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Israel's Immigration Laws

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

 

For several years, one of the hot-button issues in American politics has been the subject of immigration.  Such things aren’t really the concern of me or my blog.  However, through the years, I’ve seen a lot of Scriptures quoted out of context in memes from both sides, and that is my concern.  I don’t have any answers for what the United States should do in 2019, but I think it’s worthwhile to consider what God says on the subject and use it as a starting point for our own views.

First of all, immigration simply isn’t a New-Testament topic.  The law of Christ is concerned with the Christian’s relationship with the government, but it has nothing to say about how governments should conduct themselves.  Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.

However, the same is not true of the Old Testament.  The law of Moses is no longer in force, but unlike the law of Christ, it does have to do with the proper conduct of a government.  This legal code does not bind us today, but it does give us some insight into how God might look at a particular legal topic.  Indeed, there are many passages in the Pentateuch that discuss the treatment of what the ESV calls “sojourners”:

  • The law had no rules restricting the movement of sojourners into Israel.  Of course, this may be because a Bronze Age confederation/kingdom had no means of enforcing border security, but it’s worth noting.  Sojourners did not automatically become Israelites by entering the land, but they were free to enter.
     
  • Sojourners were to be treated lovingly (Deuteronomy 10:19) and justly (Deuteronomy 20:17).
     
  • They had the same rights and the same obligations under the law as native Israelites (Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:15-16).
     
  • They were expected to follow many of the religious requirements of the Law (Exodus 12:19, 20:10; Leviticus 17:15; Deuteronomy 5:14).  They were also free to participate in some other rituals if they chose (e.g. Leviticus 22:18).
     
  • They were to be provided for by the natives, but only to the extent that they were willing to work.  A wheatfield owner had to leave the corners of his field unreaped and the whole ungleaned (Leviticus 23:22), nor could he return to retrieve a sheaf he had forgotten (Deuteronomy 24:19).  Olive grove and vineyard owners couldn’t go back over the trees/vines after they had done so once (Deuteronomy 24:20-21). 
     
  • In all cases, this was for the benefit of the widow, the fatherless, and the sojourner.  None of the poor could expect their meals to be delivered to their doors if they sat at home, but they could get food for themselves if they were willing to go out and harvest it.
     
  • These provisions existed because God loved the sojourner, just as God loved the widow, the fatherless, and all other weak, vulnerable people (Deuteronomy 10:18). 

Again, none of these things determine for us how the United States should handle those who want to immigrate to it.  However, if we want to use the word of God to develop and defend our positions (whatever they might be), appreciating the whole counsel of God can only help.

Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind

Friday, March 08, 2019

 

I maintain that Leviticus is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Pentateuch.  It gets no respect.  Despite its reputation as the mostest boringest book in the Bible, I find that every year, I come away with something new from reading through it.

Today, for instance, I was struck by Leviticus 19:14, which reads, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God:  I am the Lord.”  On its face, this appears to be an instruction not to engage in boorish frat-boy behavior with disabled people:  “Look!  I can cuss him out, and he can’t hear me!  Hur hur hur!”

It is certainly that, but I think there’s a lot more under the surface.  Fundamentally, this is a passage about taking advantage of others.  You curse the deaf because you can do it and get away with it.  You put a stumbling block before the blind because you can do it and get away with it.  You’re in a privileged position, and you’re using your privilege to exploit others for your own satisfaction.  You do something to somebody because you can, not because you should.

That has a distinctly modern ring to it, doesn’t it?  Isn’t this, after all, what the #MeToo scandals are about?  You’ve got somebody, usually a man, who is in a position of power and oppresses others for his sexual enjoyment.  From Harvey Weinstein to Larry Nassar to legions of predatory clergy, you’ve got evil men who are putting a particular kind of stumbling block before a particular kind of blind person. 

Why not abuse the weak and vulnerable?  Who’s going to stop you?  Them?

Of course, you don’t have to be a criminal to do similar things.  How about the mortgage brokers 10 years ago (if indeed the practice has stopped) who were quoting higher rates to minority borrowers than they were to white borrowers?  “They don’t know!  They’re too dumb to figure it out!  Ca-ching!” 

How about the Christians who will happily gossip about a brother or sister in Christ?  To too many brethren, building yourself up while tearing somebody else down looks like a win-win.  

Similar examples abound.  As the passage points out, though, such behavior can only come from those who do not fear God.  After all, God is in the position of greatest power and advantage.  He could use and abuse all of us for His amusement, and there’s nothing we could do about it. 

However, God’s very nature is opposed to such exploitation.  He seeks our good, not His pleasure.  He continually exerts His power for us, not Himself.  Rather than taking what we have, He gave us the most precious thing He had. 

We don’t have to imagine how He feels about those who do differently.  Read through this lens, the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 is about a man who seeks mercy from great power, then uses his slight power to oppress someone else.  He acted as he did because he did not fear the king.  Not enough.

In our dealings with others, we always must remember that God is watching.  If we have a measure of power, it is because He has given it to us.  If we are in a place of advantage, it is because He has put us there. 

However, He remains the God of both the hearing and the deaf, both the sighted and the blind.  If we take advantage of the lowly, He will balance the scale, and we will not enjoy it.  If we will not fear Him now, He will reveal why we should have been afraid.

Prayers for Vengeance?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

 

A couple of weeks ago, I paraphrased Psalm 94.  It was certainly a journey into the darker side of Psalms.  If the first line of the psalm is, “O Lord, God of vengeance,” you pretty well know how the rest is going to go!  Indeed, Psalm 94 is a powerful prayer to God to punish the wicked, particularly those who use the machinery of the law for wicked ends.

This is something God did 2500+ years ago, and it’s still something He does today.  He brings every act to judgment, whether good or evil.  Of course, the scope of the day of judgment is universal, but even before then, a high percentage of the wicked are going to suffer for their wickedness in this life.  It’s true of individuals, and it’s true of nations, which is why many Christians are gravely concerned about the future of the United States.

God certainly punishes unrighteousness, but are Christians allowed to ask Him to do that?  There’s certainly plenty of Scriptural evidence that says, “No.”  Most notably, in Luke 6:28, Jesus says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  By this, Jesus does not mean praying, “O God, please turn the people who abuse me into grease spots!”  We are supposed to pray for their good.

However, neither does that mean praying, “O God, please give these evil people many years of life and prosperity, so that they can continue to treat others as shamefully as they have treated me!”  Continued evil isn’t good for anybody.  It isn’t good for the victim, and it isn’t even good for the practitioner.  What we really want is for that evil not to continue.

This should begin with prayer for God to forgive our tormentors.  My favorite New-Testament example of this appears in Acts 7:60.  Fascinatingly, among Stephen’s murderers was the young Saul of Tarsus.  Stephen’s prayer for Saul was answered in Acts 9:18 when Saul was baptized.  We should likewise want everyone who troubles us to repent so that they can be forgiven.

Sadly, many evildoers never repent.  In such cases, we may well echo the cry of the martyrs under the altar in Revelation 6:10.  Even though we often use it generically, the cry, “Lord, how long?” is not generic.  Instead, it is specific, asking how long God will take to avenge the blood of the righteous.  In Romans 12:19, God promises us, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.”  As with all His other promises, we have the right to ask Him to keep that one.

Some might see this as inconsistent with our calling to love our enemies.  However, even though it can be, I don’t think it necessarily is.  After all, God’s perfect love is consistent with His judgment of the wicked.  It follows, then, that our love can be consistent with an appeal for that judgment.

God doesn’t want anyone to perish.  Neither should we.  Prayers for the salvation of the souls of the wicked should always be our Plan A, and we should sincerely desire to see them saved.  However, those who reject the mercy of God have only His justice left.  If someone who has wronged us will not repent (and God knows whether they will or not), we have the right to ask Him to balance the scales, and we can leave the matter in His hands.

Social Security, Abortion, and the Fruits of Evil

Friday, March 01, 2019

 

Most Americans who follow politics are aware that Social Security is going to run out of money.  To be more precise, in 2034, the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted, and it will only be able to pay out about 75 percent of benefits that retirees have accrued.  Similar problems beset Medicare.

In both cases, the problem is the same.  We live in a country with an aging population.  In order for the population of a country to sustain itself, the “replacement level” of live births is about 2.1 per woman.  Currently, the live-birth rate in the US is about 1.8 per woman.  Without immigration, our population would be in decline.

There are many reasons for this demographic crisis, but one of the most important, and one of the least talked-about, is abortion.  Since 1973, more than 61 million American babies have been aborted.  Not all of those babies would have become productive members of society who paid into Social Security and Medicare, but most of them would have.  Their contributions surely would have kept the American social-insurance system afloat for a few more decades, perhaps indefinitely, without the need for hard political choices.

This is bitterly ironic.  The same people who are the champions of the welfare state in the US are also the champions of abortion on demand.  Their insistence on the second has rendered the first demographically unsustainable.  They have undone their own designs.

I point this out for two main reasons.  First, I am adamantly opposed to abortion, and I will muster whatever arguments I can against it.  Perhaps someone who cannot see that it is immoral will accept that it is unwise.

Second, I think it illustrates one of the primary this-life problems with evil.  Even though sin appears to offer advantages to the sinner (Don’t we sin because we think it’s going to benefit us in some way?), over time, those advantages often prove to be illusory.  Psalm 94:23 points out that God brings the iniquity of the wicked back on them.  As a result, when we sin, we commonly sow the seeds of our own destruction.

It’s important for us to recognize this pattern in the consequences of others’ sins, but it’s vital for us to acknowledge it when we are tempted.  For instance, consider the married man or woman who seeks sexual fulfillment in pornography.  Admittedly, their sin probably will supply them with some measure of satisfaction.

However, it also will create two problems.  First, immorality never can do more than provide a counterfeit of the joys of marital intimacy as described in Proverbs 5.  In the words of Jeremiah 2:13, the sinner is trading a fountain of living water for a broken cistern.  Second, once their spouse finds out (which will happen sooner or later), the revelation cannot help but damage the trust on which the marital relationship is based.  The quest for fulfillment in porn is self-defeating and doomed.

It is good for us to be wise about such things, but it is better for us to be trusting.  God’s commandments are for our good, and that remains true whether we see the good or not.  Doing the right thing will often lead us to blessings that we do not expect.  Evil, by contrast, is a weapon that will turn in the hands of those who wield it, and none of us are exempt from its consequences.

How Are Women to Keep Silent in the Churches?

Thursday, February 28, 2019

 

A week or two ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to this blog.  Among other things, one of the author’s main goals appears to be insisting that women should be allowed to speak in the assemblies of churches of Christ.  This post is representative of his arguments.

The post is, quite honestly, very long, and I don’t have space to respond to everything in it that I think is mistaken (not without turning this into the 1 Corinthians 14 blog, at least!).  However, I think it’s worthwhile to address one of the author’s primary arguments—that no church of Christ is consistent in applying 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 because in none of them are women absolutely silent.  He writes, “Hardly a single woman remains silent in the churches.  Women sing.  They greet people.  They say ‘good morning’ and ‘Amen.’  They make comments in Sunday School.  They give confession to the assembly before baptism.”

What the author describes is true, so far as it goes.  However, it’s not in conflict with the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14.  First of all, this text applies to times “when the whole church is assembled together”—what we would call worship services rather than Bible classes (though I think that churches need to apply 1 Corinthians 14 to their Bible classes if said classes are an assembly of the whole.  The label we assign an activity is less important than the reality of what we’re doing.). 

Second, though we tend to focus on women, sisters in Christ are not the only group in the chapter that Paul instructs to be silent.  In 1 Corinthians 14:28, he tells men with the gift of tongues to keep silent if there is no interpreter present.  In 1 Corinthians 14:30, he tells prophets to keep silent if a revelation has been given to another prophet. 

In these passages, it’s clear that “silent” isn’t contrasted with making a sound.  Otherwise, gifted men under these conditions would have been barred from singing, saying “Amen”, and otherwise participating in public worship.  That interpretation can’t be supported from the text, particularly when Paul urges brethren to earnestly desire spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:1.  Why desire something that could bar you from worshiping?

Instead, “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14 is contrasted with being the speaker.  Tongue-speakers and prophets in these circumstances were free to participate in public worship.  They were not free, however, to claim center stage for themselves.

The same rule applies to women.  They too are free to say the “Amen” if they agree, as per 1 Corinthians 14:16.  They too are free to obey the exhortation of Romans 15:6 and join in glorifying God with one voice.  They are not free, however, to become the speaker.

There were circumstances in which tongue-speakers and prophets could become the speaker in an assembly.  Tongue-speakers were permitted to do so in the presence of an interpreter.  Prophets were permitted to do so (one by one, two or three at most per assembly) in the absence of another revelation.  However, there are no circumstances in which the text permits women to do the same.  Paul’s prohibition is absolute, even to the point of forbidding women to ask questions in such circumstances. 

Such a commandment is opposed to the spirit of our time.  That’s not in question.  The question is if we are willing to defy the spirit of our time to follow the Spirit of God.  Honoring His word will not find favor with our culture, but it will find favor with Him.

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