Monday, August 21, 2006

Does the Hebrew Bible endorse pacifism? (long)

While it would be a stretch to make the statement that the Hebrew bible endorses pacifism, I believe there is an incipient pacifism which is developed more fully in the New Testament. Here is a list of passages that point in that direction (all taken from RSV). There are others, but these jumped into my mind.

1. Exodus 14:13-14, 24-25
The people of Israel have just left Egypt and are being pursued by the Egyptian army. They are trapped in front of Yam Suph:

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” … And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the host of the Egyptians, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily; and the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel; for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.”

2. Joshua 5:13-15
The Israelites are about to take on Jericho:

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, “What does my lord bid his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.

A word of warning to any who think God is on their side!

3. Judges 7:2
Gideon has called the people to arms and too many responded:

The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’

The subsequent battle shows that it is the hand of YHWH who does the fighting, scaring the Midianites out of their wits with a few torches and jars

4. I Samuel 7:10
Samuel is offering a sacrifice to YHWH before the Israelites attack the Philistines:

As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the LORD thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel.

5. 2 Kings 6:15-23
Elisha is supposed to be captured by the Arameans:

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was round about the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed, and said, “O LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

The story goes on to relate that as a result of this, the Arameans no longer raided Israel. Not because they were defeated in battle, but because the king of Israel fed them and sent them home!

6. 2 Chronicles 20
The Moabites and Ammonites are after Judah:

And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Hearken, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.Tomorrow go down against them; behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz; you will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”… And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy array, as they went before the army, and say, “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures for ever.” And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.

7. Daniel 4:17
Nebuchadnezzar has a dream predicting insanity because of his hubris

The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men.’

As you can see, there is much here to chew on. YHWH himself fights on behalf of his chosen ones and arranges history to His ends. Repeatedly the people are told to let YHWH fight on their behalf.

I believe that this would happen more often if we would stop trying to manipulate God and circumstances to our advantage.


Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


You bring up some very good points here and in the above post. Yet, . . . what of the times in which God praises those who kill in his name? We could look at pericopies of Joshua, David, Johnathan, (almost every Judge who is said to be empowered by the Spirit of Yahweh). I could go on concerning the HB but you get the point.


jps said...


That is why I said "incipient" pacifism. It is there, but not developed. What you say is correct, the preponderance of statements is not in agreement with pacifism, but there are enough that disagree to make one stop and ask what is going on.