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God and Government

Deuteronomy was the most influential book in Old Testament history because of the use of it by the prophets. Its stress on possession of the land had a powerful effect, and it is an emphasis needed now, because we have separated faith and the land, faith and possession of the earth.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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Deuteronomy 1:-18

5. On this side Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare this law, saying,

6. The LORD our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount:

7. Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates.

8. Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.

9. And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone:

10. The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.

11. (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!)

12. How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?

13. Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.

14. And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do.

15. So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.

16. And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him.

17. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.

18. And I commanded you at that time all the things which ye should do. (Deuteronomy 1:5-18)

According to Richard Clifford, "In no book of the Bible is exclusive fidelity to the Lord held up so insistently to Israel as it is in Deuteronomy."[1] This may be an overstatement, since all the Bible stresses faithfulness, but, because these are Moses's farewell words to Israel, they do have a strong and insistent character.

Our text is in two parts. In vv. 1-8, we have a summons to possess the land. This is a commandment from God, and it carries with it promises for faithfulness. Then, in vv. 9-18, Moses prepares the people for his death and he requires that they follow God's ordained pattern of government.

Deuteronomy was the most influential book in Old Testament history because of the use of it by the prophets. Its stress on possession of the land had a powerful effect, and it is an emphasis needed now, because we have separated faith and the land, faith and possession of the earth. God having done certain things for His people requires therefore certain things of them. True faith must have works: faith means vision and action. A static faith is dead. God told His people at Sinai, "Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount" (v. 6). God's alternatives are moving forward or death.

In v. 11, Moses, with intensity, wishes that, with God's blessing and the people's faithfulness, they might grow a thousandfold.

Where God commands us, He empowers us to do His will. As Davies observed, "Human power is formal - God's power real."[2] Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses insistently relates God to the people: "the LORD our God" (v. 6), "the LORD your God" (v. 10), and so on. Failure to act in terms of God's promises had thirty-eight years earlier led to defeat. As the marginal comment in the Geneva Bible reads, "the fault was in themselves, that they did not sooner possess the inheritance promised."[3] The old term applied in Judaism to Deuteronomy was correct: it is "a book of reproofs."

In. vv. 9-16, the required form of government in church and state is set forth. What God requires is the reverse of the normal or usual form, which is from the top down. Rule by an elite at the top is an ancient pattern as well as a modern one. In Plato's Republic, it is held to be the only valid form, i.e., rule by philosopher-kings. These men are an unelected elite; they are under no law: their will determines all things. This is, of course, the pattern of Marxism and Fascism, and also of the so-called European Community, which is governed by unelected rulers and whose law is their will.

God's requirement is government from the bottom up in terms of His law. It begins with the self-government of the Christian man, with the family as a government, the church, the school, a person's vocation, society and its various voluntary groups and agencies, and, finally, civil government, one government among many.

God's way places responsibility on every man, whereas all humanistic patterns remove government from God and man to the state, or to the autonomous individual. God's law in every sphere limits the powers of man, church, state, family, and all human agencies. Its basic thrust is man's responsibility: "Thou art the man" (2 Sam. 12:7). Statism assumes a caretaker role which denies implicitly that man is created in God's image and has a calling to govern himself and his spheres of responsibility.

Where the law of God is set aside, man's law, which is anti-law from before Plato's day to ours, replaces it. The Christian is a man empowered by God's grace and by His Spirit because he has a clean conscience before God (Heb. 10:22). Where God's law and grace are rejected, the systems of government devised by man rest on sin, guilt, and injustice. The power of guilt to cripple and limit man is very great. We see it widely used today to make men feel guilty because they are successful, or white, or almost anything. We are held to be polluters of the air and earth and an accursed race of exploiters. The effects of this on millions is very severe. People are afraid to state obvious facts lest they be accused of racism, cultural imperialism, ideological oppression, and so on and on. Guilt is a very powerful means of controlling and castrating peoples.

This guilt is created by manufacturing sins which have no place in God's sight but are very important in man's plans to govern over men and nations, and the earth as well. If we are held to be guilty because of our race and national past, there is no way of removing that ostensible sin and its guilt.

One of the most evil ideas about sin is a product of the Darwinian and Freudian worldviews. Sin and guilt are then metaphysical conditions, aspects of being human, and they are ineradicable. Man is thus perpetually guilty.

In Scripture, sin and guilt are moral facts and conditions. Christ came to remove them from His people and to start them on the way of sanctification: obedience to God's law-word. In this freedom from sin and guilt, the Christian is God's free man, the only truly free man.

Where, however, sin and guilt are metaphysical facts, there is no escaping them, and the best possible role for the state is not a remedial but a custodial one. The caretaker state becomes a keeper of the human zoo. Injustice becomes a natural and inescapable fact of the human scene, and man has no escape from tyranny and injustice. Humanistic "liberation" is from freedom to a custodial slavery.

Men will either live in terms of God's grace and law, or they will live under sin, guilt, and injustice. Sin, guilt, and injustice are used to control man, and the term given to this is the System. The System is a linkage of state, capital, labor, the criminal groups, and churches, all allied in the control of men. It was described in detail by Franklin Hichborn in "The System" as Uncovered by the San Francisco Graft Prosecution (1915); the sociologist Edwin H. Sutherland documented a specific case in detail in The Professional Thief (1937); Sam and Chuck Giancana, in Double Cross (1992), saw the System as controlling the presidency, interlocked with city, state, and federal agencies, and so on and on. Many other works can be cited.

What is clear is that in a world which denies God's covenantal grace and law, of necessity, sin, guilt, and injustice, as endemic to the human scene, will be used by men to control peoples and institutions.

No plan of government for fallen man can evade the forces of sin, guilt, and injustice. Those who know God's grace and law are required to live by His requirements, and, for government, this means a highly decentralized structure.

In earlier times, both in England and in the American colonies, the hundred-courts were basic in government, and they were patterned after the requirements of Deuteronomy 1:9-18.

Calvin, in commenting on Numbers 15:39, where God condemns men and nations for going "a-whoring," i.e., seeking their own will and way, wrote:

And, first of all, by contrasting "the hearts and eyes" of men with His Law, He shews that He would have His people contented with that one rule which He prescribes, without the admixture of any of their own imaginations; and again, He denounces the vanity of whatever men invent for themselves, and however pleasing any human scheme may appear to them, He still repudiates and condemns it. And this is still more clearly expressed in the last word, when he says that men "go a whoring" whenever they are governed by their own counsels. This declaration is deserving of our especial observation, for whilst they have much self-satisfaction who worship God according to their own will, and whilst they account their zeal to be very good and very right, they do nothing else but pollute themselves to spiritual adultery. For what by the world is considered to be the holiest devotion, God with his own mouth pronounces to be fornication.[4]

(Taken from Rushdoony's Deuteronomy, p. 7)

[1] Richard Clifford, S. J., Deuteronomy, with an Excursus on Covenant and Law (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier Inc., [1982] 1989), 1.

[2] D. Davies, in H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, eds., Deuteronomy (New York, NY: Funk & Wagnalls, n.d.), 11.

[3] Geneva Bible, 1599 ed., note on 1:20.

[4] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses arranged in the Form of a Harmony, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950, reprint), 365.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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