Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)

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Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

**Please Read Part 1 first! Click Here**

On Romans 13

Romans 13 is a chapter that is often quoted to provide “evidence” that a Christian going to war is justified, for they are serving their government, and governments are permitted to “bear the sword”(Romans 13:4).  The passage that is referenced does not encompass all of chapter 13, but just the first seven verses.  I will go through these verses exegetically, just as I did with Romans 12.

Romans 13:1-2

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Chapter 13 verses 1 & 2 state that we should be subject to our governing authorities, for God has appointed those in positions of authority.  We tend to ignore this truth when the elections come along, and when a president is in office that we do not like.  It is perfectly okay to not like who is the governing authority over you, but we are to be subject to them, which Paul explains later by stating that we should pay our taxes, respect them, and honor them to some extent; even if this simply means not blatantly slandering a ruler because you may not like their political policies, or them as a person.  

Romans 13:3-5

“3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

These verses are essentially saying: do good and you will not fall under their (the government’s) wrath.  But if you do wrong, the government does not “bear the sword in vain”(v.4).  Many Christians use this passage to justify their support of the Death Penalty, however, though I agree that God could very well use the death penalty to carry out His wrath on some individuals, being a mere man, I cannot know what is the will of God, and what is the will of man, so I would never put myself in a position where I would have to decide which criminals are to be put to death.  I also cannot help but wonder what advancement for the Kingdom of God could be done if His children trusted the judgment of governments more than the judgement of God.

Romans 13:6-7

For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Paul states that we are to pay taxes, repay what we owe, and respect and honor those who it is owed, and beings that governing authorities were appointed by God, I would take this to mean that we are to respect and honor our governing authorities.  The passage does not say that we have to be patriotic or nationalist, it merely says to respect and honor governing authorities; to respect their position, pay your taxes, and do good.  Things get messy when patriotism and nationalism penetrate into our faith.  And so the question is this: If the Word of God tells you to do something, and the Government tells you to do another, chose the Word of God.  If doing something for, with, or against the Government goes against the Word of God, chose the Word of God.  The Lord is Ruler of All, and we are to follow His Word.  The NLT Study Bible notes on Romans 13:1-2 (in reference to the Christians subjection to the government) state:

“Our submission to them [the government] will usually take the form of obedience.  However, because God stands over all governments, our submission to governing authorities must always be in terms of our ultimate submission to God (see Acts 4:19-20)”.

Therefore, if the government desires for you to enlist in the military, then, the Christian should refuse to do so based on the understanding of the Scriptures that I am convicted by. Thankfully if a draft ever happens again in the U.S., a person can chose to be a conscientious objector for religious reasons, and simply work in hospitals and the like in order to serve their country without violating their convictions.

As I pointed out earlier, many will use Romans 13 as justification for Christians to serve in the military because the military is permitted to “bear the sword”.   In the case of Romans 13, I believe it is mainly about, if not all about, domestic policy (governments, police, and judicial systems), and not so much about foreign policy (international conflicts/wars, military, etc.).  However, this doesn’t mean that God using a nation militarily is unbiblical, for other places in the Bible certainly indicate that God can use even a pagan nation to carry out His Will (Babylonians/Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Persians in the Old Testament, for example). In this fallen world, war is, at times, necessary for a nation to go into; not to make a statement whether or not certain ones are necessary, but to say that as a political body, a nation must defend itself and its people in order to survive. Therefore, I believe that God can use the United States (or any government, better or worse) in the form of war, if He so deems.  However, even if they do carry out God’s will in carrying out His wrath, they may still be held accountable for what they have done, as seen in the Old Testament with the Chaldeans in Habakkuk 2:2-20.  The NKJV MacArthur Study Bible notes on this passage state:

“In response to Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12-2:1), the Lord announced that He would judge the Chaldeans as well for their wickedness. His reply included: 1) the instructions to write it down, as a reminder that it would surely occur (vv. 2,3); 2) a description of the character of the wicked in comparison to the righteous (vv. 4,5); and 3) the pronouncement of 5 woes describing the Chaldeans’ demise (vv. 6-20)”.

Therefore, it is seen that even in specific instances of God using a pagan nation and peoples to carry out His will, they are still to be punished for even those actions.  For Habakkuk was crying out to the Lord to administer justice on the Chaldeans (Babylon) for being an oppressive and violent people.  To carry this idea further, we see how God used Pharaoh in the Exodus of the hebrews to carry out His will, and then later punished Pharaoh and his people.  

Therefore, in light of the passage in Habakkuk, Romans 12, Christ’s words, and what I have found in the Old Testament, I believe that a Christian ought not to involve themselves in any office, organization, or position that could cause them to take a life.  For God will have His will accomplished, and we must leave vengeance/wrath to God and through the governments that he has appointed.

Romans 13:8-10:

“8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13 starts by speaking of how the citizens are to respond to the government, specifying the roles of the government, and then the chapter closes with words that are reflective of the message in Romans 12:9-19 in regards to the Christian’s response to their enemies, and how they are to interact with one another; setting a moral code to follow.  The inclusion of the final passage that was quoted confirms to me that Paul, in speaking of how the Christian is to respond and interact with others in Romans 12 and 13, referenced the government as an extension of this theme, and then concluded this theme by restating how the Christian is to act, as a contrast to how the government acts.  

Conclusion

I will restate that my purpose was to communicate the stance that I take on the role of Christians, government, and Christians serving in a position that may cause them to take a life, through the context of Romans 12 and 13.  I have done so exegetically in order to write in direct relation to the text itself so as to give the reader a view of how I view these apparently contradictory chapters, and how I honestly wrestled with each chapter.  The topic is important to me because I intend to always serve the church that I attend in whatever capacity that I am able, and I would like to at least be able to present them with my view, if asked or required, because to me, if a Christian kills another person outside of the will of God, even if they are within, or serving the government, they are committing murder.  If we are all created in the image of God, then all life is sacred.  

As stated before, I hold the views that I have because I have found them to be the most biblical through my own study, and through many discussions, on the subject matter that has lasted for several years.   I have been presented with views from other sides of the argument by my peers, pastors, and professors, however, none has seemed to be as biblically based as Christian Nonviolence.  I understand this because most people have a hard time letting go of the natural inclination that humans have towards violence and vengeance, and some have too much of an allegiance to their country that they are not even willing to consider the argument which I present.  I certainly would not naturally choose to believe in this argument if I did not firmly believe it to be what God would have me do.    I view this topic as I do others: pray about it, seek the scriptures, examine multiple passages- even ones that may seem to initially contradict, and then seek out opinions written by other people of God throughout the centuries.  

We are to follow God and His Will, regardless of our own personal stances. Are we willing to change our stances if God calls us to do so?


Works Referenced (In Parts 1 & 2)

Barker, Kenneth L. “Notes On: Romans 12:17.” Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1999. 1654. Print.

Cranfield, C. E. B. “VII. 3. A Series of Loosely Connected Items of Exhortation (12:9-21).” Romans, a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1985. 316. Print.

Grudem, Wayne A. “Chapter 1: Five Wrong Views About Christians and Government.” Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. 54. Print.

Henry, Matthew; Bible, King James Version; Bureau, Better Bible (2013-10-24). Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Linked to Bible Verses) (Kindle Locations 230574-230579).  . Kindle Edition.

MacArthur, John. “Notes on Habakkuk 2:2-20.” The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997. 1319. Print.

“Notes on Romans 13:1-2.” The NLT Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008. 1916. Print.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

There exists an apparent contradiction in viewing Romans 12 and 13 as a Christian; for we see that the very things that Paul instructs the Christian to not do, he states that the government has the authority to do.  A good amount of Christians today look at these chapters as independent and uncorrelated with one another, at least in practice, and most would pick the chapter that seems more akin to their own personal position on the subject of government and war, and nearly ignore the other.  The political pacifists will harp on Romans 12, and the Christian Political Right will harp on Romans 13; we are naturally drawn to what fits most comfortably with our own views.  However, to view these passages as independent of one another is a hermeneutical(interpretive) error; those who seek to come to the scriptures honestly must look at and wrestle with them both; not as two separate ideas, but as one idea related to various peoples.  The purpose of this chapter of my writings is to communicate the stance that I take, which is best defined as Christian non-resistance, by going through Romans 12 and 13, and honestly wrestling with each chapter.

As mentioned before, most people side with the chapter that is most akin to their current position. This is not to say that there are no exceptions to people choosing one chapter or the other, for there are Christians who are pacifists in their personal lives who believe that Christians should never kill, regardless of whether they are a mere citizen or a government official, but they may also state that the secular government does have the authority to issue justice in the form of violence and even death.  There are also those who believe that Christians in the government are permitted to kill when the government is issuing justice, but who feel that the Christian civilian should act the same as the Christian pacifist civilians and not take violence into their own hands.  This group would push for Christian involvement in politics because they feel that they need to maintain the law of God through their nation’s politics.  Wayne Grudem in “Politics according to the Bible” states:

“Good government and good laws can prevent much evil behavior, and they can teach people what society approves, but they cannot by themselves produce good people”(pg.54).

Grudem states this in order to convey that although pushing for God’s law within politics can prove to be beneficial, people are still sinners who need a Holy God.  Both of the positions described are honestly seeking what they believe the Lord desires, and they each wrestle with the question of how Christians respond to government and injustice.

As stated many times in this book already, the position I hold is one that states that the Christian is not to commit violence under any circumstance unless directly commanded, blessed, or instructed by God to do so (Something that seems highly unlikely).  Therefore, in presenting my view, the reader has to understand that I believe that in order to understand Romans 13, it must be viewed in light of Romans 12.  Any good book written on biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) should inform you that the surrounding text of a verse, passage, or chapter is useful to understanding the meaning behind the portion of scripture you are studying.  

On Romans 12

The context of Romans 12 is that it was written after the Apostle Paul explained the mystery of the Gospel (Romans 9,10,11), which is that Gentiles were grafted into God’s plan and household, and this is why Paul writes the following transition:

Romans 12:1-2

“1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The “therefore” is there as a bridge between Paul’s previous point about the mystery of the Gospel, and his point in chapters 12 and 13, which is broadly summarized as instructions to the Christian on how they ought to live.  Paul writes that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices that are willing to lay down our lives metaphorically and physically for our devotion to Jesus Christ and His work.  He then goes on to verse two which states that we are to be transformed in our mind and lives because of our belief and adherence to God, which would then strengthen our ability to discern what is, and is not, the will of God with careful study, counsel, and prayer.

As English speakers, readers, and writers, we have the Bible in many different versions and translations to read from.  These Bibles are the God’s words to humankind, and are worthy of our study, and our application of its words to our lives.  Through the Bible, we can begin to discern what would be, and would not be, the Will of God. However, we must remember, in as much possible, to seek to put our political, religious, and personal opinions aside, and seek to understand what the text says; a troublesome concept for us all.  

Coming back to Romans 12, after writing about unity in the church in verses 3-8, Paul moves on by stating something that is quite reflective of Christ’s life and ministry on earth, and is quite challenging for most of us if we truly look at the passages that follow.  

Romans 12:9-13

“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

This first passage is in reference to how Christians should treat one another, as well as how they should view faith; by being “fervent in spirit”, serving the Lord, rejoicing, patient through trials, constant prayer, and to not be “slothful in zeal”. Paul is telling his audience here that God desires more from His people than simply going to church, and having belief; God desires for us to act out our faith by adhering to His Son’s example, and following the other guiding words of Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.  Paul states that we are to contribute to the needs of the saints, and to show hospitality; how often does the church ask of the needs of its congregation’s members, be it financial, housework, or other things?  We must love our brethren better.

Romans 12:14-21

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In this passage, Paul is writing about how the Christian should act toward those who persecute them, as well as all people in general.  In verse 14, Paul writes that we are to bless those who persecute us, and not curse them.  He continues this thought in verse 17 by stating that we should not repay evil for evil; that we are supposed to do the honorable thing [to “overcome evil with good” – v.21].  It is important to note that the statement “repay no one evil for evil” is a quote from the Old Testament in Proverbs 20:22.  This is important because it shows that the message of the believer’s command regarding vengeance is the same in the Old Testament, as it is in the New Testament.  For as we discovered in the chapter on the Old Testament, Humankind is always subject to God, and violence was only permitted with God’s command and blessing.  The Zondervan NASB Study Bible in its notes on Romans 12:17 state the following about the high moral call to the Christian:

“Christian conduct should never betray the high moral standards of the gospel, or it will provoke the disdain of unbelievers and bring the gospel into disrepute (See 2 Cor 8:21; 1 Tim 3:7)”.

Many people that you come across who have negative views towards Christianity, usually have the same frustration:  Hypocracy.  They are tired of Christians saying one thing, and doing another.  They are tired of Christians who claim to follow Christ being the voice of hate in our culture.  It is in this observation that the relevance of the above quote comes into play; when Christians betray their high moral standards, unbelievers disdain them, and the message of the Gospel is injured.

To further this idea of a high moral standard, and repaying no one evil for evil, Romans 12:18 states that as much as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with ALL.  Keep in mind, Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were being persecuted when he wrote them this message.  But what is most alarming about this passage is found in verses 19-21, which state in verse 19 that we are never to avenge (which is a synonym for taking revenge for) ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is his to pay, for He is Just.  In addition, C.E.B. Cranfield in his Romans: A Shorter Commentary writes on the topic of the Lord’s Vengeance in verse 19 by stating the following in why the Christian ought to allow for God to have vengeance, and not take matters into their own hands:

“If one is to continue to live by grace, then one cannot do other than make way for this wrath – to do otherwise would be to cease to live by grace.  To give place to the wrath is to leave vengeance to God in the knowledge that He is the God who smites in order to heal”(pg. 316).

Cranfield reminds us that God is perfect and just, and if we were to live as if we understood that, we would live by grace by not taking God’s place in avenging people that are just as vile as we are if we were without the salvation of Christ.  Cranfield also reminds us that God desires for all to be saved, and God’s wrath may be a way to reveal himself to them for God smites “in order to heal”.

Moving on to verse 20, Paul instructs us to even feed, and give water to our enemy (basically looking out for their best interest) to “heap burning coals on his head”.  The burning coals on his head part of this verse seems completely out of place here because many people’s first thought is: We should be nice to them so that they get angry at us, so that they are punished, etc..  However, Matthew Henry gives the following interpretations for this part of the verse:

Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head; that is, “Thou shalt either,”

  1. “Melt him into repentance and friendship, and mollify his spirit towards thee” (alluding to those who melt metals; they not only put fire under them, but heap fire upon them; thus Saul was melted and conquered with the kindness of David, Sa1 24:16; Sa1 26:21) – “thou wilt win a friend by it, and if thy kindness have not that effect then,”

  2. “It will aggravate his condemnation, and make his malice against thee the more inexcusable. Thou wilt hereby hasten upon him the tokens of God’s wrath and vengeance.

The two reasons that Matthew Henry gives is that being kind will either conquer your enemy’s hatred to spur them to love you, or it will continue to show the corruption in their heart, and they will therefore have to answer to their maker one day.  The role of the Christian is not to take vengeance, but to love others, leaving vengeance up to God, and seeking His Will each day.

Verse 21 summarizes these points by stating, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.  By instructing us to not be overcome by evil, Paul is meaning that we should not be passive in our dealing with evil against us (we are to pray, look out for our enemies best interest; showing them undeserved Grace), but we should not add to the evil being done by committing evil ourselves.  Again, Christians are called to rise above our natural instincts in the pursuit of following Jesus.

Based on this study of Romans 12, a Christian is not permitted to “play God” and carry out violence without His blessing.  I add “without His blessing” because that is the only way that violence was permitted in the Old Testament.  I will say, however, that there is no instance in the New Testament where followers of Christ were ever told to carry out violence.  Instead, God, and His heavenly armies, are the only ones who did, or were foretold to carry out judgement.

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*Works Referenced in this post will be within the Works Referenced section in Part 2*

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Two – Addressing The Old Testament (Part 2 of 2)

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Addressing the Old Testament

(Part 2 of 2)

God’s use of Government to carry out His Will

When discussing this topic, the question always arises:  how do we handle passages in which God blesses, or sanctions, war as carried out by the Israelites in the Old Testament?

This question is extremely important in this discussion, and I will attempt not to skirt the validity behind asking it;  though, I will be upfront like I said earlier, and admit to you that the Old Testament does not, by itself, support the nonviolent ethic I advocate for.  Instead, I believe that it points to it in glimpses of God’s perfect Will amidst these difficult passages, and this Will is made apparent in Christ’s teachings.

I cannot for the sake of length, and for the sake of my own sanity, go through every instance of battle in this section. However, I would like to highlight some passages that would do adequate justice to attempting to answer this valuable question.

Exodus 17:8-13

“8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” (ESV)

To begin in our understanding of this passage, we must first recognize that the Israelites at this point were not trained and professional warriors; they needed God’s help.  Moses trusted that God would aid them in battle, and so he devoted himself to the Lord in recognizing this need for help, and raised his arms and his staff throughout the whole battle, with the help of Aaron and Hur when his arms and body grew weary.

This passage communicates both the real intervention of God in Old Testament warfare, as well as the need and call for his people to have faith in Him, and to give Him the Glory.  Moses did not arrogantly think that they could do this without God, or His blessing, he knew that God was absolutely essential to overcoming this early enemy that was trying to crush the people that God desired to lead to the promised land.

Deuteronomy 1:41-45

“41 “Then you answered me, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us.’ And every one of you fastened on his weapons of war and thought it easy to go up into the hill country.

42 And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’ 43 So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went up into the hill country.44 Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. 45 And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you. 46 So you remained at Kadesh many days, the days that you remained there.(ESV)

Preceding this passage, is the information regarding how the Hebrews sinned against the Lord.  In verses 19-40, we see that the Israelites were told to go and take possession of the land that God had promised to them, the hill country of the Amorites, and they were hold that they needn’t fear, for the Lord was with them.  Upon exploring this new land, the Israelites became fearful of the fortified cities, and the civilization dwelling there, so they refused to take possession of the land, even though the Lord said that He would give it to them. Because of this, the Lord punished them by saying that because of their disbelief in His mighty power, they were not permitted to enter the land, and were instead told to wander in the wilderness (Deut. 1:40).

It is here where the Israelites, recognizing their sin, decide to go up and fight themselves, relying on the Lord’s previous blessing which they did not trust the first time.  Concerned for His people, the Lord told Moses to tell them to not go up and fight, for the Lord will not be with them.  Moses conveyed this very important message to the people, and they chose to proceed with the conquest anyway, without the Lord’s blessing.  

They did not win this battle, for God was not with them.

Matthew Henry, an 18th century minister and theologian, accurately wrote in his well-renowned commentary of the Bible, that:

“An unbelieving heart was at the bottom of this.  All disobedience to God’s laws, and distrust of His power and goodness, flow from disbelief of His word, as all true obedience springs from faith”(pg. 183)

Therefore, this account conveys the truth of the first account mentioned in this section from Exodus 17:8-13; The Lord’s blessing, and faith in that blessing, is absolutely essential for the involvement in battle.  Without the Lord’s blessing, the army will succumb to the power of the enemy.

1 Samuel 13:8-14

8 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9 So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” 13 And Samuel said to Saul,“You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”” (ESV)

Like the preceding account, this account indicates that the Lord detests when humanity takes these things into their own hands apart from the Lord’s blessing.  The context of this passage was that the Philistines were preparing for battle, and Saul sought the blessing of the Lord over this battle through Samuel, the Prophet.  But Saul, after waiting the amount of days prescribed by Samuel, took the matter into his own hands on the final day by offering a burnt sacrifice to the Lord which he figured would bless him in battle.  After doing this, Samuel arrived.

The problem was that Saul knew that Samuel would eventually come, but he was scared of the approaching battle so he did not trust Samuel to come in time, and therefore, he did not trust that God would Move in time.  It was then that we read in verses 13-14, that Samuel communicated to King Saul that his kingdom, which would have lasted through his sons, is now going to end with him.  Samuel even informed Saul that God has already selected a new King to come along in due time; one that would honor the Lord (this would be King David).

Habakkuk 1:1-11

“1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

2 “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.  For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”

5 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.  For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.  6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. 7 They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. 8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on.  Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. 9 They all come for violence, all their faces forward.  They gather captives like sand.  10 At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it.  11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”(ESV)

This Oracle, or divine revelation, that Habakkuk saw was foretelling the way in which God would use the Babylonians (Chaldeans) to judge Judah (the lower Kingdom of the ancient Israelites for a time) for its wickedness and violence.  It is in this passage where we see that God used an evil pagan nation to carry out His Will of punishment against the rebellious and destructive Judah.

It is a common thought to assume that God only works through good governments when we read about his involvement in the ancient Israelite governments, as well as when we read Romans 13 and apply it to our own government.   However, it is important to remember that both in this passage in Habakkuk, as well as in the passage in Romans 13, the writers were referring to God using pagan and ungodly nations to carry out His will.

The relevance of this passage to our discussion is that again, we see that God works through Government, and it is Just.  What is peculiar however, and what really aids in the discussion of this topic, is what happens in the next passage we will study.

Habakkuk 2:6-12

“6 Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?— and loads himself with pledges!  7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?  Then you will be spoil for them.  8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.  9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!  10 You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples;  you have forfeited your life. 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond. 12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!(ESV)

The Lord revealed this to Habakkuk in response to Habakkuk’s complaint about Judah being punished by the Chaldeans, as seen in Habakkuk 1:12-17, in which he exclaims to the Lord:  “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13 – ESV).  The NKJV MacArthur Study Bible notes on this scene state:

“In response to Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12-2:1), the Lord announced that He would judge the Chaldeans as well for their wickedness. His reply included: 1) the instructions to write it down, as a reminder that it would surely occur (vv. 2,3); 2) a description of the character of the wicked in comparison to the righteous (vv. 4,5); and 3) the pronouncement of 5 woes describing the Chaldeans’ demise (vv. 6-20).” (pg.1319)

Therefore, it is seen that even in specific instances of God using a pagan nation and peoples to carry out His will, they are still to be punished for their wrongdoing, and likely, for their treatment of the people of Judah.  This idea is seen in the Exodus, which we studied before, as we see how God used Pharaoh in the Exodus of the hebrews to carry out His will, and then later punished Pharaoh and his people for doing things as a result of God hardening their hearts.  For another example, Isaiah 10:5-19 speak of God using the Assyrians to carry out his wrath on godless nations, however, he then punishes them for boasting about their conquest.

The conclusion that we can draw from these examples is the repeated element throughout:  God’s blessing over battle, and killing, was essential for these battles to be won, or for these battles to bless the Israelites.

To apply this section to the thrust of my argument, even within this Old Testament understanding, I would not be willing to enter a military that would not have the special relationship with God like the ancient Israelites did (which rules out every modern government) because I would be expected and commanded to enter battles as they come up, without for sure knowing what the will of God is.  And even if I think that I know what the will of God is, I may only be acting on my own desires, as the Israelites did when they sought to take the promised land without the Lord’s blessing, as we studied in Deuteronomy 1:41-45.  Or even if it Is the Will of God for a nation to go to war and capture another nation, they still may be held accountable to God for their actions.  Therefore, to reiterate my point: as a Christian, in trusting God to carry out his Will, I would never want to align myself with a human institution that may force me to violate my allegiance to God.

The Canaanite Conquest

One of the most problematic scenes in the Old Testament is what is referred to as “the conquest of Canaan”, which was recorded predominantly in the book of Joshua.  In reading about the subject, many authors have expressed deep confusion and concern about this passage, choosing instead to call this scene “The Canaanite Genocide”.  

Preston Sprinkle struggles with this conflict in his book “Fight” when he says:

“The most glaring concern comes when the Old Testament sanctions wholesale slaughter of the Canaanites. Israel’s “warfare policy” has raised an ageless ethical problem for anyone who looks to the Old Testament for moral guidance.

For instance, God commands Israel to save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded. (Deut. 20: 16– 17; cf. 7: 1– 2)

God tells Israel to slaughter everyone living within the borders of the Promised Land. We have a term for this sort of thing. We call it genocide.” (Kindle Locations 465-471)

Deuteronomy 20:16-18

“16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.(ESV)

Deuteronomy 20 serves as the initial instruction to the ancient Israelites on how they are to come to possess the promised land, which is carried out throughout the book of Joshua.  In this passage, The Lord commanded the Israelite people to destroy these pagan nations that were dwelling in the land that God had promised to Israel.  This passage is hard to honestly grapple with because God ordered the killing of whole people groups, which doesn’t seem to jive with the message of Jesus.

The traditional approach to this command is the true statement that these pagan nations would corrupt the newly freed Israelites who were still re-learning, or learning, about the one true God after being steeped in a powerful pagan culture for 400 years.  These ancient ancient Israelites were still heavily into idol worship, as seen in the creation of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32:1-6.  They even had the audacity to say of this newly created idol that “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” in verse 4.  Aaron, a main leader, even led them in offering sacrifices to the “god” that they had just created out of the gold jewelry that they had on hand.  To place this new and growing civilization in a land and culture that was just as steeped in paganism as Egypt, would more than likely quickly derail the Spiritual renewal that God was working through Moses to establish.

Eugene H. Merrill, in a book titled “Show them no Mercy: 4 views of God and Canaanite Genocide” which lets each author defend their approach on the matter, says the following:

“The option of making covenant with such people or undertaking marriage with them or even of showing mercy and sparing them for some other reason can never be entertained. They will induce Israel to follow their gods and embrace their abominable forms of worship (7:4). Instead, they and their worship apparatus must be exterminated (7:5). The introduction of Yahweh-war legislation so early in Deuteronomy can be explained by its near juxtaposition to the commandments to have no other gods and to desist from making and worshiping pagan idols (Deut. 5:7–10).” (Kindle Locations 1231-1235)

I cannot deny the truth of dramatic spiritual corruption, or possibly an annihilation of the ancient Israelites by the hand of these nations had God not intervened.   And while I struggle with the concept of God commissioning the slaying of so many, I cannot help but hope that if there was but one person who was redeemable, or who could be redeemed, that God would spare them.  We see this in how he spared Rahab the prostitute and the relatives within her house in Joshua 6:5, as well as when Abraham kept asking God if he would spare the righteous of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:27-33.  Yet still, though the canaanites must have been extraordinarily corrupt, they are human lives nonetheless.

The reason why I struggle with this specific scene from the Old Testament is because I have a New Testament understand of who God is.  As I have mentioned before, the Old Testament does not represent the perfect Will of God, but rather God working with His people at that time, under that Covenant, which was all about getting His people the land, and establishing them as a nation set apart from the world.   On this perspective, C.S Cowles wrote in “Show them no mercy”:

We cannot pretend, as we read these genocidal “texts of terror,” that Jesus has not come. In him we see the complete and undistorted “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). (Kindle Locations 1524-1525)

Therefore, Christ, being the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), as well as representing the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9), is the lens in which Christians should interpret Scripture’s application to their lives.  This implies of course that the Christian should follow the ways of Christ, and adhere to His teachings when they appear to conflict with these troublesome passages in the Old Testament.  John C. Maxwell contributes the following wisdom in his covering of Deuteronomy within “The Communicator’s Commentary” when conveying the use of war in Deut. 20, and warfare in general throughout the Old Testament by writing the following:

“In Deuteronomy 20, war is an instrument of divine policy; Israel could not have survived without it.  But war does not always have the stamp of divine approval.  Even in the Old Testament, David is denied the privilege of building the temple because his hands are stained with blood (1 Kings 5:3).  One of the features of the coming Messianic kingdom is the abolition of war (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3).  That our society today still resorts to war proves nothing except that men are terribly resistant to the grace of God.” (pg. 247)

War is not the perfect Will of God, and while nations may wage war, the Christian should live as an example of what’s to come in the Messianic Kingdom.  It is the Christian’s calling and responsibility to be counter-cultural when Christ calls them to go against the grain.

Conclusion

It is my hope that through the examples and arguments given, that I have handled the question of the Old Testament on this matter honestly.  I do not expect my handling of this chapter to be immediately satisfying to the reader, as this issue is incredibly complex, and has been discussed throughout Church History at various times, and with various unique views represented.  Nor do I view this work as the best contemporary work on the matter.  I merely hope to add to the growing resources that are advocating for a radical interpretation of Christ’s teachings of nonviolence.


Works Cited

Cowles, C. S.; Merrill, Eugene H.; Merrill, Eugene H.; Gard, Daniel L.; Gard, Daniel L.; Longman III, Tremper; Longman III, Tremper (2010-04-24). Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Kindle Locations 1231-1235 , 1524-1525, ). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Henry, Matthew. “Deuteronomy 1:19-46.” Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary On The Whole Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997. 183. Print.

MacArthur, John. “Notes on Habakkuk 2:2-20.” The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997. 1319. Print.

Maxwell, John C. “19.” The Communicator’s Commentary – Deuteronomy. Ed. Lloyd John. Ogilvie. Vol. 5. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1987. 247. Print.

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 465-471, 488-494). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: A Christian response to evil and violence – Introduction

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Redeemed Natures

A Christian Response to Evil and Violence

Introduction

The world is full of injustice; terrible things that leave someone to wonder how they are to respond to such atrocities.  For many throughout time, the answer to such injustice was to meet violence with violence; an eye for an eye.  Human nature beckons us to fight back, and pride tells us that the violence which we commit is justifiable against the evil violence which we fight against.

For some, this conversation is only thought of in the field of politics.  For how can a nation NOT react against injustice with force?  It is in thinking about this subject through the eyes of government that our own personal stances become intertwined with the stance of our nation.  If our government calls us to war, then we are certainly fighting for a just cause.  If our commander calls us to fire, then our bullet will certainly only be used to kill evil.

But what is a Christian to do when Christ calls us to love our enemies, to pray for those that persecute us, and to turn the other cheek?  What is a Christian to do within a country that calls for Allegiance, and a God who calls us to Follow His will?

In this series, I will attempt to explain my own position through biblical and philosophical explanations of an incredibly complex issue.  I do not claim that what I write in this series is absolute truth, but I would say that the points that I will make have been thought through thoughtfully, and prayerfully.

In doing so, I do so humbly, and I want to make clear that I pass no judgement on those of differing opinions, for I realize that this is a very complex issue.  In addition, I would like to clarify that I respect both service men and women, as well as conscientious objectors.

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The Sermon On The Mount: Part Two – Matthew 5:17-48

**This post will is the second post of an exciting series on the Sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, as translated in the English Standard Version of the Bible.  You can read the passage online by Clicking Here so that you can gain the most value and context for these posts.  Please subscribe to this blog to receive updates on new posts! And if you have not already, read the first post in this series my Clicking Here!**

Welcome to Lambtheology.com!  I am excited to write again after not posting in several days!  Please join me in this second post in my series on The Sermon On The Mount, focusing on Matthew 5:17-48!

Recap – We left off of the first note on an idea that those who claim Christ as Savior are expected to Strive after him, and to be different from, and enrich the world.  We now continue in Matthew 5 to the end of the chapter; looking at some of the wild and challenging teachings of Jesus.  While going forward, please keep in mind the surrounding context of these three chapters in Matthew, which was stated in the first post.

Matthew 5:17-20 – The Law

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus sates that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. When a lot of us come to this passage,  we either skim over it because we do not know what to think, or we get conflicted over whether or not we should have had those pieces of crispy bacon for breakfast.  In other words, is Jesus saying that all of the Old Testament laws apply still for today?  I would wager that if we take this interpretation we will miss the entire meaning of this passage, which is that some of the Old Testament laws are lasting, but some of the jewish religious leaders of the day had the wrong interpretations of those laws because they did not have the full revelation of Jesus.

Christ came to explain God’s law in a way that could not be done before, to fulfill some of the law which is unneeded for to day, and to do away with faulty and harmful interpretations that put unnecessary constraints on those seeking to follow the Lord.

Matthew 5:21-30 – Anger & Lust

Based on what was said in verses 17-20, we come to Matthew 5:21-30, which would have been a profoundly complex and challenging message to the original audience, and has continued to be so throughout all of time.  In this passage, Christ takes what is known to be wrong, actions of anger ,and adultery, and he calls those who seek to follow God to not only refuse to actions of anger, or commit adultery, but to seek to sensor your thoughts because even they can condemn you of doing the actual act!

Anger – The first issue addressed in this passage is anger.  The text says that if you have anger in your heart for someone, than that is the same as committing an action of anger – murder, fighting, etc..  To be angry at someone means that you do not wish good to come upon them; in essence you want their quality of life, or perhaps even their literal one, to be diminished or stopped.

Jesus tells these people, and us today, that having anger towards someone, or insulting them, is worthy of the same punishment as killing them: separation from God. This is an extremely high calling for the Christian, and one that reminds us to keep our anger in check because Anger should never be a defining adjective of a Christian.

Lust – One of my favorite stories from the last youth group I led was when a 15 year old boy comes up to me after a lesson which included the passage on lust, and he asked me, “Jon, Jesus didn’t REALLY mean what he said for 15 year old boys, right?  We do that all the time!”.  After laughing a bit at his honestly, I simply said something like, “The thing is, Jesus didn’t tell this to a people that Didn’t deal with this issue – Its meant for all of us.”  All of us deal with lust, but the difference comes in how we respond to the temptation of lust.  When a lustful thought comes in our mind, do we try to do away with it right away, or do we let it sit there a while for us to mull over?  It is not something thats easy to do, but over time and intentional effort, lustful thoughts can become less frequent or fade.

When we think lustfully about someone, whether we are a man, or a woman, we disrespect their own worth as human beings – as being made in the image of God. So when we talk about lust, we have to remember to look inwardly first.  Lusting after anyone who is not our spouse, in action or thought, is not surrendering your life to following Jesus, and to Love others.

Matthew 5:31-32 – Divorce

The topic of divorce is touchy.  We all know someone, maybe it is ourselves, who has been affected by divorce.  This is one of those topics that Jesus speaks on in the Sermon on the Mount that some want to leave out because a stance like the one of Christ’s is hard for a lot of us to take.  I believe in and work for my own marriage, and I pass no judgement on those who have had a different story than my own.  With that being said, let us get back to the text at hand.

Christ begins this short teaching in verse 31 by restating a known writing of Moses which allowed for a certificate of divorce (reference), and then going seemingly against that teaching to take it further in saying that anyone who divorces their spouse, except for reasons of sexual immorality, will then make that person an adulterous.  Why would this be?  Because marriage was meant to be till death, and just because the legality of a marriage is gone does not mean that the substance of that marriage before God is gone. When the vows are exchanged, and the blessing of God is uttered, that marriage is a consecrated covenant between two people and God.

Matthew 5:33-37 – Oaths

In this passage, Christ tells the audience to not take any oaths, which was based on an Old Testament teaching that followers of God should not swear falsely.  Again, Jesus took it one step further.  He does not want His followers to swear by anything in heaven, or on earth because we would be swearing by things that are not ours, but are God’s: “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King”(vv.34-35).  We are not even permitted to swear by our own body – for we do not have true ruling over our own bodies like God does.  Instead of swearing Oaths, Christ tells us to simply let our words be all the proof and backing that we need; for our words to be words of integrity that they would not need oaths to be spoken. 

Matthew 5:38-48 – Non-Retaliation & Enemy Love

It is in this passage that most of the argument revolve around in regards to the Sermon on the Mount.  Humans do not want to be told to do something that is drastically opposed to our nature; humans do not want to be told to “turn the other cheek” or to have any sort of love for any sort of enemy.

Christ tells his audience that when someone would slap you on the cheek, to turn the other one to the attacker also.  Some cheapen the application of this passage down to simply mean that in light confrontations, be the better person, and don’t fight back.  But in taking that interpretation, the entire surrounding context of first century Israel is thrown out of the window because the main agitators of the day would not have been comparable to your angry neighbor, but were Roman soldiers who ruled by the Iron fist of caesar.  Followers of God are not to violently retaliate, even in the extreme instance of an oppressive military force.

Moving on to Christ speaking of loving your enemy, lets remember who the “enemy” was to first century Israel, and let us not reduce “enemy” to only be applied to the town gossip, or town drunk. Christ, again, takes an old teaching of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, and takes it a step further by saying that a follower of God is to try to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them.  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have”(v.46).

The question then comes down to how we view this passage and apply it to our lives.  We should not stand by interpretations that cheapen the contextual meaning of this passage by only trying to apply the word “enemy” to individuals in our communities and schools who pose no physical threat; the word “enemy” may apply to such individuals, but it is more aptly applied to physical and violent enemies.   What do we, as 21st century people, do with this teaching?  Can we reconcile the natural human urge to violently retaliate and to hate our enemies, with the words of Jesus?

I’ll leave you with that.  I am sure the topic will come up again in the existence of this blog.

Conclusion

Christ called the jewish people then to more than what they had previously thought was required of them, and he does the same for us.  It is not enough to merely say a prayer and go on with life; Christ calls us to FOLLOW after Him and His teachings and Actions REGARDLESS of how against those instructions are to our natural inclinations.

Are we willing to follow?

Holy God, we come before you to confess the errors in our ways of esteeming ourselves above you. We confess that we are not perfect; we need your love, and we need your continual redemption of our lives, and our minds.  Transform our hearts to reflect the desires of you to Love you with all we have, and to love others as much, or more, than we love ourselves. We pray these things in teh name of Jesus Christ, Amen.