Posted in self-defense

Is it Lawful or Appropriate? A Question of Governance Regarding Self-Defense and the Loss of Life

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning; from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9.5-6; ESV).

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge. My shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold, my refuge, and my Savior, You save me from violence. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was saved from my enemies…He trains my hands for war; my arms can bend a bow of bronze…I pursue my enemies and destroy them; I do not turn back until they are wiped out. I wipe them out and crush them, and they do not rise; they fall beneath my feet. You have clothed me with strength for battle; You subdue my adversaries beneath me” (2Sam 22.2b-4, 35, 38-40; HCSB).

INTRODUCTION:

Today we return to the subject of self-defense. In particular, we return to the one caveat that gives people fits regarding it…the taking of the life of another. The sixth commandment: “Thou shall not kill [i.e., murder]” (Exod 20.13) is fairly straightforward in the minds of many. I noted this in my previous post. Taken at face value it appears to mean that “all killing” is wrong or unlawful in the eyes of the Lord. But taking things at face value instead of investigating deeper is what children do, not adults.

There are times when killing is appropriate (cf. Eccl 3.3a). Knowing our biblical history reveals that a lot of killing has been accomplished by the time God writes this commandment on the tablet of stone with His finger (an anthropomorphic expression which means, by His power; comp. Exod 8.19; 24.12; 31.18). A clear indicator that not all killing is deemed unholy.

I’m not sure exactly why this teaching is so offensive to our generation of Christian men and women? Don’t get me wrong I have my suspicions about why this is the case. But let us just state at the outset that I believe the reason is related to our modern generation (perhaps, the last few generations) inability or unwillingness to see the Bible as a unified, cohesive whole. Just like our corporate media here in the US cherry-picks their narratives, many professing Christians cherry-pick their Bibles. On some level, we can’t fault them. They have been taught and in many churches across this nation (at least these are my limited observations) are still be instructed to see the Bible all chopped up in verses. And so, favorite verses are chosen as representative of biblical truth, and yet, unfortunately, they have been ripped out of context. The result is a very shallow comprehension of biblical truth.

To illustrate this to the church I pastor I gave them a test where they were given various biblical terms and they had to choose whether these key-word concepts were “good, evil (bad), or both.” I will admit that Gary DeMar’s book Myths, Lies & Half-Truths gave me the idea. So I can’t claim originality. But, I did develop it further than what he did in his work and I went in a slightly different direction.1 The reactions when the tests were publicly graded and discussed were all across the board. Some were delighted to learn their thinking was in error (an eager student wants to learn and so is not discouraged by a gentle correction) but others were angered and attempted to argue the point.

What I have found is that the same is true when it comes to the matter of self-defense, specifically, when the defense in question leads to the loss of human life. However, if Christians would take the time (and put forth the effort) to study what the Bible actually teaches regarding a specific topic there would be fewer negative knee-jerk reactions to contend with. We must allow God’s Word to determine our thinking in this matter. This is why I pointed out at the closing of my last article that there are exceptions to the rule as seen in Exodus 22:2-3 (pertaining to the thief who breaks in), Exodus 21:12 (when civil authorities are authorized to kill murderers), and in Nehemiah 4:11-14 (when war is justified to protect life and property from another nation/people).

Necessary Safeguard…2

That being said, God does not allow us to wantonly take the life of a fellow creature. His law on this matter pertains to all creatures made by Him. Similarly, He protects animal life from being taken without justification. In short, no one is allowed to kill just because they feel like it.

"And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image" (Gen 9.5-6; ESV).

What do these verses suggest? That whoever takes life without cause, their life will be forfeit. Whether it be a man or an animal. Have you ever wondered why, when a pet kills someone, they put it down? This is why. The Lord God deems it necessary to put a dangerous animal down…just like He does dangerous human beings.3 Though there are many, I will cite two laws to sate the appetite of the curious mind.

"Now if an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall certainly be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. If however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death" (Exod 21:28-29).
"He who strikes someone so that he dies shall certainly be put to death. Yet if he did not lie in wait for him, but God caused him to fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which you may flee. If, however, someone is enraged against his neighbor, so as to kill him in a cunning way, you are to take him even from my altar, to be put to death" (Exod 21.12.14).

A brief explanation of cited texts:

The first text deals with an animal4, in this case, livestock which was common in Israel at this time as a beast of burden. If the animal proved to be aggressive to the point of causing the death of a human being, then it was necessary to put that animal down. The owner was innocent of the animal’s aggression unless there had been prior cause to warn the owner to be cautious. An animal that had evidenced an aggressive nature in the past was to be put under guard. It was the owner’s responsibility to guard the lives of his neighbor and his animal. Failing to do this, if the animal killed another, would result in the owner’s life being forfeit as well; for he refused to do what was right and was therefore liable.

The only exception to this is found in Exodus 21:30,

If instead a ransom is demanded of him, he can pay a redemption price for his life in the full amount demanded from him” (HCSB).

This is a case of the victims’ desire to be merciful, something God allowed for. Please note it was not the judges’ decision but the decision of the victimized party whether or not mercy was to be shown to the guilty party. The imposition of a fine was what they deemed worthy, rather than the individual’s life, and in this case, a lawful exception was made.

The second text (Exod 21.12, 14) deals with two types of killing. The first we would recognize as murder, the other, from our understanding, would label it manslaughter. Murder is a crime against another human being where they purposefully strike to kill.5 However, as the text points out a person who takes the life of another accidentally (i.e., manslaughter) is not considered a murderer. They were allowed to flee to a city of refugee if the preceding investigation proved that they were not guilty of premeditation (cf. Num 35.24; Deut 13.14; 17.4; 19.18).

But what about accidental death due to negligence? Texts dealing with loose ax heads or not putting a fence up around a dangerous structure on one’s property make you liable if someone was injured or hurt because of your negligence (cf. Deut 19.4-5; 22.8 respectively). Even getting in an altercation where a pregnant woman gets hit and it causes her to prematurely go into labor if that baby is injured or killed whatever happened to the child was required of the attacker who hit her: accident or not doesn’t matter (See: Exod 21:22-24).

Life is sacred. It is a gift from our Creator. Therefore, it is to be protected at all times. This is the meaning of the prohibition announced after the Flood. God was declaring through Noah to the rest of the human race that whoever treated lightly the life of mankind, be it another man or beast, their life was (is) forfeit. To shed the blood of another, which is a figurative way of saying—“ending their life” is to give up the right to life. For God authorizes and requires the use of lethal force against the perpetrator.

And, no, that’s not a contradiction, for as we have seen in just these few examples not all circumstances are equal. The goal of the death penalty (another form of defense in the civil sphere of governance) is the protection of life.6 The sentences were to be carried out swiftly once the court of law had convened and determined the situation appropriately, according to the evidence. Why? Two reasons are given in Scripture. First, so that evil might be purged from the surrounding society. Second, the death penalty served as a deterrent to the other wicked in the community who might be inclined to perpetrate evil. As it is written,

"So you shall eliminate the evil among you. And the rest of the people will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. So you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot" (Deut 19.19b-21; also see: Deut 13.11; 17.13; 21:21).

Wrapping things up…

The question of defense is a governmental one. An unfortunate reality, however, is the average understanding of government is a narrow one. The majority of the passages cited in this article are taken from the case laws of the Pentateuch. They served as instructions for how the civil sphere was to respond to the behaviors of some to protect society as a whole. In this fashion then, we see the application of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:4,

...be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (NASB).

But is the civil government the only form of government? No. Think about this. To whom were the laws of God written? A nation or a people? A group or the individual? Both. God’s law first applies to the man or woman who is made in His image, and then, it applies to the nation as a whole. Personal government is the sphere where the individual is charged with performing the Law of God in their life. When a person’s behavior is shown to be in rebellion to this standard of holiness all sorts of vile actions are produced. Murder, the wanton taking of the life of another, is one such violation. To strike against another, to end their life without justification is a criminal offense one that aims for the Creator who gave life. One punishable by death.7

Is that the same thing when a person defends their life or the life of another and a loss of life occurs? Is that act of self-defense the same thing as murder? Another related question is this: “Is the civil government the only governing agency authorized to use the sword?” Let us make this a little more relevant to our time: “Is the civil government the only governing agency authorized to bear arms?”

I want to be careful here because it is easy to be misunderstood. I am only speaking about extreme cases. Self-defense may be a daily reality but it is only exercised on rare occasions. But on those rare occasions, as I’ve put it, is it the right of the individual to use such force in the protection of life? Not as an aggressor, but as a defender?

The text of 2Samuel 22 (and others like it) seems to suggest this is correct. Notice in vv. 3-4 that David states the Lord protects him from violence and saves him from his enemies, but later on, in the same Psalm, David also explains that it is God who “trains my hands for war” (v. 35; HCSB). And those later verses explain that David showed no mercy to those who sought his life. What are we to do with this biblical teaching? Do we ignore it? Do we pass it over? Do we rationalize this passage (and others like it) in an effort to delegitimize it? Essentially, placing it on the proverbial shelf, calling it Old, and thus, not worthy of the New?

When next we meet we shall look at a couple of Scriptural passages that have caused no small amount of confusion for Christian commentators, where Jesus offers insight into the questions I’ve been asking.

ENDNOTES:

1For example, Gary DeMar, wrote in his Introduction, “When I was very young, I remember seeing a western on television where a dispute was settled by the answer to a simple Bible question. I can’t tell you anything else about the movie, but that one scene is etched in my mind. Here’s the question: ‘Who cut off Samson’s hair?’ A smile appeared on the man’s face as he confidently responded, ‘Delilah.’ No doubt the majority of people would have given the same answer, and they like the man in the long-forgotten western, would be wrong [it was a man: Judges 16:19].” DeMar continues, “While the Samson and Delilah hair removal story is not a central doctrine of the Christian faith, it does demonstrate that if a misreading of the Bible is passed on as fact, with few people ever checking the text for accuracy, then misinformation or worse (myths, lies and half-truths) becomes a part of the biblical record.” Myths, Lies & Half-Truths: How Misreading the Bible Neutralizes Christians (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2004), xv.

2The reason why safeguards are necessary for the protection of life (both animal and human) is that human beings are violent creatures that love death (cf. Prov 8.36). We live in a fallen world where the wanton taking of a life, be it a human or animal, is a reality. But the warning is given to God’s stewards so that the faithful protect life (sometimes in its preservation, at other times in its removal).

3On this point Gary North writes, “There are no exceptions based on idiocy, temporary insanity, temporary anger, or anything else. Unless it can be proved that the death came as a result of an accident—no premeditation—the criminal is to be executed. The willful shedding of man’s blood must be punished by the civil government by execution.” The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), 116, PDF E-book.

4The application would go beyond livestock, for the principle in the law is in regards to an animal, even though “ox” is mentioned. Being able to draw the applying principle from the cultural consideration of the period, in which, the text was originally written to a specific audience, is of paramount importance.

5This would likewise apply to those who desired the outcome, participated in some way (like paying for an assassin), or refused to offer aid in the preservation of life (cf. Prov 24.11-12; Lev 19.17; Rom 1.32). Thus, the malicious witness falls under the category of “worthy of death” if they are testifying about a crime supposedly committed where the death penalty is applicable. Say, for example, accusing a man of rape when no rape has been committed. The penalty for rape is death, and so the malicious witness in such a scenario would, when they are found guilty through investigation, be applied to them (cf. Deut 19.16-19).

6In light of Genesis 9:5-6 North explains, “[This passage] explains the nature of the [murder] violation: man’s life is uniquely important to God, since man is made in God’s image. An assault on man is an assault on the image of God. [Moreover,] the clause explains why men, by means of the civil government, are required to execute bloody judgment on murderers. Man is made in the image of God; therefore, as God’s image, mankind can bring judgment in the name of God, the supreme Judge who executes final judgment. Man is God’s agent who exercises God’s delegated authority. He is an agent of the King. He is to exercise dominion over the earth… [as] a royal agent, and as such, he deserves protection.” Ibid., 117.

7This is why Kyle Rittenhouse’s use of a firearm had to be investigated. If he wantonly took the life of another, then he’d have been guilty of murder. However, if it could be proved that he was provoked, fearing for his safety with no other recourse, and was therefore justified in his killing, then he’d be found innocent. Which he was.

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