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Biblical Law and Justice

Old Testament Justice

The Bible: is perhaps one of the most consequential of books in Western Civilisation, it forms the basis of most of our values.  It can of course be used to justify all manner of doings, both good and evil.  It does provide us a foundation of virtuous metaphysical principles;  tolerance, understanding, equity, altruism and acceptance. 

"replenish the earth and subdue it".  Genesis 1:28  This can be used to used by both environmentalists and exploitive developers.

Leviticus

Leviticus presents a problem.  It appears an enigma.  How did it get into the bible when it is so a odds with the rest?

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that you may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. 

2. Selling daughters into slavery, is sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.

3. No contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it

creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9.

5. Working on the Sabbath.  Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death.

6. Eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10.

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight.

8. Hair trimming, including the hair around their temples, is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27.

9. Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. Lev.19:19 disallows planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend).  He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. 

The whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

Deuteronomy 25:11-12, where the foundation text of Western culture explains:

"When men fight with one another, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand."

Good Kingship

A nation that faithfully follows the biblical creed should prosper.

“All his commandments are faithful: confirmed for ever and ever, made in truth and equity. .”   Psalm 110.

"Righteousness exalteth a nation".    Proverbs: 14:34

"And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter."  Isaiah 59:14

After God lost faith in Israel’s first king, Saul, he told Samuel to prepare his horn of oil and go to Bethlehem, to select the next king from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel thought the new king would be one of the handsome tall older sons.  But God said,” no, I do not look at people’s outward appearance”.  But when the youngest son, David arrived from tending the sheep, Samuel noted his fine appearance and handsome features. This time God said. Rise and anoint him; this is the one. However, David did not take the throne until after Saul’s death.

David’s reputation as a military leader was quickly established when he slew the Philistine giant, Goliath with a stone from the sling.  The soldiers of Israel breathed more easily and women from all over Israel came to meet David, joyfully dancing, singing and playing musical instruments. Samuel 18:6 

After David became king, God established a covenant with him which described the principle of reproach and mercy . . .

The covenant reads: “ I will make for you a  great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.  . . . ,  12  I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  14  … When your heir commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, . . .   15  But I will not take my steadfast love from him, .…

Psalm 72, perhaps written by David for Solomon, describes the duties of the ideal king, stressing obligations to the poor: 'May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressor ... For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy”.

Over his lifetime, David established Israel’s military strength and minimized attacks from neighboring countries.  The desire for such military might displeased God. It suggested a reliance on armies when God wanted his people to rely on their God.

In addition to his labors as soldier and ruler of the land, David wrote remarkable poetry.  Psalm 23 we read, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, the Lord leads me beside still waters;. . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. The words present a calmness in society and nature which contrasts to much of his life.

In Psalm 46   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult, God is our refuge and strength,. . .

God disarms the armies: God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge

In one of the last scenes of David’s life he uttered a declaration of faith.  It reads like this:  David, son of Jesse, . . .the vision of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel.  These writings illustrate a human being’s deep love and belief in a kind God.  The mortal being repents and pleads on behalf of his people. They are the ones suffering because of the king’s sin.  The God of mercy replaces the God of wrath. God’s restorative mercy, shown to David, and to Cain, offered both men courage to live lives of hope and purpose, rather than despair and rejection.  May God also renew our lives in Hope and Joy

….

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments appear twice in the Hebrew Bible, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. The commandments include instructions to worship only God, to honour one's parents, and to keep the sabbath day holy, as well as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, and coveting.

The New Testament:

"God hath made of one blood for all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth". Acts: 17:26

"people united in one bond of peace".   Ephesians: 4:3

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.  John 1:17.

Sermon on the Mount

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount subverted their expectations on multiple levels. It’s the meek who win the world. Believers are supposed to be happy when persecuted. And then this: Jesus, this new teacher with authority, came not to abolish but to fulfill the Old Testament.

His six famous “antitheses” (“You have heard . . . but I say to you . . . “) help explain what he means by “fulfilling” the law. But I think you, like me, may have missed something else unexpected in his comments—specifically those about anger.   But I say to you

Jesus opens with a quotation from the Old Testament:   You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ (Matt 5:21)

The Pharisees had “externalized” this sixth commandment, focusing on outward conformity to a relatively accessible moral standard  But earlier in Matthew 5, Jesus claimed that he came “not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” That’s his point in his comments on anger (and the following five “antitheses”). He’s illustrating what that fulfillment looks like.   When Jesus says, “But I say unto you…” he is not dispensing new truth; what he says is at least implicit in the Old Testament itself.  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt 5:22)

An unexpected twist in Jesus’ counsel  But so far, Jesus has not offered any counsel for diminishing human anger, only (frankly) threats of punishment for those who indulge in it.

And here’s where the unexpected twist in Jesus’ counsel arises. He makes a radical shift: he’s no longer condemning my anger at others, he’s discussing others’ anger against us.

We expect Jesus to tell us what to do when we are angry, when we feel as if our rights have been violated. We expect him to tell us how to treat the people who betrayed and hurt us. Instead, he tells us what to do when others feel that we have betrayed or hurt them.

Christian morality is all interwoven: if you don’t love your neighbor, made in the image of God, you don’t love God. You might as well stop putting on the outward show of religiosity for the moment and go make things right with God’s image-bearer; then you can return to what truly is most important in life: the love of God.

Be reconciled; restore friendly relations as much as is in your power. As one ancient church father said, “You be the first to ask pardon.”  Leaving vengeance in God’s hands

There really are victims in this world, modern “Jobs” who did nothing to deserve the loss of their family and property. I won’t even begin to list the injustices out there: just pick up the paper. And Jesus is not counseling acceptance of injustice; to be a blessed “peacemaker” as he elsewhere in this sermon enjoins is to be an “active promoter” of peace. This is not quietism: protecting others from injustice is a Christian thing to do. But when someone hurts us individually, Jesus here and elsewhere in the sermon gives what you might call Don’t Stand Your Ground laws. “Don’t resist evil,” he says. And, famously, “Turn the other cheek.” Only someone with Christ’s authority could say such things to a crowd surely including some victims. Only someone who knows that he is about to bear the sins of the world could have told that crowd to leave vengeance in the hands of God.

We all know what happened to Jesus – he was crucified just like many other idealistic reformers or whistle blowers.

Rod Bower – Anglo Catholic Rector in Gosford, believes people should pay more heed to the messages of Jesus, especially on social Justice.  He feels Christians are separated from the Jesus who came from a poor marginalised sect oppressed by the huge Roman Empire.  He believes Jesus had a political message to bring heaven to the people rather than get people to heaven.

As the secular world, instead of keeping order, the Church should be more concerned about justice.  Order without justice is tyranny. Martin Luther King saw the real danger not from the Ku Klux Klan, but from white moderates who preferred order over justice. 

Father Bower’s other great hero is Brazil’s Catholic archbishop who said: “when I give food to the poor they call me a Saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist”. 

Bower maintains Christianity is a political ideology.  “The whole basis of Christianity rests on an alternative kingdom with an alternative king – if that’s not political, what is?  Jesus was executed for sedition”.

Christianity affirms the preciousness of each individual.  Its greatest contribution to civilisation is the concept of equality, tolerance and acceptance: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Galations 3:28

……..

The Biblical stories in the original form need to be kept alive. With the proliferation of information in the world, we can easily lose sight of the core verities offered by these narratives. At the same time we need to keep
an open mind to the contributions of many other cultures to the accumulation of inherited wisdom. We should never succumb to the temptation of despair, cynicism or nihilism of modern philosophies speciously based on Post Modernism.

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Greg Sheridan

Greg Sheridan is a polished erudite, articulate and erudite writer.  His problem is a tendentious, blinkered and exclusive view of history.  He is held hostage, perhaps blinded, by his deeply seated entrenched convictions. 

The prevailing feeling is that a broadly based holistic curriculum is a threat to a monolithic Christian approach.  Any broadly based, generous view of outside cultures somehow silences the Western Canon. We somehow feel the need to assert our culture as a superior one, why?

Historical evidence glaringly irrefutably, illustrates that all cultures practised religion, creating god.

The Christian view is one of optimism based on hope.  Based on dogma passed down throughout the ages through the teachings of Jesus, Christians believe in the dignity of man created in God’s image.  Though they acknowledge human imperfection and fallibility, they also believe in salvation and redemption. Christians reject moral relativism and espouse the moral absolutism of truth, the mystery of creation, affirmation of life, divine justice, triumph of good over evil,  upright living and faith in a loving benevolent God.  Like Aristotle, they assert a rational moral order in the universe and that while suffering is inherent in the human condition, it can lead mankind to a noble form of dignity.s in their own image.  The dominant God is a trinity; Jewish, Christian and Muslim.  Each religion features an opposing view of the same God.  Simplistically, the Jewish one is a fearful one, the Christian a loving, forgiving one, the Muslim one demands submission to a great one.

In each version the authentic God represents a positive version of Good.  Only Machiavellian pragmatism results in hypocrisy, heresy and apostacy.  

Our heritage is much richer than a narrow influence of just Christians.

There can be no doubt that all religions have made profound contributions to a progressive world.  Christianity does not have a monopoly on virtue.  It is not uniquely altruistic.  Why are Christians so threatened by a bipartisan and pluralistic liberal education.  Surely Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Persian, Egyptian and Greek civilisations offer universal contributions to a truly global culture.

The whole Ramsay Center Debate is argued on specious premises that we need to have an exclusive course that shamelessly promotes the supremacy of Western Civilisation by denying other contributions.  Universities welcome generous funding but without any strings attached.  Any prescriptive strictures become narrow and ideological; equivalent to brain washing.

At a time of crisis for Christianity in the West, God is Good for You shows just why we need faith in our world.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has created and underpinned the moral and legal fabric of Western civilisation for more than 2000 years, yet now we've reached a point in both Australia and many parts of the West where Christianity has become a minority faith rather than the mainstream belief. It's a situation that's fraught both for Christians and our wider society, where the moral certainties that were the foundation of our institutions and laws are no longer held by the majority.

At this point of crisis for faith, God is Good For You shows us why Christianity is so vital for our personal and social well-being, and how modern Christians have never worked so hard to make the world a better place at a time when their faith has never been less valued. It carries a vital torch for Christianity in a way that's closely argued, warmly human, good humoured yet passionate, and, above all, convincing.

Christians who commit themselves to ways of being a Christ-like community. Based on Philippians 2, the covenant recognizes the importance of community, authenticity, honesty, inclusivity, compassion, humility, respect, courage, and of course fun.

Forever our father’s children, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne
back ceaselessly into the past.”

Communal living – the Hutterites

“Wee must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other’s necessities.” A  verse in the Book of Acts describing the practice of the early Church, more succinctly and famously paraphrased by Karl Marx as “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.” It echoes Shakespeare’s language in King Learshake [down] the superflux”.


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