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By Stephen Green
First Published in Christian Voice April 2010
Deut. 4:5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
These words from Deuteronomy clearly show that ancient
was intended to be a model nation. Other nations were to look to
for an example of wise, understanding law-making. The civil laws revealed by God to Moses were to shine as a light in a world of pagan darkness.
I have been drawing a clear distinction between the civil laws and the sacrificial laws of
in the last three articles of this series. For that reason it is necessary first to observe that
's ceremonial laws, even though they were prophetic and to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, were also an improvement on what was being done around them.
THE WISDOM OF THE CEREMONIAL LAW
At that time, when temple prostitution and sodomy combined with human sacrifice were widely practised, the religious observance of
, even though it looks odd and even incomprehensible at times to our modern Christian eyes, was in stark opposition to that of pagan nations. In those, it was customary for the high priest to have sexual intercourse with a temple prostitute in order - as he thought - to make the sun rise in the morning.
There is also some overlap between the civil law and the ceremonial. For example, the Sixth Commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' where the Hebrew word 'ratsach' means 'murder', is of a piece with God's redemption of the first-born. Other nations sacrificed their children.
did not. The Prophet Micah asks, 'Shall I give my first-born for my transgression?' (Micah 6:7) As Jeremiah observes (Jer 19:5, 32:35), such an evil was never in the mind of God.
As a consequence,
viewed the shedding of innocent human blood with more seriousness than that of the pagan nations round about. And more seriously than we do, collectively, in the
To take another example, the injunctions against harlotry, forbidding the people to allow their daughters to become prostitutes, setting a premium on fidelity in marriage, prohibiting sodomy, were good family law, but also prevented the sexual excesses of pagan worship.
So the ceremonial laws through which God was to be worshipped reveal
to be as wise and understanding as the text claims. They were of course custodians of the as-yet concealed, unrevealed New Covenant. We live in an age when multi-culturalism and diversity are everything. We need to find the courage to say that when
, considering the sheer evil of the Canaanite culture, it was a good thing the murder and debauchery involved was wiped out, and a shame it was not totally destroyed as God had required.
In history lessons in
today, the Inca and Aztec regimes in central and
are sometimes viewed as wise and understanding civilisations, so in love are we with multi-culturalism. Some of our teachers thereby turn the righteousness of God on its head. In reality, these sun-worshippers needed a daily human sacrifice to appease their god. The Conquistadors, even though driven by the lure of gold, were horrified enough to destroy that entire culture, and Christians need to find the confidence in the word of God to say that was a good thing too.
THE WISDOM OF THE CIVIL LAW
The people of God in our own age are able to react to atheist silliness about the animal sacrifices and ceremonial separations of ancient
by pointing out that these were only done under the Old Covenant, and that they pre-figured Christ. But woe betide us if we make the same mistake with God's civil laws.
Christians need also to see the civil laws given to
as 'wise and understanding'. That is frankly difficult for early-twenty-first-century, post-Enlightenment Europeans and Americans. I note that Africans and Asians don't have as much of a problem here as Westerners.
We have been so conditioned by our liberal culture in the West that even born-again believers prefer to trust their secularist instincts rather than the word of God when issues involving Biblical penalties arise. Because the civil law of God is based on the principle of restitution, the penalties for theft seem unduly lenient to us. We are conditioned to lock people up rather than to get them to restore what they stole.
But at the other end of the scale, nothing can restore a woman's virginity, or the trust broken by adultery, or the corruption done to society by sodomy, bestiality, witchcraft or child sacrifice. That is why the prescribed penalty for those offences is death. In practice, such a penalty was a maximum and was rarely exacted.
Offences such as adultery were routinely settled in
by a ransom money instead (Prov 6:29-35). Only murder could never be ransomed (Numb 35:30-31), but it had to be proved by two or three witnesses not 'beyond reasonable doubt'. But even given that, using modern language and mores it is difficult to be heard defending those penalties against the hurricane of secularism in
today. But Christians still have to be robust enough to rely on the Scriptures and the God who wrote them, see the wisdom and understanding in those penalties and defend them. We must never fall into the trap set by this secularist world of ascribing unrighteousness to God.
For example, those of us following the Christian Voice Lamplight Bible-reading plan read not long ago about the man who was stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath (Numb 15:32-36). I suspect that for many of us it was a challenge to see righteousness in that penalty. But perhaps the people of
struggled with it as well. Immediately after that account, the people are told to make fringes in their garments to 'remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them', and to 'be holy unto your God.' (Numb 15:37-41)
In addition, the two incidents taken together seem to have provoked Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16. Maybe Korah and his gang, even though personal ambition had come to the fore, had the same problem as some Christians today in saying with the Psalmist: 'Lord, how love I thy law; it is my meditation all the day' (Psalm 119:97).
THE LAW OF MOSES?
Part of our problem of seeing Israel as a model nation may be the common use of the shorthand expression 'the law of Moses' rather than 'the law of the Lord by Moses' (2Chr 34:14) or even 'the law of Moses which the Lord God of Israel had given' (Ezra 7:6) in both Testaments. It gives the unwary the impression that Moses made up the civil law rather than that he spoke the words God showed him. 'The law was given by Moses', we read at John 1:17, but the Greek word 'dia' translated 'by' can equally be rendered 'through'.
Similarly, when Jesus asks, 'Did not Moses give you the law?' (John 7:19) the Greek word 'didomi' has very wide meaning, including to minister and to deliver.
Elsewhere, the Bible makes it very clear that Moses transmitted not his own law, but God's law. Moses, before the giving of the law at
, tells Jethro that when the people come to him, 'I do make them know the statutes of God and His laws' (Exod 18:16). Ezekiel quotes God as saying: 'And I gave them my statutes and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them' (Ezek 20:11).
The book of Nehemiah makes it very clear who gave the law: 'the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to
' (Neh 8:1), 'the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses' (Neh 8:14), 'God's law, which was given by Moses' (Neh 10:29). And let us not forget that the Ten Commandments were written on stone by God Himself (Exod 24:12).
The Psalms attribute the commandments to God, praise them and universalise them more than possibly any book of the Bible. 'The good man's delight is in the law of the Lord' (Psalm 1:2). 'The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul' (Psalm 19:7). 'Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord and teachest him out of thy law' (Psalm 94:12). And then Psalm 119 takes over, praising God's laws, His statutes, His commandments, His precepts, His words, for 176 verses. And still us Western Christians do not seem to get it into our heads that God's law is good and holy and righteous.
WHY IS GOD'S LAW NOT RIGHTEOUS TODAY?
So, if those laws were as righteous as the Psalms, the Prophets, our Lord and His Apostles say they were, in Bible times, why would they not be so today? God has not changed in all that time. So just what has happened in 2,000 or 3,000 years to make the civil laws of
less of a model now than they were then?
It is fashionable today, even amongst Christians, to disparage the civil laws of
. Now, we expect atheists to object to this penalty or that one. When they legislate, they take the laws of God and turn them on their heads. They do exactly what Isaiah complained of in
, and call evil what God calls good, and good what He calls evil. As Daniel says of the Antichrist, they 'change times and laws'.
Can there be a better example of that of the death penalty? In the 1960s in
atheists took away the death penalty by one Act of Parliament from the guilty, by the state, where it belongs, and imposed it by another, the Abortion Act, on the innocent within the family, where it does not. And as long as there is a rainbow in the sky, God requires mankind to guard innocent human life and exact the ultimate penalty for the taking of it (Gen 9:6, 13).
Or consider another more recent example. In 2003, up to the repeal of Section 28, it was illegal to promote sodomy to school-children. Just seven years later, the Equality Act has made it illegal for a school or local authority not to promote it. Evil became good and good became evil in just seven years.
But there are even Christians who are fearful of the civil laws of God given to
. They say things like, 'I don't want to live under a theocracy,' as if the Bible does not contend that the world is a theocracy (Psalm 24:1) and that Jesus Christ is going to establish His reign over the nations on earth.
THE DEATH PENALTY FOR SODOMY
David Bahati MP in Uganda is currently trying to get enacted a law under which men engaging in 'aggravated' sodomy - where it occurs against a minor, someone disabled, inflicts HIV/AIDS or is part of a rape - will incur the death penalty. It is true that some parts of his proposed law, requiring even ministers of religion to inform on men involved in sodomy, for example, cannot be reconciled with Scripture. Yet the Bible prescribes precisely the penalty Bahati is proposing for sodomy in any situation, whether or not 'aggravated' (Lev 20:13).
Despite the Biblical witness, all hell has broken loose around Bahati (and around
as a whole) from the West, and even from Western Christians. English Bishops and Archbishops fell over themselves to condemn him. Would that they had been as forthright in condemning our own Government for making the promotion of sodomy mandatory in our schools. Could they not even have found the grace to observe that at least Bahati was trying to protect his nation's children from predatory Western homosexuals? Why did they not find the wisdom of Solomon who said:
Prov 6:23: For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light...
We should remind ourselves that the same chapter, Leviticus 20, also has the death penalty for adultery, child-sacrifice, cursing mother or father, inter-generational sex, bestiality and witchcraft. God hates these things and will judge the nation which does them. The Canaanites did all this and more. They corrupted themselves and defiled their land with it. And for that reason the land was about to vomit them out (Lev 22:22).
In anthropological terms, of course, the disaster which was to hit the Canaanites has been repeated all through history whenever a culture has become sexually immoral and killed its own people. J D Unwin, writing in the 1930s, considered something like 80 civilisations down through the ages and found that as soon as they let monogamy slip, fell into prostitution, exalted sex, debased their culture and killed their children, they would be conquered within three generations. 'I know of no exception to this rule,' Unwin said, chillingly.
So the extreme penalties laid down by God were a law of love to protect and bless His people. God did not give
His laws to stop them having fun, but to stop them being annihilated. Of course, when they spurned His laws, that is exactly what happened to them. But as the laws given to
are model laws, given to inspire envy in other nations, to exhort those nations to copy them, we may assume that they will protect and bless any people who follow them.
The Psalm says: 'Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.' At no point do we read that Gentile nations were forbidden to make the Lord their God and follow His commands. David speaks of the manner (or law) of man, not that of
(2Sam 7:19). Proverbs says 'Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people' (Prov 14:34). Interestingly, there were rabbis who thought as some Christians do, and believed it was wrong for gentile nations to follow the laws of God. They ignored the Hebrew poetic parallelism of the verse and claimed the first part applied to
, who were righteous and exalted, and the second to the Gentiles, who just could not help sinning. But that is not the sense of it. The laws of God were intended to be, as the Westminster Confession puts it, in their 'general equity,' of universal application.
Christians who choose to object to God's laws being enacted today have a dilemma. How do they explain away God's commandments? They can say dismissively, 'Oh that's the Old Testament,' but then they have cut away the ability to base anything they hold on the Old Testament. Isaiah, with his prophecies of the Messiah, the Psalms with their encouragement, have suddenly lost their validity.
Or they can take the position that those laws were good then but bad now. To do that they have to force the Lord Jesus to do more than He did, which was to teach and uphold the law, heal the sick, raise the dead, offer Himself as the fulfilling sacrifice, rise and ascend to glory and bring the Gentiles into the family of God. He must change the law. But He specifically says He has not come to do that. Furthermore, Isaiah is specific that one of the functions of Messiah is to take the benefit of God's law to the Gentiles:
Isa. 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.
4 He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.
In addition, if those laws were good then but would be bad now, has God changed His character? He says He never changes. And if we see God's laws, or even some of them, as bad in this day and age, from our contemporary point of view, what does that say about God? That He forced
to accept bad laws? How could a good God do that?
Isaiah's end-time prophecy is relevant here:
Isa. 2:2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
So are we to believe that God's law was good for
, bad for us now, but somehow good again in Christ's millennial reign? It makes no sense.
WE FACE SIMILAR SOCIAL PROBLEMS TO THEM
In the alternative, they can suggest that God's laws were applicable to a nomadic agrarian people but not to a modern industrialised culture. Here is where it gets vague. Which laws are not applicable to us? Often they will bring up laws about oxen falling into pits and such like (Exod 21:33, Deut 22:4) and then leave the impression that all the law is as anachronistic as that. We can allow that we do not routinely have oxen falling into pits and ditches, but that is where the Westminster Confession's 'general equity' point comes in. The idea is that we pray to see the application of those obscure laws today.
But aside from oxen in pits, most of the evils the civil law is designed to prevent are uncomfortably familiar. Is anyone seriously suggesting that we are not in need of laws that raise penalties for murder, theft or fraud, and perjury, to take the sixth, eighth and ninth commandments? Do we have no children disrespecting parents? Are there really no problems with husbands and wives splitting up to go off with those with whom they have committed adultery? Do employers always pay workers their due? Are we seriously not in need of a day of rest? Have we no problems of people worshipping created things rather than God? And if we have these problems, then is it not typical of the arrogance of our age that we think we know better than our Creator how to fix them?
Christians need to say loudly and clearly that these laws of God that look so harsh to modern eyes were given by God because He loves us and wants our societies to thrive and enjoy His blessing. And frankly, if God does not make the law, what other being or beings should be its source? I want to suggest that when man makes law he is basing it on his limited understanding and contemporary preconceptions and that he will always get it wrong. It is part of the original sin to think we know better than God. Our witness of fifty years of man's lawmaking in
is that if law is not coming from the Throne of grace, its origin is the pit of hell.
PRAY TO HAVE THE MIND OF GOD
Christians today need to trust the word of God and the laws of God. We need to pray for the wisdom necessary to see God's civil law, with all that it jars against our Western law-systems today, as righteous and pure. We need to see things as God sees them, not as man sees them.
In prayer, we want our prayers answered, and the only way to achieve that is to pray with the mind of God. To pray with mind of God we need first to read the word of God, and then we need to accept what we read. There is no place for viewing anything which God has done or said with disdain or dislike.
I am not saying this is easy, but our whole and only authority to speak for God to our nation depends on us loving His word and His law. Our leaders can dismiss what we say if we speak merely our own words. But we should not be asking them to listen because we are nice people, but because we know the oracles of God.
Isa. 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
Let us not be intimidated by our secular world. We may not even advocate Biblical laws and penalties in this present darkness, but let us at least see the righteousness of God in them and stop apologising for them. It all boils down to the direction in which we are going and the sort of society we wish to see.
Are we content with what we have now: a decaying, dying society, growing daily more brutal, more coarse, more crass? A society which kills its own children, where a youth is murdered for his mobile phone, where elders are disrespected and a grandfather is beaten to death by the yobs he asked to be quiet outside his home, where adultery is rewarded, children indoctrinated by the State into evil and depravity, a debased and degraded culture of selfishness, narcism, greed, hedonism and debauchery?
Or do we want to see a God-fearing society, where men and women honour the promises they make, where parents are proud of their children, where culture is vibrant, where the elderly are looked after, where the people work hard and enjoy the fruit of their labour, where God is honoured, where there is time to breathe, where there is no breaking in, nor complaining in the streets, as Psalm 144 puts it?
If we want the latter, we Christians need to say that our leaders had better start doing it God's way and taking the example of His model nation in our Parliamentary law-making. For what nation is there so great as the one that would have statutes and judgments as righteous as the law which Moses set before the nation of