God, the Bible and Political Justice: Part 2, Introduction

Moses and The Law-Prescriptive
The Template for a Nation

God lays out His Biblical revelation of Himself on a timeline, beginning with creation, man’s decent into global violence, the flood, man’s decent into violence again and finally Abraham and God’s strategy of using one nation to reveal His heart and strategy for all nations.  Through Abraham and his descendants God will bring “the Law,” His thinking on all of life and “His Son,” His solution for redemption of all creation.  The Law will “bless” those who live by it, setting them free from tyranny, and the Messiah will bring release from “slavery to sin.”

All of Scripture refers back to and build on the Laws of Moses, the Pentateuch.  In Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that The Law and the Prophets build the foundation for His message and His actions:

17″Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

If our thinking does not build on the values of the Law then we cannot understand where Jesus is taking us with His message.  He is not giving us a sympathetic, spineless, feel good broth.  He is actually raising the requirements of the Law to righteousness beyond what Moses could have comprehended.  We do not reinterpret the Old Testament with the New, nor the New with the Old, but rather see them as a four thousand year line of thought that God is building.  It is a continuum of ideas that begin in Genesis and build towards His ultimate return and what we are to do in the mean time.

It is impossible to define “justice or mercy” without the Old Testament definition of “justice and mercy.”  It is impossible to define “political justice” without God’s definition in the Old Testament.  These concepts do not mean whatever we want them to mean because of our gifts or personality, culture or times.  They mean something quite specific to God and only He has the right to define them for us.  If we seek to be God’s ambassadors them we must represent His policies not the current policies of the world or even in some cases the thinking of Christians in our age.

The Law Prescriptive/The Law Historical

The Law is an all-inclusive phrase for both the prescriptive Laws, such as the Ten Commandments, and the Law applied in the history of Israel.  Remember the “knowing” in the Hebrew concept was being able to do as well as repeat.  So the test of Israel’s understanding of the Law is in their application of the Law to the times they live in.  God corrects them as they take action and reveal their understanding of what they think He has said.  So the historical books from Joshua through Ester are as important to our understanding of the five books of Moses as the five books are.

The Law is given in two forms, the prescriptive and the historical.  The prescriptive gives us the dos and don’ts while the historical gives us the application of the Law in Jewish history and the fruit of their interpretation of the Law gives us an understanding of whether they understand God’s thinking by producing “good” or “bad” consequences.  The Law includes what God said in the first place, what the Jews did and what God had to say about what they did.  God clarifies the “meaning” of the Law through the history of its application, first by the Jews and later by the Gentile nations.  And so we are still today proving by our choices the consequences of applying or not applying the values of God in our communities.

The Prophets are sent by God to tell the Jews why they are going though the circumstances they are experiencing as a nation.  Referring back to the Law of Moses, the Prophets point out what the Jews have done, how it compares to what God said and why they are or will experience the consequences of those choices.  The Prophets point out what they must do, based on the Law, if they want to stop or reverse the consequences of those choices and return to a state of God’s blessing.

The Messiah comes saying that He has come to build on the Law and the Prophets not to eliminate them.  He has come to reveal and secure “righteousness” for us, which the Law was never going to be able to produce.  Because no matter how much we obey the Law, sin continues to disqualify us from the Kingdom, even while blessing us on earth.

For our purposes in this book we will look at the prescriptive and historical separately to try to draw out what is being emphasized in each.  But for the development of our thinking we must see them as integrated.  So in effect we “dissect” to analyze but must put them back together to find application.  For example, the prescriptive law says adultery is to be punishable by death.  But historically this death penalty is not applied to David when he commits adultery with Bathsheba.  Why?  Did they just not apply the Law?  Or, was there more to “the Law” than just prohibition?  Was the right of the people to ratify or change civil law part of the values “the Law” secured?

If we divide the prescriptive Law out from the historical and then divide that by the values it upholds, you will isolate five values God is reinforcing in and through all domains and all of life:

  • Life is sacred
  • The material world is real and good and essential for all of life
  • Words have power and we are accountable for them
  • Everything needs and is redeemable
  • Any thinking that takes us away from God’s values will begin to destroy (will not bless) us.

The prescriptive and historical law establishes four institutions given by God with definition of purpose, authority and boundaries to that authority:

  • The individual
  • The family
  • Civil governance
  • The institutional Church

Each of these “institutions” is given a type of authority, not all authority, boarders, rights, freedoms and responsibilities.  They lay the foundation for the values base on civil law.  These values do not perfect human beings or society but, to the level they are established and reinforced, they will create and sustain a more blessed society.  These values and institutions when applied reveal God to the human community.  They work with the cross to reveal Christ the King but they do not substitute for forgiveness and salvation through Jesus.  They reveal the Kingdom that is coming but they cannot perfect that Kingdom on earth.  Established and used properly these values produce a higher quality of life in all areas of life but they will not finally perfect man or creation.

In his series on the American Constitution, Fred Friendly of Columbia University and former President of CBS News called these (to be looked up)…

We now have four assumptions on which God builds all His thinking.  Five values that are essential to uphold if these assumptions are true, and four institutional authorities that God gives us in order to preserve and perpetuate these Truths and values for the purpose of blessing.

These Biblical realities set up a “tension” of freedom, rights and responsibilities that must be maintained in order to build healthy individuals, families and communities.  They cannot be “balanced” they must be mutually maintained.  If we error in one direction or the other we distort God’s plan.  God has made the individual free and sovereign.  But, since that is true of every individual, there are limits to the freedom of any single individual.  In order for every individual to be free there have to be limits to all of our freedoms.  Who has the right and responsibility to create and sustain those boundaries?  God has created the family as the authority for and over children.  The authority of parents is loving their children.  If they are trying to murder their children they are in violation of the sacredness and rights of the individual child’s life.  I have the freedom to believe what I live.  Do I have the freedom to practice that freedom anywhere anytime or any place?  If I believe in human sacrifice for my blessing do I have a right to do it?  Or is this an abuse of the sacrifice’s rights?  Do we have rights as communities?  If most of us agree that murder should be illegal, do we have the right to make it illegal?  Are there boarders to the rights of the community?  How do we secure minorities rights to action, child rearing and faith while not destroying the rights of the communities?

In all of these things we are asking the questions:

  • Who has the right to govern the many?
  • From where do they get that authority?
  • What is the way that authority is to be executed?
  • What does that authority have the rights over?
  • What are the limits of that authority?

Every system of governance has answers to these questions, or is working on them.  But are they Biblical answers?  We can know what God says about each question.  We can know, at any given time, where our nations laws and system of governance are blessed or in danger.  This is the Biblical Template, but we must be willing to exchange the thinking of the world even when it has been called “Christian” and replace it with God’s thinking, even when that is called “worldly.”