Christians in Parliament (X)

The Bible, thus, sets forth special punishments for the man of power who oppresses the poor. He is abusing his God-given office and power, and his punishment is especially severe. The powerful man who uses his power to steal and destroy something belonging to a poor man should be required to make four-fold restitution.[1]

Despite Lord Acton’s often quoted saying from 150 years ago, that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” the problem with power is not its presence, but its abuse.

How can I say this?

In any society at any given time, there are always powerful people, who have ways and means of getting things done. This is not wrong. It is wrong, when that power is used unethically; not according to God’s law.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jethro, Boaz and Job, were clearly powerful men in their society. Abraham had men at his disposal numbering hundreds (Gen.14:14), as did Job (Job 1:3; 42:12). The key to their ethics? They understood and observed God’s law.

As Rushdoony wrote,

 Power is inescapable in any social order: it can either be concentrated in the state, or it can be allowed to flourish wherever ability makes it possible among the people. This decentralized wealth means also decentralised and independent power. Instead of a concentration of power in the state, there is instead a decentralization of power which moves in terms of varying and independent goals… in a free economy, property is freed from the restrictions of the state because it is under the restrictions of the family and of a religiously oriented community.[2]

The critical issue concerning power is its ethical use, not its elimination from society. The Ten Commandments are not there for a joke. This is why we have Constitutions, for governments (as much as individuals), have been prone to abuse their power. Constitutions have their origins in a Biblical view of man.

Even before Israel entered the promised land and had chosen a king, God put limits on what he’d be allowed to do (see Deut.17:14-20). When they did decide to have a king, God warned them through Samuel what he’d be like (I Samuel 8), and then when he was invested (I Sam.11), “Samuel told the people the ordinances of the kingdom, and wrote them in a book” (v.25). There had to be a source of authority over and apart from the king, and that authority was God’s law.

Saul was an evil-doer and an abuser of his power, just as God said he would be. His successor David also abused his power. He stole Uriah’s wife, and when she fell pregnant to David, he hatched a scheme through Joab and had him murdered through the Ammonites who Israel was fighting against (II Sam.11:14-26), and then married her.

God judged him severely. He sent the prophet Nathan to him to confront him in his evil, and predict what the outcome would be (II Sam.12:1-15). Not only did the child of their adultery die (II Sam.12:14-18), but over time, three of David’s other sons died violently: Amnon (II Sam.13), Absalom (II Sam.18), and Adonijah (I Kings 2).

David repented and escaped with his life, but God extracted four-fold restitution, nonetheless.

His example serves as a warning for anyone in high office: don’t abuse your power, for God Who never changes (see Heb.13:8), will come after you, and it won’t be funny.

This fact should direct us back to the parable that Nathan told David, in his confrontational trap (II Sam.12:1-7). Nathan indirectly likened David to a rich sheep owner, who “had a great many flocks and herds” (v.2), but stole a “little ewe lamb” (v.3) from a poor man. Thus in Nathan’s parable, it wasn’t just theft that David had perpetuated, but theft perpetuated through the gross abuse of power. When David responded to the parable’s alleged injustice,  he exclaimed to Nathan,

As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion (II Sam.12:5-6),

Nathan had him trapped. David had incriminated himself.

Is there a New Testament correlation to this? Yes, there is.

Zaccheus was a tax-collector; a person who though despised, had considerable power in Israel in Jesus’ day. When he was converted, he said,

Behold Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much (Luke 19:8).

Conclusion:

The use of power isn’t wrong of itself. It is wrong when it is not used in accordance with God’s law, and God promises to judge those who from positions of power, abuse the innocent, just as David did.

People who profess His name when acting from a position of power, had better ensure there is consistency between their words and their actions, or else they will bring God’s Name into disrepute. And our confidence is always:

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success (Joshua 1:8).

 

 

[1] James Jordan, “The Law of the Covenant,” 1984, p.271.

[2] Rousas Rushdoony, “The Politics of Guilt and Pity,” 1995, p.237.