Does the Violence in the Bible Justify Violence Today?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling

The LORD God proclaims: I will bring an end to the hordes of Egypt through the power of Babylon’s King Nebuchadrezzar. He and his people with him, the most terrible of the nations, will be brought in to destroy the land. They will draw their swords against Egypt

and fill the land with the slain. (CEB)

Ezekiel 30:10

Increasingly in our day, the Bible is under attack. Prominent atheists sell millions of books denouncing Scripture as unworthy of our attention, let alone our loyalty. For example, five years ago I had the "privilege" of debating Christopher Hitchens for three hours on the radio. We focused on many of the anti-biblical charges in his book, god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In that book, Hitchens wrote, "The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals." (Hitchens never felt the need to mince his words.)

I don't remember if Christopher Hitchens mentioned Ezekiel 30 in his denigration of the Bible, but he could have. This chapter proclaims the coming destruction of Egypt with violent imagery. Not only might this make us personally uncomfortable, but also it forces us to ask tough questions about the Bible. Does the violence in Scripture justify acts of violence today? In particular, given the growing strife between Israel and Egypt, does Ezekiel 30 throw gasoline on that fire?

No, not if we take Scripture seriously and read it responsibly. Ezekiel 30 and passages like it do indeed portray God's judgment through violent imagery. But they do not provide a warrant for us to be violent, to take matters of divine judgment into our own hands. Ezekiel did not say to God's people: "Egypt is evil. Go attack it." Rather, he spoke of God's own choice to judge Egypt, as well as God's ironic decision to use Babylon as his instrument of judgment. It would be a sorry misuse of scripture to use Ezekiel 30 as justification for acts of violence today.

Moreover, as Christians, we read all of scripture through the lens of Jesus, who called us to love our enemies, who taught us to turn the other cheek, and who forgave even those who crucified him. However we sort out the implications of Jesus for our life today, and there are a wide variety of "sortings-out" in the Christian community, it's clear that the way of Jesus is not the way of vengeance and violence. God will indeed exercise his righteous judgment, but the kingdom of God comes through followers of Jesus who are peacemakers and messengers of the good news of salvation.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever worry about violent passages in Scripture? What concerns you? How do you make sense of them in light of your faith?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, you are a God of justice. You stand above all peoples and nations, judging wrongdoing and exercising appropriate discipline. At times, you have chosen to use one nation to judge another, and that is your prerogative. But this does not mean that I have the right to do violence to my enemies, including the violence of words. You have called me to love my enemies, to turn the other cheek, to walk the second mile, and to forgive even as you forgave. Help me, Lord Jesus, to obey and imitate you. Teach me how to be a peacemaker in my workplace, my family, my church, and my community. Amen.