Monday, May 12, 2008

The Two Kingdoms, Part III: Exile, Cont'd

We have seen that the rules that govern God's people's relationship to culture are contingent upon their possession of the land. When the covenant community is sojourning in the land as strangers (Heb. 11:8-16), this relationship can be described as "pilgrim politics." The example of Abraham demonstrates, as we have seen, that the patriarchs were cultically and religiously distinct, but culturally homogenous.

But when Israel ceased to wander and settled in the land, the rules changed. Now they became a theocratic army whose mandate was not to dwell peacefully alongside the Canaanites, but to utterly destroy them.

(Interestingly, the strictness and rigidity shown in Israel’s universal withdrawal from pagan culture only applied to those living within the bounds of the land of Canaan. Outside Israel’s borders things remained as they had always been under the Abrahamic arrangement. This is demonstrated by the fact that Solomon engaged in friendly dealings with delegates from Tyre (I Kings 5:1ff) and with the queen of Sheba (I Kings 10:1ff), without any hint that he was compromising or doing anything wrong.)

But what about the Babylonian captivity? What happened then?

Well, if the land plays such a significant role in determining God's people's relationship to the surrounding culture (as I have argued), then the situation during the exile is exactly what we would expect it to be:
"Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 'Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.'" Jeremiah 29:4-7

God’s covenant people, once again, were exiles without a homeland. As resident aliens in a pagan land they were culturally similar to the inhabitants of the land while remaining religiously separate from them. When outside the borders of the theocratic domain, Israel returned to the pilgrim ethic that characterized the patriarchs before the institution of the Mosaic covenant. They engaged in such common cultural activities as building houses, planting gardens, taking wives, and producing offspring, all the while praying for the welfare of Babylon. In exile, Israel’s distinctiveness and particularity was once again solely cultic (which explains why Daniel was willingly instructed in the pagan arts and literature of Babylon and even agreed to advise his ungodly rulers, while at the same time refusing to defile himself by eating Nebuchadnezzar’s delicacies or worshiping Darius, Dan. 1:1-8; 2:16; 5:17; 6:13). As during the period between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, Israel was religiously distinct but culturally homogenous.

But as Ezra 9:1-3, 10-12 shows us, when Israel returned to their land after their exile was ended the rules reverted back again to those of the theocracy: No more cultural assimilation. All of life - the cultic and the cultural, the sacred and the secular - was again to be considered holy.

In our next post we'll take a look at the cultural role of believers under the New Covenant. Hang on to your hats, because here's where things get really interesting....


  1. Jason,

    Love the posts, keep them coming.

    I do have a few questions about the 2K model. These are questions that have been asked of me as I discuss this topic with others.

    First, why (biblically) are we to think there are only two potions--either theocracy or exile? Can't there be a "middle" ground or a third option?

    Second, is this view the historic reformed view? It does not seem to be, especially given what the origianl Westminster Confession says about the civil magistrate (below). Further, this view is normally associated with Lutheranism, right? If so, why would a bunch of reformed guys be buying into it.

    "The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemes and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God."--WCF 23:3

    Any thoughts about these questions/comments would be great. Thanks!

  2. Josh,

    1. I have thought about that, but when you factor in the real point of the theocracy/exile distinction, i.e., the church and how it relates to culture, I don't really see a tertium quid.

    2. That's a hard question, mainly because it is anachronistic to expect someone in the sixteenth- or seventeenth-century to have espoused pluralism the way we enjoy it today. That said, however, Calvin held very strongly to a 2K view, and with the exception of the idea that the civil magistrate should protect religion, so did the Westminster Divines (I can flesh this out if you'd like).

    3. Yes, but despite the trend to see all things Lutheran as necessarily distinct from Reformed (like justification), I think there is a lot more agreement between the two (especially if Calvin and Westminster taught it too).

  3. Jason,

    I would love for you to "flesh it out" a bit.

  4. OK.

    If you look in the WCF at what it has to say about things like Christian liberty and the role of the civil magistrate, you'll see a clear distinction between the two kingdoms.

    For example, our "liberty," we are told, is strictly spiritual in nature: we are free from sin, the flesh, and the devil. But then we are warned not to use our liberty in the spiritual realm as an excuse to disobey lawful civil power (you know, the whole "Jesus set me free, so now I demand freedom from the king, from slaveowners, from taxation without representation," &c). In other words, if liberty only applies in the spiritual and not the civil realm, then there must be two distinct kingdoms that operate according to two distinct rule books.

    The same goes for the bit about synods and councils. They speak for God by determining controversies of religion (so much for "solo Scriptura"), but are forbidden to "intermeddle" in civil matters belonging to the jurisdiction of the State. Something resembling a 2K view is necessary to make any sense out of that.

    There's probably more, but I'm using a laptop and I hate typing on this keyboard....


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