The First Chapters Project – Deuteronomy 1

deuteronomy

It comes as no surprise to me that the main theme of the Bible is again repeated in Deuteronomy 1: I exist, humanity exists and all Creation exists to glorify God, the Lord of Creation. Indeed, Deuteronomy 1 is yet another exposé of the way God took care of His people. The chapter speaks of miracles after miracles… And God’s creation itself is in fact a reminder of His faithfulness (see also Psalm 19). It seems this is to make sure the reader really listens!

Deuteronomy 1 also speaks of the challenges of leadership. No doubt Moses was a great leader. But it is remarkable to see in Deuteronomy 1 that Moses seems to fail in positively influencing his followers. Indeed, Moses led the Hebrew people out of Egypt and showed God’s faithfulness in many ways. Still, the people failed to trust him, and every one of them, except Caleb and Joshua were denied entry to the Holy Land.

Something similar happens to Jesus in the Gospels. Look at John 6:15. In that verse Jesus does not go to the mountain to pray. He goes there to flee from the people who wanted to make Him king by force. The people, driven completely crazy by all the miracles Jesus did, had very specific expectations of Him. One of them was bread, but Jesus came to offer living Bread. When the people realized that His agenda was something completely different, they all (but twelve disciples) left Him.

I have seen this quite often in my life: for the wrong reasons people start following me, but when they find out that I am not fulfilling their expectations, they drop of… And all of this in spite of the enormous miracles and blessings that God gives as tokens of His guidance.

Another theme that is recurrent in this chapter is the importance of keeping the Law, which is Jesus Himself. Deuteronomy means “second statement of the Law.” But this is not a mere theological concept. Deuteronomy 1 proposes a practical political solution to the issue of injustice in society: Moses establishes a legal system – a complex structure of judges, courts and trials – in order to be able to solve differences in a righteous and unpartisan way. Basically, Moses establishes Rule of Law, hereby moving forward to the restoration and ordering of Creation.

What does this all mean for our understanding of religious persecution dynamics? I can see that any power or movement that is not focused on giving Glory to God and is in contradiction with His Law bears in it the seed of persecution. Why are Christians persecuted? It’s because they do glorify God, and by their keeping of the will of the Father threaten vested interests.

John 7:7 struck me in this respect: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.” This verse came to confirm an insight I gained in the past years about the factors of the persecution of Christians: The world does not hate Christians simply because they are Christians (believers in Christ); the world hates Christians because (and when) they act like Christians. In other words, the world hates Christians whose faith inspires their behavior, because this behavior is a witness that the works of the world are evil. This means that persecution of Christians is not necessarily caused by religious reasons or a result of their explicit witness of Christ. More often, Christians are vulnerable because by their behavior they expose the wickedness of the works of the world.

And of course, it is important to recognize that the countries where Rule of Law is absent – failed states – are more prone to religious persecution. This is because a good functioning legal system glorifies the Creator. When this is lacking, there is chaos and instability, just as before God brought order to the dark wasteland in Genesis 1.

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Dennis P. Petri
Dennis P. Petri is Director of Plataforma C, Platform for Christian Politics. A political scientist by training, he specializes in comparative politics with a specific interest in Latin America. He is currently working on a dissertation about religious freedom at VU University Amsterdam.

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