CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Reflections On Resisting Tyranny

Aug 19, 2020

How far can we go in opposing evil governments?

One might think with all the corona crisis we are now engulfed in that I am again speaking to this matter, and referring to the new tyrants who are taking away our freedoms by means of draconian lockdown measures. But that is only in part what I want to address here. I do want to look at bigger matters, such as a biblical and theological reflection on geopolitical affairs and international relations.

That is, how are Christians to understand things like international conflict and warfare? I happen to believe that there is a place for just war. I think we were morally right to fight Hitler and the Nazis, and I think we were also right to resist expansionist Communism. In both cases defensive warfare sought to check the spread of great evil, of ruthless tyrants, and of bloodthirsty ideologies.

Just as God ordained the state to keep evil in check and to punish evildoers (by means of courts, the police, and so on), so too there is a place for armies and for the protection of one’s national borders. Ancient Israel of course knew all about such things.

It is the situation as found in the Old Testament that I want to bring to bear here in contemporary discussions of if and when nations can go to war against evil powers and militant threats to freedom and democracy. In particular, I want to examine a key passage found in the book of Jeremiah. As I am again rereading through this important book, I came upon these verses (Jer. 38:1-4), in my daily reading:

Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people: “Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. Thus says the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.” Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” 

I will speak to this text in more detail in a moment, but the main point I want to make here is this: back then God sent his prophets to tell his people what was going on. The people were not left in the dark, and God spoke to them through these prophets – whether it seemed to be good news or bad news.

So they were not left scratching their heads as to what was happening all around them. They had divine commentary on so many things by means of the prophetic word. Often the prophets could tell the people that some disaster (such as a plague or famine or whatever) was happening for a specific reason – usually because of their sin and disobedience and idolatry.

And here we have the same: Jerusalem was at the end of its ropes, and the evil Babylonians were closing in real fast. Jeremiah said that this was all part of God’s divine judgment on them, and therefore they should not resist the Babylonians (or Chaldeans). So the people had the divine word as to what was happening.

But as I have often said, we today do not have that same clear prophetic word, so we are often left guessing as to why this or that disaster has befallen us. Be it Covid, or war, or drought, or bush fires, we can only speculate as to why these things are happening. Are they the direct judgment of God on a sinful people? It could well be, but we may not know for sure.

But back then ancient Israel was not left doubting and wondering. God spoke to them through the prophets and told them why things were happening – often predictively foretelling what would be happening – and why. So here we have what the leaders in Jerusalem could only consider to be pure treason: Jeremiah was telling them not to resist these evil tyrants, and to accept what was coming their way.

No wonder they so hated Jeremiah, and they so often had him thrown in prison. He actually seemed to be siding against God’s own people and siding with their enemies. That is treason indeed! But God was behind it, and all Jeremiah could do was share the bad news and face the consequences.

Let me offer some commentary on this particular episode. Philip Graham Ryken gives us this backdrop to the situation:

To understand why Jeremiah’s sermon made people mad, it helps to understand how desperate the situation was in Jerusalem. The city was under siege. The most powerful military force in the world – the Babylonian army – was camped outside its walls, cutting off all supplies. Bread rations were starting to run low, and there was no water left in any of the cisterns, only brackish mud.

Very likely, the Babylonians had started to attack the walls of the city, trying to undermine its towers or knock down its gates with battering rams…

Given the city’s weak tactical position, it is easy to see why Jeremiah’s little sermon was bad for morale. He was announcing that victory was impossible, defeat inevitable. His message was “Surrender or Die.” He was preaching that message not because the Babylonians were invincible, but because God himself was fighting on Babylon’s side.

Image of Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (ESV Edition) (Preaching the Word)
Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (ESV Edition) (Preaching the Word) by Array Amazon logo

And Old Testament scholar Michael Brown also helps us to see what was happening here:

Jeremiah’s message gives further credence to the charge that he is a traitor ready to desert to the Babylonians (37:13-14), since he is now urging everyone to surrender to the very same enemy, also assuring them (v.3) that Jerusalem was about to fall. How treasonous these words must have sounded to those who still believed that the fight was on and that Yahweh would deliver the people and the city…

Once again Jeremiah’s opponents determine that his words deserve death (cf. 11:18-21; 26:8; 38:15). . . . What an outrageous charge! The precise opposite is true, and out of his ardent desire to see true shalom in this troubled city and to avoid the appending raca [disaster] he has spent the better part of the last forty years exposing the false promises of shalom (cf. esp. 6:14; 8:11; 14:13; 23:17), urging the people to repent so that blessing can come and disaster be averted. In reality, the only true way to shalom is to heed his warnings, but with that option long since passed, all the promises of shalom have been transferred to the future (cf. esp. 29:11; 33:6, 9). God’s merciful present way for the people to avoid further suffering is to surrender (v.3).

As mentioned, it is much harder today to know how to respond to every evil ruler, every lousy government, and every case of tyranny. In the OT with a certain and sure prophetic word, ancient Israel knew when they should fight enemies – both within and without – and when they should not. We do not have that same sort of clarity today.

So we – and our rulers – need wisdom and discernment as to when we should engage, as to when a just war or revolt is possible and desirable. Some cases are clear. Most would agree that the Allies were fully justified in uniting militarily against Hitler. Other tyrants and acts of aggression may also require some sort of armed intervention, but it may be less clear if and when that should happen.

The bigger theological issues cannot be entered into here. Even if God used evil, pagan nations like Babylon or Assyria for his purposes to judge his own people, they were still held to account, and also judged by God. See Isaiah 10 for example as a classic case of this.

So yes, it is possible that today as well God uses all sorts of evil rulers and tyrants as part of his purposes. Whether we can resist and fight back – on various levels – is another matter, and still requires discernment and understanding. The evil we see Communist China inflicting on its own people, as well as on the once free Hong Kong, is a case in point.

And the evil we see bungling rulers like Dan Andrews inflicting on poor, longsuffering Victorians is another. At the very least we must pray for these leaders. And we need to keep in mind that we can fully detest evil and injustice while also praying for those who are behind it.

I do this every single day for Premier Andrews who has helped to cause the deaths of hundreds and the economic ruin of hundreds of thousands through his arrogance, sheer incompetence, and criminal negligence. So I will keep holding him to account as I keep praying for him.

And praying that God removes the wicked is certainly quite Scriptural. Praying the imprecatory psalms actually is fully biblical. We do indeed have such prayers in Scripture, and we can pray them against evil and ungodly leaders who are doing so much horrific harm to so many. See this piece for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/08/04/yes-seek-justice-and-vindication/

It would be nice to have that absolute and crystal-clear word today on how to deal with all unjust leaders and evil governments that was found in the OT. But we can at least pray today for our rulers, while always holding them fully to account at the same time.

[1640 words]

14 Responses to Reflections On Resisting Tyranny

  • That is pretty much it. We need to look at all angles covered in scripture.
    That’s what makes our current situation hard to discern.
    Is it rebelling to refuse what looks like is going to become mandatory; the covid vaccine.
    Or, do we just surrender and accept all that is coming?
    Do i risk starving my family and myself over refusing to comply with a vaccine?
    Do i accept it and continue to walk with the Lord and worry about any side effects down the road?
    I do not believe this vaccine is the “mark of the beast” but i do believe it is the precursor to one in the future.
    God grant us all courage, strength and wisdom.

  • Yes George plenty of questions arise here, and we need to keep asking questions. We need a lot of wisdom and understanding and discernment to determine how to proceed in these dark days.

  • Thank you, Bill, for an insightful article that describes the current situation so well. A few of my family members and I suspect the coronavirus is an attempt at germ warfare perpetrated by the Chinese because they did not like something about the trade agreement with the U.S. Other people want to believe the coronavirus is “just another kind of flu” that has been exaggerated in the media and really poses no threat to anyone. Of course, these people have not yet been stricken with the flu, which they insist is a “minor complaint.” At the same time, they show little grief for their elderly friends and relatives who apparently died from the coronavirus, preferring to think the cause of death was some other ailment. At the same time, they are deaf, dumb, and blind to the fact that over 172,000 Americans of all ages have died from coronavirus so far. None of them yet has mentioned the proposed vaccine as the “mark of the beast,” but I imagine someone will tell me about it very soon. Various Christian circles in the U.S. have become very angry about the occurrence of the virus, and yet some want to insist that it is a hoax and that their freedoms are being curtailed by officials who require certain safety measures to protect everyone’s health and safety.

    The frightening truth about the coronavirus is that no one has any natural immunity to it, whereas most people have a certain degree of immunity to various kinds of flu. I would not be one bit surprised if this virus was modified or engineered so that it does affect different people in different ways and very well may mutate as it is spread. Yes, we are living in dark days, and we all need to pray for God to give us courage, strength, and wisdom as George Salapatas concluded in his comment.

  • It is not just Dan Andrews.

    Tonight channel 7 tv news (among other outlets has reported that Scott Morrison is looking to make the yet-to-be-introduced Wuhan virus vaccine compulsory as much as possible.

    Any government that makes Wuhan virus vaccine compulsory and yet at the same time bans combination treatments of hydrochloriquine (with zinc and antibiotics), is not acting in good faith and is probably working to an as yet undeclared agenda.

    While a vast improvement over a possible Bill Shorten government at the last election, Scott Morrison is proving himself to be either a ‘cuck’ or a useful idiot for the dark side.

  • Yes Mary, quite so. But let me offer a few words of encouragement: Never stop speaking out – our voices matter. The idiotic talk of mandatory vaccines that Morrison was pushing this morning received such a large and loud public backlash that by the afternoon he had to do a big backtrack and say. ‘Oh, I did not really mean it would be mandatory’. Never stop speaking out! And never stop praying.

  • I may have been a bit hasty in my previous above comment, as the below article has Scott Morrison walking back (at least for now) the ‘compulsory’ part of Wuhan virus vaccines:

    “Scott Morrison announces free COVID-19 vaccines for Australians, backtracks on ‘mandatory’ comments”
    https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/health-problems/coronavirus-vaccine-scott-morrison-to-announce-free-covid19-vaccines-for-australians/news-story/2ae498bf632fd6ae6aa2d667f22e41a3

    Scott Morrison in the above article still appears to be unrepentant of being the minister that introduced the ‘no jab, no pay’ policy that withheld government benefits from parents who did not vaccinate their children.

    It is of great concern that such comments from the so-called ‘conservative’ side of politics were made to start with.

    The threat of future compulsory Wuhan virus vaccinations needs to be monitored closely.

  • Yes Mary as I just said in my comment above.

  • The sheeple in Australia, most have their sheeple kits. Masks, snitching on others, persecuting others for tiny infringements, watching the news and listening to the radio all day to hear the ‘numbers’, lining up for tests if they have the barest of nose sniffles or feel slightly under the weather, believing everything Dan tells them and bureaucrats. How easy is it to fool a populace with endless fear, making the nation begging for a vaccine so life can go on as normal, businesses complying and ruthlessly enforcing patrons to separate by many meters, not inviting anyone to visit, even wearing masks in their vehicles and on it goes. This has been a catastrophic battering ram and the gullible sheeple have bought it hook, line and sinker.

  • Bill, this video from 1969 predicts today so accurately that it’s kind of scary. My dad sent me this the other day, it’s astoundingly true

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=N7mV98BRCuk

  • Dan Andrews is beginning to remind me of the Pharoah of Egypt where God used Moses to say “Let my people go”. Looks like we will have to be the ‘Moses’ until he lets the people of Victoria out from lockdowns/draconian orders. I don’t think he will last long as he has lied to the people about not using ADF personnel when he could have. Gladys Berijiklian, however, apologized the other day for her government not handling the Ruby Princess correctly. Commentators say she is a weak leader for not getting rid of those concerned or apologizing but I think it takes more strength to apologize/own up about the situation and those health workers have done a good job tracking the virus and trying to keep it under control. Not sure if all these measures will work though as it seems it might have been better to just wear masks in the community like in the Spanish flu and keep the elderly and autoimmune impaired safe somewhere.

  • Sound biblical reasoning! I couldn’t resist the mental images (in black and white – mind you) of the multiple long lines of Jews being marched, ever-so-willingly, by just a handful of German guards (albeit with machine guns) to their inevitable death.

  • What you need to know about Morrison’s push for compulsory vaccines:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/08/20/on-morrisons-mandatory-vaccines/

  • Be it Covid, or war, or drought, or bush fires, we can only speculate as to why these things are happening. Are they the direct judgment of God on a sinful people? It could well be, but we may not know for sure.

    Including major floods in northern China which have turned the Wuhan province into a series of lakes. Here is the latest video from Epoch Times https://youtu.be/D08bEAJE06M

Leave a Reply