BY LYSON SIBANDE
Firstly, let me clarify that the Old Testament Bible teaches that when God established the theocratic nation of Israel in around 1400BC and later approved its theocratic monarchy in around 1000BC, He allowed the Israelites to fight wars and shed blood. Actually, He fought wars for and with them. However, it is important to understand that these wars were for national security and defense of the state.
This must never be confused to mean that God allowed his men to lead political violence and bloodshed to overthrow government or leadership. On the contrary, it means God allows his men to join security institutions of the state like the army and the police to fight wars for national security and defense.
Now, The Bible is very clear that God is an interested and active participant in political affairs of all nations whether pagan or religious. Daniel said, “It is God who changes times and seasons; He removes rulers or establish them” (Dan 2:21). As a result, politics is not an inherently evil trade but some politicians become evil. It is for this reason that God always intervene in political affairs of the world to raise a distinguished crop of politicians who can shine His glory and give people hope in times of political darkness and crises.
For example, the Bible gives us politicians like His Excellency, Joseph the Prime Minister of Egypt (Gen 38), Daniel the Diplomat of Babylon and later Cabinet Minister of Persian ( Dan 1-6), or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego the State House aides in the Babylonian government ( Dan 3: ). In the New Testament the Bible gives us Honorable Paul, the Member of Jewish Parliament and Jesus Christ, leader of the Movement.
Joseph became Prime Minister of Egypt at the age of 30. Pharaoh was the Monarch, which meant Joseph was the Head of Government answerable only to Pharaoh. Through his rise in the politics of Egypt, God migrated the descendants of Abraham into the safety and prosperity of Egypt. They escaped the poverty and starvation of Canaan and inherited Goshen, the most fertile land in Egypt. Therefore, God called Joseph into politics not for his personal ambitions but to be a blessing to the people of Israel.
After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Kingdom of Judah in between 589 and 586 BC, God called Daniel and his young friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the politics of Babylon. Daniel became the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Diplomat while his three friends became aides to Nebuchadnezzar at the State House.
Both, Daniel and his friends did not assimilate to the evils of the politics of Babylon. They remained true to the principles of faith, and were distinguished among all other politicians of Babylon because they shone with the grace of God. And when they were later thrown into the fiery furnace and survived it, the entire political establishment of Babylon was transformed into a God-fearing government. God had called the three boys into politics not for them to pursue personal ambitions and incite violence or bloodbath, but to be instruments of political transformation of the Empire of Babylon.
And when the Persian King, Cyrus took over Babylon in around 539 BC and established the Persian Empire, once again God called Daniel in his old age into active politics. He served as Cabinet Minister in the Persian government. He was so different from other politicians and elites of Persia that they envied him and plotted his death. But when he was eventually thrown into the lion’s den and survived, King Darius, his entire Cabinet, and the elites of Persia got transformed into a Godly government.
Coming to the first century AD, the Bible give us politicians like Honorable Paul (MP) and Jesus Christ leader of the Movement whom God called into politics in situations more similar to ours. After General Pompey of the Roman Army conquered Palestine in around 64 BC, Rome ruled over people of Israel. But just like Cyrus had done, Rome gave the Jews some political autonomy in Palestine. The central government in Rome could only appoint governors in Palestine and provide military defense and security forces, but the Jews had their Parliament which managed the politics and jurisprudence of the Jews.
The Jewish political system was theocratic in nature. As a result, the Parliament which was also the Judiciary also managed the religious affairs of the state. Actually, the politicians were also the religious leaders because religion and politics were one. For example, the Pharisee and Sadducees were religious sects as well as political parties represented in Parliament – Sanhedrin.
Honorable Paul (MP), the Member of Parliament belonged to the Pharisaic Party in Parliament by virtue of being a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5). As a man whom God had called into politics, Honorable Paul (MP) was an overzealous politician, ambitious, hot tempered and very selfish. He was like Lazarus Chakwera. When he saw that the Christianity movement was winning, he swore to cause violence and bloodbath. So he used his parliamentary position to get clearance from the Council in Jerusalem and begun to lead violence and bloodshed against all those that belonged to the Christianity movement.
But when Honorable Paul (MP), met with Jesus on his way to Syria, he became a changed politician. Instead of mobilizing people into violence and bloodshed against the popular people of the Christianity movement, he began to teach about the message of reconciliation between the aggrieved people of Palestine and their government of Rome. He taught that though the Jews were not happy with the government of Rome, they were supposed to still respect the Emperor and exercise full civil obedience. He said, “Obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone, and he puts these rulers in their places of power” Romans 13:1 (CEV).
And finally, if you understood the political system of Palestine that I gave you, you will understand that Jesus Christ too was a politician of his time. He was the leader of a religious movement and that made him a political leader. All his followers had political expectations from him. His enemies too feared him on political purposes and his trial and crucifixion were politically motivated and politically executed.
Jesus was not the first leader of a movement in Palestine. In “Antiquities of the Jews,” Josephus reports several incidences of leaders who led Jews into political violence to overthrow Rome and give Palestine political freedom. Usually, they led demonstrations during Passover and crashed with Roman soldiers in the streets.
Jews expected Jesus to be like previous leaders of movements and lead them into civil disobedience and political violence.That is why in Matt 22:17-21, Pharisees asked Jesus about a question of civil disobedience against the Emperor by refraining from paying taxes. But Jesus responded by encouraging everyone to be loyal to the government and exercise civil obedience to the Roman Government.
In conclusion, the principle of the Bible is that religious men and women whom God calls into politics must never incite the public into political violence, bloodbath or civil disobedience. But they must be God’s channel of heavenly blessings like Prime Minister Joseph, and be instruments of political transformation through their Godly behavior like Daniel the Diplomat and the three State House aides. And most importantly, they must lead the public into civil obedience towards state authority and ensure that even in their quest for freedom against oppression they must refrain from bloodshed and violence just like Jesus Christ and Honorable Paul did.