“Do not kill.” The sixth commandment’s (Exod. 20:13, CEB) prohibition seems straightforward enough, if it weren’t for the fact that the Bible is full of war and other mayhem. A look at the broader picture, however, through the lens of the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), reveals that God calls us to peacemaking, not violence.

The Bible tells us that the world before the Flood was “filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11, 13). Most of the Bible’s violence is centered around the Israelites, yet their first national leader, Moses, discovered how counterproductive the use of violence can be. Moses was the adopted son of the daughter of Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt, yet his sympathies lay with the Hebrews. When he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew worker, he killed the Egyptian—and ran for his life when word got out about what he’d done (Exod. 2:11-15).

When God liberated the Hebrews from Egypt, it was clear that God deserved all credit for their Exodus. Moses told the people, “The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Exod. 14:14). When the Israelites tried to take matters into their own hands, however, disaster ensued (Num. 14:39-45. When we try to handle things ourselves, without direction from God, like Moses striking the Egyptian, or Peter defending Jesus with a sword (Luke 22:49-51), we’re asking for tragedy.

Jesus taught love in action. He preached, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45).

But Jesus did not teach us to just be pushovers. Instead, He laid out a strategy for defeating evil by engaging the conscience of an oppressor. He taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matt. 5:38-41).

Such responses take the control back from the oppressor and force them to face what they have done. In Jesus’ day, to strike someone on their right cheek was considered the supreme insult. To give away one’s cloak as well as one’s tunic would leave one naked, shaming the oppressor. To go the “second mile,” beyond the one mile that a Roman soldier could legally command of you, is to regain the authority in the situation.

In the political world, nonviolent resistance has proven far more effective in achieving its goals and affecting change than have violent uprisings. (In fact, a resistance movement’s chance of success falls by about 50 percent if it employs violence.) The use of violence diminishes support for a group, encourages a violent response, and tends to polarize public opinion. A nonviolent movement is also significantly more likely to succeed in its goals long-term.

Perhaps the first known instance of nonviolent resistance in history is that of Shiphrah and Puah, Hebrew midwives who refused orders to kill male babies (Exod. 1:15-21). Among those saved as a result of their defiance was the newborn Moses.

The apostle Paul laid out how we should respond to evil. He wrote, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-21, NIV).

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