Thursday, June 11, 2009

A National Faith: Dt 21:1-9

"If a slain person is found lying in the open country in the land which the Lord your God gives you to possess, and it is not known who has struck him, then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance to the cities which are around the slain one. It shall be that the city which is nearest to the slain man, that is, the elders of that city, shall take a heifer of the herd, which has not been worked and which has not pulled in a yoke; and the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which has not been plowed or sown, and shall break the heifer's neck there in the valley... All the elders of that city which is nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley; and they shall answer and say, 'Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it. Forgive Your people Israel whom You have redeemed, O Lord, and do not place the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of Your people Israel.' And the bloodguiltiness shall be forgiven them. So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 21:1-9)
We have previously looked at how bloodguiltiness can be charged to an entire nation. National bloodguiltiness is washed away by the process of justice and the executing of judgment upon the guilty. However, this passage deals with unsolved crimes; the shedding of innocent blood where the perpetrator is unknown. Without the punishment of the guilty, the bloodguiltiness assigned to a nation remains. There needs to be a way for a nation to expunge itself of bloodguiltiness when the guilty cannot be found and punished. In these cases, God accepted the blood of a heifer as payment for the innocent blood, thus removing the land's bloodguilt.

To this day, each of our nations bear a measure of bloodguiltyness for crimes committed but never atoned for. However, today we don't need to shed the blood of bulls and goats for the blood that covers all sins has already been shed upon the cross of Calvary. If the people of a nation will repent and ask for forgiveness then God will forgive their bloodguiltiness. "And [if] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

It is not sufficient for a nations institutions to be godly and to be founded upon scriptural principles and wisdom, a nation must also possess a common faith in God. This is not to say that everyone must agree on all points of faith and religion, but simply that a common national faith in God and in His providence and governance over them is essential for the prolonged live and prosperity of any society. There will always be instances where, in the course of events, guilt is imputed to a nation and, at times like these, the people may be called upon in their common faith to ask for the forgiveness and favor of God upon their lives and their nation. The saving power of a national faith is no where more clearly demonstrated than in the story of Nineveh.

The sin of Nineveh had piled up and it was time for God to act, so God spoke to Jonah saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." (Jonah 1:2) After a miraculous trip in the belly of a great fish, Jonah arrived in Nineveh and began to declare to them God's judgment upon their sins. "Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, 'Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.'" (Jonah 3:4) Upon hearing of God's impending judgment, and much to Jonah's displeasure, the people of Nineveh turned to God, repented, and prayed. "When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, 'In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.'" (Jonah 3:6-9) Upon seeing their repentance, God relented of the punishment He had determined for them and He forgave their sins. "When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it." (Jonah 3:10)

It was their corporate response to God, their common faith in the goodness, rightness, and mercy of God, that brought about their deliverance from impending doom. There is no indication that the Ninevehvites had a national religion or state sponsored church, but they did have a common faith in God and, when the situation demanded it, they knew where to turn for mercy and forgiveness as a nation. God never intended for nations to be secular. He never intended for faith and relationship with God to be removed from the public discourse or from public life. Rather He intended that a nation's shared faith in God would provide the sure foundation and stalwart pillars of all corporate life and of the nation as a whole.

David Robison

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