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Want to defeat evil? Put down the swords and pick up the tools

Christmas
Candles are lit as Salisbury Cathedral celebrates the beginning of Advent with a candle lit service and procession, "From Darkness to Light", in Salisbury, Britain November 27, 2015. |

In the book of Judges, assassination and armed resistance are sometimes used to free God’s people from foreign invaders. But some of these stories have interesting dimensions that might surprise a modern reader. For example, twice a woman kills an enemy leader and both times this is done by smashing his head (Judges 4:17-22; 9:53). Judges is written with the promise of Genesis 3:15 in mind when God said to the serpent:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The war isn’t just between the serpent and the woman’s seed but with the woman herself. So she also bruises the head twice in Judges.

But there is more to it. Notably, the female slayers don’t attack with sword or spear like Xena or Wonder Woman. In both cases the death is dealt out to professional warriors by implements of the economy. Jael kills Sisera with a tent peg and a hammer to drive it into his skull. She was a tent dweller, so these implements were a basic household tools. The second death is inflicted by an upper millstone thrown off a high tower. A millstone is vitally important in the process transforming grain into bread.

Of course, one could assume that the only point here was the women doing the killing. Since Xena is mere fiction, in real life in pre-modern societies one would not expect women to have military gear available or to be trained to use them. So the use of household or farming tools is not surprising.

But that assumption might not be justified. Because, in Judges, the women use weapons that are like that of a male Judge and freedom fighter: “... Shamgar the son of Anath ... killed 600 of the Philistines with an ox-goad, and he also saved Israel.” (Judges 3:31). An ox-goad is a cattle herders tool. It is an implement of work, not warfare.

After the time of the Judges, when God chose Saul to be king, we learn that Israel’s war for independence from the Philistines was fought with farm equipment. The Philistines wouldn’t allow the Israelites to have their own blacksmiths because they didn’t want them forging swords. The Israelite army was mostly armed with plowshares, mattocks, axes, and goads (1 Samuel 13:19-22).

David, when he volunteers to fight the giant Goliath, famously continues this theme. Saul had armor and weapons, but David could not use them. David explained to Saul that his work as a shepherd prepared him to face Goliath. But he used a sling and put the stones for it in “his shepherd’s pouch” (1 Samuel 17:40). The text deliberately reminds us of David’s menial labor as a shepherd in his combat with an experienced killer who, as Saul says, “has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). But David won, proving that God “saves not with sword and spear” (1 Samuel 17:47). The narrative concludes the story of David’s victory by this statement: “There was no sword in the hand of David” (1 Samuel 17:50).

Of course, David grew to be a great warrior and war leader. The Bible doesn’t lead us to think that weapons are inherently bad when defense is needed from armed villains. (Nor does the Bible portray the Philistine policy of mass disarmament as a practice of good government.) But, in terms of culture and ideals, the Bible gives us a culture of work and production as superior to a culture of warfare and plunder.

And this applies to the thirst for revolution. David’s story feeds into Jesus’ proverb: “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:31). Jesus was telling Peter who began fighting to defend him from being taken to the cross. It was a time when lots of people thought it was right to use violence to fight for independence. It is telling that the mob chose to spare a different “son of the father” (the meaning of the name Barabbas) and sent Jesus to the cross. And what sort of person was Barabbas? “And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas” (Mark 15:7). In other words, he was part of the resistance and a freedom fighter. He looked much more promising than Jesus as a leader who would bring the kingdom of God.

Circumstances change and the Bible covers many different situations, but it universally advocates a culture of work and production over a culture of violence. It warns against anger as a misleading guide for bringing about political change.

In my book on Proverbs, I suggest the way some people value owning a firearm over building a savings account is not wise. Of course, if one can do both, that’s fine. (Full disclosure: politically, I am a Second Amendment absolutist.) But even with the climbing violence in urban areas, there is a much greater likelihood the average reader of this website is tormented by debt rather than by a violent assault. The habits of working and saving will be, for most people most of the time, far more life-changing in a positive directions. The exceptions are dramatic, but happen far more often in action movies than real life.

In the early Christian churches of the first-century Mediterranean world, Christians often had to deal with violence and oppression. Reading the letters of Paul and the other Apostles, there is a clear theme on how to address this fact: stay faithful and stay productive.

"Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one."

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.

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