nehemiah build a wall if God was going to handle their defenses all by himself? And — more to the point — how does the special protection of God for the spiritual Israel — the church — mean we have no duty to protect our neighbors from criminals and invaders?
It can be argued that because life is not the highest value (true), we need not worry about the lives of our neighbors — but the logic fails when we are considering unbelieving neighbors. For them, death means both physical and spiritual death.
You see, it’s just a lot more complicated than we often like to argue.