Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

SJ in the OT: Government

Posted by Chris on September 25, 2008

Concerning the oppressed and the poor, the Bible has a universal rule and calling for government: treat them fairly and bring about justice in their favor. I will put together dual posts, one each for the message of the Old and New Testaments. Each will attempt to show God’s calling for government and how it applies to His people and those who are not His people.

In the Old Testament, there is a division between the Jews (God’s chosen people; Hebrew descendants of Isaac) and Gentiles (Generally enemies of God’s people; any number of ethnic groups and nation-states). In my limited political history understanding, Old Testament government, with the exception of the Jewish theocracy from Moses – Judges, generally takes the form of absolute monarchies– people led by kings and queens.  First, we will look at God’s commands for justice to the kings of Judah and Israel.

Judah: Jeremiah 22:2-5,8-9
Hear the word of the Lord, O King of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates.  Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.  For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people.  But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.

And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?  And they will answer, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them.

Israel:  Amos 2: 6-7
For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.
They well the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.

Amos 5:12-15
You deprive the poor of justice in the courts… the times are evil.
Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

You can see that the Lord had strong words to the kings and officials of these nations.  God called the patriarchs of Israel into covenant with himself in order that the Lord would be their king.  When they demanded an earthly king, the Lord told them two things: 1) I’ll give you what you want– you want to be like other nations, and you better be careful, because earthly kings will do just that and steer you wrong; and 2) these kings are to lead you in my ways and commands– the covenant and the Law are still in place.

What was the Law?  It contained many things.  For some of my studies on the Law, go here.  The original covenant between God and his chosen people was with Abram, in Genesis 12: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  Israel was to be a channel of God’s blessing to all nations.  Now, the gentile nations worshiped idols and blatantly disregarded God’s law.  So Israel first needed to be a light to the nations.  By shining its light, it would bring other nations to God, that they could then be blessed.

Depriving the poor of justice… selling the righteous; failing to “deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed”– that is not exactly being a light!!  So the sins of God’s chosen people were double- not only did they violate God’s law, but they also broke covenant and failed to be a light to the nations. They deprived the earth of God’s blessing. Thus they bore not only responsibility for their own sins but also the sins of their gentile neighbors.  Speaking of which…

Gentiles

Israel’s failure did not excuse the gentiles from responsibility for justice.

Amos 1
For three sins of Gaza, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.
Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom,
I will send fire upon the walls of Gaza…

For three sins of Tyre, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.
Because she sold whole communities of captives to Edom,
disregarding a treaty of brotherhood,
I will send fire upon the walls of Tyre…

For three sins of Ammon, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.
Because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders,
I will set fire to the walls of Rabbah.

The lack of a good example did not excuse these nations and many others.  A really interesting thing is that God would use Gentile nations to carry out his judgment against other Gentile nations because of the failure of Israel!  Assyria is condemned for its “endless cruelty” in Nahum 3:19 and defeated by Babylon.  Furthermore, in the book of Habakkuk the prophet complains about the injustice and idolatry prevalent in Judah.  In response, God says that “I am raising up Babylonians… to seize dwelling places not their own.” He used Gentile nations to stop the injustice occuring in Israel itself!

This may seem cruel, but as a result of Judah’s exile to Babylon, it gets a fresh chance to renew the covenant.  While in Babylon, God instructs them to be a blessing:

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

People like Daniel find favor with the rulers and the Hebrews prosper spiritually, eventually with some returning to Jerusalem to repair the city wall and rebuild the temple.

In conclusion, the governments of the OT were expected to lead their people in pursuing justice in accordance with God’s law.  And Israel had a specific calling to also pursue justice in light of its covenant with God– that by doing so, it would be a light to the gentiles and bring blessing to the earth.  I believe that the NT contains a similar dynamic.  The next post will address the role of government in NT social justice and the role of Christians in regards to government.

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