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Law

The Mystery of the Sabbath

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Christians have had a long and interesting history of thinking about the Sabbath.  The original idea of a seventh day rest goes way back to the second chapter of Genesis and the seventh day of creation.

“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” (Genesis 2:2-3)

Everything seems simple enough on the surface: God spent six days working, creating the universe, and then rested on the seventh, thus providing a pattern for the concept of a week - a pattern which has persisted for over six thousand years all the way down until today.

Later on, when God graciously rescued the children of Israel from their long Egyptian bondage, one of the very first things that He did for them was to reinstate this day of rest, essentially giving them one day off per week - something that they had not had in hundreds of years.  And when God codified His Law for His people in the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, the Sabbath day’s rest was prominently featured in those commands.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

And attached to this command were several others that fleshed it out and even prescribed penalties for neglecting to rest on the seventh day of the week.

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:2-3)

We even have an example of someone breaking these very commands, as well as a description of the judgement and sentencing.

“And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.  And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.” (Numbers 15:32-36)

So clearly the Sabbath command was a very serious part of God’s Law, as a person could even lose his or her life through neglecting to rest on the appropriate day.  But, on the other hand, there are also glorious blessings promised to those who do keep God’s Sabbath.

“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

There is so much written about the Sabbath in the Old Testament that many Christians even today still want to believe either that we are under the same command and threat of punishment as the Israelites in regards to the Sabbath, or else that there are still great blessings to be had from Sabbath observance.  For some, like the Seventh Day Adventists, this observance is still to be held on the actual seventh day - Saturday - while others believe that in the New Covenant period, Sunday - the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose - is to be substituted for the Sabbath.  But what does the Bible say about all of this?  One would expect that there would be some clear teaching on the subject, and I believe that there is.

First there is the example of Jesus in the Gospels.  Jesus had a very interesting relationship with the Sabbath.  He was constantly being accused of being a Sabbath breaker, but most of those cases were fairly spurious - like the one where he told the man with the withered hand to hold out his hand and it was healed (Matthew 12:9-14).  On at least one occasion, though, Jesus does seem to be permitting an activity that should have been expressly forbidden on the Sabbath.

“At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

Take notice of a very important facet of this passage: Jesus does not say that the Pharisees are wrong when they accuse His disciples of doing that which was not lawful on the Sabbath.  Instead, He offers an example of something else that was done unlawfully and recorded in the Scripture.  His point in so doing was to show how much more important He was than David, or the temple, or even the Sabbath.  And that is certainly an important lesson, but it also does some damage to the enduring strength of the Sabbath command.

Jesus Himself does not break the Law (He was perfect in respect to the Law), but He allows His disciples to do so.  We are told that they were hungry, but we have no reason to believe that they were starving like David’s men.  Thus, it can’t be realistically claimed that Jesus was saving lives through allowing His disciples to break the command.  At the same time, Jesus teaches in another place that those who weaken the commands of God are least in the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is thus only one possibility: something about the Sabbath commandment was changing at the time of Christ’s first advent.

This becomes more noticeable when we look at all of the other things that Jesus commanded His disciples.  He brought clarity to the confusion that men had created around many of the Law’s commands.  In the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, He began many of His instructions with, “Ye have heard that it was said...but I say unto you...” (see for example Matthew 5:21-48).  There had been much perversion of the Law by sinful men to justify their own wicked actions and rob the Law of its intended purpose, and Jesus purged this thinking the same way that He purged the temple of the money changers, but He didn’t offer any correction to the way people were observing the Sabbath, other than to shine a light on their excesses through His example (see again Matthew 12:9-14).  This also shows that something was changing about the Sabbath commandment at the time of the first advent.

Then we come to the New Testament epistles, and we find a statement that should be quite shocking to all of us.

“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

Just so it is abundantly clear, let me repeat the key phrase here: “Let no man therefore judge you...in respect of the sabbath.”  Paul, in the midst of a longer section dealing with how we as Christians should act - and whether we should submit ourselves to all kinds of rules or not - blatantly, boldly, and unashamedly tells Christians that the Sabbath was a shadow of something to come (namely Christ), and that we should not let anyone judge us if we decide to celebrate it or not.  Don’t let the immensity of that declaration pass you by!

Remember that in the Old Covenant, violating the Sabbath meant receiving the death penalty.  Remember that God punished Israel as a people for neglecting His Sabbaths, and remember that He promised all kinds of blessings to the person who would keep them.  So something very big must have happened to change this expectation!  And something very big did happen!  Christ came in the flesh and offered rest to all of those who would come unto Him.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

This rest that Christ offered - this rest of finished labor, resting in what Christ has done on our behalf - is the substance of what was only shadowed in the old Sabbath commandment.  This is the rest that is spoken of by the author of Hebrews:

“There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” (Hebrews 4:9-11)

And it is because this perfect rest of God has been revealed in Christ that the Old Covenant Sabbath command no longer holds the same place in our pursuit of obedience to God’s commands.  It’s not as if the Sabbath command has gone away (Jesus said that no jot or tittle would pass away from Law), but it is fulfilled in Christ in the same way that all of the sacrificial system was (see Hebrews 8:4-5 where the sacrificial system is also called a “shadow of heavenly things”).  He is the reality to which all of those commands were pointing.  In the case of animal sacrifice, to continue the practice it after Christ has offered the perfect once-and-for-all sacrifice would be a disgrace and a denouncement of the efficacy of Christ’s atoning death (Hebrews 10:26-31).  And while continued seventh day rest observance does not carry the same disgraceful insult to Christ’s rest (for we are not told that it does), it is just as unnecessary now that the substance of that rest has been revealed in Jesus’ finished work on our behalf.

So by the authority of the apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and fully in line with what the book of Hebrews tells us about the shadows of Christ in the Law and the true rest into which we must enter, I can confidently say once again that the old Sabbath command of a seventh day rest does not have any binding on Christians.  Let no man judge you in regards to such a thing.  If someone does so, then that person is standing in stark contradiction to the clear revelation of the Word of God.

Old Testament Preaching

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I remember when I was a kid that I always assumed that everything we did in church came from the Bible.  But to my surprise, whenever I would pick up and read the Bible, I would find all kinds of stories of wars, poetry, and strange oracles that I couldn’t understand.  To be honest, it wasn’t much like what we talked about in church at all.  At one point, I really wanted to know if at least the things that we were taught about Jesus and the Gospel were actually in there, and so I just started reading - for about four hours a day - until I finally finished it.  To make a long story short, it is all in there, but the Bible is not some simple pamphlet giving easy instructions.  It is an ancient library, which for most will require something of a tour guide.

And thus we come back around again to that kid sitting in church listening to a preacher.  Why do we structure our worship around a sermon?  It is because we need the tour guide’s instruction, and that is his chief job while he stands in the pulpit.  He is to read the Scriptures and then give the sense of what he has read.  In so doing, he will pass along the teachings that God has left for us in His Word, but he should also be showing us that those instructions arise clearly from the text itself.

I find it fascinating that this idea is not a concept that comes only from the New Testament.  It goes way back into the Old Testament as well.  We see it with Moses proclaiming the words that he has heard from the Lord to the assembled people; we see it when the priests read the Law in front of the young King Josiah; and we see it very clearly detailed in the days of Ezra, as recorded in the book of Nehemiah.

“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up...Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:5,7-8)

There are a couple of things that I note about this passage.  The first is that the people needed someone to help them understand what was read, even though the Book of the Law was written in their own language.  The Scriptures are concentrated - like frozen grape juice or dishwashing detergent.  Often what is needed is for the concepts to be opened up, explored, and applied in understandable ways.  This is the job of the preacher, and in Ezra’s day, it was the job of the Levites and Jeshua and Bani and Sherebiah and so on.

Haddon Robinson has articulated the absolute best definition of the word ‘preaching’ that I have ever heard.  In his book, Biblical Peaching, he defines his subject thusly:

Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.

The last statement of that definition - about the Holy Spirit first applying the concept to the personality and experience of the preacher, and then on to the hearers - is the most important part of the definition to me.  I can imagine that is how God was using those Levites and others on the day that Ezra read the Book of the Law.  They knew how to explain God’s instructions to the people, because they had already been wrestling with those commands themselves, and had no doubt been trying to live by them.  And when you think about it, anything other than this would be foolish - the blind leading the blind.  A preacher can’t adequately teach others to obey something that he himself ignores.

So people don’t just need a preacher to explain the historical, grammatical, and literary context of a passage to them.  That will not produce true understanding.  Unfortunately, this is where a lot of the preachers that I have heard park the bus.  They stand before their people and sound like they are reciting a commentary about the passage.  We don’t need that!  What we need is for the preacher to give the sense of what has been read through showing us how the Word of God has impacted his own life.  We need a model to follow.

The second thing I note about the passage above from Nehemiah is that the primary content of what was being explained is nothing other than the Law of God.  This is significant to me for a number of reasons.  First, the Law of God actually requires more explaining than many other parts of the Bible.  Second, the Law of God is one of the most neglected parts of the Scripture in today’s church.  And third, a good explanation of the Law of God is one of the most needed antidotes to the moral chaos running rampant in the world and in the church today.

Why has the world been so effective in pushing the homosexual agenda?  Why have so many ‘churches’ capitulated to the demands of this agenda?  I submit that it is because the Law has been long neglected in the church.  We have taught generations of people that it is just not important.  What about the flippancy of the world toward things like fornication and adultery, or how about the institutionalization of covetousness, theft, and the frequent dishonest use of weights and measures?  All of these things also stem from preachers not taking the time to explain the Law of God to their people.

The church is the great restraint of evil that God has graciously placed within the world.  So if we look around and see that evil has slipped its bonds and is running amok, then we have no one else to blame but ourselves.  And I believe what we desperately need in order to cram the evil back inside the box are people like Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites to stand before us and give the sense and cause us to understand the Law of the Lord.

Counting Sin

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Spiritual warfare is a touchy subject.  You’ll definitively find out some interesting things about people when you broach the topic with them.  You might find that one family believes that their house is inhabited by demons, another might claim to have been abducted by aliens, only to find out later that it was an actual demonic encounter, and still others - Christians, mind you - pretty much think the whole thing is so much poppycock, and that the only real “spiritual warfare” is an internal struggle with their own fallen natures.

And while there are truths behind each kind of response - if maybe not the full truth - the reality is that in the Bible’s narrative, there are some overt descriptions of ‘spiritual warfare’ that sort of fall all over a similar kind of spectrum.  And since these accounts are contained in the inspired and inerrant Word of God, we have to take them at face value.

One of the more colorful, if subtle, stories of Satanic influence comes in the twenty-first chapter of 1 Chronicles.  There in verse 1 we are told that “Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.”

I know what you might be thinking.  Or at least I know what I am thinking.  I have two pretty big questions about this account.  First, why is it such an evil act to count your people?  And second, how does this whole thing jive with what we are told in James 1:13-15 about sinful desires coming from our own wicked hearts?

Surely just counting people couldn’t be that bad, right?  We can imagine one reason why God might be angry at David for this: pride.  In counting his people, he was stoking his own pride in his nation and army, while at the same time relying more on the number of people at his back than on his God.

I have a bit of a problem with this explanation, however.  Even in our own family, we don’t punish our children for a wrong unless we have first taught them that the action in question is wrong.  We first give a warning - a law or rule if you wish - and then begin to punish for disobedience after the law has been laid down.  And we do this in our family because that is the way that God operates.

I’m not trying to suggest that pride and lack of faith had nothing to do with God’s reaction.  Joab seemed to understand that David was wrong to undertake such a faithless act.  But there is something else going here also that I think we need to consider.

David was not very careful when it came to obeying God’s righteous rules.  Kings were commanded in Deuteronomy 17:18 to make a full copy of God’s Law for their own reference, and ostensibly because making the effort to write them all down aids in memory.  The kings were then responsible to keep this law in its entirety.  David, however, had already shown in several instances that he did not have a very intimate recollection of what God had demanded, even though his heart was often said to be “after God’s own heart.”

Of course there is the massive sin with Bathsheba that we could point out, but there is also the more subtle - but still very deadly - oversight with the way the ark was carried on the way to Jerusalem that illustrates David’s somewhat lazy attitude toward God’s commands.  The ark was to be carried on poles by Levites, not on a cart drawn by oxen.  It was also to be coved with the various layers of the tabernacle so that it would not be seen.  Therefore, when Uzzah, David’s friend, reached out to steady the ark as it bounced uncovered on the ox cart, God struck him dead.  And David was upset about this.

Fast forward to the story of the counting of Israel in 1 Chronicles 21, and we are not told that David made any effort to obey the very strict commands of Exodus 30:11-16.  Listen to these instructions (emphasis mine):

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the Lord. Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the Lord. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls. And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls.

Reading back through 1 Chronicles 21 and the parallel passage in 2 Samuel 24, there is no mention of this offering being given.  It’s as if David has just completely neglected it.  What we do find mention of, however, is the plague that was promised in Exodus 31:12.

So I believe that what we have here is yet another lazy disobedience from a king that should have known better (if he would have made his copy of the Law).  And we also have here an unhealthy dose of pride, and a desire to lean on his own strength, and this is what sets Joab at odds with his king.  But I believe that it is super important to realize that God’s wrath is stoked by transgression of His Law, and David did in fact transgress the very clear instructions given about taking a census.

But what about our second question - the one dealing with spiritual warfare, Satan’s provocation, and how that all relates to James 1:13-15?  We know now that David’s act of counting the people came from his pride and his reliance upon man’s strength instead of God’s.  This sounds very much like what we read in that passage in James:

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

That seems like a pretty clear description of what happened within David, doesn’t it?  But the text says that Satan provoked him.  And to make matters worse, the parallel passage in 2 Samuel 24 says that “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”

Now this presents quite a pickle!  Did God move David to commit this evil, did Satan provoke him, or was David drawn away by his own lust?  The Bible rather clearly - and seemingly contradictorily - tells us that all three are somehow true.  These concepts may be a bit too difficult to try to tackle at the end of an already lengthy article, but we can at least try to summarize the answer, and leave the proof-texting for a later essay.

We know that God is the sovereign author of all of history, and that there is nothing that comes to pass that was not written in His book before the foundation of the world.  David himself confesses this in Psalm 139:16.  We also know that the Devil is God’s Devil.  He created him, and He owns him.  Satan serves God’s purposes.  Recall the story of Job, and how God suggested that Satan test His servant Job (and then He set certain boundaries to that testing). When Satan operates in history, he is operating in God’s story, by His permission.

Tying all of this into James 1 shows us that God doesn’t make us commit evil.  He doesn’t compel evil actions from us.  He won’t and He can’t because He does not act contrary to His own nature, which is the very definition of good.  The passage does not, however, state that certain ideas that enter our heads cannot have an origin outside of ourselves.  Satan suggested to Eve that she should take the forbidden fruit, but it was her own lust for knowledge and power that drove her hand to reach out and take it.  Thus, she was responsible, the serpent was responsible, and ultimately the man was responsible because he had the Law clearly articulated to him by the Lawgiver Himself.

And that is also David’s responsibility.  He was commanded to make his own personal copy of all of God’s Law.  In that Law, there were strict standards for how a census should be taken, and stiff penalties for not doing it in the prescribed way.  God decided to test him, and so He appointed Satan to the task.  Satan somehow presented the idea to David that it would be good to know just how many men he had at his disposal, and David’s own prideful lusts did the rest - with the culmination being in the transgression of God’s Law.

So when it comes right down to it, our greatest weapon in spiritual warfare is exactly the one used by Jesus in the desert when Satan was sent to test Him: the Law of God.  Our Enemy desires for us to transgress God’s Law.  He and his minions know how to point our wicked hearts toward things that will entice us to do just that.  But if we know God’s righteous rules very well, then we will be well-equipped to fight back against this kind of deception.  

How well did David write in Psalm 19 (maybe sometime after he realized his error):

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.

Evil Mercy

Mercy: when teaching children, I like to tell them that mercy means 'not getting what you deserve'.  This is in contrast to justice, which means 'getting exactly what you deserve'. And the right to execute justice or show mercy belongs ultimately and totally to the One who sits as Judge over all the universe.  It is Yahweh, the Creator, who says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" (Exodus 33:19).  All of our own exercises of justice and mercy as human beings derive totally from His decisions in these areas. It is that last statement - that our exercise of mercy derives from His - that leads me to write on 'evil mercy' this morning.  A statement like that may sound nice and proper on the surface, but when carried out to its logical end, it can lead to some not-very-politically-correct conclusions.  For instance, what if God has not extended mercy to a people group or individual?  What then?  If the human exercise of mercy derives totally from God's extended mercy - since He is the Judge - then are we as humans to be unmerciful where He has not shown mercy?

In a word: yes.

Consider if you will a story from the book of 1 Kings.  In chapter 20 of that book, there is a story of King Ahab and the northern kingdom of Israel going to war against Syria, which was under the leadership of Ben-hadad.  Before the battle, an unnamed 'man of God' approached King Ahab and told him, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Because the Syrians have said, "Yahweh is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys," therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am Yahweh.'"  God was going to prove that He created, owned, and sat as High Sovereign over every inch of the universe through His victory over the Syrians, using the much smaller army of Israel as His tool.  He had "devoted to destruction" (20:42) the entire Syrian force, deciding to execute justice and withhold mercy.

Toward the end of the battle, though, Ben-hadad, king of the Syrians, took council with some of his servants, and they decided to put sackcloth around their waists and ropes on their heads and beg Ahab for mercy.  "Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings," they said (v. 31).

Now it is certainly not a bad thing at all to have a reputation as a merciful person.  Our God has a reputation of being a God rich in mercy, and we are to be like Him.  But that's just it: we are to be like Him.  We are to show mercy where He shows mercy.  But when He declares that there is to be no mercy for a particular people, person, or crime, then we need to withhold our own exercise of mercy in that event.

King Ahab did indeed show mercy where God had not: sparing the life of Ben-hadad.  And immediately upon releasing the enemy king, a prophet of Yahweh came to Ahab and told him, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people'" (v. 42).  God judged Ahab for showing mercy where He had not extended mercy.

This is not the only case of this happening in the Bible.  King Saul did something very similar in sparing the life of Agag, king of the Amelekites, in 1 Samuel 15:8.  Because of this evil mercy where God had not shown mercy, God said that He regretted that He had ever made Saul king, and it was from that day that God began to remove the kingdom from Saul and give it to his servant David.

But what is the application of all of this for those of us living in the twenty-first century of the New Covenant?  Is there ever a situation in which we could be said to be guilty for showing mercy where God has not shown mercy?

Yes there is.  The application for us would be in the way that we execute justice for crimes committed.  We are not in a situation where we have prophets walking up to us and telling us to devote this or that people to utter destruction, but we have been told what God's just penalty for various sins should be.  We are told that sacrificing to and worshiping gods other than Yahweh carries the death penalty.  Other sins that carry the same judgment are adultery, homosexuality, witchcraft, bestiality, rebellion against one's parents, murder, kidnapping, being a false prophet, and even lying about your virginity.

The only one of these crimes that we in America still punish with the justice that God demanded is murder, and we don't even do that well.  Some states do not hand out death sentences for murder at all, and when those that do actually do so, it is rarely done in a timely enough manner to be considered 'justice'.

It is a very dangerous thing for a nation to consider itself 'more civilized' than God and extend mercy for crimes that the Judge declared were abominations against His very character.  We do not have that right, and we ought not to think of ourselves as merciful and loving when we do so.  It is simply and purely disobedience, and it shows that we care more about the creature than we do the Creator.  I am not advocating that individuals take God's Law into their own hands and carry out those death penalties that the state leaves unfulfilled.  That is never once commanded in Scripture.  I am merely declaring that for any nation to be obedient to the Lord and bear the sword of justice as it was intended - and thus receive the blessings of God - that nation needs to pattern its laws after God's perfect Law.  And we as Christians need to recognize this fact and help our leaders to make right decisions that bring our nation's laws more in line with His.

A Very Wise Fool

As soon as we hear the name, King Solomon, it conjures to our mind's eye images of gold and peacocks and splendid ivory thrones bedecked with lions.  His kingdom was - simply put - the most beautiful and extravagant place that the world has ever seen.  He built palaces: for himself, for his wives, and, of course, for God.  We are told that he had so much gold that silver was nothing; it was about as common as dirt.  He ate with gold forks and spoons, drank from gold cups, and dwelt in such opulence that it took away the breath of even the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:5). And Solomon received all of these gifts, as well as the most expansive kingdom that Israel has ever had, as a byproduct of one of Yahweh's blessings.  In 1 Kings chapter 3, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him to ask anything of Him and He will give it.  But instead of asking for long life or riches or the defeat of his enemies, Solomon simply asks for the wisdom to govern God's people.  God is so pleased by the humble request that He tells the young king that He will give him wisdom and all of the things that he didn't ask for besides!

But if we think that Solomon's physical blessings were astounding, we should take a look at the fruits of the blessing that he actually asked for.  King Solomon wrote most of the Proverbs, as well as the books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (or Solomon).  We are told that his wisdom was unmatched from that time onward.  People came from far and wide just to listen to his wise and discerning judgments.  There is no doubt that the man was exceedingly smart, and yet I've got a picture of a crying LEGO jester at the top of this article and the title says something about a fool, so obviously something went wrong.

Well, something did go wrong.  Later on in Solomon's life he began to do some really bad stuff - really foolish stuff.  His father David had committed adultery and killed one of his own 'mighty men' because of a pretty face, but Solomon would do worse.  We're told in 1 Kings 11:4-8 that Solomon eventually began to turn from Yahweh because of his many wives, which he loved, and he built a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites, and that he followed after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, another abomination of the Ammonites, as well.  The smartest man in the world was committing idolatry!  How could this be?

It began, as all sin does, with simple disobedience.  Solomon did not suddenly fall off the wagon one day and start building temples for idols.  He had been living in opposition to God's instructions for quite some time before that, and his eventual descent into idolatry was as a result of not being obedient from the outset to what God had commanded of His kings.

Listen for just a moment to what God had commanded through Moses concerning Israel's future kings way back in Deuteronomy (before the people of Israel ever even made it into the Promised Land):

When you come to the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say,'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,' you may indeed set a king over you whom Yahweh your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, 'You shall never return that way again.' And heshall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this Law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God by keeping all the words of this Law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

These instructions, handed down by Yahweh Himself, read like a road map of Solomon's sins!  King Solomon actually violated every single command given here concerning Israel's kings.  He acquired many horses (1 Kings 10:26), he got them all from Egypt (v. 28), it would be an understatement to say that he had many wives (11:3), and he certainly had excessive silver and gold (10:14-22).

Now, even though we're not told one way or the other, I'm going to hazard a guess that Solomon probably didn't follow the latter half of those instructions either: the part that tells the kings to copy the Law and read it daily.  Perhaps if he would have done so, he would have seen earlier the huge problems that he was getting himself into.

So here we have a case where the smartest, wisest, and most likely richest man the world has ever known goes horribly astray because he wasn't reading his Bible every day.  Instead of being like him and relying on our own good sense to get us through each day, we ought to be like another king - one toward the end of Judah's history: Josiah.  King Josiah is the one that found the book of the Law hidden in the temple and simply read it.  And when he read God's Law, he did not just hear the words and then try to justify himself by coming up with reasons why he didn't need to follow those commands of God anymore, or by somehow convincing himself that he was in fact being obedient when he knew he wasn't.  He just tore his clothes, confessed his great sin, repented, begged forgiveness, and vowed to be obedient to what he had read for the rest of his days (2 Kings 22:11-23:25).  Let's read God's Word like that - every single day - and let it keep us from walking foolishly, no matter how wise we may be.

Beware the One-Handed Woman!

The miscellaneous laws of the Old Testament are just awesome.  If you've never taken the time to read through a book like Deuteronomy, then you need to.  It's a real treat.  Not only is this where Jesus got all of the ammunition that He used against the Devil during His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), but there are also some rare gems among the various laws. Now, I don't mean in any way to make fun of the law that I'm about to discuss, but it's one of those rules that makes me chuckle when I read it.  It makes me think of playground hi-jinks and people making funny faces.  I'm talking about Deuteronomy 25:11-12.

When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

I suppose you could say that I have an "immature" sense of humor for laughing when I read a law that mentions seizing someone by the "private parts", but so be it.  This is a funny picture in my mind.

The Law makes it clear, however, that this is in no way a minor offense.  Other cultures and religions have various situations in which a person's hand is to be cut off as punishment for an offense, but this is the only case in the Bible's Law that calls for this particular penalty.  But what makes it such a serious crime?  Why take such drastic measures against an action that seems rude but not overly injurious (other than that sickening pain)?

Well, I suppose you could say that since the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" law can't possibly apply here, something else had to be done, but I don't think that's it.  The true answer probably lies a couple of chapters back in Deuteronomy 23:1, "No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD."  In other words, the woman who reaches out to grab hold of her husband's enemy's "private parts" may end up permanently disqualifying him from participating in the worship assembly.

Sadly, there are a lot of men sitting through worship services in our churches today that probably wish that there was something to disqualify them from having to be there.  Men have become so effeminate in our culture that they abandon the spiritual headship of the home to their wives while they go out and do supposedly "manly" things.  In the Bible, however, faith and worship are extremely masculine pursuits.  One could make a joke concerning these laws that I've mentioned about what you have to have to be able to worship.

Worship of the Almighty Creator and King of the cosmos is at once our highest privilege and the most natural expression of our faith.  Worship is not our right.  God makes that clear by denying many people access to the assembly (Deuteronomy 23:1-8).  It is a gracious blessing to be able to draw near to God, even just to be able to sing with others about His greatness.  But this is exactly what the man who loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength greatly desires to do.  When something or someone is truly praiseworthy, we long to give the deserved praise.

Men who show little or no desire to be in worship ought not to kid themselves that they are genuine believers.  Disobeying the Word of God when it commands attendance at worship (Hebrews 10:25) is not a "cool" and "manly" thing to do.  It is a faithless and cowardly thing.  Real men worship God with all their hearts.  The rest may as well just go ahead and emasculate themselves (Galatians 5:12).

The Mark of the Feast

So many people today miss the real danger of the message of the mark of the beast in Revelation 13.  They get all caught up in wondering if it's going to be a microchip or a bar-code tattoo that most don't realize they've already been marked. The beast's mark, which goes on the forehead and the hand (Revelation 13:16), is not referring to some technological means of physically marking someone.  This imagery of marking clearly represents a spiritual reality because those who receive the mark are judged for it by God and receive His wrath (14:9-10).  In fact, the great horror of the mark of the beast is that it goes in the same place that God's mark was supposed to go.

God commanded His people to bind His Law as a sign on their hand and as frontlets between their eyes (Deuteronomy 6:8).  The implication is that the Law of God would guide their thoughts (the mark on their forehead) and their actions (the mark on their hand).  And when this mark of God's Law is forfeited in favor of the mark of the beast - the adoption of Satan's rules and morality - then one has truly abandoned the proper worship of God, which is so wrapped up in obedience to His commands, and has decided to worship the Enemy.

The beast's mark is offered everywhere today.  Instead of godly parents teaching the laws of God diligently to their children and talking about them when they sit in their house, when they walk by the way, when they lie down, and when they rise (Deuteronomy 6:7), many send their children to a state-run public school where the beast has his opportunity to influence them for hours a day.  The television pumps metric tons of marking ink straight toward our foreheads and our hands.  The internet is the Devil's own tattoo parlor.  Even taking a leisurely stroll through a local mall is to be surrounded by legions of those who already bear the mark and who are looking for a fresh flesh canvas to cover with their way of thinking.

Our culture shows very clearly that its thoughts and its actions are not guided by God's Law.  No, it bears the competing mark - the counterfeit one - and it wants us to wear it too.

But the beast's mark promises only safety from persecution at the hands of others who bear it.  If you take it, you will "fit in", but that's as far as the benefits go.  Not so with God's mark.  Ultimately, God's promise of protection is far greater than the beast's, because His wrath is more to be feared than man's (Matthew 10:28), but His mark also carries other blessings.

God promises those who are obedient to His commands that He will love them, bless them, and multiply them (Deuteronomy 7:13).  He will bless the fruit of their womb and the fruit of their ground: their grain, their wine, and their oil.  He promises to bless their herds and their flocks.  He will not bring disease on them as punishment, as He did the Egyptians (verse 15).  They will be blessed above all peoples (verse 14).

The Psalms contain similarly glorious promises of blessing for those who obey.  The man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the seat of scoffers will be greatly blessed (Psalm 1).  He who delights in God's Law and meditates on it day and night will be like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season (verse 3).  The Psalm even says that "in all he does, he prospers".

Our God is a feast for those who love Him and who obey His commands.  "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him." (Psalm 34:8)

I couldn't stop thinking about this song this morning as I was meditating on all of this.

The Law of Liberty

"The most difficult concept to grasp in all the Bible is the interaction between Law and grace." That's what I used to tell everyone.  We grow up learning the Ten Commandments.  We are taught that rules are very important; we were always expected to obey some rules, no matter where we were.  But then we learn the Gospel.  We hear about God's grace.  We are taught that Jesus saved us from our sins and that salvation is not of works, but of faith.

What about the Law then?  What about those Ten Commandments?  Do I still have to follow them?  Some places in the Bible call one of the Commandments into question.  Romans 14 and Colossians 2 seem to indicate that obedience to the Sabbath command is a matter of personal conviction.  But then other New Testament passages make it seem like if I don't follow God's commands, I will end up forfeiting my place in the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:17-21, Colossians 3:5-6).  How are we supposed to navigate this difficult terrain?

Some Bible teachers foolishly simplify the issue: "We're no longer under Law, but under grace!" they exclaim, citing Romans 6:14 or Galatians 3.  By taking those words out of context, these teachers have created generations of antinomians (those who subscribe to no law) and worse: legalists (those who subscribe to their own law), to which I belonged.

The key to understanding Law and grace is not to arbitrarily decide which things are good for Christians to do and which are not.  This just leads us to become the same as the Pharisees, and certainly this has happened.  Many churches have replaced God's commands with their own: "Don't drink", "Don't smoke", "Don't gamble", and "Don't dance".  But when it comes to what God has commanded (the very things that Jesus in the Great Commission told us to teach - Matthew 28:18-20); in those things they will say, "We are not under Law but under grace."  No, the key to understanding Law and grace is to recognize the order and the function of each.

The Exodus is a great example of the place of Law and grace in God's people.  God did not first give the Israelites a Law and then promise to free them from Egypt if they obeyed.  To the contrary, He broke them out of their slavery first and then gave them the Law.  This is the same order with the Christian: God saves us quite apart from our own righteousness, and then commands us how to live.  Therefore, our salvation is not of the Law, but of grace.  We are, however, then expected to obey God's revealed will for our lives (His commands) in order to please Him and glorify Him before men (Matthew 5:16).

Also, to clarify these issues of Law and grace, we also need to understand the role of Law in society.  Christians frequently have a hard time looking at the Old Testament Law and thinking that it has to do with them because so much of it is to be enforced by the government.  This is the other key: much of God's Law is to be obeyed by the state.  We look at commands that say things like, "You shall not permit a witch to live" (Exodus 22:18) and we know that we are not supposed to go out killing witches, so we think that the Old Testament Law is no longer applicable.  That command is not for individual Christians (although it does teach individual Christians not to dabble in sorcery), it is for the government.  The nation/state is supposed to wield the sword of God's justice in punishing unrighteousness (Romans 13:4).

Armed with a proper understanding of God's Law, it does indeed become a "Law of Liberty" as James 1:25 calls it, because it frees us from wondering if what we are doing is right or wrong.  Truth is always what sets us free, not cloudy confusion.  So the Christian knows he has the freedom to dance or to enjoy God's gift of wine without becoming drunk because the Law never speaks against those things.  And to break the Law by killing or committing adultery is to go right back into slavery to sin, destroying our freedom.  The Law is a very good thing.  That's why so many of the Psalms praise it (19 and 119 especially), and that's why Moses can say of it in Deuteronomy 4:5-8,

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

Blood Pollution

Procedural crime dramas like CSI may represent some of the most flagrant disregard for God's Law on display in our culture.  I'm not just referring to the fact that many of the episodes feature hookers or strip clubs; I'm referring to the ways that the forensic scientists go about identifying and prosecuting their suspects.  This is rarely if ever done on the basis of two or three witnesses as the Biblical Law demands, but is rather almost always accomplished by means of scientific study of the materials left at the crime scene. Now, we know from the Bible that God takes the issue of murder very seriously.  In Numbers chapter 35 we are given what is undoubtedly the most thorough and just system of dealing with the violent death of human beings that has ever been conceived.  And in that chapter, God makes plain the vital importance of solving a murder: "You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it" (Numbers 35:33).  But how are these murders to be solved?  Verse 30 of the same chapter gives the answer: "If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses.  But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness."

God's Law gives one and only one way to solve a murder: the evidence of witnesses; and there must be more than one.  It is significant that God does not include forensic evidence in His Law as permissible to convict a murderer.  Certainly such evidence existed in those days.  The Old Covenant Israelites were not complete simpletons that were unable to match a bloody hand to a bloody knife.  God just decided that He would not allow that kind of "testimony".  His reasons are certainly His own, but we know enough about how it is possible to "frame" innocent people for crimes using staged forensic evidence to give us some sort of explanation for not permitting this evidence at all.

In fact, one of the most telling stories involving a known murderer in the Bible also includes unmistakable forensic testimony, and yet he is not allowed to be put to death.  The story I am referring to is the very first murder ever: that of Abel by Cain.  There in Genesis chapter 4 we have again the polluting effects of the blood in the ground as God declares that the blood cries out to Him.  In addition, God places a mark on Cain that absolutely declares his guilt in the killing, and yet the mark also keeps Cain from being attacked and killed himself.

What is going on in that story?  Why doesn't God allow someone else to put Cain to death for his crime?  Did He change His mind between Genesis 4 and Numbers 35?  Absolutely not!  In fact, it is precisely because He has not changed His mind between those two occasions that He does not let anyone else put Cain to death for the murder of his brother.  There were no witnesses!  God is totally upholding every single detail of the Law of Numbers 35 that will be revealed in the future way back here in His encounter with Cain in Genesis 4.  We have reference to both the pollution of the ground with the blood and the implied necessity of capital punishment being carried out on the basis of witnesses.  God doesn't change His mind (Number 23:19) and His Law will never pass away until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17-20).

Some might object: "But if we structured our laws like this, then some murderers might get away scott-free!"  This is where God expects us to trust Him to properly avenge (Deuteronomy 32:35).  God eventually drowned all of Cain's entire family tree in the flood.  He will not permit the wicked to evade just recompense for their evil deeds.  His Law, however, does prevent similarly wicked people from staging evidence to condemn the righteous.  His ways are perfect.  Our thinking is subject to our fallen nature.  So I think I'll just let Him decide how these things ought to be.  Just a warning to any future fellow jurors of any trial that I sit in on: if there is not testimony of two or more witnesses, I'm not voting "guilty".

More Capital Punishment

True justice is so terribly perverted in the United States.  Thieves are punished by fines and imprisonment as if their crime was against the state, while the victims of the crime have their property replaced by insurance companies.  This is utter foolishness.  In addition, a person can get into all kinds of trouble for driving too fast or too erratically, while those who have sex with animals or with other humans of the same gender receive no rebuke.   What we Americans have apparently decided is that we know better than God about which things to label as crimes and that we know better than He does about the ways that those crimes ought to be punished.  And the saddest part of all of this is that most Christians are more likely to support man's definition of crime and punishment than God's own wise revelation of justice in His Word. In our land, if a man commits adultery there is absolutely no penalty.  No one is fined.  No one goes to jail.  There's not even a public flogging of such a person.  A person can commit such an atrocity with no fear of a just punishment from the state.  Jaywalking carries a stiffer penalty.  Not so in the perfect Law of God.  We find in Leviticus 20:10 that "if a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."  In the Law of God, the punishment fits the crime.  Breaking the sacred marriage vows that image forth the fidelity of Christ and the church to one another needs to be punished as severely as possible by the state.  To let something like adultery happen day by day in this country with no just penalty is a downright abomination.

The same thing could be said for any of the other crimes that call for the death penalty in God's Law.  Homosexual acts are an abominable crime, and the state ought to hand out the just penalty (Leviticus 20:13).  Intercourse between humans and animals ought to penalized with death (Leviticus 20:16).  Even things like witchcraft and pagan worship should be punishable by death by the state because trafficking with demons will always lead to the downfall of any society (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:2).  Instead, however, our military creates chaplaincies for those who practice witchcraft and even sets up pagan worship areas in complete rebellion against the Law of God (see the story here).

Some Christians are quick to defend the man-centered and sin-centered laws of the United States by claiming that God's Laws were only for the Old Covenant Israelites - as if what God decided was good for society is no longer important now that Christ has come.  These folks will often and even loudly lament the state of our nation, and will decry the sinful presence of homosexuality and adultery, but at the end of the day will still claim that not wearing a seat belt should be a greater crime in the eyes of the state than cheating on one's spouse.  Not only is this the height of foolishness, it is also patently unbiblical.

God has always held all nations accountable for the ways that they either keep or dismiss His laws.  In fact, Israel was able to conquer the land of Canaan, slaughtering all the inhabitants, precisely because the Canaanites had lived contrary to the laws of God (Leviticus 20:23).  And Jesus was very clear to state that His coming did absolutely nothing to negate the previously given Law of God, but that - to the contrary - "until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:18-19).

We need to wake up and understand that there has been a great relaxing of the commandments of God (and not just the least of them, but the greatest of them as well) in our nation and even among those in our churches.  We are in dire straights at the moment and the 'Christians' have contributed to this downfall of our society as much as or more than anyone else because it was our duty to educate our people in the importance of God's commands (Matthew 28:20).  May God have mercy on us for failing so miserably at what He called us to do, and may He give us the boldness and the wisdom to begin to make it right.

An Eye for an Eye

The following quote is from Greg Bahnsen's book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics.

The main underlying principle of scriptural penology (whether civic or eternal) is not reformation or deterrence, but justice. The outstanding characteristic of theonomic punishment is the principle of equity; no crime receives a penalty which it does not warrant. The punishment for a violation of God’s law is always appropriate for the nature of the offense; “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Here is the most blessed standard of social retribution that man’s civilization has ever seen. That the Older Testament law sets forth humane and just punishments for crime is immediately apparent when one compares it with the legal codes of the nations around Israel. God’s penal sanctions are not overweighted, cruel, unusual, or excessive; a criminal receives what he deserves: no more, no less. It is especially important for Christians to recognize this fact, for it is the underlying principle at work in the atoning death of Jesus Christ upon the cross; He is the sinner’s substitute in order to effect atonement. Sin must meet divine judgment (e.g., Nah. 1:2, Hab. 1:13), and God can only forgive sin in a manner consistent with His holiness (Ps. 85:9 f.). Hence a sacrifice had to be offered to placate divine wrath occasioned by sin.

Within this framework Christ came as our sacrificial substitute; He is the Lamb of God who brings redemption by His sacrifice upon the cross (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:11-15; 10:3-18; 13:10-12; 1 Pet. 1:18 f.) and thus substitutes Himself for the sinner by taking God’s wrath upon Himself (Col. 2:14; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:10, 13; cf. Deut. 21:23; 27: 26; Jer. 11:3). The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him (Isa. 53:6). Christ laid down His life to atone for the sinner’s life; Christ took the punishment warranted by the sinner’s violation of God’s law upon Himself. Therefore, the sinner need not fear God’s eternal punishment, for his sin has been atoned. The principle of retribution is prominent in man’s salvation. This illustrates the importance of the scriptural penal system: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

This principle of equity applies to civic punishments imposed by the civil magistrate; there must be equity in punishment, even at the social level. God operates on the basis of retribution (Job 34:11; Ps. 18:25 f.; Ezek. 18:4, 20; Gal. 6:7—and even restitution, Job 42:10), and the penalties which He prescribes for social sins are based on the same principle of retribution, restitution and compensation (Ex. 21:18-22:7; Lev. 6:4 f.; 24:17-21; Deut. 19:21). None of God’s penalties are excessive or lenient; hence the Older Testament does not detail arbitrary punishments for crimes (as with the varying fines for traffic violations from state to state in our modern day), but the punishment was made to correspond to the social heinousness of the offense so that the culprit receives what his public disobedience merits (e.g., Deut. 19:19). The penalties imposed upon social crime are just as appropriate, equitable, and just with respect to their sphere of reference (civil society) as the eternal punishment for that crime (considered now as sin) is just with respect to its sphere of reference (the God-man relation with respect to eternity).

To Steal a Man

The Law of God in the Bible condones slavery.  Oh don't try to deny it, it's absolutely true!  It has rules for how to sell yourself into slavery (Exodus 21:1-6), how to sell your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7-11), and some crimes are even punished by selling the perpetrator into slavery (Exodus 22:1-3).  It also has many different rules on how to treat your slaves (Exodus 21:20-21, cf. Colossians 4:1).  And I believe that all of these laws ought to be adopted by our own nation. Well, those are fighting words in many parts of the country, I understand, but I believe that all nations are held accountable for how well they implement God's Law (compare Romans 13:1-7 with Revelation 13).  Our nation has had a long and ugly history with slavery, though, and so to even suggest that such a thing be made legal makes the one doing the suggesting look like a racist and a bigot.

The truth of the matter, however, is that if this nation would have structured its laws to reflect the Law of God from the beginning, we never would have had the trouble with the institution of slavery like we did prior to the Civil War.  The Law of God allows a man to sell himself to another man as a slave (apparently for the purpose of overcoming financial difficulty).  The Law allows a father to sell his daughters (the feminists won't like that one, but then again, they're going to hate most of the Bible anyway), but it also protects those women from any mistreatment.  The Law uses slavery as a punishment for crime - especially theft - and even allows wartime captives to be taken as slaves in some circumstances.  But what we find absolutely forbidden in the Biblical Law is the taking of a man against his will (outside of a formal war) in order to make him a slave.  In fact, the Bible states that if this is done, the one who 'stole' the man and any other person found in the possession of the 'stolen' man should be put to death (Exodus 21:16).

Imagine if that law were applied to the situation in the South prior to the Civil War.  How many of those slaves that were being brought over here by the boatload do you think were 'stolen'?  Many Southerners tried to defend the practice of slavery by saying that the Africans' own people had sold them to us, but we know that virtually none of those slaves came into the system according to the ways that the Bible prescribes.  Practically all of them were stolen men (and women).  If the Biblical Law were the basis of the system, though, those distinguished Southern gentlemen would be put to death as soon as it was determined that they were in possession of man who had been taken against his will.  In fact, the whole African slave trade would never have been started in this country because of the fear of violating this command.

In addition, if our nation's laws were built around God's Law, we wouldn't have the kinds of problems that we have today with unemployment, an abused welfare system, and overcrowded prisons (actually, the Biblical Law has no place at all for incarceration).  Someone who has fallen to the lowest rungs of society could easily sell themselves for a time to a wealthy family and be well taken care of while providing a valuable service.  Those who have been reduced to theft in order to survive would be sold into the same system to make restitution for their crime, but also to be taken care of so that they would no longer have to steal.

The Old Testament's laws are not antiquated and naive.  They have not been proven less civilized than modern American thinking in these areas.  They reflect the perfectly just, good, and wise character of the benevolent God who gave them.  Fallible and fallen man will never improve on them.  This is as good of a blueprint for a Utopian society as you can get.  Whenever someone complains that God's Law just doesn't work - like in the story of the Salem witch trials - the problem can always be traced back to those in the wrong not following the Law of God close enough.  May those of us who are believers in Christ ever strive to show the holy character of God in the Law.

Crime and Punishment

Let's say you wake up tomorrow morning and discover that some time in the night all of your valuables have been stolen.  You call the police and fill out a report.  Two days later, the cops catch the thief and are able to return some but not all of your things.  At this point, what do you expect should happen to the thief?  In most states, he will go to jail or prison, and the sentence length is based on what the value of the property stolen happened to be and whether his theft can be counted as a misdemeanor or a felony. But is this what should happen?  In America, we witness so many cases where the punishment does not fit the crime that the grand majority of us don't even know that there might be a problem.  We see it on the news when drug lords are put away for life.  We see it in television shows like 24 when Jack Bauer does inhumane things in pursuit of the next lead - we even applaud it!  We especially see it in the way that our laws have no punishments for evil acts like aborting unborn children, participating in homosexual acts, practicing witchcraft, or bowing down to false gods.

God's Law, as revealed in His Word, contains appropriate and fitting punishments for transgressions of that Law.  The thief is not incarcerated; he is merely forced to either return what was stolen and/or pay back two to five times the value of what he took, depending on the circumstance (Exodus 22:1-4).  That's a punishment that fits the crime.  The victim actually ends up in a better place than he was before his property was stolen - something that never happens in our criminal justice system - and the thief has to do some hard work to make right his wrong, but he does not have years stolen from his life in incarceration.  Both sides are "happy" with this outcome.

On the other end of the spectrum, if someone has committed murder or adultery or practiced witchcraft, that person's life is forfeit immediately on the testimony of two or more witnesses (Exodus 21:12, Deuteronomy 22:22, and Exodus 22:18 respectively).  There are no life sentences or paroles.  The punishment fits the crime.  In our society, some crimes are punished far too harshly, and some abominable crimes are not punished at all, or else they receive such measly consequences that it becomes a joke.

I found myself recently swept up in the cultural delusion concerning just punishment when I read Genesis 34.  In the story, Jacob's daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shechem the son of Hamor the Hittite.  Dinah's brothers are, of course, furious over this, and so two of them, Simeon and Levi, concoct a very Jack Bauer-like plan to have every male in the town circumcised.  Then, on the third day, when all of the men are so sore that they can't even get up, these two brothers come through and put the whole city to the sword.  I've seen enough TV that I actually applaud this kind of commando behavior.

Jacob was not very impressed with his sons' vengeance, however.  At first, he rebukes Simeon and Levi for causing him to "stink to the inhabitants of the land" (Genesis 34:30).  He is concerned that the rest of the people of the surrounding area might attack him.  But at the end of Jacob's life, he hands out an even sterner criticism of the boys' actions during the "blessing" of his twelve sons.  He says in Genesis 49:5-7:

Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.  Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company.  For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.  Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel!  I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.

This is how we ought to think about what the boys did.  Killing an entire town was not a just punishment for the actions of one man - it was mass murder!  In fact, not even the rapist should have been put to the sword; even that punishment would not have fit the crime.  Later, the Law would say, "If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.  If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins" (Exodus 22:16-17).  This is exactly what Shechem tried to do (Genesis 34:12).

Our understanding of what punishment a crime ought to deserve needs to come from a reading of God's Law, not our own feelings.  This is just one more place in our culture where we have replaced the Word of God with the whim of man.

Civil Government and God's Law

The following quote is from Greg L. Bahnsen's, Theonomy in Christian Ethics:

The fact that Christians are commanded to obey the civil magistrate is another indication that human government is obligated to follow God’s holy law. Scripture clearly teaches that God’s people must obey and respect civil magistrates. And yet in the book of Revelation men are indicted and held culpable for following the dictates of the “beast,” that is, sinful Rome and its emperor. Moreover, those who followed the beast are contrasted with those who, instead, kept the law of God (Rev. 14:9-12). Rulers are consequently expected to follow the law of God so that Christians can obey them—or else those who are punished for obeying sinful Rome according to Revelation 14 would be exonerated by Romans 13! The way to reconcile Romans 13:4, where the state is spoken of as in the service of God, and Revelation 13:2, where the state is said to be in the service of Satan, is by viewing the former as the norm for government and the latter as indictment for deviation from that norm. Outside of that one must either forfeit the unity of Scripture or appeal to principles (e.g., Rom. 8:28) to explain Romans 13 which that passage itself gives no hint of utilizing as necessary for understanding its message. Thus the civil magistrate ought to promote obedience to God’s law (the good) and to punish with God’s wrath (i.e., according to the just penal sanctions for society) those who publicly perform evil deeds (violations of God’s laws). Toward this end believers are exhorted to pray for all kings and authorities: in order that they might lead peaceful lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim. 2:1-3).  The tranquility which the magistrate should establish and protect in society must be characterized by justice and civic righteousness, for his reign should enable Christians to live in peace (which does not mean, in this passage, that believers have “personal” peace while nevertheless under public persecution) and should provide for, and promote, an environment characterized by justice and righteousness (which, as in the case of tranquility, does not simply mean that believers have personal or private godliness in the midst of complete social unrighteousness and public injustice). The peace which the believer wants to have, and also the godliness which the believer wants to express, should be made possible by the civil magistrate’s proper administration of government; toward that end Christians are told to pray.