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Politics and Religion in the Old Testament: A Modern Parable

Published December 23, 2016

Michael V Wilson
By Michael V. Wilson

Jesus is famous for using parables to explain things to His disciples, and us. Often He would tell a parable about one thing in order to make a point about another thing. Today I'm going to try to do the same thing; in this case, tell you a modern parable using the Old Testament.

One of the most common refrains you'll hear from the political Left is the old saw; “You can't mix politics and religion.” This is a fascinating, if hypocritical, claim from the Left since it is they who most often violate it.

In the Book of Ezra, in the Old Testament, we see politics and religion being rather explicitly mixed together. We see those who oppose religion pretending to be friendly, then turning around to use politics against religion, in order to oppress religion. And we see how politics uses religion for its own purposes, purposes which have nothing to do with God.

Our story begins in Ezra 4:1-7,

1Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel,

2they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”

3But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

4Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building,

5and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

6In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

7In the days of Artaxerxes also, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabel, and the rest of their companions wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the letter was written in Aramaic script, and translated into the Aramaic language.

Notice in verse 1, the protagonists are clearly labeled as adversaries of Judah and Benjamin. That's just another way of saying they were enemies, but in verse 2 they come pretending to be friends, even claiming they want to worship God. This obvious lie is laid bare when Zerubbabel and Jeshua refuse their offer and in verse 4 these enemies do everything they can to discourage the building of the Temple. It says they “troubled” them in building. This can be translated as sabotage of all kinds; stolen or destroyed materials, lewd graffiti, noisy protests, shoving and shouting matches – the whole nine yards.

Verse 5 says they hired counselors. This would be lawyers; junkyard dog, bottom feeding, ambulance chasing kinds of lawyers. So they hired counselors to bring lawsuits against them, in courts of law and in the courts of public opinion.

Verse 6 says they wrote an accusation against them during the reign of Ahasuerus, then in verse 7, they wrote more accusations during the reign of Artaxerxes and sent them to them. In both cases, over a span of some years, they wrote official accusations for dispatch to the king.

Yet these adversaries initially approached the Hebrews pretending to be friends!

What they couldn't get by subversion and stealth, they tried to get by harassment, both legal and illegal. It was a full-court press and they pulled out all the stops. The Hebrews were simply trying to mind their own business and rebuild the Temple. It was their adversaries who dragged politics into the matter, even if they had to lie to do it – and they did. Their ultimate failure wasn't from lacking of trying, and it wasn't because Artaxerxes was a friend of the Hebrews either.

We see this in Ezra 7:12-26, where king Artaxerxes writes a long letter to Ezra. For most of the letter it reads as if it was written by a believing Hebrew. But scattered throughout are references to 'your God' which clearly indicate Artaxerxes didn't believe in the Hebrew God. He grants Ezra enormous latitude and authority in building the Temple, collecting funds for it, putting the Temple priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and other Temple servants beyond the reach of the taxman, and grants him permission to set up judges and magistrates. But then Artaxerxes gives his motives away in verse 26,

Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment. [emphasis added]

“The law of the king!” Aha! Here's where it, “gets real,” as they say.

Ancient kings were often regarded as divine, or claimed they were. Nebuchadnezzar did this when he set up the golden figure of himself and commanded everyone to fall down and worship it, so Artaxerxes, also claiming divinity, certainly didn't see himself as subservient to “your God” as he wrote in his letter. But ancient kings also knew that letting conquered people keep their local gods and temples was a good way to maintain law and order. Forbidding people to worship their gods often led to widespread revolt, whereas letting them keep their gods, pacified them and kept them compliant. Only a handful of trouble makers would try to revolt or fight back, but without a large scale grievance to stir up the people, they were easily handled, and thus the king's rule enforced.

Artaxerxes' letter is a blatant quid-pro-quo; if you want to enforce the laws of “your God” then you also have to enforce the laws of the king. It's a political maneuver using religion for political purposes. Artaxerxes may have been a godless pagan, probably burning in Hell as you read this, but he wasn't stupid. He used proven methods to keep the peace, and he used them admirably.

politics-religion-mahatma-ghandiModern Leftists are still using all the same methods outlined in this little parable. They're even subverting many preachers and church with Artaxerxes' quid-pro-quo routine, offering them a deal with the devil in return for being left alone. But where Ezra obeyed because he didn't have any choice, and threw off the Persian yoke as soon as possible; many of today's Left leaning Christians and churches have lost their way, making common cause with an enemy that will ultimately turn and destroy them.

Alert Christians need to look at this parable, spot the methods used against the ancient Hebrews and recognize when those same methods are being used against them. When a person who is your adversary, comes pretending he or she wants to help, be like Zerubbabel and Jeshua; tell 'em to take a hike. Then brace yourself for the inevitable temper tantrum when they pull out all the stops and come after you just like the Hebrew's enemies came after them. If you follow the news – the real news – you can already see them doing it.

The Left mixes politics and religion to destroy religion. Remember this and you won't fall for their tricks.

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