A Biblical First Response To Domestic Abuse
Abuse. It’s an ugly word for an ugly category of sin, but it is not a word used frequently in the King James Bible. In fact, the noun spelled “abuse” is not there at all. The verb “abuse” is found three times, twice relating to how King Saul feared the Philistines might treat his body, and once relating to the wrong way for a pastor to execute the duties of his office.
English is a nuanced language, and word use changes over time. In 1611 the words “knew his wife” were generally followed by the word “conceived.” What a difference 400 years can make! If I met a man today who told me he knew my wife in high school, I would be pleased to meet him. Word usage does change over time.
A biblical word that is close to what counselors see in domestic “abuse” is the word “oppress.” For example, Psalm 103:6 says, “The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.” God sees oppression as an evil act requiring intervention by someone more powerful than the oppressor.
Certainly we are to “Recompense no man evil for evil” (Romans 12:17), but what shall we do? God also expects His people to submit to the authorities He ordains in their lives. What, then, is a biblical response for a Christian to respond to oppression by those to whom God has entrusted some level of authority? (Certainly, the Lord entrusts husbands with some level of authority in marriage.) Can we find examples in the Bible?
Perhaps we would do well to start with the Master. What did Jesus do when the Jews of His day sought to oppress or abuse Him?
Mark 3 opens with Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath.
“And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him. But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea.”
Jesus went where his abusers were not.
In Luke 4 Jesus presented Himself and His ministry to the leaders in Nazareth.
“And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way, and came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days.”
Jesus went where his abusers were not.
Jesus plainly made Himself equal with the Father, and once again the Jews wanted to kill Him.
“I and my Father are one.
Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand, and went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.”
When the Father called Him to the cross, Jesus obeyed, but until that time He went where his abusers were not.
Of course, Jesus IS God, and the Jews had no authority over Him. He chose when to lay His life down and when to take it up again, but what of the early church? Did Christians under Caesar, and the Jews with his authority simply submit to authority and suffer well? There was a persecution after the death of Stephen.
“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judæa and Samaria, except the apostles.”
There was no prayer meeting or discussion. The followers of Christ went where their abusers were not.
Saul became Paul. What of Paul? He, through the Holy Spirit instructed us to submit to the higher powers and warned us that in failing to do so we could be subject to condemnation (the Bible word is “damnation”) of God. He fled at least twice.
“But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ. And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: but their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.”
“And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, 6 they were wareof it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about: 7 and there they preached the gospel.”
Until the Holy Ghost made Paul’s direction to Jerusalem plain, it was his habit to go where his abusers were not. Paul, by all accounts was a diminutive man with ailments. II Corinthians 10 indicates that his bodily presence was “weak.” What of the sword swinging giant of a fisherman we know as the Apostle Peter? The Lord would use him to instruct us about submitting to authority.
I Peter 2:13-15
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
Would Herod fall in that category above? The Lord led Peter to go where his God ordained authority, and abuser was not.
And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.”
An angel took Peter where his abuser was not, and Peter sought safety in the church. Can the oppressed find safety in your church?
There may be no better example of a follower fleeing the power of abuser than David fleeing Saul. I Samuel 18-20 gives the account of how the king, “God’s anointed”, as David called him, proved himself to be danger to David. The crowned prince, Jonathan, helped David know Saul’s intentions, and then risked his own life to help David flee. For the rest of Saul’s life, David went where his abuser, the King of Israel, was not. The man after God’s own heart did not sweetly submit to his abuser; he fled.
God did ordain authority. Malachi 2 discusses His judgement for violence in marriage and for abuse of the position men had in Jewish courts. In Romans 13 He ordained government as His servants to protect the person of individuals.
Common sense had already given us the conclusion. We knew it before we began, but because those who believe God’s Word hold marriage in such high esteem, it is fitting that we examine the Scriptures. Having done so, we must conclude that wives have the right to safety from oppression. Mathew 18 and I Corinthians 6 are among passages that would put at least part of the burden of enforcing such safety upon the church.
What to do after a wife has gone where her abuser is not is an excellent topic for another day. For now, let it suffice to say that we serve a God who wants judgment for all that are oppressed.”