Our Founding Fathers on Religion in Government

Compiled by Steve A. Hamilton

George Washington:

“It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and Bible.”

“What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.” [speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs May 12, 1779]

“Although guided by our excellent Constitution in the discharge of official duties, and actuated, through the whole course of my public life, solely by a wish to promote the best interests of our country; yet, without the beneficial interposition of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, we could not have reached the distinguished situation which we have attained with such unprecedented rapidity. To HIM, therefore, should we bow with gratitude and reverence, and endeavor to merit a continuance of HIS special favors”. [1797 letter to John Adams]

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity religion and morality are indispensable supports.”  [Speech Sept. 17, 1796]

“Without a humble imitation of the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, we can never hope to be a happy nation.”

“(T)he propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained” [First Inaugural, April 30 1789]

Benjamin Franklin:

“The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” [Constitutional Convention of 1787]

“In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered… do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?” [Constitutional Convention, Thursday June 28, 1787]

 Alexander Hamilton:

“For my own part, I sincerely esteem it [the Constitution] a system which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.” [1787 after the Constitutional Convention]

 U.S. Congress 1782:

“The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.”

Samuel Adams:

“He who made all men hath made the truths necessary to human happiness obvious to all… Our forefathers opened the Bible to all.” [ "American Independence," August 1, 1776. Speech delivered at the State House in Philadelphia]

“The right of the colonist as Christians…may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Lawgiver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.” ["The Rights of the Colonists"]

John Adams:

“The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principals of Christianity… I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” [October 11, 1798]

 John Quincy Adams:

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

“The United States of America were no longer Colonies. They were an independent nation of Christians.”

 James Madison:

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” [1778 to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia] At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison proposed the plan to divide the central government into three branches. He discovered this model of government from the Bible in Isaiah 33:22; “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He will save us.”

Charles Carroll:

” Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” [Source: To James McHenry on November 4, 1800.]

Patrick Henry:

“It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” [May 1765 Speech to the House of Burgesses]

“The great pillars of all government and of social life… [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”

Thomas Jefferson:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.” [Source: Merrill . D. Peterson, ed., Jefferson Writings, (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1984), Vol. IV, p. 289. From Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, 1781.]

Benjamin Rush:

“I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them…we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this Divine Book, above all others, constitutes the soul of republicanism.”

“By withholding the knowledge of [the Scriptures] from children, we deprive ourselves of the best means of awakening moral sensibility in their minds.” [Letter written (1790’s) in Defense of the Bible in all schools in America]

“Let the children who are sent to those schools be taught to read and write and above all, let both sexes be carefully instructed in the principles and obligations of the Christian religion. This is the most essential part of education” [Letters of Benjamin Rush, "To the citizens of Philadelphia: A Plan for Free Schools", March 28, 1787]

“I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am perfectly satisfied that the Union of the States in its form and adoption is as much the work of a Devine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testaments.”

Daniel Webster:

“Our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be entrusted on any other foundation than religious principle, not any government secure which is not supported by moral habits…. Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”

Jedediah Morse:

“To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. . . . Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.”

Noah Webster:

“The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scripture ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evil men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”

“In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed…No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.” [Source: 1828, in the preface to his American Dictionary of the English Language]

“Let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God [Exodus 18:21]. . . . If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted . . . If our government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws. [The History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie and Peck, 1832), pp. 336-337, 49]

Joseph Story:

“I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society. One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is a part of the Common Law. . . There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying its foundations.” [Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States p. 593]

“At the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration [i.e., the First Amendment], the general, if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship.” [Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States p. 593]

”There is not a truth to be gathered from history more certain, or more momentous, than this: that civil liberty cannot long be separated from religious liberty without danger, and ultimately without destruction to both. Wherever religious liberty exists, it will, first or last, bring in and establish political liberty.”

James Wilson:

“Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority for that law which is divine…far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other.”

John Jay:

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” [Source: October 12, 1816. The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, Henry P. Johnston, ed., (New York: Burt Franklin, 1970), Vol. IV, p. 393.]

“Whether our religion permits Christians to vote for infidel rulers is a question which merits more consideration than it seems yet to have generally received either from the clergy or the laity. It appears to me that what the prophet said to Jehoshaphat about his attachment to Ahab ["Shouldest thou help the ungodly and love them that hate the Lord?" 2 Chronicles 19:2] affords a salutary lesson.” [The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, 1794-1826, Henry P. Johnston, editor (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1893), Vol. IV, p.365]

Samuel Johnston:

“It is apprehended that Jews, Mahometans (Muslims), pagans, etc., may be elected to high offices under the government of the United States. Those who are Mahometans, or any others who are not professors of the Christian religion, can never be elected to the office of President or other high office, [unless] first the people of America lay aside the Christian religion altogether, it may happen. Should this unfortunately take place, the people will choose such men as think as they do themselves.” [Elliot’s Debates, Vol. IV, pp 198-199, Governor Samuel Johnston, July 30, 1788 at the North Carolina Ratifying Convention]

James McHenry:

”Public utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures. The doctrine they preach, the obligations they impose, the punishment they threaten, the rewards they promise, the stamp and image of divinity they bear, which produces a conviction of their truths, can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses, and at the same time enjoy quiet conscience.”

 

 

Was Jesus a Vegetarian?

On March 17, 1999 the Omaha World Herald reprinted a hilarious article by Bill Broadway of the Washington Post. It seems the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have launched a campaign to claim that Jesus was a vegetarian. Billboards stating “Jesus was a vegetarian. Show respect for God’s creatures – follow Him” are being placed around the country.

What is the basis of this unusual claim?

  1. “Jesus belonged to the Essenes, who some historians believe were one of several Jewish sects that abhorred animal sacrifice and were practicing vegetarians.”
  2. When Jesus drove the money changers from the temple, “he directed most of his ire at vendors in this ‘den of thieves’ who were selling animals for sacrifice and consumption.”
  3. “There is no mention in the New Testament of Jesus eating poultry, beef, or lamb, even during the last meal with his disciples, where Scripture mentions only bread and wine.”
  4. “Passages in the Bible prove that God – from the Garden of Eden on – always meant for humans to be vegetarians.”

To answer these claims, we need to note that Jesus was a Jew who perfectly kept the Law of Moses perfectly.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf . . .” (II Corinthians 5:21)

… One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:16)

As a Jew, Jesus must have kept the Law of Moses perfectly. Yet that same law required all Jews to keep the Passover celebration.

All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate [the Passover].” (Exodus 12:47)

The Gospels specifically mention Jesus keeping three Passover feasts in Jerusalem. However, in order to keep the feast, the participants were given roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread to eat (Exodus 12:3-4). The entire lamb had to be eaten during the feast. If there were any leftovers, they had to be burned (Exodus 12:10). If Jesus did not eat the lamb, he would have been violating the Law and could have been accused of sin.

… observe the Passover to the LORD. ‘In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. ‘They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it. ‘But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the LORD at its appointed time. That man will bear his sin.” (Numbers 9:10-13)

The New Testament records that Jesus did eat the Passover feast, which would include the eating of the roasted lamb (Luke 22:14-15). In fact, before the last Passover meal, Jesus specifically instructs his disciples to prepare the meal, including the lamb, for their observance.

Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.”” (Luke 22:7-8)

Not only did Jesus eat lamb, but he also ate fish. “But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence” (Luke 24:41-43). He served it for the 4,000 in Matthew 15:34-37. Jesus also promoted the catching of fish for the purpose of consuming them.

So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. … So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise.” (John 21:5-6, 9-14)

I noticed the folks at PETA were careful to avoid saying that Jesus did not eat fish. What is the difference between the consumption of a land animal and a sea animal?

It is true that in the beginning, mankind only ate vegetables (Genesis 1:29-30). However, this was changed when Noah departed the ark.

Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.” (Genesis 9:3)

Under the Law of Moses, the eating of various kinds of meat was allowed (Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14:3-20). The eating of beef, lamb, various poultry and fish were permissible for any Jew. Jesus’ eating of these animals would not violate the Law.

The claim that Jesus belonged to a group of vegetarian Essenes is simply wishful thinking on PETA’s part. The Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament, nor is there any mention of Jesus belonging to any Jewish sect.

The idea that Jesus and God, the Father, would oppose the killing of animals is hilarious! Did you know that God was the first to kill animals to make clothing for Adam and Eve? (See Genesis 3:21.)

God’s Law to Israel required numerous animal sacrifices. If Jesus protested animal sacrifices, then he would have been protesting the teachings of the Law of Moses. Fighting God’s law is a sin, yet Jesus was without sin. When Jesus cast out the money changers from the temple, he was protesting the profiting being made from an ordinance of God (Mark 11:17).

And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”” (John 2:14-16)

Christians are not forbidden to eat meat. Any meat may be eaten except for blood and strangled animals (because the blood remains in the meat). Peter was commanded by God to kill and eat the animals God presented before him (Acts 10:9-16). Paul instructed Christians to eat anything sold in the meat market without question (I Corinthians 10:25-26). In fact, the forbidding of eating certain foods is an indication of people departing from the Christian faith.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” (I Timothy 4:1-5)

There Must Needs be Heresies

After a few weeks study at St. John’s University and Abbey, I am impressed by the perceptive Roman Catholic analysis of the weaknesses of Protestantism. They insist that Protestants are pressed between two unacceptable extremes. One extreme grows out of the assumption that man has an individual obligation to judge Bible truth. As a result, “a principle of disunity is embedded in the very essence of Protestantism.” On the other hand, in order to escape this evil, Protestants are guilty of hacking away at the body of essential truth of Christianity until they “sap it of all conviction.” (What Price Unity?” America, May 5, 1945, p. 95).

Of course, Catholics are not so perceptive in analyzing the appalling consequences of their own alternative to the Protestant dilemma. It hardly seems an improvement when one is asked to swallow a body of divine truth rooted in historical corruption, Biblical ignorance, and the intellectual intolerance of the Roman Catholic tradition. A Roman Catholic does indeed have his own certified brand of truth and unity, but he pays a staggering price.

But what of the Protestant predicament? I am not a Protestant, but it strikes me that there is a lesson for Christians to learn by examining the apparent incompatibility of truth and unity. The core truth of the lesson is that a belief in individual responsibility means one also believes in division. I unabashedly accept that conclusion. Protestantism, as a system of human religion supposedly reflecting the wisdom of good men, is indeed vulnerable to the taunts of Rome. Protestants ought to be ashamed that they can do no better. But Christians should understand that a rigorous search for truth necessitates that “there must be also heresies among you” (I Corinthians 11:19).

The Bible clearly teaches that division serves a useful and necessary function in the church. The acceptance of unity at any price will eventually “leaven” the whole body — such unity levels all to the lowest common denominator (I Corinthians 5:6-7).  Division is necessary so that “they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (I Corinthians 11:19). If the only vestige of the true church that existed today was the liberal Christian churches, I believe it would be impossible to distinguish the church of the Lord from every other form of religion. In the same way, if there is to be a church of Christ in another fifty years, it will be in the conservative churches today. Whatever might be the intention and hopes of many of those associated with liberal churches of Christ, it seems historically absurd to believe that after one or two more generations these churches will offer a distinctive alternative to the chaos of Protestantism. Finally, division is necessary to preserve the peace and sanity of the kingdom (Romans 14:1). A group united in the “same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10) — and only such a group — can take to the world a message of hope and peace.

This is not to say that division is good in any absolute sense. It quite obviously is not, and Jesus prayed fervently that his disciples would be one (John 17:11). He made it quite clear that Christian division would be a source of confusion to those who were not disciples. But if religious unity among all men of good will is desirable, the Bible never intimates that it is a practical end to be expected by Christians in history.

It is true that a Christian is obliged to work with both a love of the truth and a desire for unity. It is true also that Romans 14 teaches that under some circumstances two can walk together who do not agree and that a Christian is always ready to engage in dialogue about what is “essential” as a basis for doctrinal unity. There is no easy formula which answers all of the questions one must face in a lifetime. A Christian will take the issues one at a time, day by day, person by person, and weigh the respective tugs of truth and unity.

One could miss the central truth in this lesson, however, by gagging over the unpleasant day to day confrontations which arise. Practical problems should never obscure the very real Bible principle that truth is divisive. Again and again, those who start with a commitment to truth become weary along the endless trek through barren deserts of debate, bickering, and biblical legalism and opt for peace and unity. Some become too sweet-spirited to stomach the bitterness that is a part of division.

Some become tired of the long and tedious discussions of seemingly trivial subjects. Some long for the enlightened company of those who do not honor the truth. Some become exasperated by their human inability to find a final resting place, to fight the last battle and lay their armor down. They retreat in dismay. So many are overwhelmed by the responsibility for division which every man shoulders when he picks up his Bible to read it as the literal and comprehendible word of God.

Over and over again in the history of Christianity the weary have dejectedly begun the long and fruitless journey toward compromise and unity. In the minds of nineteenth-century Disciples of Christ, the quest for peace came quickly and logically to exclude the concept of the “restoration” of true religion. The renewed interest in “unity” movements in the church today stems, I believe, from the same mentality. It is a mind which has lost its spiritual toughness, which can no longer tolerate the consequences of a belief in individually perceived religious truth. Although we tend to see all of our differences in terms of case studies the ever present and argumentative “what would you do if” — they are generally, I believe, much more a matter of mood. Some come to love too much the sweet fruits of unity and to hate unreasonably the purifying exhilaration of strife. One who feels in mortal danger on one horn of the dilemma proposed by Roman Catholics is likely to be gored by the other.

I am not ashamed to admit that my teaching is divisive. Jesus came with a sword. I have helped to divide churches; I expect to divide more. I have also helped to unite churches that were needlessly and shamefully divided. Unity is wonderful in the truth of God; division is needed when the truth is at stake. It would be more comfortable if the dilemma were not there — but it is. We must live life as it is. If you have deep convictions, you must be prepared for careful, courteous, certain confrontation.

By Ed Harrell

Moses

Without doubt one of the most significant characters in the history of the people of Israel is Moses. He brought them out of the land of Egypt and slavery, he brought them the words of their God, and he led them through the wilderness to the very border of the Promised Land. For forty years Moses was the visible leader of the people of God. What made Moses into a leader? Was he effective? Can we use his example to teach us how to be effective leaders of God’s people? Let’s look at Moses’ example and see what we can learn.

Even though Moses was raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, his earliest years were spent with his natural mother as she was the one called upon to be the wet nurse for the baby Moses. During those years she instilled in the young boy a knowledge of who he was, one of the people of God. The people of God were waiting for God to rescue them from the slavery they were left in. God had promised to Abraham that four hundred years were all He would let the people stay in the land of Egypt. The time for deliverance was near and it looked like the young man Moses was being positioned in the best possible way to lead the Israelites.

In the years after he was given completely into the care of his Egyptian teachers, Moses never forgot his heritage. He used the opportunity God had given him to learn the best that he could. He became wise in the teaching of Egypt (the most advanced civilization of that day). (Acts 7:22) He became a powerful soldier in one of the world’s most powerful armies. “By the time he reached the age of forty, there was probably no greater leader . . . in all the land than Moses.” (Rodgers, p. 35) Indeed to man, and most likely to Moses, he seemed to be the perfect leader to set the Israelites free (cf. Acts 7:23-25). But God does not see as man sees. Moses rashly decides to take matters into his own hands by joining his people. Almost immediately he finds an excuse to begin the rebellion by killing an Egyptian. But instead of being the rallying call to bring the people to his side in rebellion, it rather leads to his betrayal into the hands of Pharaoh. “However, this attempt was in the energy of the flesh and, although God had chosen him for this great task, he attempted through self-effort to bring it to pass. This never accomplishes what God has in mind.” (Rodgers, p. 35)

Instead of facing the wrath of Pharaoh, Moses flees from Egypt. Certainly by then he must have thought that he was wrong about his usefulness in God’s plans. God must have decided on someone else. The next forty years Moses spends as a simple shepherd. He leads mild-mannered sheep along mountain trails to find food and drink for them. He probably fought off wild beasts to protect his sheep, and his heart was probably torn with grief when one of his sheep died. A far different man he became than the young self-reliant man who thought he could deliver his people from Egypt with the might of his arms and the eloquence of his speech.

Yet it is exactly this kind of man that God chooses. God does not want a leader who thinks he can stand alone. God needs leaders who know how to provide, protect and show compassion. The humble are useful to God, the proud cannot serve Him well. So when God calls upon Moses to be the leader of His people and deliver them from bondage, Moses protests that he is not fit to lead. Moses was still thinking in human terms. No longer was he the strong young man he had been. He was no longer well known, he had not used his voice for speeches in many years. Moses did not think he could act as a leader. “When he met God at the burning bush, he was a broken man.” (Rodgers, p. 36)

That is why God chose him. He chose him because he no longer thought of himself as the leader. God wants Moses to rely on Him. God tells Moses to tell the people that He, the great I AM, had sent Moses, and God would deliver the people with His own powerful hand. So eventually Moses agrees to lead the people and when the people hear that God will deliver them, they believe and worship God (Ex. 4:31). Perhaps with this initial success “the old feelings of success and conquest came back.” (Rodgers, p. 36) However, God does not let him keep those old feelings for long.

Things do not proceed as Moses and the people probably expected. The Pharaoh did not let them go immediately. Instead things got harder for the Israelites. Even Moses was reduced to blaming God for the trouble on Israel. (Ex. 5:22-23) Moses still thought God should act as man desired. But God is not a man. A leader of God’s people has to be able to accept God as God is, not as man wants Him to be. A leader of God’s people must be able to accept adversity without doubting in God or His plans. So during the time of the plagues upon Egypt, Moses is growing in his faith toward God and in his ability to be an effective leader.

After the plagues while the people were leaving Egypt, Pharaoh and his army approached. Here might have been the great opportunity for the military mind of Moses. Moses, trained as a mighty warrior of Egypt, could he defeat the Egyptian army with his band of slaves? A question never to be answered because Moses had learned a lesson about leading God’s people: let God lead. Moses told the people, “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Ex. 14:14) But that faith did not excuse Moses from acting. He simply waited for God to tell him what action He desired, then he did as he was told. Moses had finally become a fit leader of God’s people.

Yet leadership always involves problems. Moses quickly faced a series of problems that would test his leadership. First there was the problem of water for all these people. Although Moses had learned to trust in God, the people “failed to trust God or respond to Moses’ leadership.” (“Moses”) When the people brought the problem to Moses, he cried out to God. (Ex. 15:25) Moses did not try to solve the people’s problems by himself. These were God’s people and he knew that God would be able to solve their problems. In like manner Moses let God solve the problems of food and meat. Moses refused to be the one to solve the problems. God was the true leader of this people. One who leads God’s people must always remember whose people they are and allow God to be the source of answers to problems.

But leadership requires more than a casual commitment. When Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the people committed a very great sin. They turned against God and Moses, and God said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” (Ex. 32:7) No longer did God claim the people as His own. They were Moses’ people and he had brought them out of Egypt. Originally that was exactly what the younger Moses had intended. He was going to be their savior. Now God was offering Moses the chance to be the kind of leader he once wanted to be.

Yet Moses is no longer the bold and arrogant young leader. He has learned humility from those years leading sheep. But he has also learned to care for the sheep. Boldly Moses stands before God and intercedes for the children of Israel. (Rodgers, p. 41) Humbly he reminds God that they are His children whom He had brought out of Egypt. He also reminds God of the effect it would have on God’s reputation if He destroyed His people in the wilderness. (Exodus 32:11-14)

Moses has been able to intercede on behalf of the people placed under his care. He has put into practice the leadership skills he spent his first eighty years in acquiring. But there are greater challenges facing his leadership. To begin God has agreed to let Moses take care of the problem of idolatry going on with the children of Israel. Moses must be able to discipline the children of Israel if he is going to lead them on behalf of God.

When Moses finally approached the camp of Israel, his initial reaction was one of uncontrolled anger (Exodus 32:19; cf. Cook, p.89). The anger is certainly a result of his early years in Pharaoh’s house where strict obedience was to be expected. Moses breaks the tablets and grinds up the golden calf and makes the people drink of the gold dust mixed with water. Perhaps that would have been the end of the discipline except that some children of Israel were continuing in their idolatry by running around naked (Exodus 32:25). More severe discipline was required for some. This continued rebellion was a test of Moses’ leadership. If he failed to get the rebellion under control, then he could never lead this people for they would always be rebelling against him and God. So Moses calls for those who were loyal to God. The rebels, about three thousand men, were put to death. (Exodus 32:27-28) The rebellion was at an end. But Moses knows that his leadership is still called for. Now he must lead the people back to God and he calls upon them to set a day aside for the LORD. But Moses knows the sin is very great and that sin requires atonement. Moses knows that he may be called upon to make that atonement (Exodus 32:30). So when he stands before God, Moses takes responsibility for his flock and offers his life for them. God does not accept that offer, but he does not allow Moses to forsake his position as leader either. He tells Moses to “go, lead the people”. (Exodus 32:34)

Again Moses had passed a challenge to his leadership. He was able to discipline the rebellious people, quash the resistance of the more stubborn rebels, bring the people back to God, and be accepted by God as still a fit leader for His people. However, his success led to more challenges to his leadership.

Being chosen by God as the leader and then reaffirmed in that leadership position caused some other potential leaders to be jealous. The first attempt to take over, or at least share, the leadership came from Moses’ own family. Miriam and Aaron protested to Moses that they were at least as capable as he was as a leader. After all God spoke to them, as well as to Moses, they said. (Number 12:2) Moses did not make a rebuttal, perhaps as is stated, it was because Moses was such a meek man (Numbers 12:3). Again consider how much has changed in Moses life. Where is the bold and arrogant young Moses who killed the Egyptian? Moses has learned his lessons about leadership. The battles belong to God, so Moses steps aside and lets God do battle. The Lord wastes no time in putting Miriam and Aaron back into their places (Numbers 12:5-12; cf. Edersheim, p. 2:164). Once again Moses is called upon, this time by Aaron, to personally intercede with God. (LaSor, p. 109)

The next challenge to his leadership came in the form of a full-fledged attempt to permanently remove Moses from leadership. The people rose up to stone him to death, along with Caleb and Joshua and Aaron (Numbers 14:10). Once again it is notable that Moses intercedes for the people who sought to kill him (Numbers 14:13-20). But still Moses must accept that the people under his care are to be punished. Moses has to bear with the people in the consequences of their sin, for again he must lead the people back to God and prepare the next generation for entering the Promised Land.

One last attempt is made to displace Moses as leader. This challenge came from the leaders of the assembly. Two hundred and fifty men led by Korah of Moses own tribe of Levi (Numbers 16:1-2). These men protested that Moses and Aaron had made themselves too important, that Moses had failed to bring them to the Promised Land, and that the priesthood should not belong exclusively to Moses and Aaron (Jones, “Korah”) Again Moses faces the battle by saying that the Lord would choose (Num. 16:5) And again Moses was rewarded by God doing battle on his behalf (Num. 16:28-35), and also again Moses is called upon to intercede for the rebellious flock he leads. (Jones, “Korah”)

The final challenge to Moses’ leadership was one that he did not overcome. For the final challenge that faces all leaders is one that comes from within — pride. Moses had struggled and succeeded in letting God do battle with the obvious rebellions and challenges. Moses had stood up for the people time and again sparing their lives even while they sought to kill him. But deep down inside Moses was still the Egyptian trained leader of men. The constant complaints were wearisome. Finally, while the people yet again complained about needing water, Moses slipped. “Moses looked at the people as they were in themselves, instead of thinking of God who now sent them forward, secure in His promise, which He would assuredly fulfill.” (Edersheim, p. 2:186) In the heat of his frustration or anger Moses complained that he must again bring forth water for them (Num. 20:10; cf. Rodgers, p. 55). Moses had said HE was bringing forth water. It was not Moses who brought the water; it was God. Moses had failed to give God the glory due to Him. Perhaps he felt justified in having a share of the glory after all he had put up with, but God immediately notified Moses that he would be punished for his sin (Num. 20:12). “Certainly, this should teach us that no individual can sin with impunity, regardless of who he is or what his station in life.” (Rodgers, p. 55)

So what lessons can we learn from Moses example of leadership? We learn first that a leader may need to be educated in the ways of the world. God’s people live and work and move in the world. Knowledge of how the world works is a helpful tool. But the leader must always remember that his training is only a tool. More important than an earthly education are humility and service, like what Moses learned as a shepherd. Then God’s leader must be able to balance the two parts of his training, leading the people of God with wisdom and humility. Also the leader must be willing to sacrifice of himself and to intercede on behalf of God’s people, even when the people are unkind toward, or rebelling against, the leader. Finally, the leader must be able to step aside and let God fight the battles, and then he must give God the glory. For it is only in God that the battles can be won. Moses, as a leader of God’s people, was “a man who performed great deeds in the strength that only God can provide.” (“Moses”)

By Glenn E. Hamilton

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cook, F. C. ed. The Bible Commentary: Exodus-Ruth. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953.

Edersheim, Alfred. Bible History, Old Testament. 7 vols. 1890 ed. Reprint 1 vol. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Jones, T. H. “Korah.” New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Ed. I. Howard Marshall, et al. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

LaSor, William, et al. Old Testament Survey. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

“Moses.” The Revell Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1990.

Rodgers, Thomas. The Panorama of the Old Testament. Newburgh: Trinity, 1988.

“Not Given to Much Wine”

A favorite passage that is used to support the moderate use of alcoholic beverages is 1 Timothy 3:8. One of the qualifications for the office of a Deacon is “not given to much wine.” It appears the wine is not condemned but the quantity of wine consumed. However, abstinence from alcoholic beverages is required of the Eldership (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Tit. 1:7). Is this a sanction of intoxicating wine for Deacons as long as they never become Elders?

It certainly makes no sense to permit drinking of some alcohol for an office where deacons should be aspiring to become Elders. Under the Old Law, priests were not even permitted to be present in the tabernacle if they have drunk an intoxicating drink. If they were inebriated in the temple the penalty was death (Lev. 10:9). The purpose for that statute was to provide the people with the ability to distinguish between the holy and the unholy (Lev. 10:10). Using the same reasoning, it seems strange to think that someone in the position of a Deacon would have to be considered unholy if the consumption of alcohol is permitted at all. Given that all Christians are priests under the New Law, the distinction between the holy and the unholy should still be recognized by one’s use of alcohol.

It could also be easily argued that Paul is setting up a double standard if this phrase is an endorsement for the consumption of alcohol. Yet, Paul begins the qualification for Deacons with the acknowledgment that the qualifications between the two offices are similar. He says, Likewise deacons must be…” (1 Tim. 3:8). Since the Bible would never contradict itself, the phrase under consideration obviously does not sanction the use of alcohol.

Samuele Bacchiocchi, in his book entitled, Wine in the Bible, illustrates the absurdity of assuming this phrase condones the drinking of alcohol as follows. “If you are a bishop, you must abstain (nephalios) from wine and not even be near wine (me paroinon – 1 Tim. 3:2-3). If you are a deacon, you may drink wine moderately (me oino pollo – vs. 8). If you are a woman, presumably a deaconess, you must abstain (nephalious – vs. 11) from wine. If you are an aged man, you must abstain (nephalious – Titus 2:2) from wine. If you are an aged woman, you must drink moderately (me oino pollo – Titus 2:3). Now what would happen if a woman happened to be both aged and a deaconess? Would she be abstinent one day and moderate the next?” (Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, p. 250)

The absurdity can also be illustrated by evaluating other similar phrases found elsewhere in the Bible. The most striking passage is Ecclesiastes 7:17. It reads, “Do not be overly wicked…” (NKJV). Does that mean it is all right to be moderately wicked? When Paul said, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body…” (Rom. 6:12), does he imply that sin is acceptable as long as it doesn’t control us? When Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world…” (Rom. 12:2), does that mean a little worldliness is acceptable provided conformance hasn’t been reached? Surely, Peter wasn’t implying that the Christians were riotous when he wrote, “Wherein, they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot…” (1 Pet. 4:4; KJV).

The literal translation of the phrase directly from Greek is “not wine to much being addicted” (Marshall, The Interlinear Greek – English New Testament, p.825). The New American Standard Version of the Bible translates it as “not addicted to much wine.” Obviously any amount of addiction is too much. Therefore, we can tell that the phrase in question is using a loose form of speech. The phrase should not be understood as permission to drink but as a prohibition against being intoxicated with any amount of wine.

By Steve A. Hamilton
shamilton@rap.midco.net

 

ABRAHAM: The Father of our Faith

The apostle Paul said “that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7), but what was so special about Abraham and his faith? What kind of faith did Abraham have? How did that faith react in suffering? How did that faith react in failure? How did that faith react in prosperity? How did that faith react in doubting? The only way to know the answer is to look at the life of Abraham, see how his faith reacted to the circumstances of life, and then decide how best to place that kind of faith in our own lives. (“Abraham”)

Abram, as Abraham was called when he is first introduced to us in the Bible, was born and raised in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. (Gen. 11:26-32) Ur was “the capital city of the Sumerians, one of the oldest civilisations [sic] in Mesopotamia.” (Keller, p. 20) Archaeologists have also uncovered many useful pieces of information about the metropolis of Ur of the time of Abram. For example, Ur was a very pagan city containing at least five major temples in its sacred precinct, the largest of which was dedicated to the moon-god. (Keller, pp. 13-14, cf. Josh. 24: 2, 14-15) Despite the greatness of the city, the Bible says that Abram’s father took his family and left Ur to go to Canaan, but stopped at the city of Haran. (Gen. 11:31)

Why did the family choose to leave the city of Ur? Were they looking for a better life? Perhaps they were looking to become rich. The Bible does not leave us guessing. God later tells Abram, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans . . . .”(Gen. 15:7, NASB) God had moved the family to go to Canaan, but they stopped and settled in Haran. God had a plan for Abram, but Abram’s family became and obstacle to the plan by remaining outside of Canaan. So the first challenge to Abram’s faith in God would be whether he would stay with his family in relative safety and security or whether he would follow God into unknown places.

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;’” (Gen. 12:1, NASB) God has set the stage for this first test by telling Abram to leave everything. When one wants to follow God, all earthly entanglements have to be shed. “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him . . . .”(Gen. 12:4, NASB) Abram’s faith is seen in his action: he “went forth” as he had been told. “His obedience and trust in the God who has called him are exemplary.” (LaSor, p. 49) All faith requires obedient action. “Abraham’s faith is perhaps best seen in his ready obedience whenever called by God.” (Wiseman, “Abraham”) “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8; cf. Jas. 1:26)

When Abram reaches this new land which God promised to him, he builds an altar and calls on the name of the LORD. (Gen. 12:5-9) Throughout the Bible there are examples of people calling on the name of the LORD. (e.g., Gen. 4:26, Joel 2:32; Acts 22:16, Rom. 10:13) When someone calls on the name of the LORD, they are either establishing, maintaining, or restoring a relationship with God. Specifically, such a call “denotes the claiming of God’s protection”. (NBD, “Call”, p. 159) Abram has trusted in the Lord and has acted on that faith; now he claims of God the protection God had promised. Abram and God are in a relationship with mutual requirements.

Does faith mean that Abram never again sinned (disobeyed God)? No. Problems soon arise in Abram’s new relationship with God. There is a famine in the land to which God had sent Abram. (Gen. 12:10) Abram’s lack of faith is seen in that instead of calling on God and relying on His protection, Abram decides to leave the promised land and find a new place in Egypt. When Abram arrives in Egypt his faith weakens farther for instead of relying on God’s promise to bless him, Abram lies and has Sarai lie about their relationship. (Gen. 12:11-16) “Abraham . . . [is] to be condemned for [his] complicity in lying, no matter how noble a motive [he] may have had, or how much truth the lie contained.” (Kaiser, p. 120) Eventually it is the pagan Pharaoh that rebukes Abram on behalf of God. (Gen. 12:17-20)

Does that mean Abram is not a good model for faith? Certainly not. Consider how Abram reacted to the rebuke. He leaves Egypt and returns to where he was supposed to be in Canaan. (Gen. 13: 1) When Abram got back to where he had earlier built an altar, “Abram called on the name of the LORD.” (Gen. 13:4) He restored his relationship with God and placed himself again under God’s protection. The faith of which Abraham is our father, is a faith that turns back to God in sincere repentance after times of wandering apart from God.

Since Abraham’s faith did not mean he was sinless, someone might think instead that his faith meant that he had absolutely no doubts in God’s promises. A little farther along in his life, Abram still has no child and he asks God how He will keep His promise. (Gen. 15:2-3) God responds by yet again promising Abram many descendants from his own body. (Gen. 15:4-5) “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6, NASB) Notice yet again that since God “reckoned” Abram’s faith as righteousness, it shows that Abram was not righteous (sinless) on his own (cf. Rom. 4:1-5). But does it mean that Abram no longer had any doubts about God’s promise? No, look at what the passage says immediately after God promises the land again to Abram, “He said ‘O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?’” (Gen. 15:8, NASB) Abram still has doubts and needs assurance in spite of the fact that he believes God. He knows that God can keep His promise, but he also knows that he is not a perfect follower (as seen already in the Egypt incident). Can Abram be sure the promise will be fulfilled even if he should again sin. So God patiently makes a covenant with Abram in a form that Abram could understand: a Chaldean covenant (Rodgers, p. 26) And God made this covenant unilateral meaning that “the responsibility for its fulfillment would rest totally on God.” (Rodgers, p.26; cf. Kaiser, pp. 129-130) From here on Abram accepts God’s promise without doubt, God will fulfill it because He must. In like manner our faith like Abraham’s must accept, in spite of any lingering doubts, that God will fulfill His promises.

However, having faith in His promises did not keep Abram from trying to help along the fulfillment of the promise. Sarai gives her servant Hagar to Abram as a concubine in order to have a son through her. (Kaiser, p. 121) Although a son was born through Hagar, God makes it clear to Abraham (for God changed his name) that He does not need anyone’s help to keep His promises. (Gen. 17:17-22) Again Abraham had done the wrong thing. He did not turn away from God as he had earlier by going to Egypt, rather he had tried to help God keep His promise. (Kaiser, p.121) Sometimes we might try to figure out how to help God keep his promises, but God does not need our help. God told Abraham to let Him worry about keeping His own promises. And with faith Abraham was able to stop trying to anticipate how God wanted the promise fulfilled.

Yet sometimes it seems there is no earthly way possible for God to keep His promises. Does fear that promises may not be kept excuse us from having faith in God? Consider that after Abraham had the promised child, Isaac, God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Was that a reasonable demand? Did faith require obedience to demands man might consider unreasonable? Did faith require obedience to a command which might negate a promise of God? Here was God testing Abraham “to know his heart and to see if he would obey and fear the Lord who gave him the son he loved so dearly.” (Kaiser, p. 124) In chapter 22 of Genesis, we finally see the culmination of the faith of which Abraham is the father. “Abraham can meet the test in only one way – total and complete faith in the God who promised him Isaac and fulfilled the promise when it was beyond human means. Abraham meets the test.” (LaSor, p.49) He did what God asked. No more failures, no more doubts, no more trying to anticipate God. Abraham simply obeyed. “His faith rested in a belief in God’s ability, if need be, to raise his son from the dead (Gen 22:12, 18; Heb. 11:19).” (Wiseman, “Abraham”)

Abraham finally learned the lesson of faith. “In hope against hope he believed . . . being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” (Rom. 4:18, 23) Abraham’s faith is one we are called to emulate. “As a true believer, he struggled successfully with doubt, found comfort and strength in prayer, and met life’s greatest challenges by acting on the conviction that God’s Word is trustworthy, to be believed, and to be obeyed.” (“Abraham”) He is an example to us, not that we should imitate his weaknesses, but rather that despite our own weaknesses we might believe that God is able to perform what He has promised to us. As Abraham’s faith began with believing things he had not seen (the land, a son), our faith is also called to begin with believing what we have not seen, “as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead”. (Rom. 4:24)

By Glenn E. Hamilton

“Abraham.” The Revell Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids: Revell, 1990.

Kaiser, Walter, Jr., et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.

Keller, Werner. The Bible as History. Revised ed. New York: Bantam, 1980.

LaSor, William, et al. Old Testament Survey. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Rodgers, Thomas. The Panorama of the Old Testament. Newburgh: Trinity, 1988.

Wiseman, D. J. “Abraham.” New Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Ed. I. Howard Marshall, et al. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.