1 Samuel 13:19-14:15
This text includes both pieces of inspiration and also horror to me as I read it
We see inspiration in that Jonathan has such faith in God. He trusts that he and his armor bearer can go forward in faith against any enemy of God and have victory. This is the same kind of faith that we see later in Daniel who stands down King Nebuchadnezzar’s call for him to abandon his faith to save his neck, so that Daniel risks death by fire and lion, believing that one or a few people of faith and God together are a majority. It is the same faith you see in Christians willing to resist the pressure of Rome by sharing their faith, by welcoming children with disabilities into their homes abandoned on the hillsides to die, in serving the poor and sick against the standards of pre-Christian Roman culture. It is the same faith you see Hildegard of Bingen have when, inspired by her visions from God and by anger at clergy and royalty abusing their power, she refuses to follow the medieval church’s rule for women to be silent and spoke out publicly in the streets calling for rulers of church and state to use their power not for selfish means as she saw them doing so but to help the least of these among Christ’s brothers and sisters. We saw it too in the 1800s as believers like Sojourner Truth and the Grimke sisters stood not just against the society at large, a society built on slave-labor and theft of Native American lands, but also against the church which said women ought not to preach. These women spoke up inspired by the Spirit of God proclaiming all are equal, condemning both racist structures like slavery and also the patriarchal structures in church and society that kept women oppressed. Raising their voices they called the world to see their own humanity in cries like Sojourner Truth’s message “Ain’t I Woman?” It is this same faith that led to the Civil Rights movements of the 20th Century and its continued legacy today in work like the Moral Monday movement.
Yet the horror to me as I read this text is that Jonathan’s actions which are inspired by this faith is to slaughter many, many people. His hands are dripping red with blood by the end of this text. In his mind, faith in God’s power ought to be expressed in killing God’s enemies. As a Christian, I find such an application of faith disturbing. This is largely because of what our Lord teaches in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. There he teaches us to have compassion on all people, including those we experience as our adversaries. We are to not return evil for evil, but respond to their injustice and evil with love. We are to seek to do them good, not evil; to pray for them; to not lose sight of them as also children of God who are of infinite worth. As one bumper sticker I recently saw said, “When Jesus said ‘love your enemies’, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean kill them”.
Many Christians will try to seek to defend these pictures of holy violence in Scripture. They will say “well, it was the time or place”. “Well, those people fell under God’s judgment”. “Well, they were at war. You don’t win war by making friends and holding hands.” Although I don’t think we have to go so far as to say that we never defend ourselves and others from those who would harm us, I think we need to face squarely that the violence done in the name of God in the Hebrew Scriptures are far out of proportion to self-defense. At points it verges on genocide. Such heartless violence flies in the face of the clear teachings of Jesus.
The book of Hebrews tells Christians, “In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and in many ways. In these final days, though, [God] spoke to us through a Son. God made [God’s] Son the heir of everything and created the world through him The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being…” Our Scripture includes the message of God but imperfectly recorded by some women and mainly men who were inspired by God, but like Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, who include some parts that are God’s very own words to us and some parts that are their own ideas. This is why God has spoken finally to Christians by the Son. It is why when this Son appears in Jesus, He consistently says of the Scripture written so far “You have heard it was written … but now I tell you”.
Jesus clearly differentiates between the true message of God and some of the human ideas, even in Scripture, that have collected around it. Clearly God’s call to covenant, to be a people who are salt and light in this world making a difference by going against the tide is God’s message. But Jesus makes it clear that the God He reveals and knows is not a God who calls humanity to do violence in God’s name or anyone’s name. Any human death is a tragedy of enormous proportions, to be avoided whenever possible. And never done in the name of God.
We need to face that attributing violence to the name of God, even calling it a crusade or holy war, is the original sin of our Abrahamic religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. One need not believe in Jesus who clearly proclaims this to see that reality. One need only look at the history of holy wars such texts inspire if treated as if the violence is truly inspired by God. We see the killing of heretics by the Roman and European powers starting with Augustine’s time to now. We see the bloody Crusades that slaughtered Jews, Muslims, and Christians in cold blood. We see the religious wars of Europe before and especially after the Reformation. We see the history of Christians killing Jews that began before the Inquisition, was brought to a new height in it, and culminated in the Holocaust. We see too in Islam times in which its texts were used by governments to justify war-fare and violence. We see Christians who used these texts to justify acts of terror, lynching, and violence done by the Klan in the American south who said God justified this violence. We see it in the abortion clinic bombings. We see it I groups like Al Qaida and the so-called Islamic state. I could go on… but it is easy to see there is nothing holy about this approach to Scripture. Jesus’s warning that if you live by the sword you will die by the sword, and that one must choose a different path than violence rings true after a look at this history.
For individuals wanting to explore how to understand Scripture and faith in this way – a way not wedded to violence and oppression, but as Jesus calls us to see it as a force of liberation – I recommend Adrian Thathcer’s book The Savage Text: The Use and Abuse of the Bible.
I feel a call as I read this text to re-discover the faith of Jonathan, the faith to move against the tide and to live out my faith in ways that change this world. I also feel a call to examine my own faith to see how much of my own prejudice, fear, hatred, and personal issue I am projecting onto God. When I move with God forward in God’s work of transforming myself and this world, such beauty can emerge but, as with our history of religious violence and prejudice, when I project my own prejudices onto God I can produce such heartache.
Let’s move forward in this journey together.
And I ain’t whistling Dixie here,
Your progressive redneck preacher,