In Psalm 149:6–7, David, a man after Elohim’s own heart, speaking of the saints wrote, “Let the high praises of El be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people.” Was David’s statement merely poetic hyperbole, or was this how he, as the king and a spiritual shepherd of Israel, literally defended the people YHVH had placed under his charge? We know from his life story that the latter was the case.
When Abraham, the father of the faithful and a man who was the model of righteousness had his nephew Lot kidnapped what was his response? Does Scripture record that he prayed, then sat down expecting YHVH to supernaturally intervene and cause the Babylonians to release Lot? No. His response was to muster the 318 soldiers of his own personal army and to pursue the five kings. What was the result? YHVH granted Abraham a miraculous victory over Lot’s captors and Abraham gave a tithe of the spoils of war to Melchizekek (Gen 14).
The Torah, YHVH’s divine instructions in righteousness, in Exodus 22:2, permits and even expects a man to defend himself against a thief breaking into his home. If the defense of one’s home results in the death of the thief, there is no retribution against the defender. There are no penalties or prohibitions in biblical law against a man acting in self defense.
The well-known Aaronic Blessings (Num 6:22–27) contains the following words, “May YHVH bless you and keep [or, safeguard, The ArtScroll Stone Edition Tanach] you.” The word keep is the Hebrew word shomar (Strong’s H8104) meaning “guard, observe, watch, have charge of, protect, save.” Such a promised blessing could be taken in two different ways: one simply sits back and does nothing to protect oneself, for that is YHVH’s job; or one does what one can to protect oneself in a reasonable and prudent manner, and beyond that one trusts YHVH to do the rest. The latter and not the former is the logical approach to follow, and is substantiated by numerous scriptural examples to be the correct interpretation of this verse.
Psalm 145, the famous Ashrei blessing of the daily Jewish prayers, states that YHVH protects all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy (verse 20). The psalmist restates this idea elsewhere when he declares that YHVH saves his servant “out of all his troubles,” the righteous he “delivers … out of all their troubles,” and “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but YHVH delivers him out of them all” (Ps 34:6, 17, 19, emphasis added). The question we must ask here is this: does all literally mean all, in biblical thought? Clearly Scripture gives us a historical record of many of YHVH’s servants being persecuted and even martyred. Furthermore, the Scriptures prophesy that in the future many saints can expect this fate as well. Such passages are to be found in both the Tanakh (Old Testament) and Testimony of Yeshua (New Testament). Are the promises of YHVH a lie, or are we missing what he is really saying to us when he promises to deliver his people from all their troubles? Clearly, in light of the scriptural promises, the historical record and prophecies recorded in Scripture, all can mean only one thing: YHVH will deliver his people from ultimate evil, namely, death, hell and the grave, and he will avenge them of their adversaries by bringing ultimate judgment against them. This doesn’t mean that he won’t deliver his people from present evil by supernaturally protecting them, but some will suffer and even die a martyr’s death here and now. His people must trust in his sovereignty, love, justice and be assured that he has their best interests in mind even if they suffer and die now. The reward of the righteous is sure as is the fate of the wicked; both are in the hands of a just and all powerful Elohim.
With these truths in mind, it is the responsibility of the righteous to walk in faith, trusting YHVH day-by-day with their lives, but not to be blithely ignorant of the evil around them throwing all caution and prudent preparations to withstand evil to the winds of fate and calling it faith in YHVH. This is not faith; it is folly! Wise saints do not even practice this kind of “blind faith” in their daily physical lives. Most have locks on their doors, have fire extinguishers and first aid kits handy, maintain insurance policies, keep spare tires in their cars, wear seat belts and have extra batteries and food in their homes in case of an emergency. Proper preparation is called wisdom, and to not do so is foolish and fool-hardy. To not prepare, if one is able to do so, is not faith, but is tempting YHVH, something Scripture tells us not to do (Matt 4:7; Deut 6:16).
Scriptures Used to Justify Christian Pacifism
“Love [Gk. agape] your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matt 5:44)
This is not an instruction to lay down in the face of an aggressor who’s aim is to cause physical harm to you or your loved ones. If it were, then by refusing to protect your or your loved ones from an attacker would amount to preferring (loving) one’s enemies over one’s own life and those of one’s loved ones. This would be tantamount to loving your enemy to the detriment of self and loved ones, which, in essence is hating self and loved ones. This is absurd, and the Scriptures nowhere advocate such nonsense!
“Therefore all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them, for this is the law [Torah] and the prophets.” (Matt 7:12)
Neither the Torah nor the biblical prophets forbid self defense.
“You have heard that it has been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say unto you, That you resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not yourself away.” (Matt 5:38–42)
At issue here, according to the contextual Hebraic understanding of this passage, is not self defense, but interpersonal relationships between individuals—especially neighbors. This passage is not referring to an aggressive adversary who is determined to cause physical harm to you. “Turning the other cheek” is an instruction on how to deal with verbal insults, offences, mistreatments, and personal attacks that come our way. The righteous are not to give in to vengeance, the carrying of offenses and grudges, and retaliatory actions against those who have slighted them in word or in deed. Yeshua admonishes his followers to be peacemakers, to be forgiving, and to walk in charity (Commentary in the NT from the Talmud and Hebraica, vol 2, p. 130, by John Lightfoot, Hendrickson). Stern commenting on this passage writes that the Torah establishes just criteria for restitution amount when determining damages awards when one person hurts another (Exod 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21), and that these laws act to control or limit revenge one party may feel toward another. He then quotes the Mishnah to show that rabbinic code concerning amounts for legal damages far exceeded the eye-for-an-eye principle of Torah. Yeshua was opposing this false interpretation of the law, and was appealing to people to walk in forgiveness and mercy instead of perpetuating an endless cycle of retribution and violence (Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 29).
This is the summation of the Torah-law that pertains to our regular dealings with our fellow man. This in no way is a prohibition against self defense against a violent attacker. Torah not only does not prohibit self defense, but protects those who have killed in self defense by providing them cities of refuge to where they may flee. There they would find safety from retributions of the family members of the deceased.
“You shall not kill.” (Exod 20:13)
In the sixth commandment, the Hebrew meaning of “kill” is “murder.”
“Then said Yeshua unto him, ‘Put up again thy sword into his place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.’” (Matt 26:52)
Defending oneself or one’s loved ones against an attacker is not “living by the sword.” For such a person, the use of arms is not a lifestyle, but a necessary tool if and when necessary to protect life.
“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says YHVH. Therefore if your enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him drink, for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:17–21)
The context of this passage is our dealings with our fellow man or neighbor, and the context of this passage pertains to fellow believers in Yeshua (verse 4–8), not an aggressive attacker who is intent on causing physical harm to oneself or one’s loved ones. In verse 18, Paul says, “If possible live in peace with all men,” implying that it may not always be possible to do so.
If these verses could be taken to justify the doctrine of pacifism, then other biblical scriptures that justify self defense would be at odds with these passages making Scripture contradictory, thus breaking YHVH’s Word. Yeshua said that the Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35).These passages cannot violate other clear teaching of Scripture. If there is a problem in interpreting them to be consistent with the rest of YHVH’s Word, the problem is with us, NOT with YHVH’s Word. This is a fundamental law of biblical interpretation.
Scripture Nowhere Forbids Self Defense
The Scriptures give us many examples of believers being martyred or persecuted for their faith. This generally occurs while they are in the line of duty while doing the work of YHVH. It is one thing to lay one’s life down, if one is called to do so, for the kingdom of YHVH. In this, his kingdom may actually be advanced as was the case with the death of Yeshua, John the Baptist, Stephen and many others. It is quite another thing, however, to let someone kill you and your family because you refused to stand up to evil and to protect the flock YHVH has put in your charge. Nowhere does Scripture forbid the defense of self, family, loved ones, or the helpless and innocent.
Our first line of self defense should always be spiritual in nature and must be grounded in our personal relationship with the living and sovereign Elohim. Such a relationship starts with a healthy fear of YHVH, a trusting faith in the blood of the Lamb, Yeshua the Messiah, and his redemptive work on the cross. Only through a vital relationship with the One through whom we overcome the world, flesh and the devil, and through whom we are more than a conqueror can we ever hope to overcome spiritual and physical evil. But Scripture shows us that while even engaged in spiritual activities, making provision for the defense of ourselves or others may be necessary. While praising YHVH, David mentions having in hand a sharp two-edged sword (Psalm 149:6–7). Nehemiah, while rebuilding the Temple of YHVH, posted armed guards all about to protect the workers (Neh 4:13). Nowhere did the righteous men of old not defend themselves and their families if it was in their power to do so.
In the Testimony of Yeshua in Ephesians 5:25, 28–29, we are taught that a husband is to give himself up for his wife as Yeshua did for the saints. This would include being willing to sacrifice his life to care for her and protect her.
Also in Ephesians 6:10–18 we find described the spiritual armor of Elohim. Notice that only the sword is an offensive weapon; all other armor described is defensive in nature. This implies that there is nothing inherently wrong with defending oneself from attacks of the enemy. If our spiritual enemies attack us, we are to defend ourselves spiritually. What if our enemy attacks us physically? Do we not defend ourselves in this case also? What if our physical enemy attacks us while being driven to do so by demonic or spiritual forces? What should we do then? Attack the spiritually enemy while allowing the physical entity under the spiritual enemy’s influence to assault us? This would be absurd! One thing is certain. Before we find ourselves in such a situation, we must fully understand the issues of self defense and martyrdom from a biblical perspective so that we will make the right decisions based on a full understanding of Scripture when pressed to do so.
Clearly, as the wise Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time to kill and a time to make alive. Sometimes lives are saved by killing, and conversely, sometimes we might save lives by laying our own life down. There is not a one-size-fits-all-situations rule that determines when to stand and fight, and when to lay one’s life down. Only as one is pressed into deep and intimate relationship with Yeshua who is the Master of our lives, who owns us because he has bought and paid for his people by his precious redeeming blood, and therefore has the fight to preserve or take our lives, will we know what to do when in a life or death situation. If Yeshua is able to give us the words to say when standing before our accusers (Matt 10:19; Luke 21:14–15), will he not direct his people what to do in the face of an aggressor?
Keep in mind the following biblical principles when considering whether to defend oneself or one’s loved ones or not:
- There is a time to kill and a time to make alive.
- YHVH never forbids defense of self, family or nation.
- Torah even provides cities of refuge for those to flee to who in defending themselves killed another.
- YHVH forbids murder. However, the Bible does not consider self-defence that leads to the death of the attacker to be murder.
- A shepherd carried a rod and a staff (Ps 23:4). The rod was for protecting the sheep. Fathers and husbands, are you the protector of your families?
- A man who does not provided for the needs of his family has denied he faith and is worse than infidel (1 Tim 5:8). This biblical principle requires him to not only to provide them with food, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities of life, but physical (and spiritual) protection, as well.
- In the Scriptures, YHVH says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay. ” This implies that we are not to retaliate against those who abuse or attack us. Though we are not to take vengeance on someone, this command does not preclude self defense.
Second-century Christianity largely rejected the Torah, its Hebrew roots, and a Hebraic understanding of Scripture. At the same time, the early church fathers adopted the heretical and unscriptural view that the Old and New Testaments were opposed to each other. They viewed the former in a negative light, and the latter in a positive light. Since they felt that the New Testament emphasized love and grace more than the Old Testament, they rejected much of what the Old Testament teaches about self defence. This gave rise to the unscriptural view of extreme pacificism.
Let’s look at an example from intertestamental history. The Jews of the pre-Macabbean world refused to defend themselves against their enemies when attacked on Sabbath, for fear of violating biblical laws pertaining to the Sabbath. The Jews finally began to defend themselves on the Sabbath when their enemies would attack them on that day. Had they not done this, all of the Jews in the time period prior to the birth of Yeshua may well have been killed and Yeshua would not have been born.
We take self defense measures every day, and take them for granted, so why shouldn’t we protect ourselves from evil individuals who would threaten us and our families? For example, we …
- lock our doors to keep out intruders
- buy insurance to protect us from calamities
- carry spare tires in our cars
- wear seat belts to protect us in case of an accident
- have fire extinguisher, smoke alarms and first aid kits in our homes and cars
- wear clothes to protect ourselves from our environment
- live in homes to protect us from the weather, animals, and other people
- save money for hard times
- invest money for our retirement
- store food and supplies for emergencies
- buy extended warranties and insurance policies to protect the goods we buy
One thing that should distinguish believers in YHVH from the heathen is their conviction that YHVH will provide them protection that surpasses their ability to protect themselves. But at the same time, we must not let this conviction cause us to throw common sense to the wind. To fail to take prudent precautionary measures to insure self preservation could be considered tempting YHVH.
Sometimes believers fail to take measures to protect themselves because it is simply not in their power to do so. An example of this would be when the Israelites were boxed in by the Red Sea, the mountains and Pharaoh’s army, where helpless, and unable to defend themselves, YHVH placed the pillar of fire between them and their enemies. He later drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea. Shortly after that, the Amalakites attacked the Israelites who defended themselves with weapons they presumably obtained from the dead Egyptians. In the first case, the Israelites were unable to defend themselves against the military might of the Egyptians, but in the latter case, they were able to defend themselves against the Amalakites, and YHVH required them to do so.
All Believers Will Suffer Persecution
The Scriptures clearly state that all believers in Yeshua will suffer persecution, and some will be martyred for their faith. Yeshua affirmed this (Matt 5:10–12). Some of this persecution will even come by the hands of those claiming to be followers of Elohim. It will come by the hands of secular governments, from one’s own family, and from all men (John 16:1–2; Matt 16–18,21–22). Yeshua instructs his followers that when persecuted, do not fight, but flee to another city, and to not fear if your persecutors kill you physically, for they cannot kill you spiritually (verses 23,28; see also Matt 24:8–10; John 15:18–25). These Scriptures plainly teach us that persecution would be a way of life for the true followers of Yeshua while they are advancing the gospel message. Clearly, Yeshua does not want his followers to act violently or aggressively when advancing the gospel. But are his instructions to be taken as a mandate to not resist any evil that may come against us or our loved ones?
Just because the followers of Yeshua will suffer persecution, does this mean that they must acquiesce when their families and loved ones are attacked? Nowhere does Scripture teach us that the redeemed must sit passively by while evil- doers rape, murder, kidnap, abuse, or injure our family and loved ones. If we are able to do something to prevent evil from happening, or to defend ourselves against evil doers, then by all means we should. Nothing in Scripture prohibits this.
There may come a time when YHVH’s people will be powerless to do anything to protect ourselves. This is the current situation in many third world nations where totalitarian, atheistic regimes, and intolerant religious systems persecute and kill believers in Yeshua every day. If we find ourselves in this situation, then our fate is in YHVH’s hands. Some, like Stephen and all the other martyred apostles, will die a martyrs’s death, while others will be delivered miraculously by the arm of YHVH, as he wills. But not everyone is called to be a martyr.
Examples of the Early Believers Being Persecuted and Martyred
False Testimony Against Believers
- Acts 6:11–14, Stephen slandered and killed.
- Acts 21:7, The Jews slander Paul leading to his arrest and eventual martyrdom.
Imprisonment of Believers
- Acts 4:1–3,The religious leaders put Peter and John put in jail for preaching the gospel.
- Acts 5:17–18, The religious leaders arrested the apostles and put them in the common jail.
- Acts 12:1–4, Peter was arrested and imprisoned.
- Acts 16:23–24, Paul was flogged and imprisoned.
Martyrdom of Believers
- Acts 7:54–60, Stephen was martyred.
- Acts 12:2, James was martyred.
- Revelation 6:9–11, Many will be beheaded.
Threats on Believers’ Lives
- Acts 9:23–28, Paul threatened believers in Yeshua.
- Acts 14:19, Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city and left for dead.
- Acts 21:27-32, The Jews beat Paul, and the Romans took him into protective custody.
- Acts 23:12–15, The Jews still wanted to kill Paul’s.
Verbal Abuse Against Believers
- Acts 2:4,13, On the day of Pentecost, some mocked those who were filled with the Spirit of Elohim and were speaking in tongues.
- Acts 17:32, The Athenians sneered at the gospel.
- Acts 18:6; 19:8–9, The Jews rose up against Paul.
- Acts 19:23–32, The Greeks rose up against Paul.
- 1 Peter 4:4, The worldly will be against believers.
- Revelation 2:9, False believers who say they are Jews, and are not but are of the devil, will slander YHVH’s people.
We cannot deny the fact that many, if not most, of the servants of YHVH in Scripture were persecuted or died for their faith. But dying for one’s faith, and dying because of a refusal to defend one’s self, home, family or loved ones from evil attackers are often two different things.
May the Spirit of YHVH grant us the wisdom to know when to lay down our lives for his sake, and when to defend ourselves and loved ones from evil doers for his sake.