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Biden quotes Isaiah. Not again.

Biden quotes Isaiah. Not again. August 31, 2021

Almost exactly one year ago I posted on my Facebook page a critique of Mike Pence’s misuse of the Bible. Pence, you may or may not recall, substituted the American flag for Jesus when he alluded to Heb 11:1-2 and stated, “keeping your eyes on old glory.”[1]

Now, Joe Biden has joined the act. Biden recently cited Isa 6:8 “whom shall I send?” and applied it to the US military officers who signed up and “are the heirs of that tradition of sacrifice.” Now there is no question that those who sign up for a nation’s military have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice.

But this is not the sacrifice for which the prophet is called. The biblical call is to sacrifice one’s life in imitation of Christ.

Is it necessarily a problem to quote the Bible in common speech?

By no means! (oops, “by no means” is the NIV’s translation of a Pauline expression; cf Rom 6:2).

You may know people who have been so saturated in Scripture that their prayers are full of biblical allusions.

There is, however, a tremendous problem using the Bible to advance an agenda for which the Bible does not condone. To cite the call and commissioning of Isaiah and apply it to a state’s call to military action is a serious abuse of the Bible.

One of the problems is when the Bible is misquoted and used to condone things for which it does not condone.

I am not suggesting that a state cannot send its people into war. I am saying that you cannot cite Scripture to support that decision.

Another problem is when nationalism (whether it is the US or any other nation) is conflated with Scripture. This is a far greater problem than most realize. It is also far more common than most realize.

Some time ago I partook in a rally of pastors and leaders for social justice. The goal was to show that the Church supported those who were crying out for justice. We marched through the city in prayer. When we arrived at the downtown area a pre-planned rally ensued. Several pastors were chosen in advance to speak to and pray for justice for the city and the nation in accordance with 2 Chron 7:14, “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

There was only one problem: that is not what this verse is about. To suggest that God promises to heal and restore the US if the people of God would humble themselves and pray is a serious conflating of the Scriptures and nationalism.

The promise in 2 Chron 7:14 is to the people of God in the OT—Israel. Sure, in an OT context, one could well argue that 2 Chron 7:14 applied to a nation-state: but even then it can only be applied to OT Israel.

But one must quickly recognize that in the NT, the people of God are no longer members of a single nation. The people of God are indeed composed of men and women from many nations—and someday from all nations!

There are only two reasonable interpretations for the exhortation of 2 Chron 7:14 today.

Some might continue to espouse that the promises to Israel in the OT continue to have relevance for the people of Israel.

Others, and I have presented a case for this position in my book These Brothers of Mine, contend that the fulfillment of 2 Chron 7:14 and the promises of the OT are found in Jesus and through the Spirit in the life of God’s people today. Thus, the forgiving of “their sins” begins with the NT and the call to repent and the healing of “their land” refers to the blessing brought by the people of God today and ultimately will come to fruition in the New Creation when the New Jerusalem descends (Rev 21:9-22:9).

But why is it a problem to use this verse and apply it to the US?

When Christians apply it to their particular country, they are espousing nationalism—which is not the same as patriotism. Nationalism often deems one’s nation as special and privileged before God—thus, assuming that they humble themselves, pray, and seek His face.

But the people of God are one body “with many members” (1 Cor 12:12) and those “many members” come from many nations.

Final word

Perhaps one of the most egregious errors in Biden’s citing Isa 6:8 is that it conveys to others around the world the notion that Christianity supports the actions of the US military.

We must remember that in many countries of the world there is little distinction between political leaders and religious leaders.

They do not know that this is not what the Bible means. They may well assume that when a spokesperson such as the President of a nation speaks from the Bible they are an authority both for the nation and for the religion. After all, that is often true in their culture.

As a result, they conclude that Christianity supports the actions of the US military.

The Church must rise up and say, “not so fast.”

 

[1] The response by many conservatives to my post was actually a bit troubling. They cried out, among other responses, that perhaps Pence didn’t know the verse in question. On the one hand, Pence is revered as a man of God, but on the other hand he is ignorant of the Scriptures. I noted that I respected Pence as a Christian, and that is why I am certain that he very much knew what Heb 11:1-2 says. We need to move beyond partisan politics and critique all sides when they are in error.


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