Revisiting the Christian and State Relationship.

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Judges—A Christian anarchist Bible study

The Bible records a time after Moses and then Joshua and before Israel forsook Theocracy for Monarchy: The period of the judges. Christians commonly view the period as one of darkness, chaos, and anarchy. The last verse in the Book of Judges duly notes that “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Some have taken this as a divine criticism of the period. Somehow, they think that in the Bible God must be speaking of the organization of His people during that time as being deficient. However, it would be well for many of us to reconsider the notion—and especially not to move too fast through Judges chapter two!

First, to recapitulate:

Israel was under a Theocracy. What did this mean? Quite simply, that God, not man, was Israel’s King (1 Samuel 8:20; 10:19; 12:12). Gideon understood:

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.’ Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you’ (Judges 8:22, 23).

Theocracy was the rule of God over men—that is, the granting of supremacy by creature to an unselfish Creator, a being whom absolute power cannot corrupt, indeed, who will only govern us nonimpositionally and voluntarily.

The Period of Judges

The period of the judges is difficult to place if the late date (c. 1200 BCE) for the Exodus is chosen. Kevin P. Edgecomb argues convincingly for the early Exodus date (c. 1440 BCE) and places the time of the judges approximately from 1350 BCE to 1108 BCE. The reign of the different judges is divided into eastern and western areas (“Chronology of the Judges Period,” Kevin P. Edgecomb, 2004. http://www.bombaxo.com/jgschron.html, accessed 2009-03-02 21:15Z).

The Coming of the Monarchy

The transition to Israelite monarchy is especially outlined in 1 Samuel 8-12. The prophet Samuel had appointed his children to follow him in the office as Israel’s judge / deliverer (1 Samuel 8:1). Sadly, their immoral behavior was not known to Samuel (1 Samuel 8:3, 5). Under their administration the nation was chafing, and began looking to neighboring nations for models of governance.

At last, they appealed to Samuel to provide them a king (1 Samuel 8:5). They desired to defer the responsibility that the Theocracy had enjoined upon them. Their rejection of leadership by judges was actually a rejection of God as their king. “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). At God’s command, Samuel dutifully outlined to them the depredations that would result to the people by changing to a system of human monarchy (1 Samuel 8:9-18). The people rejected the warning, of course. They said,

Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles (1 Samuel 8:20).

When, in the first ceremony of renewal, the first king is crowned, God’s prophet proclaims, “Ye have this day rejected your God” (1 Samuel 10:19). In the second ceremony of renewal, Samuel pointed out again,

When ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the Lord your God was your king (1 Samuel 12:12).

At last, Samuel declares thus:

Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the Lord, and He shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king (1 Samuel 12:16-19).

Hosea makes clear that the transition from Theocracy to Monarchy was more punishment than endorsement: “Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers—those of whom you said, ‘Give me a king and princes’? I gave you a king in My anger” (Hosea 13:10, 11).

Judges Chapter Two Clarifies

The statement at the end of Judges, that “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” should be read in light of Judges chapter two. Verses 1-5 of that chapter outline how God delivered Israel and was faithful to His covenant, but that Israel was disobedient. In response to their unfaithfulness, God warned them that He would would no longer drive out the inhabitants of the land.

Verses 2-6 tell of the death of Joshua and the rise of a generation having no memory of God’s deliverances of Israel. Verses 11-15 speak of the spiritual degeneration of Israel, God’s anger, and how He gave them over to plunderers.

The next section of the narrative is particularly insightful:

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and He saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways (Judges 2:16-19).

The judge was a deliverer. He was raised up by God from among the common people. He (and sometimes she) led the nation and brought freedom from oppression. The judge led temporarily. After the deliverance he returned to life among the people. There was no development of bureaucracy or state machinery and mechanisms.

The judge was raised up by God and in his delivering activities, “The Lord was with the judge.” No provision was made to elect rulers or to continue any royal lineage among the judges descendants. And yet, judge after judge and generation after generation, when the judge died, the people returned to the very behaviors that had led to the withdrawal of divine protection. Time and again the people abandoned God.

The conclusion that some have drawn—that every person doing what they thought was right in their own eyes is a condemnation of the lack of centralized state power—is not sustained by the text. In fact, the centralization of power in a king or a state is corrupting in its influence. As has been observed,

God desired His people to look to Him alone as their Law-giver and their Source of strength. Feeling their dependence upon God, they would be constantly drawn nearer to Him. They would become elevated and ennobled, fitted for the high destiny to which He had called them as His chosen people. But when a man was placed upon the throne, it would tend to turn the minds of the people from God. They would trust more to human strength, and less to divine power, and the errors of their king would lead them into sin and separate the nation from God (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 606).

A human sovereign over the people would turn the minds to human strength and away from divine power. Errors in monarchial leadership would influence the nation to depart from God.

It was the last thing they really needed, when their dangerous motives for desiring a king are considered. Ellen White again:

When the Israelites first settled in Canaan they acknowledged the principles of the theocracy, and the nation prospered under the rule of Joshua. But increase of population and intercourse with other nations brought a change. The people adopted many of the customs of their heathen neighbors and thus sacrificed to a great degree their own peculiar, holy character. Gradually they lost their reverence for God and ceased to prize the honor of being His chosen people. Attracted by the pomp and display of heathen monarchs, they tired of their own simplicity. Jealousy and envy sprang up between the tribes. Internal dissensions made them weak; they were continually exposed to the invasion of their heathen foes, and the people were coming to believe that in order to maintain their standing among the nations, the tribes must be united under a strong central government. As they departed from obedience to God’s law, they desired to be freed from the rule of their divine Sovereign; and thus the demand for a monarchy became widespread throughout Israel (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 603).

Centralization of human power tends ever to corruption and exploitation. It tends to elevate fallible leaders who think to create new rules for the people, new machinery legitimizing their exercise of authority.

The government of Israel was administered in the name and by the authority of God. The work of Moses, of the seventy elders, of the rulers and judges, was simply to enforce the laws that God had given; they had no authority to legislate for the nation. This was, and continued to be, the condition of Israel’s existence as a nation. From age to age men inspired by God were sent to instruct the people and to direct in the enforcement of the laws (Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 603).

Conclusion

The problem in the time of the book of Judges was not that there was not enough government, but that the people were very stubborn. When God removed the power of their oppressors, Israel returned to wicked ways and become yet more wicked. They disregarded God’s plan and followed only their own desires.

Again, the problem was not that there was not enough government; it was rejection of the form social order that God had specified.

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.’ Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you’ (Judges 8:22, 23).

There was a turn from theocracy to monarchy, and it was a turn very much for the worse. But if men insisted on forming a state, God would not force liberty upon them. He would let them go into bondage. For awhile. After 6,000 years we are only starting to get His lesson.

Colossians—a Christian anarchist Bible study

[With this first installment, we begin a series of Bible studies of Books and passages of Scripture with special interest to the Christian anarchist. Neither exhaustive nor comprehensive, these provide a starting place for study and discussion. They will appear in no particular order and at no set time. NL]

Two passages in Paul’s book of Colossians have our attention in this study: 1:9-23; 2:8-15.

Kingdom transference

First, Colossians 1:9-23 ESV:

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.

Delivered from the power of darkness

In verse 13 we see that Jesus has delivered the believer from the exousia—the authority— of the domain of darkness. There is a domain of darkness. All who do not belong to the domain of light belong to the domain of darkness. The ruler of the domain of darkness is Satan. Before choosing Christ, one had been subject to that domain, but no longer. With the choice of Christ, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As the Hebrews were delivered from Egypt, the believer is delivered from the domain of darkness. In Egypt, pharaoh had sway over the slaving Hebrews. When delivered, they were made free. Still, it remained for them to depart Egypt. God did not whisk them away and deposit them in Canaan; A journey lay ahead.

While enslaved in Egypt they had not been free to undertake the journey; having been delivered, they stood at the edge of the city. They must put one footstep in front of another, step by step, and make their departure. God changed their situation. Now they were free. That is, now their freedom could be wrought out.

Our passage in Colossians makes no particular reference to the Exodus, yet still offers a helpful illustration. As the road to Canaan beckoned, so in the believer’s case. He is not delivered to inactivity or passivity; he is delivered in that he is no longer imprisoned in the domain of darkness. Now he may walk out. The door is opened, the pathway stands before him. Freedom is there for the taking.

Translated into the kingdom of Jesus

Verse 13 says that we are delivered from the power of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus. The underlying Greek means a change in where we are standing, a change in our place. The new Christian may still be standing on the edge of “Egypt” but he is a new Christian nonetheless. He is free. He is part of a different, non-coercive kingdom now. He has changed countries, situations, and lords. He has become an ambassador from a different land (we’ll explore the ambassador aspect in a different study).

In real life terms, what does this mean? I was born in a nation called the United States of America (today very much a single, centralized state). When I became a Christian, I was translated to the kingdom of Jesus. I remain physically present here, but I am now under a different lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is my King.

Here in the United State, the theory is that the people are sovereign, the citizens themselves are actually lord. Even if this were true, it is not right for us to be under the lordship of other created beings; this was Satan’s schema. The Creator is to be Lord, none else.

Jesus created all thrones, dominions, principalities, powers?

Our text says that Jesus created all thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, and that these all were created by Him and for Him (1:16). Is it intended that we understand by this that Jesus created all the nations? That Babylon was made by Him and for Him? Nazi Germany? Were the gas chambers of Auschwitz in which Jews were slaughtered Jesus’ gas chambers, made by Him and for Him?

There is a sense in which He created all kingdoms, for He made humankind in the beginning, and humankind chose to bind itself up into city-states and nations. At Babylon God scrambled a rebellion and human language, scattering men who went out to found the many nations.

If we are not careful, we will abuse this text and take it to mean that even Satan’s dominion, throne, kingdom, nation, were made by Jesus and for Him. God and Satan do nothing in partnership. A main point in this passage is that Jesus is first; He is before all things. As Eller has put it so well,

Precisely because Jesus is THE ARKY, the Prime of Creation, the Principle of All Good, the Prince of Peace and Everything Else, Christians dare never grant a human arky the primacy it claims for itself (Vernard Eller, Christian anarchy, p. 2, emphasis Eller).

The flavor, the very ideas in Eller, are the same as this passage in Colossians. If the Colossian believers were predisposed to see the universe as ruled under a hierarchy of angelic beings or echelons of greater and lesser gods, Paul wanted them to know that Jesus was before all else; nothing exists without His consent. Even Satan’s existence is only possible because God has delayed the final execution of his judgment upon him. Satan and his rebel angels are reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2:9; 3:7; Jude 6; Matthew 25:41).

God works via earthly kingdoms, but he does not endorse them. He will use an Assyria or a Babylon to judge, but when they exceed His wishes, He will punish those who have voided His purpose (e.g. Isaiah 13:3-5; 10:5-7, 12, 13; 41:2-4, 45:1, 4, 13). God used Babylon to execute judgment upon the Hebrew people, but He never endorsed Bel or any of the Babylonian gods. He brings good out of evil, and the actions of men and their kingdoms are overturned to the victory of the divine purpose—all unforeseen, no doubt, by the earthly rulers!

God created a setting in which men would be free to choose good or evil. The rebellion of the inhabitants of planet earth was an unavoidable risk God took. Robots would have been easy pets to keep; but men granted their own wills might rebel out of malice or even the exercise of a mere superficial choice. Surely that describes Adam’s rebellion: superficial, minimally thought-through, but sufficiently thought-through to be open rebellion.

The result? A weakened race, and men now degenerated so that a perverse will would have its way. And still, man in all his corrupt designs, his madness even (Ecclesiastes 9:3; Jeremiah 51:7), is still within reach of God’s redemption. There is still that in him which can be corrected, restored, bought back, repaired.

In any case, Adam’s rebellion threw the earth into a complicated state. Given dominion over earth, Adam and Eve now had forsaken it. Earth remained God’s planet, but now the manager had hired himself out to Satan (Romans 6:16). As such, Adam forsook his dominion, but Satan could not legitimately acquire it. He is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), not by right, but rather by being a squatter. He is a philosophical punk whom God has not yet forced off of His land. And Satan has gone on to set up kingdoms, dominions, thrones. Each one under his sway.

This may seem hard to buy into. After all, there are “good” nations, like the United States, right? We’ll return to that assertion at another time. For now, it helps us to remember Psalm 2 and Acts 4:25, 26. There we find that the nations of earth gathered themselves together to fight God; they opposed Jesus. Revelation 12-14, 17-18 shows the same (more on that in a future study!).

Indirectly then, Jesus created all thrones, if we want to push it that far. He is above all creation, including all governments and spiritual forces. He is superior, indeed, He is the sole agency that keeps them going, even temporarily. All things are made by Jesus and for Him. All thrones, kingdoms, etc., are intended to serve Him. After Adam’s sin, however, as seen in Psalm 2 and Acts 4:25, 26, the kingdoms rather are gathered against Him. They are in rebellion. And yet, God will, ultimately, bring good out of their evil.

He gives life to rabbit and fox, prey and predator, not to endorse predation, but incidental to the great controversy, the great conflict between good and evil. God is using this once-for-all-time occasion to grant us an under-the-microscope look, not only at good, but also at evil.

Through Jesus’ cross, all things reconciled to Him

These persistent rebellions will not be permitted to continue. Daniel shows us that in the end, God gathers all power back to Himself. Every human kingdom is destroyed, and God’s kingdom fills the earth (Daniel 2:31-45). This reconciliation is accomplished through Jesus’ death on the cross, but will see its full consummation only at the very end of time. Every power in rebellion against God will be brought down.

Rulers disarmed

Here, we consider 2:8-15 ESV:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

The rudiments of the world

The rudiments of the world include the basic societal expectations that we have all been persuaded are intrinsically the way that things are supposed to work. Today, that means the way of living as popularized in a world of “representative democracies.” But the way the structures of our world have been set up is not neutral. Things have been arranged in favor of expropriation, Church and state are closely united in exploitative structures (Revelation 18:3, 15, 19, 23). Through these arrangements, all are subject to a sort of structural evil, a built-in distortion in the world used to exploit.

Another rudiment of our world is coercion. Representative democracy says that if enough people choose to exploit others, that is morally right. What you need to “legitimize” the matter is a majority vote. After you have that, the state may proceed to expropriate and redistribute wealth. Voting is a satisfactory means of making decisions in a voluntary setting, but in one with no recourse, a setting of force, it is coercion.

These are two examples among others of the rudiments of our world in 2009. Paul’s warning is not to beware lest another person spoil, that is, ruin us, but the meaning of spoil here is as in “make captive.” The warning is not to permit yourself to be made captive by philosophy or empty deceptions. When the Christian lends his assent to a system that is socially unjust, he functions as an enabler, a facilitator of his own and of other people’s bondage.

Complete in Christ

We are not made complete by being conventional, but by trusting in Christ. Jesus makes the Christian complete. Therefore we need not trust in experts and exploitative social conventions. We should feel secure enough in Christ that we are ready, when we come to understand things differently, to throw off old wineskins and move to fresh understandings if they are in harmony with God’s Word.

Jesus is the head of the body, the head of the church. But He is not the head of Satan; Satan has chosen to be “headless.” Satan refuses Christ’s headship. Thus Satan’s developed “self” nature is not subdued, and is neither buried with Christ nor resurrected with Him. Satan refuses Christ’s life. In contrast, the believer chooses to follow Christ, to die with Him and to be raised with Him. He is our ARCHE and our head. Remember, Christian anarchists are so with reference to human arkys, not God. We do have a head, an ARCHE, and that is our Creator.

Jesus’ triumph over the powers

All this brings us at last to this final statement in our study, and it is a significant one. Colossians asserts that Jesus spoiled—took captive—and triumphed over principalities and powers. Neither Satan nor the powers under his control are transformed by Jesus. Rather, they are conquered, spoiled, made captive, defeated.

Satan offered Jesus all the kingdom of the world but Jesus refused to take him up on the terms. There is no room for compromise between coercion and selfless love. The solution to the war between good and evil is not found in harmonization, but, when the timing is right, in Jesus’ triumph over and destruction of those powers which oppose Him.

He came to bring a sword, and to cut down every plant that His heavenly Father had not planted. And principalities and powers not subdued to CHrist are destined to be replaced with God’s kingdom.

Conclusion

The Christian is delivered from the authority of the domain of darkness. God places him where he is enabled to be free. The Auschwitz gas chambers did not belong to Jesus. God reverses all. Although He set up the situation in which rebellion was possible, He is not responsible for it. Principalities and powers that are in rebellion against God’s kingdom are not on JEsus’ side; rather, the kingdoms of earth have arrayed themselves in opposition to God. The Christian is freed from the rudiments of the world. JEsus has conquered and spoiled principalities and powers, and the Christian is under the authority of an altogether different kind of governance.

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