Scripture Guide, Part 2: The Responsibility of the Nation and Its Government to “the Least of These”

Scripture Guide, Part 2: The Responsibility of the Nation and Its Government to “the Least of These” August 20, 2012

Scripture sets a very high bar for public morality as well as for private behavior.  Although we can easily rationalize why alternatives might be more sensible, Republicans cannot argue that our laws should seek to apply Scripture to the bedroom, but that Biblical commands have no relevancy for the boardroom.

The Bible has a lot to say about economic policy and the responsibility of government leaders to care for the vulnerable.  The Bible leaves no room for trickle-down economics.  Jesus and the Prophets do not say, “Help the widow and orphan by supporting businesses in an effort to prop up the stagnant economy”! The Bible’s call is for direct action, and it is a call placed on both society and government.

The first chapter of the Book of Isaiah begins with the prophet cataloguing the decline of the city of Jerusalem into injustice, where its former greatness is besmirched by its obsession with materialism and wealth.  The Biblical prophets are speaking against the government “rulers” and the nation as a whole.  The prophets are not calling for individual piety and charity but for systemic societal/governmental reform.  And they specifically challenge government leaders to remember that they are called to help the powerless and those in greatest need, not those with the most power and money.

Isaiah clearly states what God expects of government leaders: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan [note: he does not say, “cut federal funding for state child services”], plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

Jeremiah says the same to the king:  “Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.  16He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.  17“But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion” (Jeremiah 22:15-17).

Taken together with Micah 6:8, this forms the core of the prophetic message: To know God as a nation means to take care of the poor and ensure that justice is done on behalf of the needy:  “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Imagine how different the last four years would have been if Republicans tried for even a short time to follow these words of Isaiah: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs” (Isaiah 58: 9-11).

Nehemiah (who rebuilt Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile) enforces social justice through the power of the state, and reminds the rich that when they create policies that take wealth from their workers they are stealing from God’s children:  “Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. 5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery…we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”  6 When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I told the [nobles and government officials], “You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them 8 and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. 9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right…let the exacting of usury stop! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them—the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil.” (Nehemiah 5:1-13).

From the New Testament:  “Mercy triumphs over judgment! What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead“(James 2: 14-17).


Read Part 1:  A Guide to Scripture, Politics, & the Budget–Part 1

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  • Blaise

    Love this! Too bad the Democrats have strayed so far from Biblical guidance in so many ways, and the Republican presidential candidates are also corrupt beyond belief. Thus, I don’t support either party, but am following your Facebook posts. Thanks for your fearless reminders about what all of us need to get back to – a basic Judeo-Christian set of Biblical values!

    • Eric

      Thanks Blaise. We’re trying, and please let us know what you think about the other sections in this series. Blessings.

  • Bobby B.

    You may want to define me as a conservative, but, as a social justice Christian, the very passages you cite are the reason why I oppose the reflexive habit of creating or expanding government programs every time there is an awareness of a new “problem.” Responding to the call to biblical faithfulness is not agitating for a increase in government spending, but believers investing their lives and resources in service to those in need and in peril.

    What I have discovered in 35 years of grassroots engagement at the community level is that government agencies and civil servants rarely offer effective solutions to the problems my fellow citizens face. Public employees often become a part of the system that oppresses those in need.

    • Eric

      Bobby, I agree and have a post coming addressing the issue of individual responsibility vs govt from a Christian perspective. In most cases, individuals can do a better job than govt of helping the poor. The problem is that we aren’t! We wouldn’t need Sect 8 Housing or Food Stamps if there were enough Habitat Homes and Soup Kitchens. Less than 10% of weekly church attending Christians even tithe. If we all did, the Church would have more new money than the entire US domestic budget. IN my view, the problem isn’t that govt is doing too much but that the Church is doing too little. And the solution isn’t to cut govt programs that provide the only help to people but to make them unneccessary. The question is where are we going to spend our time, effort, and money? The GOP spends it working to cut out the only programs helping poor and average people and taking those resources and spending them instead on more tax cuts for the wealthy. Democrats work to keep those programs in place. Neither are a Christian answer for sure. But one seems much more in line with Christian priorities than the other. And until the Church steps up and answers Christ’s call, I just don’t see how anyone can say Christians should be spending their time working to cut programs that help the least of these.

      • Crysta

        Problem with the “church” is that they only give to those they feel “deserve” it…

        If you are gay, good luck getting help there… (God help you if you happen to be Transgendered…)
        Single mother, also a sinner…

        But, if your a drunken, wife beater, asking for a little help, they give in spades!

  • Bobby B.

    The observation that “problem isn’t that govt is doing too much” is absolutely correct. It is doing an awful lot and most of what it does do is either not worth doing or even harmful.

  • flashing off the several Yingge Museum of seven items of beauty.

    • Bobby B.

      Because the town ordinance forbids political signs until the month before the election, I am putting an empty chair in the middle of my front lawn. Thanks Clint!!

  • Pearline Crews

    What you fail to understand is that we, God’s children posses far too much power and don’t know it. That’ why he said my people die for a lack of knowledge. By your words you will be justified by your words you will be condemn. We have no ideal how powerful are very words are. We are all made in God’s imagine and have the power to call things into being. Just say the Our Father prayer every day and you will be amaze at the change in your life. We are dual citizens on earth and in heaven your bible is your constitution. Just wake up every morning and said the “Our father pray. If you only knew the power of those words “Deliver us from the evil one” Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It will change your life. God will not go against his word he will do anything on this earth until we his children call it into this earth. That’s why the scripture say you have not because you ask not. Why do you think Jesus had to come to us as a man? For man has dominion over the earth and through his children’s request God’s will is done. Say HIS word not yours. HIs will be done HIs Kingdome come. Stop acting like mere men and act like what he called children of GOD. You watch this world march down the street to cure the cancer. Imagine what would happen if that many of God’s children walked down street praying the “Our father prayer. Then you would see real change, stop being sad over this government and pray that they do GOD’s will. Remember we are more than a conquer through Christ Jesus who love us.