This last week has been busy, and I have been pondering this topic, so I have not written.
In school this year, JJ and I are studying American Government and Biblical laws. The books we are using are Basic American Government, Biblical Case Law, and Tools of Dominion – The Case Laws of Exodus. I do not like particularly the title of Tools of Dominion, but it is actually a very interesting book that has caused me to ponder things that I’ve never considered before, including matters related to repentance and forgiveness. I’d like to share some of the things the book says.
I’d like to start out by briefly discussing Biblical laws and whether or not we, as Christians, are supposed to keep them. This is a topic the book covers, and which I have read elsewhere.
The word torah has often been translated as law in the Bible, but torah actually means the teaching or instruction of God. Many Christians think that those who follow the torah (law) are legalistically trying to earn their own salvation through their own effort. They also think that in “fulfilling” the torah, Jesus did away with it so we no longer have to follow it.
Now, the subject of the torah/law is complex and I can’t cover it all here. The Hebrew4christian site has some very good articles about this topic if you are interested in learning more. I want to cover a few things very, very briefly…so take a deep breath and read this brief summary of a complex topic: The torah (instruction of God) has not been done away with–unless you think it’s ok to steal, lie, murder, commit adultery, mistreat people, and take God’s name in vain? In the OT, God instructed His people on how to live in relationship–how to love Him and how to love others and what happens if we don’t. There are actually 613 commandments in the Old Testament and 1,050 in the New Testament, which means that there are more laws in the NT than in the OT–and Jesus actually made the “laws” more strict in the NT. For example in the OT, God say adultery was wrong, in the NT Jesus said that if a man looked at a woman with lust in his heart he had committed adultery. The OT says “don’t murder” but Jesus said that a person who hates others has committed murder in his heart. There is a right way and a wrong way to follow the torah (instruction of God). Anyone who legalistically believes that following God’s instructions will earn him His favor, is legalistic–no matter who they are. Many people in the church are trying to win God’s favor by doing certain things. Following God has always been about faith in God. The difference between the OT and the NT is that in the OT, the Tabernacle/Temple, sacrifices, feasts, etc., all pointed ahead to Jesus, and in the NT Jesus perfectly fulfilled (i.e. obeyed) them–in a way that is impossible for us. When we trust in Jesus, we are following the torah. The NT says that God writes the torah in our hearts so when we trust in Jesus, He lives the torah through us. We are still covered by the sacrifices, there is still a priesthood, and there is still a Temple: We don’t have to offer animal sacrifices because Jesus IS the sacrifice. We don’t have to visit a Temple because our bodies have become the Temple of God. Each believer has become a priest of God. Many Christians never read the OT because they think it has been replaced by the NT, but a person cannot understand the NT without the OT. If you don’t understand the OT, then you can’t really appreciate how Jesus is our sacrifice, or what it means to be a believer-priest or to have our bodies be a temple of God, or what it means to love God and others. There are a lot of things we can learn by studying the OT. I have been awed by what I have learned and have a deeper understanding of what Jesus did for me and how I am to live. I don’t see a brutal God who set up strange legalistic laws in the OT, I see a loving God who protected His people from the culture around them, who protected the victim, and who provided a way of forgiveness. Also, when Jesus returns to set up His kingdom, the people of earth will celebrate His feasts.
Ok. Now, on to what JJ and I are learning in school.
The book, Tools of Dominion, is very interesting and has caused me to ponder things that I have never thought of before. For example, the Bible discusses treatment of slaves but doesn’t abolish it, which embarrasses Christians–because we think of slavery as treating people as property, and of people being in slavery forever. But according to this book, Biblical slavery was different. If a person had stole or had a debt he couldn’t repay, he was sold into temporary slavery. The money from his sale was given to the debtor or victim so he (the victim) did not suffer loss. Meanwhile, the offender was placed in a home to learn from his master to be honest, hardworking, and responsible. He was learning valuable skills that would help him later. His slavery was temporary, and the harder he worked, the quicker he gained his freedom. So, in effect, he was being rehabilitated and apprenticed. This was contrasted to our modern system in which someone who commits a crime is put in prison with other condemned people. They do not learn to be better people, they do not learn skills, and they serve the time of their sentence without being able to shorten their sentence. When they get out, they are often unemployable–no one wants to hire a convict. Meanwhile, the victim actually suffers loss twice: He never gets recompensed for what is taken from him AND he has to pay taxes to support the prisons. This, the author said, is more hellish than Biblical slavery. I thought that concept was very interesting to consider.
Tools of Dominion said that when a crime/offense is committed against a person, the person is always the secondary victim and God is always the primary victim–because it’s God’s laws (do not lie, steal, murder, mistreat others, take His Name in vain…) that is being broken. God has given certain institutions (i.e., courts, governments) authority to give justice on God’s behalf. Where a victim cannot speak for himself (i.e., he is murdered) the State has the right to execute the criminal, thereby sending him to be judged by God directly–sort of like sending a case from a lower court to a higher court. I thought this idea was very interesting.
The author said:
As the cosmic lawgiver, God has the right to set the penalties for crimes. Biblical law provides society with God’s specified penalties. What is crucial to understand is that the biblical principle of God as the victim who names the penalty leads to a derivative principle: the earthly victim of the prohibited act is also allowed to name the penalty to be imposed on the criminal, so long as it does not exceed the limits specified by the Bible…We know that sanctions against non-capital crimes are to be imposed by the civil government at the discretion of the victim. He can refuse to accept any restitution payment or a reduced restitution payment. He can lawfully cancel the debt owed to him (Matt. 18:23-35). I argue that this principle of forgiveness also applies to capital crimes in which there is an identifiable human victim who is capable of bringing a covenant civil lawsuit against the criminal. We see this judicial principle in action at the crucifixion. Jesus requested that the Father not immediately destroy His executioners. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a). He extended additional time to them. This was His unmerited favor or gift to them, just as God had extended life to Adam, Eve, and Cain. As both the primary victim (God) and the secondary victim (perfect man), Jesus Christ possessed the right to extend temporal mercy to His enemies, even for this capital crime. His divinity authorized this extension of mercy. So did His perfect humanity, for He was the victim of a rigged trial. I argue that as the victim, He could lawfully extend mercy only before He physically died.
…Who acts as God’s authorized agent in the bringing of a covenantal civil lawsuit? The victim, the witnesses, or those who are authorized agents of the civil government. If the initiator of the lawsuit is the victim, he is not acting primarily on his own behalf, but as an agent of God because of his position as the victimized intermediary between the criminal and God, the ultimate victim. He is acting secondarily in his own behalf, for any restitution payment will go to him. similarly, witnesses who bring evidence to the State for use in prosecuting the covenant lawsuit are acting as representative agents of God through the civil government. They do not act on their own behalf, for they have no legal claim on the resources of the person who is being charged with the crime, should he be convicted. Witnesses are not victims. They are acting in the name of God as authorized and oath-bound agents of the State when they testify in a civil court. Where there is no direct legal claim, there is no direct covenantal relationship. Thus, witnesses are acting as indirect agents of God as participants in the civil commonwealth.
Because crimes are always crimes against God, the State has a law-enforcement role to play, for the State possess God’s authorized monopoly of the sword: the imposition of physical sanctions….
If the authorized penalty is economic restitution, then the victim whose covenant lawsuit is successfully prosecuted by the civil government has the right to refuse payment, or the right to take less than what biblical law authorizes. Like the creditor who has the right to take less in repayment, or to extend the debtor more time to repay, or even to forgive the debt, so is the victim of a criminal who has been convicted in a court of law…What if the victim refuses to prosecute? I see no warrant in most cases for the State then to prosecute. The court can lawfully serve as the agent of the victim in certain exceptional cases. Two examples would be victims who are orphaned minors or mental incompetents. Nevertheless, under normal circumstances, a decision not to prosecute by a victim who is legally competent to initiate a covenantal lawsuit is a biding decision. He thereby loses his legal claim on any future restitution payments by the convicted criminal. If he is willing to suffer this loss, then the State must honor his or her decision. The individual, not the State, is the victim; the principle of victim’s rights is binding on the State. Only if the criminal act in some way also injured the State or society could the State then prosecute, but only on its own behalf.
There was a lot more, but these are the points I wanted to bring up: When someone commits an offense against another person, God is the primary victim and victim is the secondary. The victim has the right to set a penalty or to extend mercy and forgiveness–including canceling the debt.
The Jews believe that if we offend someone, we are obligated to ask them to forgive us. If someone offends us and repents, we are obligated to forgive them. However, if someone commits an offense against us and refuses to repent, we are not to forgive him since forgiving an unrepentant person allows him to continue in his sin. This goes along with what Jesus said in Luke 17:4:
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
Here is what I am pondering:
First, when someone commits an offense against us, Luke 17:4 says “rebuke them.” This is contrary to the advice I have been given all my life. Most people suggest that we not confront, but love and “forgive” others–as if “loving” and “forgiving” them means to “let them off the hook,” or to “excuse” them without any sort of consequences or boundary. However I am wondering if when we do not rebuke a person who has offended us, we are giving them no chance to repent and make it right. Now, it seems to me that “rebuking” doesn’t have to be a huge confrontation. It can be a simple setting of boundaries. EJ and I were talking the other day that neither one of us has been good at knowing when or how to set boundaries or rebuking others. I could think of many times when we could and should have gently set boundaries but didn’t, and suffered loss. I know that for years I didn’t tell people how they had hurt me, didn’t set boundaries, and it didn’t do them any good or cause them to change. I am pondering all this.
The real difficulty comes in when someone (us or others) doesn’t repent of an offense or doesn’t forgive a person who has repented. In the story of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35, the servant’s was forgiven by the king UNTIL he refused to forgive the debt of a fellow servant. When he refused to forgive, he was then thrown until jail to be tortured. I think that if a person doesn’t repent/forgive others, the forgiveness he would have received is revoked and he suffers many miseries–maybe being consumed with anger and bitterness? Maybe experiencing unforgiveness from others? Maybe the victim has the right to revoke the forgiveness he would have given because the offender refused to receive it?
If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23
There is in Scripture a principle of Measure for Measure, which means that a person is treated the way they treat others. One example is found in the story of the Exodus. Exodus 1:8-10 says:
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
The Pharaoh was afraid that the Israelites would increase in number and end up joining with enemies to overthrow them, so they put them into slavery to kill them off, and when that didn’t work, they ordered that baby boys be thrown into the Nile River and drown. In this way, they hoped to wipe out the boys who would grow up to be soldiers.
God sent ten plagues before Pharaoh finally let His people go. But after the Israelites had left, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army to pursue them. Exodus 14:23-28:
The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
Did you see the Measure for Measure here? Pharaoh had drowned the Israelite boys so they could not grow up to become soldiers who would fight against them. Therefore, God drowned the Egyptian soldiers. Pharaoh’s whole army was wiped out. God did the same thing to Pharaoh that Pharaoh did to Israel.
This Measure for Measure principle can be seen through the Old Testament AND the New Testament. Here are a few examples from the New Testament:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Gal. 6:7-8)
I think this is all very serious. It’s important to repent of our own wrongdoings when someone reveals to us that we have offended them. It’s also important to forgive those who have wronged us and repents. If we do not repent or forgive, we will be treated as unmercifully as we treated others.
I continue to ponder this.