We read yesterday, in chapter 12, that personal revenge is not permitted for God’s people. One of the reasons given was so that God could have room for vengeance instead. It is much better to wait for the Judge of All The Earth to execute his judgments, with the full facts and motives in front of him, than for us to attempt to ‘take the law into our own hands’. So how does God actually do this?
In chapter 13, we see that God has established the governing authorities of the world – even evil empires and tyrannical rulers. All have been established by God without exception. This includes democratically elected governments, local authorities, tyrannical presidents, totalitarian states, magistrates, and the police. Their job is to administer justice and to punish wrongdoing, to uphold and enforce the rule of law. They are appointed God’s “agents of wrath” – being the ones that we have waited for patiently at the end of Romans 12:19.
It does not mean that these organisations or people are perfect, or even god-fearing or righteous, and it does not mean that they are automatically pleasing to God but, nevertheless, he chooses to use them for his own ends. King Cyrus of Persia was a typical example of this (Isaiah 44 and 45). God may, in addition, use other instruments to punish evildoers, but he certainly does use these! So we are to obey the civil authorities unless they actually oppose the specific will of God, in which case we must choose to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19; 5:29). We must also pay our taxes to enable these authorities to govern effectively. Refusing to pay our legitimate tax is a truly unchristian action, and another form of robbing God.
We see in chapters 12 and 13 the clear contrast between what we are called to do as individuals, and what we do as officers of the state. For example, if a state has the death penalty, it would be legitimate for a Christian citizen to take someone’s life in a judicial capacity; but for him to perform the same action as a private individual would be regarded by God as murder.
Another distinction is in our giving of material things: to the state, we give only what is ‘due’, and after that the debt is effectively discharged. But to individuals, the ‘debt of love’ – as Paul calls it – is unlimited and there is no stage at which we should expect to cease giving such love. Furthermore, by loving your neighbour, you are completely fulfilling the Law of Moses too. The final verse of this chapter that commands us to “Clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus” probably means that our lives should reflect him ‘on the outside’, just as he inhabits us ‘on the inside’.
We are all living in ‘the night’ – when evil has its time – but one day the hour of our full salvation will be upon us. “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light”. God is calling us to be ‘unnatural’ and not to sleep like the world sleeps in this darkness, but to stay alert and awake, knowing that dawn is just around the corner. I’ll see you all in the morning!
1 CHRONICLES 7, 8, 9 and 10
Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Asher have their genealogies listed in 1 Chronicles 7. The verses (21 + 22) about Ephraim’s dead sons must have occurred in the ‘Egyptian’ period, rather than in the ‘Promised Land’ era. What follows in the next chapter (8) is the much more complete genealogy of King Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin. For some unknown reason, Saul’s own genealogy is repeated in chapter 9 too.
The fact that Chronicles was written after the return from exile is evidenced at the beginning of Chapter 9, where it speaks of ‘resettlement’. The phrase ‘All Israel’ is another theme of this book, emphasizing that God’s entire elect, rather than just the faithful of Judah were included in his covenant promises – hence the reason that the genealogies of most of the tribes are mentioned. People from most tribes chose to relocate to Judah, where the faith was being kept and where the ark was located, rather than live in the land of ungodly idol-worshipers. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, than dwell in the tents of the ungodly”, says Psalm 84:10.
There were security gates to the Tent of Meeting that were guarded day and night by twenty-four guards at a time in three shifts – making a total of 72 men on duty in any 24-hour period. But a total of 212 gatekeepers overall meant that each man would have a ‘tour of duty’ on one week in three. These men were also responsible for the storerooms containing flour, wine, olive oil, incense, and spices. But only the priests were permitted to mix the special combination of spices that were burned on the altar of incense.
Chapter Ten is a brief recap of the death of Saul, setting the scene for the reign of King David to follow. Three of Saul’s sons died in the battle, although Ish-Bosheth survived. The last couple of verses summarise Saul’s fall from grace – being unfaithful to the Lord, failing to keep the commands of God, failing to enquire of the Lord, and consulting a spirit medium for guidance. We would ourselves do well to avoid all these errors! The result was that the Lord is given responsibility for Saul’s death and for transferring the Kingdom to David. Saul’s life started with such promise and ended in such desperate failure!