As a result of the post I made yesterday, and this discussion with Shane at The High Places, I have decided to give some more thought on acceptable uses of violence.
What does it mean to be angry and not sin? When should you turn the other cheek, and when should you strike back? What is righteous indignation? How can violence and self-control co-exist? How do you know when you are crossing over the line and you are seeking revenge?
These can be difficult questions to answer. In the interest of backing up what I posted yesterday, however, I am going to make an attempt. Because I do not believe in pacifism, I think it is an important topic worthy of serious consideration. It is far too simple to say "Yes, you must hit" or "No, it is better to take it."
As a start, it is possible to be angry, react in violence and still do the right thing. Three Biblical examples come to mind: Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Baal, Joshua killing Achan and his family for their sin and Sampson. About the only right thing Sampson did was kill the Philistines. That was the purpose of his great strength and God even assists him with this at the end of his life. However, the average person is not going to find themselves in such situations. We need a better example.
Genesis 34 is the story of the rape of Dinah, Jacob's daughter. Simeon and Levi defend her after the fact and kill Hamor and Shechem. Jacob is angry with them, but Simeon and Levi both say that he should not have treated Dinah as a prostitute. Later, when Jacob blesses his sons, he makes reference to this and says that he should not sit in their counsel because of their violence. Ironically, in the case of Levi, this is reversed when Moses blesses the tribes. As priests, the tribe of Levi becomes the teacher of Israel. Simeon's blessing is missing from the passage in Deuteronomy. (You'd have to ask a scholar why. I have no idea.) It is important to note that the behaviour of the brothers is not held against them as sin in the future. It is also important to keep in mind that under the law, which did not exist yet, they would have had a method to exact justice on behalf of their sister: stoning (again, a violent act).
As an aside, I always find it interesting that the punishment for rape, stoning, would be extended to the woman if she did not scream out for help. It is an important reminder of a woman's worth; she must not lie there and take it. She must cry out.
But back to violence.
The case of Simeon and Levi is clearly one of the strong defending the cause of the weak. There are many references in Scripture that suggest that this is what the strong must always do. It is not revenge to fight for someone who cannot fight for themselves. This is a correct use of violence. The incorrect version would be the strong preying on the weak. This is evil, and spoken against in the Bible many times.
How does the case of Simeon and Levi differ from someone taking revenge? I think it would be very easy to argue that they were taking revenge for what was done to their sister. They even lied to Hamor. However, this would be an incomplete reading of the passage.
Consider Hamor's behaviour. Shechem shows no repentance at all for what he did. Hamor, his father, tries to bribe the brothers into allowing him to marry Dinah by offering trade, marriage with his own daughters, land and money. In this, Hamor shows that Dinah was little more than a piece of property to him. He was a corrupt man. In fact, the chapter specifically states that Hamor had no honour.
Hamor was a Hivite. The Hivites were descendants of the Canaanites, perhaps one of the most sexually depraved groups living in the area. They were cursed by Noah as a result of Ham's sexual sin. They also lived in the land that God later gave to Israel under Moses. They were one of the unfortunate tribes that were to be wiped out as Israel took possession of the land. Not only that, but the Israelites were to have nothing to do with them on account of their depravity.
It is on account of this, and also that there was no law preventing their actions, that Simeon and Levi's behaviour must be viewed as an execution of justice, not revenge.