Originally posted Feb 17, 2014. I re-taught this class on Sunday, July 29, 2018, but the video seems to have gone AWOL (lol). Maybe next time!
In our detour a few weeks ago, we noted that because of their inflammatory tendencies, most people would like to keep religion and politics as far away from each other as possible. But we cannot maintain a high view of biblical justice, honor and righteousness by keeping our faith out of the voting booth. The relationship between religion and politics runs deeply throughout Scripture. Peter reminds us to, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1Pe 2:17 NKJV; see our first post for Works Cited). Paul goes even deeper, calling “every soul [to] be subject to the governing authorities . . . for conscience’ sake,” since public figures are “God’s ministers” (Rom 13:1-7, emphasis added). Rebellion, then, is essentially a heart problem, rooted in the same sort of passion, pride, lies and idolatry that got Israel into trouble in the first place. It’s no wonder then that when Israel forsook God, she would turn to politics as the solution to her many problems.
Or perhaps we have it backward: in Israel’s case political rebellion led to spiritual rebellion. The Lord says in Hosea 8:4, “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not” (unless otherwise indicated, all remaining Scriptures are taken from the ESV). It is not that Yahweh didn’t know who their rulers were; the problem lay in the fact that they ignored his will in choosing them. Even from the beginning of the Divided Kingdom, Israel had gone her own way. Though in his providence God allowed Israel to split for spiritual reasons, it was politics that drove away the northern tribes (1Ki 12:1-24). So while Judah was always led by the house of David, Israel was ruled by ten dynasties, all of which ended in bloodshed. In fact, “Between 752 and 732 B.C. four of Israel’s rulers were assassinated (cf. 2 Kings 15),” providing the background to several of Hosea’s statements (see Hos 7:5-7, from which this quote from the BKC is taken).
Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness is both a cause and effect of these upheavals. Remember that it was for pragmatic political reasons that Jeroboam built the calves at Dan and Bethel in the first place (1Ki 12:25-33). So while Jeroboam’s kingdom was entrusted to him so that he might restore the Law, he instead defied it further, repeating Aaron’s sin and explicitly violating the first two of the Ten Commandments (Exo 20:3-6; 32:1-4). But the Lord had had enough of being confused with cattle: “With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence? For it is from Israel; a craftsman made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces” (Hos 8:4-6). It is with good reason, then, that Solomon warns, “My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those given to change,” (Pro 24:21 NKJV) because when rebels rage, there’s no end to the destruction that can be done.
We also see that spiritual rebels seek political solutions. This is perhaps the greatest heresy of the modern age, and both conservatives and liberals are often guilty of it. When man ignores what the Bible says about right and wrong, justice falls as well; and where justice has fallen, nothing is sacred, twisting politics into naked greed and sheer power. Israel could identify the problems that faced her—famine, poverty, weakness—but she did not recognize them as the consequences of her sin. So instead she sought help elsewhere: “For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone; Ephraim has hired lovers. Though they hire allies among the nations, I will soon gather them up. And the king and princes shall soon writhe because of the tribute” (Hos 8:9-10). But as the prophet pointed out before, Assyria would be their conqueror, not their savior (see 5:13; 7:11).
But this is not to say Israel could save herself by becoming a fortress and preparing for a siege. “For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces, and Judah has multiplied fortified cities; so I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour her strongholds” (8:14). As the ESVSB points out, “Ephraim trusted religious shrines for security; Judah her armaments. Both will prove to be futile.” So rather then experience the alleged fertility associated with Baal worship, they would instead find famine and the rations of exile: “Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them. They shall not remain in the land of the LORD, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria” (9:2-3; see 2:9-12). So Israel’s kings had done the exact opposite of what Moses had commanded, and exactly what Samuel had warned them against (Deu 17:14-17; 1Sa 8)!
And finally, spiritual rebellion invites political punishment. This is perhaps even harder to comprehend. Okay, sure, maybe there is a connection between one’s political views and one’s religious views, but does it really matter? If there is a God, does he really care about our political views? Why, yes. The God who providentially “works all things together for good” is the same God who providentially “rules the kingdom of men” (Rom 8:28; Dan 4:17, 25, 32; see Dan 2:20-22; 5:34-37). So while your politics can reflect your religious views, your political problems could also be consequences of your religion. Sometimes this means God’s people are employed as the means of judgment (Gen 15:16; Deu 20:16-18), but at other times they are just as guilty as anyone else (Jos 7:10-12, 20-21). Israel, however, had forgotten this, essentially voting against God for generations.
But the ultimate coup d’état was about to occur. The King of Israel would remind his people who was really in charge. Judgment is coming, and coming quickly. Listen to the Prophet: “Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the LORD . . . the enemy shall pursue him” (Hos 8:1-3). “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. . . . Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel” (8:7-8). “Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them. Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents” (9:6). The trumpet had sounded, the battle lines were formed, vultures smelled blood in the air, the winds of war blew. Israel’s so called friends would form against her, shatter her strength, round up her refugees, and turn the plenty of the land to a barren wilderness. When we reject God’s claims over his people, we invite his righteous judgment.
As we have stated before, Jesus Christ is the ultimate political reality: he who created all things, redeems our fallen world, and reigns at his Father’s right hand (Col 1:15-20). The heart of Hosea’s indictment is still focused on the lack of true, spiritual worship (see 8:11-13; 9:1, 4-5), but politics played an important part in how these problems came about, how they got as bad as they did, and how God would repay them for it. As the late Russell Kirk once wrote, “Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems” (The Conservative Mind 8). So when we treat God’s messengers as crazy fools, when we outlaw his word as “hate speech,” when we back believers into a corner in public discourse, we know the result: “he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins” (9:7-9). The church, then, cannot place her trust in political half-measures, but must instead rely on the God who rules above, for “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psa 118:9). Nor can we allow our views to be dominated by economics, defense or foreign affairs, for “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Pro 14:34). May we, then, as his people, intercede for our neighbors, that our nation might turn to God and repent of our rebellion against our Almighty God (Jer. 29:7; Gen 18:20-33).