IBL03: Third Commandment (Craig Press)
Oath and Authority
*This is an unedited and unoffical print version of R.J. Rushdoony’s lecture.
R.J. Rushdoony: 00:02 We continue our studies in Biblical law with Exodus 21:12-17, the oath and authority. Exodus 21:12-17. “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall fly. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 01:23 We have here a series of laws with respect to the death penalty. The first of these has to do with murder. Capital punishment is required by scripture for murder. On the other hand, verse 13 makes clear if it is manslaughter, that is an accidental killing, then there is a point of difference, and therefore, a place of refuge is appointed for such a person. Then in the midst of these laws with respect to capital punishment, which include also in verse 16, kidnapping as a capital offense. Kidnapping, that is for purposes of enslavement or any similar purpose. We have two unusual laws that strict the modern mind rather strangely.
R.J. Rushdoony: 02:38 Verses 15 and 17, “And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.” Striking parents, a capital offense. And 17, even more, “He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.” There’s a long history behind these laws. They were, as I have pointed out on previous occasions, enacted into law in the United States in the colonial period. What is the significance of this particular legislation? In particular, verse 17. “He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 03:35 The oath or curse is an appeal to God to stand with us for righteousness and against evil, so that when one takes an oath, whether it be an oath of office or an oath on a witness stand, it is a declaration that they are standing in terms of the truth against evil. Similarly, a curse, summon God’s judgment upon evil. It is a serious matter. It declares that we arraign ourselves in the battle against evil, and we summon God to stand with us. The stand against evil is an important thing. It is a Godly thing.
R.J. Rushdoony: 04:41 Visible resistance is also such a stand. Whether it be a personal stand against someone trying to assault us, or a corporate stand in warfare, it is Godly. In an evil law, such resistance is often a necessity. Some people immediately will call attention to Matthew 5:39, which tells us “Resist not evil.” How do we square this with the many passages in scripture that call upon us to resist evil, that speak of the right to defend ourselves against someone, for example, who trespasses in our home.
R.J. Rushdoony: 05:36 The law declares, the Biblical law, that if someone after dark trespasses, we have the right to kill him. It declares also that we have a right if someone is assaulting us, to kill us, to defend ourselves even to killing him. How do we square this with the words “Resist not evil”? The passage, of course, makes clear, the point of reference. Because in the concluding verses of the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew, the sermon on the mount, when our Lord speaks of this, that words used in the Greek have referenced a military compulsion by a superior power. Our Lord was warning against revolutionary resistance to the Roman power. It was a warning repeated by Saint Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans, verses one and two, that we are not to resist the superior power.
R.J. Rushdoony: 06:51 Thus, both Paul and our Lord had reference to a duly constituted legal government in the discharge of its duties. The words in the sermon on the mount had reference to a compulsory graft by the Roman power, which sometimes could be an evil thing. On the other hand, Saint Paul never tells us that we are to obey men rather than God. Saint Peter, and the other apostles declared in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than man.” There is no conflicts between these passages. Respect for duly constituted authorities is required both as a religious duty and a practical policy in scripture.
R.J. Rushdoony: 07:58 The world cannot be bettered by revolutionary anarchy or disobedience. Evil men cannot produce a good society. The key to social regeneration is personal regeneration. All authorities are therefore to be obeyed, whether they are parents, teachers, husbands, masters, rulers, pastors, but always subject to our prior obedience to God. All obedience to human authorities is under God. Therefore, the covenant people, the people of God, cannot violate any due obedience without taking the name of the Lord in vain. The third commandment says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 09:01 Disobedience to any duly constituted authority at any level is disobedience to God, and for a Christian to do it is to take the name of the Lord in vain. To strike a parent or assault a police officer, or any due authority is to strike at God’s authority, and to abuse the right of self-defense for an aggression against authority, and to curse one’s parents, however evil they may be is to attempt to place God on the side of the rebellion against God’s central authority, the parent, and God’s central institution, the family.
R.J. Rushdoony: 10:02 In murder, a man assaults an individual or a group of individuals, to take their life, but in every anarchistic assault on authority, the assailant attacks the life of an entire society and the very authority of God. Thus, we see how serious this offense is in the sight of God. The family being the center of all authority, the central institution of society, the one institution created in paradise, in the Garden of Eden, any attack upon this is an attack directly upon all social order and upon God. Therefore, it constitutes a capital offense.
R.J. Rushdoony: 11:06 It is thus the supreme assault on any human authority, any authority in this world. Hence, whether it consists of striking or cursing, the death penalty is required. Now, when men attack authority, whether it be that of the parents or of the police officer, or any duly constituted authority, their excuse is conscience. What is conscience? Since the enlightenment, we could put it back to the Renaissance, men have claimed for a conscience an absolute and autonomous authority.
R.J. Rushdoony: 12:03 In the United States, of course, the great advocate of this absolute autonomous authority for the conscience was Thoreau. Thoreau, of course, has been progressively magnified into a great philosopher and thinker. A better description of Thoreau would be that he was an anarchistic fool. If all men lived as he proposed they should live, there would be no society. Life would be an impossibility, but Thoreau is the hero of the modern student generation in his contempt of all alien outside authority, other than the individual. Now, conscience means responsibility.
R.J. Rushdoony: 12:57 When you plead that something is against your conscience, you are saying that it goes against that which you believe constitutes responsible action in terms of right or wrong, conscience therefore implies creaturehood and subjection to a higher authority. You cannot honestly speak of conscience without implying a higher law, a higher authority. Conscience must be under authority or it ceases to be conscience and becomes God. Now, the humanistic desire, which characterizes the present generation, is to live beyond good and evil. That is to live beyond responsibility and beyond conscience.
R.J. Rushdoony: 13:56 So, the heart of a modern mood is, it wants to live in a world where there is no right and wrong. The man who is, according to our college professors and high school textbooks, the great American poet, Walt Whitman, declared that everything which is called good is perfect, and everything which is called evil is perfect. Now, this was the essence of his poetry and his philosophy. In other words, everything is perfect as it is. Why change anything? So those who say there is good and evil in the world are wrong. Everything which they term good and evil is in itself and of itself perfect.
R.J. Rushdoony: 15:00 What is, is right. Therefore, let no one call the pervert or the prostitute, or anyone else evil. Walt Whitman made that point also. He, like Nietzsche, and many others, wanted a world beyond good and evil, beyond morality, that this is precisely the world that the present generation of students, of teachers on all levels, attempting to create. It is a world than also beyond conscience. So, under the façade of conscience, in the name of conscience, in contempt of conscience, they are assaulting all conscience and authority. The appeal, therefore, of our anarchistic generation, our anarchistic revolutionist of conscience is a lie and a fraud.
R.J. Rushdoony: 16:10 What is conscience in terms of the modern mood, the modern philosophy? It is defined in terms of fraud. And for Freud, the conscience is the super ego. The super ego is simply the collective teachings of parents, of teachers, of priests and preachers, of authorities, which is dimmed into the young mind until it becomes internalized, and internalized in this fashion, it tells him you shouldn’t do this and you shouldn’t do that. It is a form of tyranny and oppression. Therefore, the super ego must be broken because it is the enemy of the [inaudible 00:17:03], which is the pleasure principle or the will to live.
R.J. Rushdoony: 17:07 Conscience, in terms of Freud and all modern thinking has no standing except when it is useful as an appeal against law. But true conscience, Godly conscience, is under authority, Godly authority. It is governed by scripture. It is never a judge over God and his word, nor the voice of God. It is at all times under God. Now, the death penalty of Exodus 21, verses 15 and 17 for striking or cursing parents makes it clear that no evil can be used as an excuse for more evil. Even when parents are most evil, they cannot be attacked or cursed by the child. The child is not asked to obey evil parents by doing evil, but honor must be given to whom honor is due.
R.J. Rushdoony: 18:28 Saint Paul declared in Romans 13:7, “An honor is at all times due to parents, even when obedience cannot be rendered.” Thus, we see certain restrictions placed upon man. Man must work for righteousness. Man must work against evil, but there is a limit to the extent against which any man can war against evil. “Vengeance belongs to God,” scripture declared. This is one of the most often repeated declarations of scripture. We find it throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament as well. Now, what does scripture mean when it declares that “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. I will repay.” How is the vengeance of God exercised? In two ways.
R.J. Rushdoony: 19:43 First of all, God exercises his vengeance directly, in history and in eternity by means of judgment. God brings his vengeance to bear on nations that defy him and despise him. History is littered with the ruins of nations that have defied God. Similarly, God’s vengeance is exercised through his duly constituted authorities. The vengeance of God, therefore, must be exercised by God’s chosen authorities. Parents exercise the vengeance of God against any rebellious or disobedient child. School teachers exercise that same judgment.
R.J. Rushdoony: 20:49 Similarly, in the church, the church authorities exercise the vengeance of God against evil. Civil authorities as they bring to bear the various punishments and capital punishment for evil are exercising, scripture declares, the vengeance of God. Man cannot take into his hands that which belongs directly to God or is mediated by men in the name of God. In other words, man cannot take the law into his own hands. If parents are evil, a child cannot strike at them, nor curse back. Either God judges them directly or through the civil authorities. You do nothing.
R.J. Rushdoony: 22:01 In other words, Godly men cannot expect perfect justice in this world, perfect vindication. One of the worst evils that a man can fall prey to is to expect perfect justice. Nothing shocks me more than to find people expecting perfect vindication when they have sometimes been unjustly treated. Why? Because we are not set here to demand perfect vindication for ourselves in all things, but to do our duty under God. Sometimes, we shall be vindicated. When it can be so done, well then good, but men who concern themselves with their personal vindication who feel that what they want is so important that they have a right to demand it, come what may, become ultimately lawless and revolutionary. Is this the essence of the demonstrations in Chicago recently?
R.J. Rushdoony: 23:27 The young men who went there represent this modern kind of idealism which says, “If the world does not meet the standards of my imagination, my ideals, I have the right to vindicate myself by any kind of lawlessness because I can say all else must go if my vindication, if my justice, if my standard is not met.” There are times when we must recognize that we cannot expect justice because the days are evil. We must do our duty and wait on God. Consider, for example, the life of Joseph, and how the scripture sometimes reports to us when men were vindicated, and there were by the grace of God able to exact vengeance and to do it legitimately.
R.J. Rushdoony: 24:39 But what about Joseph? Potiphar’s wife accused him falsely of attempting to rape her. He went to prison for that attempted rape. His record was never cleared. He became prime minister of all Egypt under Pharaoh through a series of providential circumstances, but do you think he was ever able to clear his name on that [inaudible 00:25:24]? What would’ve happened in Egypt if Joseph had said to Pharaoh after he had been made prime minister, “I want to clear my record. I was really innocent then, and I want the record set straight.”
R.J. Rushdoony: 25:49 Pharaoh would have regarded him as a fool and he would’ve doubted that this was the man to choose. Why? “Do you mean to say you were there in charge of Potiphar’s estate, and his wife was making a plate for you, and you chose to go to prison rather than to play along with it? Why, man, you’re a fool.” That would have been the attitude. Joseph would have destroyed himself. He would’ve accomplished nothing, but God had called him and God had declared that he was going to do great things through him, and he had a purpose there, to prepare Egypt and to save his own people in terms of the days of famine that were coming.
R.J. Rushdoony: 26:41 Did he have time to think about vindicating himself? No doubt. As long as Joseph lived, there were some jealous and ugly-minded Egyptians who said behind his back, “Well, he may be high and mighty, but there’s one thing you ought to know about him. He has a conviction in his background for attempted rape.” This is the reality of the world we live in. Joseph served God, not himself. Joseph did not try to overturn everything just to vindicate himself. Joseph was a man under authority, God’s authority, and he had been called to be prime minister of Egypt to serve God in terms of the future purposes of God.
R.J. Rushdoony: 27:49 At one point, Joseph did seek vengeance against his brethren. He put them through the most severe of tests and punished them to determine whether or not they had changed or were they still the evil men who had sold him into slavery, but he did it, not in terms of satisfying himself but to put them through the test in terms of knowing could he trust them, could he deal with them, and with an eye to his father’s welfare and security. Now, do you begin to see the significance of this law and its importance?
R.J. Rushdoony: 28:59 He that curses his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death. No man has the right to call on God to destroy authority, in particular the central authority of the family. We work only through legitimate and lawful means. We are not as Christians revolutionists, and revolution is not the American tradition. Lest someone say, “What about the American revolution,” let us recall the original name of it, the War of Independence. It is not a revolution. Every one of the colonies is a free and independent state. They were resisting an armed invasion by an alien power of parliament which had no jurisdiction over them.
R.J. Rushdoony: 30:09 They were not under parliament. They were under the king, and the king attempted to transfer his rule to parliament, and each of the colonies had its own legislature. They resisted an armed invasion and defended their independence. They were independent to begin with. They never declared their independence of England, only of King George. The Declaration of Independence had reference to King George III. God has established authorities. They are often sinful. The most sinful authority is the family, the parents. It is the bedrock of civilization. It is the central institution of all society. Men cannot endanger it without destroying themselves and without having the judgment of God brought full force against them.
R.J. Rushdoony: 31:28 When we come to the fifth commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” we shan’t not see the full significance of the family in the purposes of God. But here, in the third commandment, it is clear. No matter how evil the parent may be, to curse father or mother is to take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain, and the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Guiltless, the word can also be rendered or translated equally well as clean. The Lord will not hold him clean, morally clean, that taketh his name in vain. Let us pray.
R.J. Rushdoony: 32:35 Our Lord and our God, we give thanks unto thee for thy word. We come to thee to submit ourselves to the authority of thy word, to thy authority, wherever manifested, in church, states, school, parents, rejoicing our Father in thy provisions for a Godly society, delighting oh Lord in the order which thou hast created, beseeching thee to give us grace, to reconstruct Godly order, to make of men and nations thy disciples, make of the families unto which thou didst purpose it to be, of church, state and school that which thou dost ordain for them, that Godly authority may prevail again in our society, under the end of the kingdoms of this world might become the kingdoms of our Lord at this price. Bless us for this purpose. In Jesus name, amen.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.
Learn more about R.J. Rushdoony by visiting: https://chalcedon.edu/founder