Category Archives: Raleigh Report

The Old Testament Story of Redemption and Politics

by John Ager

The North Carolina General Assembly will reconvene on May 16 for the “Short Session.” It is designed primarily to update the budget once the income numbers come in after April 15. I hope all of the Town Crier readers will send their tax checks to Raleigh with cheerful hearts!

Since I am out of session, I wanted to get away from the policy debates and think about how the Scriptures treat politics, a topic that I find interesting. As I like to say, “politics are everywhere,” from the family car trip discussion about which restaurant to eat at to whether the United States should go to war. Making group decisions is rarely an easy process. I have been a lifelong student of the Bible and find the knowledge there to be inspiring, practical and sometimes puzzling (just like real life!)

What were the politics in paradise? God created the heavens and the earth, and it was all good, perfect in every way. He created Adam, and then Eve (so Adam would not be lonely). Adam and Eve were tasked with taking care of His creation, and enjoying it. The politics in the Garden were simple. Love and perfect communication bound Adam, Eve and God in the ultimate harmonious relationship whereby every task was an act of worship, and full of joy and satisfaction. Heaven is the promise that this relationship will be restored.

But Satan in the guise of a Serpent wanted to break that harmony, and convinced Eve that God was holding out on her; that her eyes would be opened to the knowledge of good and evil if she ate the forbidden fruit; that she would be “like God.” So, she disobeyed Him, and broke her relationship with Him. Adam was convinced to do the same, and “all hell broke loose.” Wanting to be “like God” is the ultimate human sin. Adam and Eve felt intense shame when God came looking for them “in the cool of the morning.” And when you think about it, the knowledge of good and evil, and our inability to deal with that knowledge, is the source of our suffering in this world. Broken communication with God is also a condition of our current life.

The Biblical story is the long history of trying to regain favor with God, to find redemption in the midst of all the manifestations of sin: war, disease, famine, inhumanity and the rest. For Abraham and his descendants, it was also the pursuit of Yahweh, the one true God who demanded perfect righteousness while knowing that all humans were hopelessly ensnared in sin. But Abraham’s faith was reckoned unto him as righteousness. He trusted God to lead him into the promised land, and he trusted God enough to take his beloved son Isaac to be sacrificed on the mountain.

Abraham’s grandson Joseph ended up a powerful adviser to the Pharaoh in Egypt after being almost murdered by his brothers. Eventually, famine drove the rest of his family to Egypt as well, where for hundreds of years the Israelites were slaves. The Pharaohs of Egypt claimed to be gods, which was a time-honored political power advantage for rulers in the ancient world. Those who followed Yahweh knew better than to put their faith in a pharaoh or the many other gods worshipped in Egypt. Indeed, much of the struggle for Abraham’s descendants was remaining faithful to the One God in the midst of all of the other nations who seemed to prosper worshipping all manner of other gods.

The exodus from Egypt and the generational testing in the wilderness was a prelude to setting up a political structure in the Promised Land. The Ten Commandments were given to span the righteousness gap with God, and to bring order to the community. While the commandments failed to make the Chosen People righteous, it did point them to their need for redemption. And these commandments were given by Yahweh, not a pharaoh or king or emperor claiming to be divine and all powerful.

But the commandments also led to endless laws on top of laws. They became a web of oppression rather than a gateway to freedom. Jewish life, from Leviticus to the Pharisees, was bound up with devising the perfect legal system to restore mankind morally. The sacrificial system was given also as a means to restoring righteousness, but even so became more of a ritual than a heartfelt atonement for sin. The prophets rose up to preach against the failure of sacrifice and the law.

The Israelites eventually sought redemption as a nation by demanding a king like the other nations. A king will make us powerful, they said. He will make us proud and will fend off our enemies. The Lord said to Samuel, “…it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods…” Saul was chosen king, in large part because he was a head taller than other men! The long line of kings ultimately failed to bring honor and glory to Israel, as the Scriptures point out in detail, and the nation collapsed in conquest and was exiled in Babylon.

Another time we might talk about the politics of the New Testament, a fascinating and instructive study. Once again, I strive to remain your servant in Raleigh, while working to make democracy work in our fallen world.

Rep. John Ager, District 115 North Carolina House of Representatives. Contact john.ager@ncleg.net or 713-6450