The Bible and Politics

I spent a lot of time relaxing with my family over Labor Day weekend, but letting the daily Scripture posts slip has landed me REALLY far behind on the reading schedule. Going back into double-post mode for the next few days…

Daily Scripture readings for August, set #20:

Deuteronomy, chapters 18-21
Psalm 67
Matthew 27:11-26
Romans 12:9-21

There are many passages in the Old Testament that I don’t understand, and one of the more prominent of these is Deuteronomy 20’s regulations for dealing with POW’s. The violence and death that the Lord commands Israel to perform against the indigenous peoples of Canaan is pretty severe. “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction” (vs 16-17). My only angle for comprehending this command from the Lord is the two covenants idea, which is turning out to be a very common theme in my OT readings. The Lord dealt with humanity differently in the Old Covenant, and mostly to the end of displaying who he is as God. Was God displaying his wrath against sinful nations, or was he merely judging the sinfulness of these nations? Both? It certainly makes the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles in the New Testament all the more meaningful. Does anyone know of a compelling book or essay on the topic of OT violence?

This theme of God’s wrath in the old covenant vs grace in the new covenant overlaps nicely with Psalm 67. Is this Psalm prophetic/messianic? It sure seems like it. Otherwise, how would verses like these square with the merciless commands in Deuteronomy 20? “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you” (vs 4-5).

Wow… how heavy is today’s excerpt of Matthew 27 in light of this theme of salvation being offered to Jews and Gentiles? Not only does Jesus bring mercy to those who aren’t Jews, but the Jews themselves reject the mercy being shown to them! “So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!'” (vs 24-25).

Seriously, the reading schedule has such incredible thematic intersections right now! I’m realizing as I turn to Romans that chapters 9-11 (which we just read) deal PRECISELY with the inclusion of Gentiles and the hardening of the Jews. Amazing. But, today’s Romans reading is from chapter 12, where Paul is becoming less doctrinal and more practical. The section reads like a bullet list of advice for how a Christian should live. The second half of verse 16 jumps out at me: “Never be wise in your own sight.” Ok, how can a command like that be lived out with sincerity? How can someone win a chess match and not have even a small amount of satisfaction in their ability to strategize?

Daily Scripture readings for August, set #21:

Deuteronomy, chapters 22-26
Psalm 68
Matthew 27:27-44
Romans 13

Today’s chapters in Deuteronomy are a little more like what I always thought the whole book was like. The mundane and repetitive laws are reminiscent of Leviticus and Numbers. However, as I mentioned once before, my radar for significance fires up whenever a particular phrase is used repeatedly. Deut 22 contains more lists of harsh punishments, but each one is followed with “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (vs 21-24). I wonder if this concept factors into the Deut 20 discussion of the Lord’s severity/wrath against neighboring nations.

I’m thinking a lot this week about what it means to have God uphold/support us in resisting and fleeing temptation. It’s interesting to me then that this phrase is used in Psalm 68: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation” (vs 19). Does the “bearing up” here refer to redemption and forgiveness, or is it more than that? Is there a correlation between this phrase in Psalm 68 and Jesus’ prayer that God would “lead us not into temptation”?

The crucifixion account in Matthew 27 is a familiar passage to anyone who has ever attended Good Friday or Easter services. Last year when I read this I saw something I hadn’t noticed before in the last verse of today’s reading: “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (vs 44). “Robbers” plural? Everybody knows that ONE of the two men crucified with Jesus mocked him while the other asked him for forgiveness, right? Here is a prime example of the certain factual differences between the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Thinking Christians must engage this reality and figure out how to discern/understand/explain these differences.

Paul continues his bullet-list of Christian living advice in Romans 13, and he dares to tackle the contentious topic of politics. Except, Paul doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal. He speaks nonchalantly and matter-of-factly on the issue. I must say that this is one passage that, before a couple years ago, I didn’t even know existed. Now, think about that… with all the buzz/hype/debate/quarreling over political issues in the Evangelical world, how is it that I wasn’t aware of these verses? Two reasons, I think: 1) I didn’t read my Bible enough, and 2) the people on the front lines of this debate don’t factor in these verses enough. I mean, seriously… take the typical “conservative Evangelical” attitude about politics in 21st Century America and blend in Romans 13:1-7. Does the outcome reflect how most Christians behave in the political arena?

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