Gun Control, Old Testament Style
By Steve Matthews
Until just a few years ago I had never fired a gun. Mind you, it wasn’t that I was opposed to gun ownership. That was never the case. I understood and supported the constitutional right of Americans to keep and bear arms. It just seemed to me that the Second Amendment had little application to my life. It was for others to uphold, not for me.
About four years ago all that changed. I bought my first gun and since then have acquired more. I did this for both symbolic and practical reasons. Free men tend to be armed men, and as the attacks on gun ownership mounted over the years, I more and more felt called to support in practice what I have always believed in my heart. Further, I must confess that the temptation to engage in an activity so hated by the Obamas, Feinsteins and Bloombergs of the world is absolutely irresistible. Ah, the joy of bitterly clinging to guns and religion.
Of course, the practical case for gun ownership is at least as compelling. I hate the thought of living life as a victim. Street thugs and tyrants alike offend me, and I have no intention of being and easy mark for either. Few things say I’m serious about life, liberty and property like a loaded gun and the ability to use it if need ed.
It was for defense against crime, and in particular state-sponsored crime, that was the impetus behind including the Second Amendment in the Constitution. Economist Walter Williams, long a hero of mine, recently wrote a wonderful column in which he cites several American founding fathers, true patriots all, speaking with one voice on the relationship between an armed citizenry and freedom. You can read it here.
But Williams didn’t leave it at that. Not only did he quote those who defended the right of citizen’s to bear arms, but he also provided a few juicy statements from various and sundry tyrants who, with very good reason, preferred to keep their jackboots on the necks of the defenseless than take their chances with a nation of gun owners. One quote in particular stood out. It reads,
“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to posses arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.”
Now there’s insight for you courtesy of a true prince of tyrants, Adolph Hitler. But Der Fuhrer was in no way being original when he made this statement. Almost as if to prove Solomon’s point about there being nothing new under the sun, the Old Testament relates the story about a like minded gang in 1 Samuel, chapter 13. There we read,
“Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.’ But all the Israelites would go down to the Philistines to sharpen each man’s plowshare, his mattock, his ax, and his sickle; and the charge for a sharpening was a pim for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to set the points of the goads. So it came about, on the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan, but they were found with Saul and Jonathan his son.”
And there you have it, gun control Old Testament style. The Philistines enjoyed being in the driver’s seat did not want the Hebrews armed “lest they make swords and spears” and turn them on their Philistine “benefactors.” But as bad as the Philistines and Nazis were, in one respect they were better than contemporary gun grabbers: they told you the truth about why they were taking people’s weapons. Sentimental and sanctimonious propaganda was not for them. It was all about the power, the power, and, lest I fail to mention it, the power.
Further, the loss of weapons was accompanies by the loss of other freedoms. In this case, the text specifically mentions the loss of economic freedom. To ensure that the weapons ban was effective, the Philistines didn’t stop at just confiscating weapons, they went to great lengths to suppress an entire Israelite industry, “Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel.” Not only did the Hebrew people suffer the loss of their weapons, but also an entire industry. In this you can see the logic of tyranny at work. To effectively suppress one freedom requires the suppression of other freedoms, the logical stopping point of which is a charming society along the lines of East Germany.
Of course, even the most competent tyrants usually fail to remove all the potential dangers to their authority. If the Philistines really had known what was good for them, they would have shown more concern about banning stones. They should have realized if one were to fall into the hands of the wrong person, he could put someone’s eye out, or worse.
It is worth noting too, that while the common Hebrew people did not have swords, somehow Saul and Jonathan managed to possess them. This seems to be one consequence of the Israelites sinful demand for a king, recorded in 1 Samuel 8. When the Hebrew people asked for a king to fight their battles like all the other nations, they were sternly rebuked by Samuel, who warned them about the high-handed, arrogant behavior of the future king. And Saul, the incipient tyrant of the homegrown variety, would not suffer himself to be bound the rules governing the common folk.
Another lesson we can take from the account in 1 Samuel is that our freedom does not depend upon gun ownership, gun ownership depends upon freedom. When the Israelites escaped from bondage, plundered the Egyptians and saw the destruction of Pharaoh’s army, they did so not on their own steam, but by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God. They trusted in God and he delivered them. Later, the Lord furnished his people with more ordinary means of defense. The Hebrews were an armed people, because they were first a free people. And yet their armaments were of little help their struggle against Philistia. Why? In the Old Testament when Israel was defeated in battle, it was never due to lack of men or shortage of arms, it was due to sin. The nation first was enslaved spiritually, temporal conquest, including the loss of their swords and spears, came later.
Americans are a gun owning people, because they were first a free people. And they were a free people, because they were a Gospel believing people. Jesus’ words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” is not a reference to spiritual freedom only, but has implications for political freedom as well. The founding of the American republic was a political by-product of the Reformation. But Americans today have largely rejected the Christian teaching and no longer believe what their 18th century ancestors believed. We have become enslaved spiritually and are, therefore, in the process of becoming enslaved temporally. Unless things change and the Gospel, the good news of what Christ has done to save his people, is once again heard, believed and allowed to influence our public discourse, odds are that one day all of us will be making a trip to our local Philistine blacksmith. And that would be a pity.