In the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 16, the prophet Ezekiel compares Israel, who were God’s people of his time, with a whore who prostitutes herself to all the surrounding nations. God is the husband in the allegory, and Israel is the adulterous wife. God (the husband) speaks of his supposed people (his adulterous wife) with phrases like: “But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his… (16:15) …therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness.” (16:37)
So through Ezekiel, God speaks to His supposed people as if they were a whore. There is good reason too, because the people of Israel were so corrupt at this time that they were engaging in pagan practices that included child sacrifice and prostitution. But the seemingly lesser sins they were engaging in were things like greed, and forged political alliances with the wealthy pagan nations in order to advance their social, economic and political status.
I love verse 49 and 50 in chapter 16. They say:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
Often in our culture, we think of the main sins of Sodom as being the rape that the “Sodomites” pushed on Lot, who was the only righteous guy in the whole city. That reality is somewhat inferred by Ezekiel, with Sodom doing “haughty and detestable things”. But how come so few in America mentions the fact that the people of Sodom were “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy”? Maybe not enough Christians in America have taken a good look at the radical message of the prophets. If we did, we would be a bit disturbed with our church as it stands today. In this passage, God says that He “did away” with Sodom and Gomorrah. Partly because they did “haughty and detestable things”- including sexual immorality and perversion that led to a group of men making an attempt at gang-rape, but also because the culture was characterized by being “arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, and did not help the poor and needy”. Does that bother you at all? It bothers me! I certainly don’t want to be “done away with”. But God doesn’t really need people who don’t desire to do His Will, and He can “do away” with anyone anytime He wants.
One thing is for sure, the prophets were definitely not liked for their message. Imagine if some wild dude got up in the pulpit in front of a mega-church and said that the church is a whore who is prostituting themselves to the idols of narcissism, capitalism, materialism, New-Age-ism, right-wing moralism, and all sorts of other “detestable practices”? We get plenty of televangelists condemning gays, liberals, ecologists and the ACLU, and granted, the morality espoused by many liberal people is weak and unbiblical. But who is hammering the poor display of Christian values that are portrayed in the American church today as displayed by chauvinists, republicans, legalists, eco-wasters and the moral majority? Not many get away with it. But the rough news is the fact that the prophets were hated for the same reasons. The prophets were sent by God and spoke the message of God fully, no matter whether or not it offended the “liberals” (during biblical times- many Roman “pagans” or “Gentiles” would have held values in common with them) or “conservatives” (during biblical times- many religious people or “Pharisees”, and “Zealots” would have held values in common with them).
And then again, I suppose we have to say that some biblical values do coincide with our modern “conservative” and “liberal” parties. You may find yourself in either party, and you may be a follower of Jesus. I’m not saying that this is wrong. We all have convictions and passions that we’re currently captivated by. I’m simply just saying that Jesus can’t be classified into one camp or another, because they are flawed human systems that are not as much based on scripture as they are a view of government. All government groups have an obvious, necessary agenda to receive the votes of the mass population that they cater to. In many cases, opposing parties even force their candidates and representatives to take views that even these people don’t necessarily agree with. The point is, all human systems are flawed…
I also love Jesus’ reaction to a two groups of people who were in opposition politically, and their quip to try and pigeon-hole Him…
“15 The Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 16 They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. 17 Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? 19 Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, 20 he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
22 His reply amazed them, and they went away.” (Matthew 22:15-22)
Now the Herodians were “a Jewish political party who sympathized with (Mark 3:6;12:13; Matt, 22:16; Luke 20:20) the Herodian rulers in their general policy of government, and in the social customs which they introduced from Rome. They were at one with the Sadducees in holding the duty of submission to Rome, and of supporting the Herods on the throne. (Comp. Mark 8:15;Matt. 16:6.).” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary) The Pharisees were a fairly conservative Jewish group that had gained power under the help of Herodian rulers, but were far more pious and considered themselves to be separate from the customs of Rome in many aspects (except, of course, for using politics to gain an advantage as was the case in Matthew 22 here).
So, though these two parties were about as opposed to each other as many liberals and conservatives would be in America today, they agreed to try and trap Jesus together. So they used flattery and placated Him first, trying to act as if they believed in what He was saying and teaching. But Jesus, knowing their hearts, made a revolutionary statement about the civic vs. the spiritual responsibility of those who follow Him. Jesus didn’t tear down the government in a revolutionary sense, or encourage civic disobedience, which would have appeased some in the Pharisee party, and especially the zealots of the time, who desired a Davidic Messiah King to come and overthrow Rome, reinstating Israel into another golden age of glory. Jesus also didn’t place Caesar on an equal, comparable or greater throne than God Himself, which would have appeased the Herodians and Sadducees in a sense, who were full on political supporters of the government, at least in their outward expression. Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s”, a truly just statement.
We can obviously see that the political landscape of the time of Jesus’ life was far different in many complex ways in comparison to the American government scenario we find ourselves in today.
But the principles set forth in this interaction are valid for us.
To my understanding, Jesus is teaching us that we are not to make an idolatrous altar to any form of government, and keep the perfect government and Kingdom of our righteous and loving Lord at the center of our hearts and future hope.
Jesus is also teaching that as we are put into a conflict between the City of God and the City of Man (to reference Augustine), we have civic responsibilities on this side of heaven and earth as well. We are to honor all governments as far as it is ethically and biblically possible, even paying respect towards a corrupt government, which Rome certainly was! We are to be influencers within the city of Man, bringing shalom, joy and humility into it, and with that a foretaste of the City of God that will one day come (Rev. 21).
Yes, we can do this in both the democratic and republican spheres. And followers of Jesus can be influencers for the Kingdom of God in either realm. In my opinion, if political people of Jesus’ day couldn’t pigeon hole Him, then they shouldn’t be able to quite pigeon hole us, either, no matter what our political or social affiliations are. What they should see in us is Christ-likeness, and the beautiful, good values of scriptures oozing out of us!
And if you claim that Jesus is your King, I’m sure that His substitutional atonement will save you, then inspire you to follow His teachings and submit to His direction for your life. And if you follow Jesus, your allegiance to Him will eventually transcend your politics.