“God’s Law or Civil Law”

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William J Jackson

We all can admit that, as a society, laws are good. They generally try to make things fair while keeping us safe and secure.  Yet, many of us feel that some of our national laws are in conflict with God’s Word, the Tanakh (Old Testament).  Some  examples, of these dilemmas are how we treat criminals, where our tax dollars are spent, military actions, who we support nationally, who we don’t support nationally and the list goes on.  In these cases, it creates an ethical dilemma; do we “disobey” God in following the law or do we go to jail in order to support Torah?  This is a very controversial topic, but we will bring forward the Tanakh (Old Testament) and assess these secular issues with it.

The Petrarch

Abraham was the original “Ger” or a stranger in a strange land.  Even though Abraham enters the land that was promised to him in Genesis 15:18-21, he and his people will not own it for another four generations (Genesis 15:16).  As a stranger, father Abraham did not come in conflict with these foreign rulers, he followed the local laws as we see with Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34) and the Hittites (Genesis 23). Likewise, we see Isaac his son adheres to the property statutes of the same region (Genesis 26:26-31).  Then there was Jacob who moved to Paddan-Aram, which was probably northern Mesopotamia, for 20 years (Genesis 29-30).  Here, by way of his shady brother-in-law, he was caught up in the local laws when it came to marital and business ordinances.  Still, he complied and left the region once his contractual obligation was over (Genesis 31:17-18).  Over 30 years later, with famine in Canaan, Jacob’s clan would relocate to Egypt.  Here the text is pretty specific to them accepting Egyptian authority (Genesis 46:31-47:11).  Granted the Israelites subjecting themselves to a foreign power would end poorly, but they did not rebel, they merely requested to leave.  It was God’s intervention that facilitated the ending of their bondage, the exodus.

The Prophet

Almost a millennium beyond Israel’s exodus, they began looking at exile again. Here, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a “Letter to the Exiles” on God’s behalf to the elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been exiled to Babylon. God said

“Seek the welfare of the city to which I have caused you to go into exile, and pray to Adonai on its behalf; for your welfare is bound up in its welfare.”   – Jeremiah 29:7

It could be implied that if someone is “seeking the welfare of a foreign people”, they would be, at the very least, law abiding citizens while in this new kingdom.

Divisiveness VS Tactfulness

As independent citizens, many of us see ourselves as serving a higher law and a superior Law Maker, God.  So how do we exist in our current environments that conflict with God’s written word. Proverbs 24:21 tells us “My son, don’t get involved with revolutionaries, but fear Adonai and the king”.  Here “the king” would be an earthly ruler like a president or government.  Likewise, it should be duly noted that God is mentioned before the king, or earthly authority.  Additionally, at the beginning of Proverbs 24:21, we are told to not be “revolutionaries”.  Even Proverbs 16:28 and 29:22 tells us being divisive is wrong and can be a sin. So how do we come up against the establishment if its aims clash with God’s?  Let’s use Daniel as an example.  When he and his counterparts were going to be made to eat unclean, Daniel reasoned with the authorities.  He asked if they could eat only vegetables and subjected himself to accountability by having them evaluate them in 10 days (Daniel 1:6-16).  As we know they appeared healthier.  It should be noted that Daniel’s willingness to be cooperative with the authorities probably went a long way.  However, there are times we cannot reason. Take for example Pharaoh’s order to kill the Hebrew babies (Exodus 1:16). Murder, in God’s Word, is well established as a sin; Genesis 9:5-6, Exodus 20:13, Leviticus 24:17.  So Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, lied to Pharaoh, saying that the Hebrew woman was so strong and quick in giving childbirth that the midwives did not have the time to take the babies.  Not only were these women successful in saving these lives, but God also gave them blessings (Exodus 1:20-21).

Current Day

We also need to remember that with God’s 613 Mitzvot (commandments), He told us to establish Courts and Judicial Procedure:

 

  • To appoint judges and officers (Deut. 16:18)
  • Not to appoint as a judge, a person who is not well versed in the laws of the Torah, even if he is an expert in other branches of knowledge (Deut. 1:17)
  • To adjudicate cases of purchase and sale (Lev. 25:14)
  • To judge cases of liability of a paid depositary (Ex. 22:9)
  • To adjudicate cases of loss for which a gratuitous borrower is liable (Ex. 22:13-14)
  • To adjudicate cases of inheritances (Num. 27:8-11)
  • To judge cases of damage caused by an uncovered pit (Ex. 21:33-34)
  • To judge cases of injuries caused by beasts (Ex. 21:35-36)
  • To adjudicate cases of damage caused by trespass of cattle (Ex. 22:4)
  • To adjudicate cases of damage caused by fire (Ex. 22:5)
  • To adjudicate cases of damage caused by a gratuitous depositary (Ex. 22:6-7)
  • To adjudicate other cases between a plaintiff and a defendant (Ex. 22:8)
  • Not to curse a judge (Ex. 22:27)
  • That one who possesses evidence shall testify in Court (Lev. 5:1)
  • Not to testify falsely (Ex. 20:13)
  • That a witness, who has testified in a capital case, shall not lay down the law in that particular case (Num. 35:30)
  • That a transgressor shall not testify (Ex. 23:1)
  • That the court shall not accept the testimony of a close relative of the defendant in matters of capital punishment (Deut. 24:16).
  • Not to hear one of the parties to a suit in the absence of the other party (Ex. 23:1)
  • To examine witnesses thoroughly (Deut. 13:15)
  • Not to decide a case on the evidence of a single witness (Deut. 19:15)
  • To give the decision according to the majority, when there is a difference of opinion among the members of the Sanhedrin as to matters of law (Ex. 23:2)
  • Not to decide, in capital cases, according to the view of the majority, when those who are for condemnation exceed by one only, those who are for acquittal (Ex. 23:2)
  • That, in capital cases, one who had argued for acquittal, shall not later on argue for condemnation (Ex. 23:2)
  • To treat parties in litigation with equal impartiality (Lev. 19:15)
  • Not to render iniquitous decisions (Lev. 19:15)
  • Not to favor a great man when trying a case (Lev. 19:15)
  • Not to take a bribe (Ex. 23:8)
  • Not to be afraid of a bad man, when trying a case (Deut. 1:17)
  • Not to be moved in trying a case, by the poverty of one of the parties (Ex. 23:3; Lev. 19:15)
  • Not to pervert the judgment of strangers or orphans (Deut. 24:17)
  • Not to pervert the judgment of a sinner (a person poor in fulfillment of commandments) (Ex. 23:6)
  • Not to render a decision on one’s personal opinion, but only on the evidence of two witnesses, who saw what actually occurred (Ex. 23:7).
  • Not to execute one guilty of a capital offense, before he has stood his trial (Num. 35:12)
  • To accept the rulings of every Supreme Court (Deut. 17:11)
  • Not to rebel against the orders of the Court (Deut. 17:11)

Although listed above are those commandments that talk specially about establishing a court, there are many more rulings covered in the 613 that we currently follow in our western cultures, such as ordinances about property, criminal law, business practices… etc.  So it stands, we would be remised by not following the law of the land, especially when the majority of those laws are for the safety of humanity.  Additionally, many of the charters and constitutions and our western cultures do mimic God’s laws in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  However, there are certainly, within all government, friction points between national laws and the Torah.  As expressed earlier with Daniel, as citizens we need to use our voice to negotiate the system.  In a worst-case scenario, we might have to relocate to a place that better parallels Torah.  Some might say “So, move to Israel”.  Although, of all the places in the world that should mimic God’s laws, Israel does not do this completely.  One example is capital punishment, God’s World is for it (Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:12, Leviticus 24:17)  in 1954 Israel voted against it.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, we should make God’s laws a priority over the laws of our nation.  However, in doing this we should be respectful and not divisive in our approach. On a larger scale, great men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. made a big difference in doing business this way.  As for us, we should use, as a rule, the art of peaceful negotiations as shown to us by Daniel in chapter 1.  If that fails, we can look towards Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives, for inspiration.  Just remember, there is no government on the face of the world that is completely compliant with God’s Law,… yet.

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