Self-Defense to the Death


In the news recently, a Florida man, having been shoved to the ground, pulled out a gun and shot the person who shoved him, killing him. I do not condone violence, and the shoving shouldn’t have happened. Sometimes, however, situations escalate, and self-defense is necessary. Can a person, however, go too far in defending himself?

Extreme violence is often unleashed against others. If someone dares to strike out, the return blow is with full force, nothing held back. This mentality often carries the day against those who wrong us or threaten us.

Is it possible to go too far, though? Or, when we or our loved ones are threatened, do we have the right to go as far as we want, without restraint? I believe in self-defense, but how far can self-defense be taken? While our natural tendency causes us to rise and stand up for ourselves, the Bible makes only rare allowance for self-defense to the death of the offender, and encourages restraint.

Striking to the Death

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament speak to the issue of fighting. The law about fighting is found in Numbers 35:15-24. Basically, it says that if someone strikes another person, and the person dies, he is guilty of murder.

The penalties do not concern the fight itself. The penalties kick in only if one person kills the other person in the fight. If you are going to fight, then, fight, but do not kill the other person.

The only exception to this is found in Exodus 22:1-3, which talks about a break-in. If someone breaks in during the night, and you strike and kill him, you are not guilty of killing him. If, however, he breaks in during the day, and you kill him, then you are guilty of killing him.

The point is the same as in Numbers 35. Restraint is necessary. The only exception is during the night in your own home.

Why does the law approach death in this way? A principle emerges. In the Old Testament, when in a conflict, restraint must be shown. Don’t strike to kill the other person. Strike back, if you must, but don’t deal a death blow. If you kill the other person, his blood is on your head. Such fighting might be likened to the “gentleman’s fight” of recent centuries. I fear, however, that the idea of a fair fight has all but vanished in our day.

Turn the Other Cheek

When we come to the New Testament, the principle of restraint in conflict is extended even further. Jesus said that if someone strikes us or takes advantage of us, we should not resist, but go the extra mile.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.
Matthew 5:38-41

Not only should restraint be shown so as not to deal a death blow, but restraint should be shown in not defending oneself at all. That is tough, and that does not sit well with our modern sensibilities.

Some might say, “Okay. I can turn the other cheek when it comes to me, but don’t come against my family.” I definitely resonate with that, but whether it’s me or mine, the principle remains.

Our nature cries out against restraint. There are so many things about that which seem wrong to us. It isn’t fair to hold back. They need to know they have hurt us. They need to know they can’t do that to us. They need to know we won’t stand around and take it. We want to lash out and strike back hard.

I guess that the point Jesus is making is that we should not yield ourselves to the natural impulses that guide the world. As Christians, another impulse is at work. God’s ways are not our ways, and Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. There are no qualifications here, and there is no mention of a provocation. If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek.

Don’t Deal a Death Blow

The message of the Bible is a message of trust in God. He will defend us and deliver us. The law exhorts us to show restraint, without dealing a death blow. The New Testament exhorts us to show restraint in retaliation altogether. Put your trust in the Lord. He is our shield and defender, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me” (Psa. 138:7).

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