Posted in Biblical Questions

When Men who Act like Beasts Attack: Further Inquiry into the Question of Self-Defense

And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of [Goliath]; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine. And Saul said to David, Thou are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth. And David said to 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, see he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said moreover, the Lord had delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1Sam 17.32-37a: KJV).

INTRODUCTION:

Self-defense does not necessitate killing but it is sometimes necessary to kill when one is forced to defend themselves or others. Though there will be those that deny such a necessity, their denial, regardless of how strongly they hold to it, does not disprove that we have a God-given right to protect our person, our loved ones (this includes our neighbors depending on the circumstances) and our property.

Citizens of the United States of America have a special privilege that the rest of the world does not enjoy, a Bill of Rights integrated within our federal constitution. These rights at the time of their formation were recognized as inalienable rights, something not conferred to individuals by their civil government but meant to be preserved and protected from governing institutions. A couple of historical citations provided by David Barton, author the book entitled “The Second Amendment” confirms:

“Constitution signer John Dickinson, like so many of the others in his day, defined an inalienable right as a right ‘which God gave to you and which no inferior power has a right to take away’”1

In case you’re wondering “inferior power” would be the civil government at any level, since such authorities have received delegated powers from the One whose power has no limits in either scope or authority… Almighty God of heaven and earth. Barton adds further insight into the convictions of the day (18th century) when he cites “James Wilson…one of only six Founders who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution” for having made the following remarks about our inalienable rights being guarded by the Bill of Rights:

“…to acquire a new security for the possession or the recovery of those rights to… which we were previously entitled by the immediate gift or by the unerring law of our all-wise and all-beneficent Creator.”2

This includes the right to self-defense (2nd Amendment); An inalienable right, a gift from our Creator, to guard the gift of “Life”3 and all those things pertaining to it (i.e., liberty and the pursuit of happiness, among other things not mentioned). It does not require a law degree to know how to read. Meaning, you don’t need to be a constitutional lawyer or have earned a doctorate in history to comprehend the original intention behind our nation’s founding documents. But it does require a little effort on our part.

Exegesis is a literary discipline that I have taught to youth and adults alike when studying their Bible. To exegete, a text means to draw out of it the original intention of the author when written. This requires the reader to learn all they can about the writer(s), their audience, the history surrounding the material, and the language that was common at the time when their work was finished.

You may be wondering, “Why is that important? Seems like a lot of work to me.” You’d be right, it is a lot of work, nonetheless necessary if we are going to avoid gross errors of misinterpretation. When we read, especially when reading works of history, we want to avoid reading our ideas or feelings into the text. The author (of whatever work you are reading) had an original intent, an original purpose that needs to be properly weighed, so your duty is to keep the integrity of the text as unmarred as possible.

I want to be brief here, but I believe it is important enough to share with you in case you didn’t know or are misinformed. Inalienable rights are not granted by people in high places but are endowed in the image-bearers of God, from their Creator. In other words, all human beings have these essential rights as their birthright. If you happen to live in a time or place where they are not recognized or dismissed it is because of the tyrannical despots in positions of authority above you. Of course, such rights are contingent upon one’s response to the law; in particular, the law of God. This includes the question of self-defense; a topic that has held my attention for quite a while now.4

Self-defense is not an argument limited to conservative versus liberal (i.e., progressive) circles, but one that is ofttimes hotly debated within Christian circles. Why this is the case is rather simple: self-defense is a religious issue. And so, my question when someone argues a particular point for or against an issue is, “By what standard?” or “Who says?” The answer to whether or not self-defense is right or wrong (which sometimes leads to the taking of another life) must be answered on the grounds of an absolute standard. Since I am convinced that the Christian worldview has an absolute standard (biblical revelation) that may be applied at all times, regarding all situations, I believe it is necessary to see what the Bible has to say on the issue in question.

Bears and Lions and Men who Behave like Them: A Brief Analysis of 1Samuel 17:32-37

I would imagine most people are somewhat familiar with the biblical story of “David and Goliath.” There is a good reason for this, it is the story of conquering the unconquerable foe. Depictions of the historical event often show David as a little shepherd boy fighting a mighty giant decked out in the finest armor, wielding weapons fit for a behemoth. David did fight a giant but he was not a little boy. He put on the armor of Saul a man the scriptures testify was a head taller than the rest of his peers (cf. 1Sam 9.2), it wasn’t too big for him, he just wasn’t used to fighting in it (cf. 1Sam 17.38-39). Moreover, by today’s reckoning, David would have been considered a young man. Twenty was the age of service in Israel’s army (cf. Exod 30.14; Num 1.3), our young shepherd would have been around 18.

Though popular Christian movies like Facing the Giants attempt to capitalize on the concept of vanquishing an insurmountable foe by trusting in the Lord, that is not the message conveyed in the 17th chapter of 1Samuel. To be fair, we do see an element of this truth at work, but what you have in this encounter is a comparison between the people’s choice of king and God’s.

You see, David was anointed to be the next king of Israel in 1Samuel 16:12-13. The Lord told His prophet, Samuel, to not just like mankind by just looking at outward appearances (1Sam 16.6-7). For God had chosen a man to be king that looked different than what people often look for in a leader. According to the Lord God, David was a man after His own heart (1Sam 16.7b; cf. 13.14). Meaning David’s primary concern was living for God; being a reflective image bearer, concerned about thinking and acting in a way that pleased the Lord above. If you’ve paid much attention to this historic book of the first two kings of Israel, then you’ll know how different this makes David from Saul. Saul was concerned about pleasing people, not God (cf. 1Sam 13.11). Saul was concerned about his image, not God’s (cf. 1Sam 15.12). Saul was keen on listening to and elevating his word above the Lord of Glory’s Word (cf. 1Sam 14.18-19, 24, 28-29). Time and time again Saul was depicted as unfit to be king over Israel (cf. 1Sam 28). He had the attitude of the people of the book of Judges, those that pretended they “… [had] no king in Israel; [therefore, Saul] did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21.25).

What was at issue in 1Samuel 17 was faith. The king had no faith in God so he hid in his tent (1Sam 17.11). He even tried to bribe any valiant warrior who would match arms with Goliath on the battlefield with his daughter and the promise of no taxes for his family (1Sam 17.25, 27). A role that Saul fulfilled when God had anointed him to fight for Israel (1Sam 9.16). Well, the king had no faith evidenced by no courage, and as a result, neither did the rest of Israel’s army. They cowered every time they heard a challenge being shouted from the valley by the Philistinian giant. And then comes David the young shepherd, who had been secretly anointed by the prophet Samuel as the next king of Israel.

David hears the challenge of Goliath and he is angered. My guess is he was also a bit perturbed by the lack of faith in Israel at this time. And so, to the angst of his brothers (armed soldiers cowering on the hillside), David heads to Saul’s tent. He explains to Saul that he will fight this Philistine. Saul needs to be convinced for at first he denies the sanity of David’s request:

Thou are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth” (1Sam 17.33; KJV).

In other words, Saul is saying to David “You can’t fight this fellow, he’s a trained man. He’s been warring with others since he was young like you! If you continue down this course, you will die.”

But David is undeterred. He recites to the king his previous encounters with dangerous enemies. As a shepherd of his father’s sheep, he had to face off against lions and bears. When they attacked his father’s flock he did not hesitate to go after them to rescue the lamb. And if those predators attempted to assail him, he killed them:

And I went after him [either lion or bear], 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” (1Sam 17.35; KJV).

In David’s mind, the Philistine named Goliath would share in their lot. For with great confidence, not in himself as a man but as a creature endowed by his Creator, he said,

Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.’ And David said, ‘The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, He will save me from the hand of this Philistine” (1Sam 17.36-37; NASB).

And the rest is, as they say, history. David slew Goliath. He defended God’s flock (Israel) from a beast of a man, and he proved himself as the rightful king to come. A young man who entrusted his life (and through his action) the life of others into the Sovereign King over all the Earth.

How is that Self-Defense?

An appropriate question I think by the reader at this point would be, “How is that self-defense?”According to a trusted English dictionary, self-defense is “the act of defending oneself, one’s property, or a close relative.”5 So who was David defending when he stepped on the battlefield? Himself. Who was David concerned about when he stepped on the battlefield? His fellow Israelite’s. Ultimately, whose honor was David attempting to guard on the battlefield that day, as a witness to the world? The Holy One of Israel, the living God—Yahweh (1Sam 17.36).

You see, Goliath was threatening Saul and the men of Israel in Socoh (1Sam 17.1). By extension, this was a threat against their women and children. Wars in that period were primarily fought by men, but the losing army would experience further pain knowing that their families and neighbors likewise were endangered. This means that David was among those being threatened by Goliath and the Philistinian army. But this attack was not just against men (and their families), it was also against the God they represented. The young shepherd fought to protect the sheep (analogically speaking) of God in the name of the One who anointed him (called him) to service. David took the battlefield as a defender.

Getting to the heart of the matter…

We have reached a key point in this article. To attack a fellow human being is not only to attack their person, but also the God who gave them life, as it is His image they bear (cf. Gen 9.5-6).

Listen, when you threaten the life of another when you assault them when you prey upon them, you are in that moment making the self-claim to godhood. Assailants and attackers and murders who prey on others assume that they have the right to do what they please. It is an attempt to demonstrate power over the life of another through the use of force.6 It is also a blatant finger being thrown into the face of the Triune Creator God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). This is precisely what Nimrod did (Gen 10.8-9) before his kingdom came crumbling down (cf. Gen 11.1-9). To act in such a manner is not only to attack an individual, but it is likewise an attempt to smite the Author of Life.

But does this make it right to kill, to play a part in violence, to use weapons of war? That is a subject in which we shall venture into next time….

ENDNOTES:

1David Barton, The Second Amendment: Preserving the Inalienable Right of Individual Protection (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 2000), Kindle Edition, loc 48-55. Dickinson’s comments are taken from the following document: John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, R.T. H. Halsey, editor (New York: The Outlook Company, 1903), p. xlii, letter to the Society of Fort St. David’s, 1768.

2Ibid., loc 60. Emphasis in original. Wilson’s comments taken from his written work: James Wilson and Thomas McKean, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States of America (London: J. Debrett, 1792); Volume II, page 454.

3“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, a—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Declaration of Independence, PDF, 2nd par. Italics added.

4This has been a debate in our nation (the United States of America) for quite a while. The Kyle Rittenhouse case brought it to the forefront in a way that other cases did not. In part, I would imagine this was due to the upheaval we witnessed last year in many cities across our country in response to the BLM and ANTIFA riots. Like many issues where disagreement is sharp, it is necessarily polarizing.

5Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2008 Desktop edition, s.v., “self-defense” def. 2.

6SIDE NOTE: This is one of the reasons why the whole Coronavirus narrative has me so upset. The government is attempting to use the strong arm of the law—their power, their influence—to coerce a population to make choices regarding health they deem fit. They are threatening the livelihood of those who do not comply by manipulating businesses to force inoculation with an experimental drug. (Sorry, I’m not sure what you’d call something to be taken into the human body without informed consent; consent that has all three phases of clinical trials available, all safety data and content of the “medication” provided). We invest an incredible amount of time in education and training in a particular field of occupation and that is going to be stripped from so many in the blink of an eye. That is an act of violence against a population for not following arbitrary commands. (Again, sorry but not sorry, how many times has the narrative flip-flopped regarding the handling of so-called safety measures in light of this virus?).