Violence and Necessity

“How numerous are my enemies, how many rise against me!” (Ps. 3)

Which is to say, how many are my doubts, the fears and anxieties that assail me. I’m reading the book of Judges and there are certainly enemies to spare in there, though the book itself doesn’t always seem to do a good job of identifying them. I’m thinking now of Jether, the youngest son of Gideon, and Jotham, his youngest. Gideon gives Jether a sword and orders him to put to death the two Midianite kings he has captured, in retaliation for the killing of Gideon’s brothers. But Jether can’t do it: “But the boy did not draw his sword, for he was timid, being still a boy.” (Ju. 8.20) The comment of the kings awaiting their deaths to Gideon is somehow quite telling: “Come, you slay us; for strength comes with manhood.” (Ibid 8:21) Which is to say, in the language of the tragically realistic, that with trauma comes a deadening of pain and a numbing of that within us which rebels against the “necessity” of inflicting trauma. I would like to think that Gideon’s giving in to his son’s “weakness” and killing the men himself, rather than forcing Jether to go through with it, represents some small recognition of the need to look ahead toward a possible future in which men no longer feel the desire or necessity of committing acts of violence. This possibility is perhaps supported by two things:

  1. That Gideon did not claim kingship for himself when it was offered, but entrusted it to God. It is perhaps a sign of wisdom to voluntarily give up our most dangerous possibilities and entrust them to the Almighty.
  2. That when later Jether and his brothers are slain by their half-brother Abimelech in a ruthless bid to seize kingship for himself, their youngest brother Jotham does not seek revenge himself but rather entrusts that to God as well. An example, perhaps, of the son learning the best lessons the father had to teach rather than the worst.

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