Chapter 19 (Just Dealings) pages 309-322
North deals with Lev 19:33-37 here and will go on to state that the two independent passages concerning the equality of strangers (non-resident aliens) and the impartation of justice/honesty are interrelated and should be considered together. Though they may have aspects that support one another, there seems no good reason to insist on such a unification of the passages.
This, however, is a minor point.
Personally, I’ve found this chapter difficult to come to terms with. Partly this has been due to the phraseology that North has employed here, terms which mean little or nothing to me and which seem to have very little context in which their meaning can be ascertained. But partly it has been the sudden introduction of statements that seem to be unrelated to the previous sentences, and concepts which make it difficult to form a coherent understanding of North’s points on numerous occasions.
For instance, his opening remarks (page 308)
‘God reminded the Israelites in this passage that He had delivered them from Egyptian bondage, where they had been strangers. This deliverance had been an application of the fundamental theme of the Bible: the transition from wrath to grace’
left me wondering how ‘wrath from grace’ could be applied as the ‘fundamental theme’. I agree that the Bible is at pains to show that mankind, though under God’s wrath, can be reconciled into a right relationship with God by God through God’s grace, but is North saying here that God’s wrath was against the Israelites and that, through His grace, He turned from that anger? Or is ‘wrath’ to be understood as being a trait of the Egyptians (a ‘wrath’ that was man’s anger and not a manifestation of God’s wrath)?
Also (page 309 - my italics)
‘God prepared a place for strangers to live in peace through justice. The system of justice did not give strangers political authority, for they were outside the ecclesiastical covenant. But the system provided liberty. Conclusion: political pluralism is not biblically necessary for civil liberty’
Why should the italicised conclusion come about from the argument? Or how does it fit into the passage under consideration? That the statement is a correct one is here not in doubt, but the logic to place it as the conclusion to a discussion on strangers’ equality in judgment doesn’t seem correct.
Again (page 310)
‘...biblical civil law does not command righteous behaviour; it is limited to forbidding certain kinds of unrighteous behaviour’
seems to be a statement of a conclusion rather than a carefully compiled argument. It actually tells us more about what North believes biblical civil law is than what biblical civil law actually is. If civil law is only negative, then there are no directives contained within it to tell mankind what God expects from them - indeed, if God says ‘Do not commit adultery’ then a statement such as ‘Be faithful to your wife’ is irrelevant to civil law according to North. But civil law, though needing to state what’s wrong, must by necessity state also what’s right in order that the boundary line can be seen for what it is.
Yet again (page 320 - my italics)
‘God is the Supreme Judge. He makes objective judgments, yet He makes them subjectively’
is a statement that makes no sense whatever to me. How can it be said that God is subjective in his judgments while, as a Law giver, He’s objective?
And, finally (page 309)
‘God made it quite clear: without corporate obedience to God’s Bible-revealed law, no nation can maintain the blessings of civil liberty’
which I would agree with - that a society can only find civil liberty and equality if they allow themselves to be bound under Divine Law - but where exactly does God make it ‘quite clear’? I may have missed the Scripture but I can’t think of a place within the Bible where God plainly declares it (and North’s statement is asserting that it’s no allusion but a definitive statement that’s unambiguous). If anyone knows of such a Scripture, I would be obliged if he/she would send it to me.
So, yes, I’ve found this chapter difficult and I don’t want to call into question phrases that I don’t easily understand. My comments are necessarily brief, therefore.
But this chapter could really do with a bit of tidying up...
North sees the Levitical passage as conveying three commands (page 310)
‘...to avoid vexing a stranger, to love the stranger, and to use honest weights and measures’
but the Scripture includes (Lev 19:35)
‘...do no wrong in judgment...’
which would make a fourth. North will go on to use this phrase as being indicative not only of the first two ‘commands’ but also of the last one - but, if we’re to strictly ‘count’ the commands there are four, not three, mentioned.
But North summates the three laws into one when he says (page 310 - my italics)
‘Presumably, they are one law, for they are found in the same section’
In like manner, we might as well conclude that the ten commandments are just one law! Indeed, in that case, they’re less divided up than the two passages that North is here trying to unite. He mentions the parallel reason for their inclusion here as being ‘Egypt’ but the circumstances are different.
In the first two laws, the legislation states the case by reminding the Israelites that they were once strangers in Egypt but the third only mentions that God brought them out of the land - the reference to Egypt is seen to be at once very dissimilar.
North sees (page 311) that
‘...the third law is at the very heart of civil law: the enforcement of universal public standards of weights and measures’
with bewildering (il)logic. Jesus has already summated the law as being based upon two laws (Mtw 22:34-40) and it’s upon these two principles that the entire law turns. What North fails to show is how this ‘third law’ lies at the centre, ‘at the very heart’ of civil law in contradiction to the statement of Jesus.
North’s statement (page 312) that
‘The State is authorized by God to impose only negative sanctions’
needs to be balanced by reference to Romans 13:3-4 (my italics) which reads
‘...Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good’
A person who ‘does good’ will benefit from the rule of the State and receive ‘approval’ - a commodity that puts him into a position of favour and possible choice above others within that society.
Though the Romans passage doesn’t state that there should be a positive sanction bestowed upon the law keeper, there are certain privileges that are a consequence of his choice of obedience. The jurisdiction of civil rulers, therefore, can never be purely negative.
North asks (page 313)
‘What was the representative illegal act of not showing love in Israel?’
‘The oppression of strangers, widows, and orphans’
The point is not proven - there needs to be some sort of exposition (or at least a Scripture reference) to defend his assertion.
North goes on to consider the ‘familiar Western symbol of justice’ and notes (page 314-5) that
‘The scale symbolizes fixed standards of justice: a fixed law applied to the facts of the case. Justice is symbolically linked to weights’
That last sentence is true but, with regard to the statue of justice and the scales held, the link is to do with weighing the facts of a matter and deciding upon it ‘on balance’ - not, as North states, that the scales represent a fixed law.
His subsequent description of how the ‘scale’ works within the legal process is based upon his incorrect understanding of what the scale of the statue means even though some of his statements are correct.
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