The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The Neglect of the Divine Commands

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"ArtIm:

With the publication of E.C. Wines’ Laws of the Ancient Hebrews I’ve gotten some interesting emails from fellow Christians. Here’s a sample of responses when we asked the question, “Should Christians obey Old Testament Law?”:

  • If Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law of Moses, why is ANY of this relevant?
  • NO!
  • Since we all fall short of the Law, we can never keep it totally! 
  • Is the Letter to the Hebrews in your canon of Scripture where we have a new covenant, a new law, and a new high priest?

I’ll deal with the biblical side of these statements next week. First, I would like to put things in historical perspective by an appeal to Noah Webster (1758–1843), author of An American Dictionary of the English Language which was America’s earliest and most comprehensive English dictionary. He also served in the Connecticut House of Representatives and he also contributed to the drafting of the wording of Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” (¶ 8)

For decades, he was one of the most prolific authors in America, publishing textbooks, political essays, and newspaper articles. A modern bibliography of his published works runs 655 pages. His Blue-Backed Speller was used to teach spelling and reading to generations of American children. Along with his dictionary, it helped to Americanize English spelling.  The speller was grounded in Scripture. The first lesson began “Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink ; nor for your body, what ye shall put on; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things” (Matt. 6:25).

Webster was a devout Christian who understood the relationship between God’s law and everything else. His 1828 American Dictionary contained the greatest number of biblical definitions given in any reference volume. It’s no wonder that Webster considered education “useless without the Bible.” From the Preface to his dictionary, we find the following:

In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed. No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.

In addition to his linguistic work, Webster published his own edition of the Bible in 1833. It was a very limited revision of the King James Version (KJV). He consulted the original Hebrew and Greek as well as other versions and commentaries. He corrected some of the grammar of the KJV translators, replaced words that were no longer used, and did away with words and phrases that some people found offensive.

Webster’s work was not only about definitions and simplifying the spelling of English words. He understood that if a nation is to prosper, it must ask two fundamental questions: (1) Who’s ultimately in charge, and (2) what does the one who is in charge require of us? Webster puts it this way in his book the History of the United States:

Let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, just men who will rule in the fear of God [Exodus 18:21]. . . . If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted . . . If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the Divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.[1]

What are these “Divine commands”? Where are they found? Webster stated, “The duties of men are summarily comprised in the Ten Commandments, consisting of two tables; one comprehending the duties which we owe immediately to God—the other, the duties we owe to our fellow men.”[2] Webster went on to say, “[I]f we and our posterity neglect religious instruction and authority; violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.”[3]

This last statement sounds very similar to what Cecil B. DeMille said when he introduced his 1956 film The Ten Commandments. For the original theatrical release, DeMille filmed an onscreen introduction, which is included in video editions of the movie but not when it is shown on television. Most people who only have seen the Ten Commandments on television have never seen DeMille’s introduction. DeMille had something more in mind than just making a film about a religious figure from the Bible. He considered his production to be so important that he came out on stage to deliver a short but powerful statement on the nature of freedom under the law of God:

The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God’s laws or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the State or are they free souls under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today.[4]

All law is a reflection of some worldview.[5] Law is an inescapable concept. Even the most lawless person has his own sense of justice.[6] We hear people talk about “prison justice.” Prisoners will actually judge other prisoners, especially those involved in child abuse cases. There are some crimes that even murderers will not tolerate. Someone is ultimately in charge: the sovereign individual where “every man does what is right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6), a single ruler who claims a “divine right,” the call for a political savior by the people best exemplified in the way Israel asked for a “king like all the other nations” (1 Sam. 8), a “we the people mentality” where the majority rules regardless of their decision, or falling back to an elite cadre of lawmakers similar to what we have here in the United States with a Supreme Court that rules without any reference to a higher law.

Those who deny that there is an objective law, that we are only to be guided by the Holy Spirit, never seem to answer what law is to govern a nation. I guess the simplest solution is to maintain that “God’s kingdom is not of this world” and Satan is the god of this world and be done with it. If you want an answer to these claims, take a look at my book Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths.


Endnotes:

[1] Noah Webster, The History of the United States (New Haven: Durrie and Peck, 1832), 307–308.
[2] Noah Webster, Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education: To Which is Subjoined A Brief History of the United States (New Haven: S. Converse, 1823), p. 7; see also Noah Webster, A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary, and Moral Subjects (New York: Webster & Clark, 1843), p. 296.
[3]
Webster, The History of the United States.
[4]DeMille’s introductory remarks can be seen only on video and DVD versions of the movie.
[5]
Gary DeMar, Thinking Straight in a Crooked World: A Christian Defense Manual (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2001).
[6]
See No Country for all Old Men (2007). Speaking of the ruthless character Anton Chigurh, Carson Wells, played by Woody Harrelson, says: “No no. No. You don’t understand. You can’t make a deal with him. Even if you gave him the money he’d still kill you. He’s a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that. He’s not like you. He’s not even like me.”

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