Torture accusations against the U.S. are all the rage, and while they are untrue, it is an interesting time to look at the biblical David, the man after God’s own heart, and contemplate both what he did in warfare and how he would be viewed today . . . even by those who claim the name of Christ.
David and his men were on the run from King Saul at the opening of 1 Samuel 27. They fled to Gath and the land of the Philistines where David formed a relationship with a ruler named Achish. Achish ultimately allowed David to stay in the land at a city called Ziklag. And while he was there for 16 months, David engaged in conduct so brutal and unforgiving that he would be labeled the worst of war criminals by modern Americans.
David and his men used Ziklag as a base of operations for raiding parties. They launched attacks against nearby cities. And their attacks were all-out wars. They didn’t just attack the men or go after so-called military targets. Rather, they attacked everyone and everything. They mercilessly killed men, women, and children, terrorizing everyone along the way. They did not leave a single soul alive. And then they plundered the cities and enriched themselves. It was blood for oil. Check that. It was blood for livestock and clothing.
The aftermath of their battles would have been a sight to witness. Dead bodies everywhere. Blood filling the streets. Smoke rising from burning buildings. And the stench. The stench of death and all the other smells that come with it would have been impossible to escape. Where once the sounds of everyday life and civilization filled the air there now was silence, with perhaps a few wails and screams of those tortured by their wounds as they breathed the very last breaths of their lives.
David and his men were nothing like the modern American serviceman, uniformed or otherwise.
The modern American serviceman has very specific rules of engagement and behavior he must follow or he will quickly become targeted for punishment by the very nation he protects. And if the public finds out he violated these rules of engagement, why then it will be even worse for him. The public will declare him “guilty” of war crimes and it will pressure his leaders to punish him even more. And his leaders very well may cave to this mob.
The American serviceman cannot “disrespect” dead enemies. He cannot kill “civilians.” He cannot take a dead enemy’s weapon, item of clothing, or any other possession as a trophy. It’s a violation of the American laws of warfare. He can’t even make an enemy prisoner—lawful or not—uncomfortable. If he does, he very well may end up in prison while his enemy is freed as part of a so-called reconciliation program. Free to murder and terrorize again. Yet even if he follows all these rules the public—or a portion of it—may still deem the American serviceman guilty of savagery or war crimes. David and his men would not be able to understand him and the treatment he tolerates. They would view him as a prisoner of treasonous leaders.
David and his men also wouldn’t understand American society in general. The future Israelite king and man after God’s own heart offered no indication of remorse or pangs of guilt for massacring the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. No one dared accuse him of brutality or called for commissions to investigate how he engaged in wholesale slaughter. No one insisted that his torturous ways accomplished nothing of value. And no one would have thought of saying he was a “stain” on their values. Killing your enemies—savagely and without exception—was the honorable thing to do. Only traitors would have thought differently.
But modern America is much different from when David lived. Things have greatly changed and they will change even more. It’s going to be very interesting to see what other actions against enemies the American elite will declare “torture.” And as the elite constantly change definitions, it’s also going to be interesting to see how people—including ever-compromising Christians—view the man after God’s own heart and other heroes of the Bible. Their everyday and extraordinary actions, after all, are increasingly being redefined as mistreatment, injustice, and outright torture.