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Monday, July 24, 2017

Idolaters in the House

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
— Jeremiah 29:7, NIV

“Never seek their peace or prosperity …”
— Ezra 9:12, ESV

Two instructions: both from God, both to Israel. To the casual reader they may appear to be diametrically opposed, but they are not. The commands occur at very different times in Israel’s history under very different circumstances, and are issued with respect to very different groups of people.

The differences are instructive, I think.

Jew, Go Home

When carried into captivity under the judgment of God, the descendants of Israel were to use their best efforts to make their exile profitable. It was to be profitable for Israel as a time of reflection, repentance, recommitment and growth. It was also to be profitable for the nations with whom Israel was sojourning, because “if [the city] prospers, you too will prosper”.

In his essay Jew, Go Home, Rabbi B encourages his people to return to their ancestral homeland. He says his fellow Jews in America and Europe have forgotten God’s command through Jeremiah, have sold their birthright for a pot of stew, and have “shirked their duty as Jews with the greatest fervor, while imagining that they could buy the friendship of the nations and permanently secure that friendship by discarding everything that distinguishes them as Jews.”

Causes Contrary to God and His Ways

Then he really doubles down:
“For the most part, we have not related to American society in a very positive way. We have done very little to inspire our fellow-citizens to live righteously. Instead, we have advanced causes which are not only contrary to God and His ways, but we have also championed policies and lobbied on behalf of political agendas which have worked against the peace and prosperity of this nation whose welfare was supposed be our chief concern during our temporary sojourn here. Surely, there must be a reason that the phrase ‘What’s good for the goyim?’ never embedded itself in the collective conscience of the non-Jewish world to which we have been exiled. The opportunities we have forfeited are legion.”
Wow. That’s harsh. I won’t comment except to say that he would know better than I would, and perhaps such an exhortation is needed.

The Godless Rabble

But the relevant point is that in exile, Jews had one set of God-given obligations. At home they had another, and this is where Ezra’s words come in: “Never seek their peace or prosperity …”

Here the people in question are not Israel’s captors but the mixed multitude scattered throughout the Promised Land.

Ezra was actually quoting Deuteronomy, which says this:
“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.”
It was expressly forbidden to give equal place in Israelite society to idolaters and to those antagonistic to God’s rule. In his own day, Ezra was appalled and ashamed that God’s people had forgotten they were a “holy race”, or literally a “distinct offspring”. They were to be set apart to God, not intermingled with an unholy, Godless rabble.

Walk Properly Before Outsiders

A similar principle applies to the Christian, doesn’t it? We are to live so as to benefit a system of which we are not a part and whose values we do not share. Paul tells the Thessalonians:
“We urge you, brothers … to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
Likewise, he tells Timothy:
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In short, don’t rock the boat. Don’t be a drain on society. Live so as to be a good citizen, even though where you’re currently living isn’t your spiritual home. Seek the peace and prosperity of those among whom you live.

Mere Genetics

Not so for those who live among us. Just as the land of Canaan was full of Hivites and Hittites and who-knows-what-else, and just as the persecutors of Israel were often those (like the Ammonites or Moabites) with whom Israel had genetic connections, Christendom has its plausible frauds, usurpers and infiltrators. These are not to be treated with kid gloves.

Jude said of these people who have “crept in unnoticed” that they are “grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” He said worse things too. Paul said about the “defiled and unbelieving” within the churches of Crete, “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

No, we must never seek the peace or prosperity of such connivers and wolves in their current state, though we should certainly pray for their repentance. We cannot work alongside them because they have a completely different agenda in view and follow the precepts of a different god. So, like the apostles, we should expose their lies, refuse their overtures to counterfeit unity and fight their evil doctrines to the last man.

They are idolaters occupying the territory of the rightful heirs of Promise.

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