Martyrs or Morons?
Kristopher S. Shoemaker
R. Yehudah “Tochukwu” ben Shomeyr
Let me first start out by saying I am a big supporter of Voice of the Martyr ministries that help persecuted Believers worldwide. I wholeheartedly believe we should pray on a regular basis for our persecuted brothers and sisters worldwide for someday soon we may be coveting their prayers as they now do ours. I have also read Foxes Book of Martyrs, the Anabaptist Mirror of the Martyrs, Jesus Freaks and many other works regarding the testimonies of martyrdom; so I am in no wise attempting to be smug or disrespectful regarding this subject and the people whom these works are about. However, I feel there is a great imbalance regarding this subject of martyrdom. The impression is that Believers in Messiah Yeshua should submit to martyrdom and have no right to fight back because Jesus said to turn the other cheek and when Yeshua Himself was martyred He prayed to the Father on the cross to forgive those who were murdering Him because they were truly ignorant of what they were actually doing, thus setting a president for us to lay down and roll over when enemies of Messiah come for us to take our lives. I beg to differ. Such verses and the views based on them are grossly taken out of context.
They so conveniently forget passages in the gospels where Yeshua purposely avoided a place because He knew His life was in danger and His time had not yet come; passages where He was bold but slipped through the crowed and got away.
Hey, I’m all for loving my enemy and leading them to faith in Messiah Yeshua but I will not willingly allow them to abuse or kill me, my family or my believing community if I can do anything to help it. Deuteronomy 8:1 is used in Judaism as a verse saying that it is our duty to preserve our lives if it is within our power to do so, so that we may continue to live out the Commandments of Torah for the Glory of God. We are not to foolishly throw our life away or purposely put ourselves in mortal danger. Ecclesiastes 3:3, 7 and 8 even tells us there is a time to kill and fight back as well as a time to be peaceful.
I can already tell I am likely ruffling some feathers, but allow me to elaborate.
I heard a story about an Indonesian believer in late 2001 who was shot on the steps of his church in the middle of the night. This is how it went down. A Jihadist Islamic group had been harassing the Christian community there and only three families of that church remained. This particular believer, a deacon in his church, was told by his children’s school head master to convert to Islam, and the Jihadist group actually came to the church and ordered him to take Christian pictures from the wall. He refused and said, “I will not do it even if you behead me!” I love the guys bold fearlessness, but I felt it was foolish to stay and put himself and his family further at risk. Well, one night shortly after he and his wife awoke to their house on fire, set by the Jihadist group. The man ran to attempt to save the church which was also in flames and the terrorist group stopped him and told him he was dead. The man asked if he could pray first, and as he quoted Jesus’ words form the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” they shot him in the chest protecting a building. A BUILDING! Well, it was the church, you may say. NO! A building is NOT The Church! It’s a building, a meeting place. The Believers, the Body of Messiah is the Church! A building can be rebuilt, once you’re dead, your dead until the final resurrection! In my mind, this was not a true martyrdom, it was a man (though well intended) throwing his life away for a building, lifeless wood and stone. In my mind his first priority and responsibility would be to move himself and his family to an area of safety and seeing as he was the only leader left in his congregation, it was up to him to plan to keep the community together so the true church would not die, be lost or scattered. Just because this man forgave his murderers right before they killed him does not mean Christ got the Glory or the victory, all that was accomplished was a congregational leader was killed, his wife was left a widow and his children fatherless and the congregation shattered. I see no redeeming quality or triumph in this testimony. Score one for radical Islam.
There are even stories of the ancient persecuted believers who turned themselves in and asked to be martyred! Who does that!? Now that’s being a moron! God gets no glory that way.
Consider another story where a believer that is taken unaware of anything amiss or any danger present, nor any forewarning, such as a raid or kidnapping or an arrest and is captured and martyred or is taken and brought before authorities and is sentenced to death for not backing down. Let’s say he’s given a final word and forgives them and witnesses to them before they execute him. To me that’s a totally different story. Score one for Messiah Yeshua!
One reason for such an imbalanced view is not only taking Yeshua’s words out of context but also is the exclusion by the Protestants of the historical book of the Maccabees in which the first century read and held in high esteem and were regarded as Historical books of the writings of the Tanak (Old Testament) along with the books of Kings and Chronicles. The book of the Maccabees gives examples of Believers fighting back as well as being captured and martyred.
I come from the tribe of Gad, which is a warrior tribe and it is not in me to submit when I have an option to fight. That’s the way God made Gadites, it’s in our DNA! The Levites, they were not these peaceful meek priests Christianity makes them out to be, but they too were warriors! So much so that Jacob when giving a final blessing to his sons prophesied that Levi and Simeon would be scattered among Israel because together they were unstoppable and formidable warriors (Ge. 49:5-7). You see, their sister Dinah was raped and those two slaughtered a whole city because of it (Gen. 34)!
The book of the Maccabees I believe gives us a balanced view of when to fight and when to be martyred.
2nd Maccabees chapter 7 tells of a woman and her seven sons who were arrested for refusing to compromise the tenants of their faith and as a result each son was killed before the woman’s eyes. Each one encouraged their mother not to give in until finally she was killed. They couldn’t and had no means in which to fight back or defend themselves, they had no choice but to stand up for the Faith and be martyred. As a result their testimony of great perseverance and faith has been recorded and preserved for our benefit, and encouragement.
In 1st Maccabees Chapter 2 the Greco-Syrian authorities who were just as cruel as any Communist or Islamic regime attempted to force the High Priest Mattathias to sacrifice an unclean pig on the altar in the Temple. This was the height of disrespect and blasphemy! Mattathias and his sons would have nothing of it. They refused and revolted and became a guerrilla band of rebel fighters against the Greco-Syrian army and as a result defeated the Greco-Syrian regime and took back the Temple which they attempted to destroy. The very same Temple we find Yeshua walking around in in the Gospels. If it were not for the Maccabees who fought instead of laid down and became martyrs how would have Messianic prophecy played out!?
Also in the 2nd Chapter of 1st Maccabees is the ordeal of suspending the command to rest on the Sabbath in order to survive. The Greco-Syrians attacked a community of Jews on the Sabbath. We all know it is forbidden to work on the Sabbath so why would fighting be any different. The people refused to break the Sabbath and were slaughtered. Judah Maccabee who led the band of renegade priestly warriors came upon the slaughter and said, “If we all do as our brothers have done, and refuse to fight the pagans for our lives and institutions, they will only destroy us sooner from the earth (1st Mac. 2:40).” Judah was saying that if we don’t fight back they will end up killing us all!
There is an unwritten rule in Judaism which I believe even Christianity can appreciate and agree with and that is, “Life over Law.” In other words, if one’s life is in danger one may suspend or break a Torah command in order to survive, such as fighting on the Sabbath or even eating an unkosher thing if it is a literal matter of life and death.
Defending oneself or ones family against those who wish to kill us is not hate, it’s our duty! I guarantee if the Islamic Jihadi Terrorist or Communist make it to our shores for a takeover I’m not going down quietly, I will do my best to get all Red Dawn on their tuchas’. I have no hatred or take no pleasure if I had to kill someone in defence of my family or community. If in the fighting I am captured and am executed because of my faith that’s another story. I will do my best to give glory and honor to God with my last breath as we read so many of our spiritual forbearers did.
“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Rev. 20:4
One day we may be in this very position. We have already seen that our Egyptian brothers in Messiah have by ISIS. But if there is an opportunity to fight back, I will be like the Maccabees or the Bielski brothers of WWII who did not go to the Nazi death camps but created a community in the forests and fought back until the end of the war and survived.