Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Godly Kings of Judah are Examples For Christian Magistrates

A depiction of Israelites destroying idols, by order of King
Hezekiah. The Bible considers Hezekiah a very godly king,
and a major reason was that he did not tolerate political
polytheism (i.e., religious pluralism).
by Rev. Brian Schwertley

(The following is an excerpt from the section, "The Godly Kings of Judah Serve as Examples for Christian Magistrates," in  Political Polytheism by Brian Schwertley)

Many Christians regard the Old Testament nation of Israel as an example for the church but not for non-Israelite states, and certainly not for the modern nations. After all, wasn’t Israel a theocracy? Didn’t Israel have a special covenant relationship to Jehovah? Shouldn’t modern nations be religiously pluralistic? Isn’t the open practice of one’s religion a fundamental human right? Although it is true that Israel was a theocracy and had a special covenant relationship to God there is abundant scriptural evidence that the law system in Israel was to serve as a paradigm, a   model for all nations.[1] This was noted in our examination of Deuteronomy 4:5-8. If Israel’s law system served as a model for the heathen nations during the old covenant era, then it also serves as a model for nations today. 

Furthermore the great commission (Mt. 28:18-20) implies that whole nations will submit to Christ and become explicitly Christian nations. The goal of the great commission is that whole nations will be discipled, whole nations will make a covenant with Jesus Christ. This means that the behavior of the Old Testament kings does serve as an example of how Christian magistrates should or should not behave. What was most pleasing to God? Kings who permitted freedom to openly practice heathen religions—who permitted open religious pluralism—or, kings who suppressed the open practice of false religions? A brief examination of some of the kings in Israel and Judah will prove that God hates religious pluralism.

King Asa is praised by the Holy
Spirit for his tough stance against
false religions. He "removed all the
idols that his fathers had made."
A study of First and Second Kings shows that godly civil magistrates are very concerned about promoting true religion in the land. This is done by enforcing the first table commandments and their case laws against idolatry or false religions. King Asa is praised by the Holy Spirit for his tough stance against false religions in Judah. “Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did his father David. And he banished the perverted persons from the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. Also, he removed Maachah his grandmother from being queen mother, because she had made an obscene image of Asherah. And Asa cut down her obscene image and burned it by the Brook Kidron” (1 Kgs. 15:11-13). King Jehu of Israel was not a godly king. However, he was blessed by God for what he did to the prophets, priests, and servants of Baal. “Now it happened, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains, ‘Go in and kill them; let no one come out!’ And they killed them with the edge of the sword; then the guards and the officers threw them out, and went into the inner room of the temple of Baal. And they brought the sacred pillars out of the temple of Baal and burned them. Then they broke down the sacred pillar of Baal, and tore down the temple of Baal and made it a refuse dump to this day. Thus, Jehu destroyed Baal from Israel” (2 Kgs. 10:25-28).

Under the godly leadership of the priest Jehoiada the wicked government of Athaliah was overthrown and replaced by Jehoash. “Then Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD, the king, and the people, that they should be the LORD’s people, and also between the king and the people. And all the people of the land went to the temple of Baal, and tore it down. They thoroughly broke in pieces its altars and images, and killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars” (2 Kgs. 11:17-18). Did God think that the actions of Jehoash and Jehoiada were unfair or harsh? On the contrary the Bible says, “Jehoash did what was right in the sight of the LORD all the days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him” (2 Kgs. 12:2). There is also godly Hezekiah of whom the Bible says, “He did what was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kgs. 18:3). “He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses. The LORD was with him; he prospered wherever he went” (2 Kgs. 18:4-7). Hezekiah did all that he could to remove false religion and worship from Judah. He also steadfastly refused to make alliances with the heathen as his father had (2 Kgs. 16:7), and also Asa (1 Kgs. 15:18-19).

After tearing his clothes in grief over his nation's idolatry,
King Josiah proceeded to stamp out the open practice of
false religion. The Bible says of him, "Before him there was
no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart ...
nor did any like him arise after him."(2 Kings 23:25)
Another great revival of true religion occurred under king Josiah. After the book of the law was found in the temple and read to the king, the king and the people covenanted with the LORD. “And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, the priests of the second order, and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the articles that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. Then he removed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense on the high places in the cities of Judah and in the places all around Jerusalem, and those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations, and to all the host of heaven.... He executed all the priests of the high places who were there on the altars, and burned men’s bones on them.... Morever Josiah put away those who consulted mediums and spiritists, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD” (2 Kgs. 23:4-5, 20, 24). Josiah is commended above all other kings (2 Kgs. 23:25) because he turned to the Lord with his whole heart. He exterminated the outward gross idolatry, the sycretistic priests, the mediums and so on. Josiah (not Bob Dole, or Ronald Reagan) is the type of king set forth as precisely what a Christian nation should strive for. Matthew Poole writes: “Like unto him there was no king before him, to wit, for his diligent study in God’s law, and his exact care, and unwearied industry, and fervent zeal, in rooting out of idolaters, and all kinds and appearances of idolatry, not only in Judah, but in Israel also; and in the establishment of the true religion in all his dominions, and in the conforming of his own life, and his people’s too, (as far as he could), to the holy law of God."[2]

One of the primary lessons from the book of Kings is that righteous civil magistrates uphold true religion by enforcing the penal sanctions against idolatry, witchcraft, sorcery, astrology, etc.; that is, all false religions which by nature enrage Jehovah and defy His law order. Contrary to Christian socialists and certain paleopresbyterians,[3] one does not observe these Old Testament godly kings establishing public schools, hospitals, welfare programs, orphanages, and so on. In accordance with the law and Romans 13:1-6, the righteous kings wield the sword against the wicked and praise the righteous. They execute and banish those who openly practice false religions; they obliterate all idols and the remnants of idolatry; and they completely destroy all idolatrous temples. These kings recognized that a Christian nation that permits the open violation of the first commandment has committed spiritual adultery and has violated the covenant. Any nation that claims to have a commitment to Jesus Christ and His law must publicly covenant with Him. “Without a covenant, there is no law; a covenant requires law.”[4] That is why “every renewal of the covenant was a renewal of the law of the covenant. This was true of Josiah’s reformation, and of every reformation in biblical history.”[5] Any national revival of biblical Christianity requires national repentance; national repentance requires the suppression of all false religions and requires a national covenant. To fully commit to Jehovah, a nation (a moral person) must put off political polytheism and replace it with a public commitment to God and His law word.[6]

All civil magistrates in a Christian commonwealth must submit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Ps. 2:10-12; 20:9; 24:8-10; 47:2-3, 6-7; 84:6). They are to apply both tables of the laws and the appropriate case laws within their God-limited sphere of activity—punishing civil crimes. Godly magistrates are to do everything within their power to insure that the people within their borders are faithful to the covenant. Therefore, righteous magistrates have a duty to continually study the word of God in order to apply the moral principles therein faithfully within the civil sphere. “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel” (Dt. 17:18-20). Matthew Poole writes, “That his heart be not lifted up; he intimates, that the Scriptures, diligently read and studied, are a powerful and probable means to keep him humble, because they show him that, though a king, he is subject to a higher Monarch, to whom he must give an account of all his administrations, and actions, and receive from him his sentence and doom agreeable to their quality, which is sufficient to abate the pride of the haughtiest person in the world, if he duly consider it.”[7]


     [1] “What, then, was the true province of the theocracy? What were its leading objectives? These objectives, as I conceive, without excluding others, were chiefly two. One was to teach mankind the true science of civil government. It corresponds with the goodness of God in other respects, that he should make a special revelation on this subject. I hold it to have been an important part of the legislation of the Most High, as the lawgiver of Israel, to show how civil authority among men should be created, and how it should be administered, so as best to promote the welfare and happiness of a nation; and also how the relations between rulers and ruled should be adjusted and regulated. But another object of the theocratic feature of the Hebrew government, and the leading one undoubtably, was the overthrow and extirpation of idolatry. The design was, first, to effect a separation between the Israelites and their idolatrous neighbors, and, secondly to make idolatry a crime against the state, that so it might be punishable by the civil law, without a violation of civil liberty. A fundamental purpose of the Mosaic polity was the abolition of idolatrous worship, and the substitution in its place, and the maintenance, of a true religion in the world. The only agency, adequate to the production of this result, as far as wisdom can see, was the very institution of the Hebrew theocracy” (E. C. Vines, The Hebrew Republic, p. 65).

     [2] Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1962 [1685]), Vol. I, p. 770.

     [3] Paleopresbyterians refer (generally speaking) to certain Presbyterian conservatives who uncritically regard everything done during the period of the Second Reformation period in
Scotland as scriptural. They argue that since John Calvin, John Knox and the Scottish church believed in a public school system, etc. it must be biblical. They also argue that since theonomists disagree with Calvin, Knox and the Second Reformation on some issues as to the limited role of the state, theonomy must be wrong. Although the modern theonomy movement has a very poor record on the issues of worship, ecclesiology and the keeping of the Sabbath, its stance regarding the roles of the family, church and state in education and charity are exegetically sound. The only passages which could be used to support the paleopresbyterian position on public schools would be Isaiah 49:23 and Isaiah 60:16. However, given the fact that clearer portions of Scripture must be used to interpret the less clear and what the Law, the history of Israel and the New Testament say about the state, the author must side with the theonomists on this issue (i.e., concerning public schools, state charity, etc.).

     [4] R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 676.

     [5] Ibid.

     [6] Most modern Christian political reform movements act as if Christians can pick and choose which laws should be applied to modern society. The first table laws which obviously are the most unpalatable to American ears are a priori ruled off limits by most Christian reform leaders. These reform movements also work and act as if we can have a Christian nation without a national public commitment to Jesus Christ. There is no question that the pluralistic Baptist paradigm for culture has had and continues to have a strong influence on
America’s conservative Christian political leaders. Once Christians understand that natural law theory alone cannot be a basis for Christian civilization and that God’s law is covenantal, they will be left with the only biblical alternative: a society modeled after God’s law and public national covenanting.

     [7] Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 1, p. 371.

No comments: