Thursday, 5 May 2011

Love ended Old Testament Martial Law

In many countries, there is a provision for invoking martial law. Imagine that, as a result of domestic terrorist atrocities, our government declared a state of emergency. There would be a grim atmosphere of suspicion, harsh draconian penalties would be enforced without pity for even slight offences. A dusk to dawn curfew might also be established.

All citizens could be tagged and be expected to present their nationality credentials when challenged. Armed police could shoot on sight anyone who violated the curfew and any looters. Perhaps, under enforced rationing, the discovery of an extra loaf of bread in your cupboard would incur your arrest and summary conviction for hoarding.

It's not that these measures aren't lawful and necessary in extreme circumstances. Nevertheless, the level of suspicion and discouragement of individual discretion (even for desperately good reasons) reduces citizens to merely tolerated potential adversaries. This is called a state of martial law and this is not unlike the world of the Old Testament.

The nation of Israel was born in a state of hostility with Egypt. The arrangement that ensued after the Exodus required regulations that were tantamount to martial law. The Law of Moses demanded a multitude of observances, sabbath-keeping, national identification through universal male circumcision with a raft of harsh penalties for non-compliance. Although onerous, the regime was a necessary interim arrangement aimed at containing the threat of descent into idolatry, immorality, presumption and gross defection from God. Most of all, it prevented Israel's abdication of her central role in preparing the nation and world to receive the coming Messiah. As with martial law, it was provisional and never meant to be a permanent arrangement.

God slowly unveiled His promise, the New Covenant, through the prophets that He would eventually end the martial law of Moses and generously liberate us from a climate of fear by imparting the Holy Spirit of heavenly citizenship. As citizens, a spirit of inconspicuous generosity towards the destitute, love for enemies, and sacrificial brotherhood would ensue. Under the New Covenant, there is now no need to resort to the detailed regulations and externalised observances. These obligations were met in full by Christ's crucifixion in our place. In comparison to the complex Old Testament rites, Christian ceremonies should be simple, joyous and few. The focus is on practical love and the adoration of God through Christ.

Christ Himself outlined the full expectations of heavenly citizenship. He extended amnesty and citizenship to any who sensed their need for forgiveness and moral restoration: 'humbled offenders yearning and praying for a glimpse of and even full entry into the abode of God's perfection that they know their selfish choices have hitherto spurned.

Clearly, some who thrived by policing others under the Law of Moses found this change hard to accept. They lacked the will or power to extend acceptance towards converted outsiders under the new regime of liberty (as typified by the Good Samaritan). The scribes and Pharisees feared the New Covenant of citizenship, empowerment and trust. It made them redundant. They became ever more insistent that the threat of defection from God demanded strict adherence to the minutest details of their man-made protocols and of the Law of Moses, rather than looking at specific situations on merit. The criticism of Jesus healing on the Sabbath is a perfect example of this narrow and uncharitable outlook. Several Jewish sects of that time also considered non-Jews to be generally untrustworthy, defiling and inferior, even though the Jews themselves had failed God so miserably in their own history.

They wanted more surveillance, additional security measures, belittling the citizenship of the newly liberated Christians.

Paul insisted that Christians were not marginally tolerated slaves, but citizens of heaven under the overarching law of Christ: sacrificial love. He always challenged those who tried to make an industry of distrust and those who used badges of unwarranted seniority. How many of today's ministers exploit detailed self-serving protocols and procedures to advance their position of trust and status for selfish ends!

We would do well to challenge our modern-day Pharisees in the same way as Paul did. Let us never return to the enslavement of martial law.

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