Of Wickedness, Blessing and Gratitude

Today we celebrate our freedom from foreign domination.  Our fathers had a compact with their king.  Parliament, with no legal standing whatsoever, violated that compact, and despite many appeals for protection, our king allowed it to happen.  With no choices but to submit to unlawful tyranny or fight, our fathers chose to take up arms.  God judged between our fathers on one hand, and the scofflaw Parliament and tyrannical king on the other, and today we celebrate the results.  A ragged band of colonists, short on supplies of every kind, fought the greatest military power in the world of their day.  God granted them strength beyond their numbers, tenacity beyond any reasonable expectation, favor in the eyes of their allies, and ultimately, victory.

Praise Yahweh, the house of Hanover is fallen.

A nation so blessed with freedom from tyranny ought to respect that God-given legacy, and honor the One who gave it.

We have not.

  • We have repeatedly, even habitually, disregarded the biblical ethics that govern just war.  Our sins range from  straightforward wars for others’ territory (Mexican War, Spanish-American War) to the deliberate slaughter of civilians and destruction of their sustenance (Sherman’s march to the sea in the War Between the States, the area bombing and firestorm tactics of WWII, of which Dresden is only the most famous of many examples).
  • We have allowed the creation of a fiat money system that steals purchasing power from those who have worked and saved their money, and puts that purchasing power back in the hands of the government and its designees through inflation.  This is using false weights and measures, and it is an abomination to the Lord.
  • We have legally sacrificed nearly 50 million babies to the false gods of  financial, social and sexual convenience–our very own Molech.  We add more than a million to that number every year.

I could go on; I won’t.

But the world is a messy place, and the news is not all bad.  The same country that committed all the above crimes is also the hub of unprecedented good deeds:

  • Americans are by far the most generous people on earth.  Our charitable contributions, measured either in total or per capita, dwarf those of the world’s other nations.
  • Largely through the efforts of American missionaries, mission agencies and supporting churches, the gospel has gone out to the ends of the earth.
  • Bible translation efforts, again funded by American largess, have exploded.  The contribution of Christian missionaries to linguistics is so significant that when the Long Now Foundation produced their famous Rosetta Disk, they used Genesis 1 as an exemplar passage–because the Bible was the only document translated into more than a few hundred languages. In other words, we were the only ones that cared enough to go and learn all the languages of the world; the linguists had to deal with us because we were the only ones who had the information they wanted.

These things are possible for us because God has blessed us with power and wealth; He has been kind to us far beyond what our sins deserve.  Israel was judged harshly for the same crimes that we have committed.  Whence this kindness to us?  Romans tells us that the kindness of God is intended to lead us to repentance.

On this day, of all days, let us be grateful for our fathers, most of whom loved and served the God of Israel, and tried to found a Christian country.  Let us be grateful that God has been kind to us although we have not honored their legacy as we ought to have done.  And let us pray for the repentance of our nation before it is too late.

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

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7 Responses to Of Wickedness, Blessing and Gratitude

  1. Drew says:

    The Mexicans attacked us first, we *thought* the Spanish had attacked us first, and I’m not aware of any biblical passage that lends much support to the Geneva Convention idea that civilians must be protected. The passage in Deuteronomy about killing only the males is talking about the situation where you have already subdued the city.

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Drew,

    We annexed Texas, for cryin’ out loud, and then tried to do the same to California — our representative there, IIRC, built a fort when ordered to leave. It was a long, drawn-out situation in which we brought a variety of pressures to bear, at last including a large army, and it was in no way a war of self-defense. The territory we were “defending” was theirs, and the American people we were defending chose, of their own free will, to move to Mexico and live there. The Mexicans didn’t “attack” any territory that didn’t already, by all rights, belong to them. It was a land grab on our part, pure and simple.

    Re. the Maine, it was agents unknown, and the agents remain unknown to this day. We certainly never proved that it was Spain, and while “beyond a reasonable doubt” criminal court standards may not apply, surely the burden of proof ought to be considerable before kicking off a war. No, we wanted control of various Spanish possessions, and a war was a good way to get them. It worked, too. It was sin, but never let it be said that we weren’t good at it…

    Both women/children and basic infrastructure are to be protected under Deut. 20. Wholesale slaughter is simply not permitted without specific, prophetic divine sanction. I’m not talking Geneva standards of what constitutes a civilian here; I’m talking about women and children. Do you really think that it’s ok to bayonet babies as long as hostilities haven’t ceased yet? To bomb a city in such a way that the food supplies are destroyed?

  3. Drew says:

    Given that the Bible does not seem to condemn killing civilians, then no I don’t have necessarily much of a problem with it aside from treaty obligations. Granted, Jephthah isn’t the greatest moral example, but here is one relevant passage:

    //
    Judges 11
    29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. . . . 32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. . . . //

    And as far as I’m aware, Amalek was the only group in the following list that was required to be wiped out:

    //
    1 Samuel 27
    8 Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) 9 Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish. //

    Regarding Texas — As far as I understand it, the deal was that the Texans did not wish to be ruled by the new, dictatorial Spanish government. Part of it was that the new government banned slavery, but that was only part. The situation was a little bit comparable to the situation you described in the first paragraph of your post. Then after the Texans successfully rebelled, Mexico reneged on the treaty with them, which led to a bigger war, resulting in the loss of California and those other places.

  4. Tim Nichols says:

    No, the Spanish were never anything but dictatorial; the Texans were happy enough to be governed by them when they were getting rich on cheap Texan land. The Mexicans lost CA and other places in the larger war because we lusted for them–didn’t have anything to do with Texas particularly. We were willing to buy that land — even made an offer on it for several million dollars — but when that didn’t work, we sent in the army.

    My short answer on civilians is that you’re not reading De. 20 very well. As in the rest of Torah, the laws are symbolic, and the elders in the gate are meant to apply the principles of these symbolic laws to wider cases. (For a NT-sanctioned example, De. 25:4 means what it says, but also applies to people who work, as Paul shows in 1 Cor. 9:9-10. This is not a “NT surprise” — the context of the original command shows that the first human application would be within levirate marriage — a man who is raising up an heir to his brother is entitled to benefit from his brother’s estate until the heir reaches the age of majority.) A proper reading of De. 20 allows making war on the fighting men, but forbids making war on women and children, and certainly forbids indiscriminate acts of total war.

    Regarding your examples:
    Jephthah is a terrible example — in those days there was no king in Israel, and every man did that which was right in his own eyes. You can’t possibly establish the justice of a practice with “Well, they did it in Judges!”
    David is a better example, but notice the rest of v.8 — these are as-yet-unconquered ancient Caananite inhabitants of the land, and therefore they are under the ban, from Joshua’s time onward. See Joshua 13:2-6 for the Geshurites. The Girizites were inhabitants of Gezer, which remained a Canaanite city until Solomon’s time; see 1 Kings 9:15-17. And of course the Amalekites you know about. These are all three part of the inhabitants of the land that are specifically, prophetically exempted from the requirements of De. 20.

  5. Drew says:

    Deuteronomy 20:19 pretty clearly references a drawn-out siege, the purpose of which would (presumably) be to cut off supplies to the civilian population. If we really want to get theonomic, I can see how the restriction on killing fruit trees might apply to the environmental effects of nuclear warfare, but that’s a concern for the environment and not for the civilians. Furthermore, we don’t find any instruction that siege catapults or whatever be steared away from civilian areas — which would perhaps be the closest analogy to modern bombing.

    Additionally, the execution of adult men is not restricted to men who actually fought, which we might expect if God were concerned about civilian deaths. The purpose of protecting the women and children is not because they’re innocent, but because they’re weak and unlikely to revolt. That is, they are (no longer) a threat. Also, the women make good plunder to serve as an incentive for the troops. The children can be converted and/or rehabilitated.

    Finally, we no longer have prophets to give us special sanction to wipe out particularly egregious peoples. The lack of prophets might make it unfair to impose these theonomic restrictions on us in the modern day, even if we assumed that such restrictions once existed. As far as I can tell, the Germans in WW2 were at least as wicked (and dangerous) as Amalek.

  6. Tim Nichols says:

    Drew,

    Germany had a sizable contingent of confessing Christians who opposed the Nazi agenda; it was in no way comparable to Amalek.

    That aside, our basic disagreement here is a matter of hermeneutics. You want to take De. 20 as covering only the specific cases that it directly addresses, and no more. I see those cases as indicative of an underlying ethos which applies to a broad array of cases beyond those specifically addressed. Or if I might put it a little more sharply, you think that De. 25:4 is about oxen, and you don’t know what Paul’s going on about in 1 Cor. 9.

    The case law of De. 20 requires indiscriminate slaughter of the Canaanites within the promised land, and specifically forbids indiscriminate slaughter otherwise. The specific case addressed has to do with the end of a siege, but a proper approach to case law means that their conduct throughout the war needs to be consonant with the way they handle the end of a siege. Incendiary area bombing of cities (or, since you mentioned it, use of nuclear weapons on cities) is the very definition of indiscriminate slaughter, and destroys fruit trees (and related food-oriented infrastructure) along with everything else. If you don’t care about the women and children, you might at least spare the fruit trees. C’mon, man, even Jonah took pity on the vegetation.

    Correct me if I’m wrong here, but it seems to me that your take on prophetic sanction amounts to this: “God, we can’t follow Your laws, because You haven’t sent a prophet to tell us if maybe they don’t apply.” I’d just say that God knows what He’s doing, and if He hasn’t provided continuing exceptions, maybe that’s because there aren’t any. Guess we’d better follow what God has told us until we hear otherwise, huh?

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