09 February 2011

Going down to Egypt

A friend recently wrote to me concerning Christians appealing to the US government for aid in petitioning for the release or relief of Christians being persecuted in other countries. While it may sound very strange to even question this practice it's worth thinking about for a moment.

The passage of Scripture that immediately comes to mind is the following:

Isaiah 31

1 Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!

2 Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words: but will arise against the house of the evildoers, and against the help of them that work iniquity.

3 Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.

4 For thus hath the LORD spoken unto me, Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey, when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof.

5 As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.

6 ¶Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted.

7 For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin.

8 Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited.

9 And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.

Israel of course was the Covenant People of God. At that time the Covenant was administered to a nation, a holy state, a Theocracy in the true sense of the word. It was not a state ruled by clergy, the way we define theocracy today. It was ruled by God Himself. He worked through mediators…all types of the coming Mediator. So though he used these Means, Israel was His land, His country, His people, and His Holy Realm.

Thus it was highly problematic for his people to turn not their Heavenly King, but to a worldly power for aid and help in their times of trouble. More than once the Israelites would look for aid from a neighbouring power and is always condemned for doing so. King Asa was condemned for just such a thing in 2 Chronicles 16 where we read:

1 In the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah.

2 Then Asa brought out silver and gold out of the treasures of the house of the LORD and of the king's house, and sent to Benhadad king of Syria, that dwelt at Damascus, saying,

3 There is a league between me and thee, as there was between my father and thy father: behold, I have sent thee silver and gold; go, break thy league with Baasha king of Israel, that he may depart from me.

4 And Benhadad hearkened unto king Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel; and they smote Ijon, and Dan, and Abelmaim, and all the store cities of Naphtali.

5 And it came to pass, when Baasha heard it, that he left off building of Ramah, and let his work cease.

6 Then Asa the king took all Judah; and they carried away the stones of Ramah, and the timber thereof, wherewith Baasha was building; and he built therewith Geba and Mizpah.

7 ¶And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the LORD thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand.

8 Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen? yet, because thou didst rely on the LORD, he delivered them into thine hand.

9 For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.

10 Then Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people the same time.

In the New Covenant we are told that the gentile Church is the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16) and that we the Gentiles are one people with the Jews.

We are part of the one tree. (Romans 11)

We are part of the one fold or flock under the One Shepherd (John 10.16)

We the Church are part of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2.11-16), the Kingdom being removed from the Jewish people and given to a new Nation, the Church. (Matthew 21.43)

Since they are not all Israel who are of Israel (Romans 9.6) the place of the Jews today is to join Israel…not the nation founded in 1948. They are to join the Covenant people of God, who live under the New Covenant inaugurated by our Lord Himself at the Last Supper. Romans 11 refers to the Jews not being restored to the physical land fulfilled in Christ. They are to become like Zaccheus who though a Jew, upon his conversion was declared to be a son of Abraham. (Luke 19) Before that moment he was a Jew…but he wasn't.

If past is precedent, we ought to think on these things before we the Church turn to Common Nations for aid. When I say Common, I mean non-holy. I don’t mean to imply evil per se. They simply do not have Covenant or Holy status. Israel did of old, and Israel does today, Israel today being the Church of Jesus Christ.

No nation can help build the Kingdom, nor can it help the Church fight its battles. Dominionists assert this, but cannot produce a single verse to support this notion. They have a philosophically coherent system which calls upon the Kingdom to be built by Church, state, and culture, but the Scriptures repudiate the very notion.

One further critique and one qualifier……….

First the critique. Very often when a country like the United States approaches countries like China or Sudan…how is it done?

Sometimes, the Secretary of State or the President will publicly denounce a nation. In this case it is something of a threat or at least can be perceived as such. The United States is not like other nations in this sense. Its actions carry a little more weight. Or, instead of a threat it can resort to negotiating in quiet diplomatic meetings.

If we the people of God want something to be done, is it proper that it be accomplished through threats? Or how about through quid pro quo negotiations? I realize compromise is something that is required for Common Grace states or orders to function and on one level we compromise as Christians in order to function and show love to our neighbours. But we don't compromise, or we shouldn't, when it comes to moral issues. A state persecuting Christians is a Moral issue, that I'm not sure we should approach with either physical threat, or negotiation.

Let me qualify. I'm not looking for the State to appeal to anything other than a general set of natural law-type concepts when it comes to governing a society. That's all it can do.

We as Christians operate on a different and much higher level. We have eyes to see, that grant us an understanding of Biblical Revelation and thus we have a much more in-depth and broad perception of the rights and wrongs of the universe and concerning man's activities. We understand something of the Beast principle and the Babel Impulse….states seeking to make a name for themselves, man seeking his own deification. A state persecuting Christians has entered this realm.

Now when it comes to laws about driving or commerce, or even the penalties associated with theft, the state has a certain morality it can grasp. All states throughout history, all societies have at some level a basic understanding of right and wrong. It's Romans 1.

But the issues that lead a state to persecute followers of Christ transcend these 'Natural' categories. The state actions in this case have taken on a definite spiritual and theological dimension. The problem here is not one that can be solved by other states or appeals to 'Natural' laws. This is a state or society that has not only taken up the Beast doctrine it has acted on it.

So it's simply not an issue that can be remedied by a state which can only bargain or threaten, both of which should be on some level unacceptable to us. More than anything at those moments I think the Church needs to be the Church proclaiming the Gospel and depending on the Lord of the Covenant.

When the United States stands up as an advocate for Christianity, the Church in other contexts can suffer from what I have called the Shapur Effect. This is when Christians suffer persecution due to the political maneuverings of a Constantinian State that is antagonistic to the state in which they live.

For example in today's context….Christians are far more likely to suffer in post-Revolution Iran because Revolutionary Iran's narrative is grounded in anti-Westernism. Since unfortunately Westernism is tied with Christianity, those who profess Christ suffer as a result. It is not merely because Iran is a Muslim country. That simply does not stand historically. Even vigorously Islamic states like Pakistan are capable of being quite tolerant to other religions. Iran persecutes Christians largely because of their historical relationships with the British Empire, Tsarist Russia, and the United States of America. On one level it is certainly theological, but more often than not…it's politics. It's not ideology, it's power. There's a theology to that as well, and it's something American Christians should keep in mind as they view the actions of their own nation.

Though many Americans see this country as having the moral high ground, outside our borders the perception is quite different. The United States wears a very different face abroad and has no moral authority in the eyes of much of the world. For the American president to stand up and effectively preach at other nations…is something of a joke. His words are not weighed or considered at face value, nor are they contemplated. They are deciphered through the lens of international diplomacy…the language of power. While Evangelicals liked George Bush's swagger and declarative way of speaking, it was both threatening and not a little frightening to much of the rest of the world. Hardly the voice of moral superiority, it was the roar of a dangerous beast.

Now a qualifier….

This may seem like a bit of backtrack but I want to temper what I'm saying. On one level I can see someone saying…we should do anything we can to help brothers and sister who are in harm's way. And if signing a petition addressed to Hilary Clinton takes some pressure off believers in other country, then it would be wrong not to do it.

I'm not going to bind someone else's conscience. It's not always clear what to do and how to proceed. God does use means and in His Providence, nations are used. But that doesn't always mean they're right and it doesn't always mean He blesses what they do.

Someone might say….well, look it was God's Providence that prisoner X was released due to our petition. True, but it would have also been God's Providence if he hadn't been released. We must careful in how we asses these matters.

It's also easy for me to speak of these things in a cold and detached manner when it isn't one of my loved ones or a friend that is in such a situation.

It gets a bit sticky, but there are times in which wisdom demands that we think outside the box. Life is complicated as Corrie Ten Boom or even Rahab discovered. We don't want to say that we should do evil that good may come. I think Paul's condemnation in Romans 3 is for those who treat God's commandments in a flippant manner, who make it all into something of a joke. That's not the case with Rahab, Corrie Ten Boom, or the Israelite midwives lying to Pharaoh.

So what I mean to say is…I won't bind your conscience. There may be times when someone prayerfully and thoughtfully may turn to the state to help a brother. I don't know.

But I am confident that most are not thinking it through. For most, America is the good-guy. God is on our side and so it's natural to appeal to Washington and ask them to wag a finger at China or whomever else.

Let's pray for wisdom and consider carefully and not go running to Egypt. The Lord will preserve His people and sometimes he may use a nation against another to do so but I'm not sure we should just naturally assume so.

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