The violence in the Old Testament appears to be sanctioned by God because the Jews benefit from it. No such violence occurs in the New Testament—the New covenant does not permit it.
Nations, tribes, families, and even brothers brutally fought each other in the Old Testament; however, in the New Testament, God’s people do not display that same barbaric behavior. Why did the people of God change? What made the New Testament followers different?
All the good Sunday school students pop their hands up and say together: Jesus. Jesus is the difference. He changed the course of history and the progression of our faith. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, or the Old Testament. Through Him, everything is reconciled. Wounds are healed. Death is replaced with Life. Violence is replaced with radical Love.
USING THE OLD TESTAMENT AS JUSTIFICATION FOR SELF-DEFENSE
Many people point to verses in the Old Testament to justify violence in the name of self-protection. Nehemiah says to fight for your family and home (Nehemiah 4:14). Exodus talks about bloodguilt not being incurred if a thief breaks into your home (Exodus 22:2). Esther describes the Jews slaughtering their enemies (Esther 9:5).
Why are we so eager to justify protecting ourselves with violent means? Why do we use the Old Testament to do so? The violence in the Old Testament appears to be sanctioned by God because the Jews benefit from it. No such violence occurs in the New Testament—the New covenant does not permit it.
JESUS’ RESPONSE TO THE VIOLENCE OF GOD’S PEOPLE
Matthew 5-7 chronicles the Sermon on the Mount—the longest record we have of a sermon given by Jesus. In it, Jesus goes through different topics stating, “You have heard it said . . . But truly I tell you . . .” When Jesus says “You have heard it said,” He is referring to the Old Testament, the Law that the Jews had been obeying. He acknowledges what they know, and then He goes on to reform and update the Law saying, “But I tell you.” He is the New Law. His sacrifice made the new covenant official. Our hope is in Him, not the old covenant.
Exodus 21:24 gives the nationless Jews a justice system: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” Jesus ended that system in the Sermon on The Mount: “‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Turning your cheek doesn’t mean to simply look away if someone hurts you. It is a nonviolent way deny your oppressor the power to humiliate you further. It is essentially you saying “Go ahead, hit me again. Try to humiliate me again. It will not phase me.” Your nonviolence is a forceful way to deny the powers of the world. It comes from your identity being rooted in Christ and your treasure being stored in Heaven. Conquer violence with nonviolence. This is how Jesus overcame the world; He offered himself up to the violence and took it upon Himself.
The Old Testament tells us, “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed” (Exodus 22:2). Jesus counters, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus fulfills The Law and gives us a new way to live. He acknowledges the way we have been living – a way that includes thievery, violence, death – and provides a better way, one of peace, unconditional love, and life.
THE NEW TESTAMENT: SELF DEFENSE DOES NOT MEAN VIOLENCE
Some may venture into the New Testament to justify violent self-protection. In Luke 22:36, Jesus says, “‘But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.’” But in Jesus’ next breath, He explains why he tells his disciples to do that: “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12, which implies that the Messiah will appear to be a rebel and people will count Him as a sinner. When Jesus’ disciples tell Him that they have two swords, He tells them that it is enough. The prophecy is fulfilled and there is no further use for the swords until Peter tries to defend Jesus. Jesus quickly rebuked Peter’s actions, saying “‘Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’”
THE OLD TESTAMENT IS STILL RELEVANT
The Old Testament is in no way irrelevant. We should not ignore it. It is a rich history of God’s constant pursuit of His beloved people and it is part of God’s Word. Jesus does not cancel out all of the Old Testament, but He fulfills The Law that humans are incapable of fulfilling themselves. God has brought His people to a higher level of consciousness – a level where redemptive violence is not necessary. Jesus provided us with Eternal Life and nothing should compromise that, especially not an Old Testament-esque blood thirst.
If we take select verses out of context and elevate them to be more powerful than the Gospel, we neglect the fact that Jesus has shown us a better way and guaranteed us Our salvation.
As Christians, we have put our faith, hope, and trust in Christ. He is the truth, the light, and the way. We do not put our faith in Moses or Isaiah or Esther. We do not follow the prophets, nor do we live by the rules and violence that took place before Jesus. We follow Him, and we live by His covenant. In His covenant, violence of any sort, even in the name of self-defense, is not permitted.
May we rest in His protection and live life to the fullness which He designed.
Disclaimer: The author’s views are her own and not necessarily those of Rev. Rob Schenck or The Sword of the Spirit Ministry.