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IBL05: Fifth Commandment (Craig Press)

The Limitations of Man’s Authority

R. J. Rushdoony: 00:01 Deuteronomy 25:1-3, The Limitations Of Man’s Authority.

R. J. Rushdoony: 00:09 “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.”

R. J. Rushdoony: 00:57 We have been dealing in the fifth commandment, not only with the family, but the problem of authority in general. Authority begins in the life of man in his childhood. He meets authority in the person of his father and mother. So that the Bible grounds the doctrine of authority in general under the commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

R. J. Rushdoony: 01:32 Now the problem of authority is basically the nature of any and every society. If the doctrine of authority is shattered, a society collapses. Or else, if it does not collapse, it is held together only by total terror. Now these are the alternatives, you either have a doctrine of authority that holds a society together or if that doctrine of authority is broken, you have to have total terror to keep it together.

R. J. Rushdoony: 02:09 Not it is interesting to look back and see how deep the central authority was a few generations ago. In my book, Intellectual Schizophrenia, I touch on this matter with respect to New York City and a statement by Clifton Fadiman in his plea for a basic education. And I pointed out that Clifton Fadiman’s plea for basic education rested on his false assumption that we could have just what we did have when he was a boy. He went to school in one of the slum schools in New York. But at that time, the authority of the school over the children was so great that during his four years in high school, the one tremendous incident that created a furor in the school was when somebody’s rubbers was stolen. That was a shocking event.

R. J. Rushdoony: 03:18 Now, today there is scarcely a day in the slum schools of New York when a vast number of articles are not stolen and it is treated as nothing. When that kind of authority existed in a school in a slum area, it was possible to teach things that cannot be taught there today. There was authority. Today in those schools there is anarchy. The only way you could bring back any kind of teaching would be through total terror.

R. J. Rushdoony: 03:58 Now this is exactly what you have under communism. They shattered the only religious authority. In the old Russia, there was a tremendous amount of authority with a very limited number of police. The total number of police and secret police in the old Tsarist Russia was less than you find today in just one or two major cities of the Soviet Union. Today, total terror is the only way whereby the Soviet Union is able to maintain authority.

R. J. Rushdoony: 04:41 Now those are your alternatives. A doctrine of authority or total terror. And authority is a religious matter. The god or ultimate power of any system is also the authority and the law giver of that system. All authority is in essence religious authority. The nature of that authority depends on the nature of the religion. If the religion is biblical, then authority rests on the triune God. If the religion is humanism, then authority is in every man and you have anarchy.

R. J. Rushdoony: 05:32 And this is our problem today, we have a false doctrine of authority. A humanistic doctrine of authority so that every man is his own law and it is as in the days of the judges when scripture tells us, “And those days there was no king in Israel,” that is God was not king over Israel. “And every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Every man was his own authority and his own source of law.

R. J. Rushdoony: 06:06 All authority is by nature religious. Adam and Eve were religious in their obedience to God and they were religious in their disobedience. They shifted religions. They shifted from the worship of God to the worship of themselves because this was the satanic temptation. “Ye shall be as gods,” every man his own god, knowing, determining good and evil for yourself. Their disobedience to God was therefore a religious decision, an obedience to their will.

R. J. Rushdoony: 06:48 When a child defies its parents, it says, “I don’t want to and I won’t do it.” “It is my will that shall be done.” And he replaces parental authority with his own will. He chooses himself as against his parents and their authority. If the child obeys only through fear and not through a respect for authority, it is still a religious obedience in that power, punishment becomes a motive force in his life.

R. J. Rushdoony: 07:26 Now true authority is rightful power, it is dominion, it is jurisdiction. Men respond to acknowledged authority. They resent obeying authorities that they do not recognize as such. Without a valid doctrine of authority, no order stands. So that no matter how much one may appeal to sentiment or to feeling, it will not hold. There has to be an authority behind one’s words.

R. J. Rushdoony: 08:10 Now a few months ago, when we touched on this same problem from another perspective, I cited the collapse in ancient Egypt of parental authority and the appeal to sentiment. Let us turn to ancient Egypt again and read from an ancient document, the instructions of a father to his son. “Double the food which thou givest thy mother,” this is when she is a widow and the care is left to the son. “Double the food which givest thy mother, carry her as she carried thee. She had a heavy load in thee, but she did not leave it to me. After thou wert born, she was still burdened with thee. Her breast was in thy mouth for three years, and though thine filth was disgusting, her heart was not disgusted. When thou takest a wife, remember how thy mother gave birth to thee and her raising thee as well. Do not let thy wife blame thee nor cause that she raise her hands to the god.”

R. J. Rushdoony: 09:28 Now another quotation from the words of Ptahhotep of the Fourth Dynasty on a similar subject. “If thou art a man of standing, thou shouldest found a household and love thy wife at home as is fitting. Fill her belly and clothe her back. Ointment is the prescription for her body. Make her heart glad, for she is a profitable field for her lord.”

R. J. Rushdoony: 09:56 Now these citations are very lovely, there’s no getting around that. But notice their appeal, it is to sentiment, to feeling entirely. There is no law behind them. There was no longer any real religious authority or civil authority to undergird the home. And if the man didn’t feel like supporting his mother, then so much the worse for her. And if the man felt throwing his wife out, then so much the worse for her. Justice had nothing to do with it. Law had nothing to do with it. Authority was not behind it.

R. J. Rushdoony: 10:44 So, in these documents and other documents of the age, the only thing a man could do as he instructed his son was to try to appeal to his feelings. And any appeal to feeling is futile. In terms of feeling, a man’s feelings change from day to day. And I’ve heard many a man say with respect to his widowed mother, “I feel sorry for her, but …” Other feelings are stronger in him than his pity for his mother.

R. J. Rushdoony: 11:32 There can be therefore no appeal to sentiment that will bind men. It is futile. There is either a religious doctrine of authority which binds men in terms of a religious doctrine of law or a man is not bound.

R. J. Rushdoony: 11:58 Now in scripture, we are told power belongeth to God. God removeth kings and setteth up kings. The most high ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will. There is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God. Now this was once the doctrine of all western society, in Europe as well as in this country. In early America and in early Constitutional America, all power was derived from God. Now it is derived from the people. We have had a religious and a legal revolution.

R. J. Rushdoony: 12:51 And this is what our problem is. Power has moved from God to the people, and so there is a legal revolution. And this same revolution is everywhere on the face of the earth. For example, Queen Elizabeth II, in her Christmas message said, “The essential message of Christmas is still that we all belong to the great brotherhood of man. If we truly believe that the brotherhood of man has a value for the world’s future, then we shall seek to support those international organizations which foster understanding between people and nations.”

R. J. Rushdoony: 13:40 Not Christ, but the brotherhood of man. And this is why on Christmas day the radio and television programs, if they spoke about the meaning of Christmas, saw it as the birth of world brotherhood as fulfilled in the UN. And this was stressed by a variety of religious and civil leaders. In other words, we have a different religion and a different doctrine of authority.

R. J. Rushdoony: 14:18 But in the biblical doctrine, the powers that be are ordained of God and therefore all authority in every sphere is subordinate authority under God. Subject to his word. The biblical doctrine of authority means therefore first, that all authority is subject to the prior obedience to God and his word. For we ought to obey God rather than men. Thus, while we are commanded over and over again in scripture to be obedient to all authority, in the home, in the school, in life at large, in church and state, yet we can never obey any authority when it commands that which is contrary to God’s word.

R. J. Rushdoony: 15:19 Second, all authority on earth being under God and not God itself, is by nature and necessity limited authority. Now this brings us to our text, which is of central importance to understanding biblical law. We have seen that according to biblical law, there must be no professional class of criminals, no incorrigible delinquents, capital punishment eliminates them. Then restitution takes care of all major offenses.

R. J. Rushdoony: 16:13 But our scripture, Deuteronomy 25:1-3, declares that when there are minor differences and disagreements and offenses between men, then they are to come to judgment where the judges may judge them. Then they shall justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. And he who is sentenced is to receive corporal punishment, to be beaten. But the beating is be a maximum of 40 stripes with a rod. No more. Why? “Lest thy brother should seem vile unto thee.”

R. J. Rushdoony: 17:11 This can also be translated, perhaps better translated into modern English, lest thy brother should seem light or be made light unto thee, or be degraded in thy sight. In other words, here’s a very important fact, here is a judgment and a man is sentenced, let us say to ten stripes, or to 20 or to 40, the maximum. No more. If there is more, he’s going to be degraded. He is not degraded otherwise. He is not to be regarded as light or low or vile in thy sight. A very interesting fact, we’ll return to it in a moment.

R. J. Rushdoony: 18:10 There is a strict limitation therefore of the authority of the law here, of the judges. A maximum of 40 stripes, lest it put a distance between the governors and the people, between the one who is vindicated in the trial and the one who is condemned. There is not be a distance between them. The one is not to be degraded.

R. J. Rushdoony: 18:39 Moreover, at the time of the punishment, we find that later on in the practice of Israel, the law was to be read first. So the custom was, very early in the life of the nation, that certain scriptures were read. And whatever else was read, always two verses were read, Deuteronomy 28:58 and 59, “If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, The Lord Thy God; Then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance.”

R. J. Rushdoony: 19:47 Very interesting declaration. What was the purpose of the stripes as they were administered to the man? That the judgment of God, not on the individual alone, but the whole of society be avoided. And what was involved in this sentence? Two things, not only that the guilty man be punished, but that he be not punished to the point that there be a breach between himself and the innocent one. Between himself and the judges. Between himself and all he rest of society.

R. J. Rushdoony: 20:38 Thus an interesting fact appears here, the purpose of the law is in part to purge the society of wickedness, of evil, of wrongdoing, but also to unite society so that those who are alive are not to be divided, but to be united. In other words, if there is to be a division, the division is between life and death. The professional criminals, the incorrigibles, are to be executed. But then, the law is to unite the utterance. And therefore, there must not be anything too severe a punishment that will put a division between those who are alive. Because those who are alive are not professional criminals, they are not depraved men, they are sinful erring men who have, for the moment, in a particular situation, acted wickedly.

R. J. Rushdoony: 21:52 And so, as they are beaten publicly, or as they are compelled to make restitution for something, they are then restored to full standing with others and are to be seen in that light among men. So that there is a wholeness in society, there is help. Their record is cleansed.

R. J. Rushdoony: 22:27 Thus the function of the law is on the one hand to kill those who must be cut off. In other words, to do surgery to eliminate the infected part of the body politic. But then, apart from that, to heal. Just as a sore finger, an infected finger is cleansed, it isn’t cut off. So the sick member, as it were, is restored. But today, when we are destroying biblical law, in the sense we deny that are any are to be cut off, we are infecting the whole body politic and we are not allowing the law to have its healing function because we deny it its killing function.

R. J. Rushdoony: 23:36 Then next, the law asserts the supremacy of the written law, word of God. Man’s authority is under God. It is limited, as we have seen. Whereas God’s authority is unlimited. Now, man cannot interpret this limited authority in terms of his wants and wishes. The will of God is declared in his law and word. The form of the civil authority or government may vary. But whatever it be, it must be under the word of God.

R. J. Rushdoony: 24:22 In Deuteronomy 17, we are given that provision. Is the nation going to be a commonwealth or a republic under judges or governors? Or is it to be a monarchy? In either case, Deuteronomy 17 makes clear it is to be under the word of God. Whether it be judges or whether it be kings, they are to be limited at all times and they are to operate at all times under the word of God. And the purpose is to put away evil from Israel or to purge it from the land.

R. J. Rushdoony: 25:10 Now it is interesting when it deals with the authority of the king. Deuteronomy 17, it declares he is to be of a covenant people. In other words, he is to be a man of faith. Next it says he is not to multiply horses nor wives nor gold and silver unto himself. Very significant. Not to multiply horses, horses in ancient times were used for offensive warfare. In other words, his purpose is to prepare for defensive warfare. He’s not to be an imperialist. He is not to multiply wives. In other words, he is to be monogamous. Not to practice polygamy. Nor gold and silver unto himself. In other words, his purpose as ruler is to seek the prosperity of the people, not his own wealth.

R. J. Rushdoony: 26:17 Moreover, he is to have, read and study the word of God all the days of his life that he may learn to fear the Lord his God. To keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them.

R. J. Rushdoony: 26:35 Moreover, the purpose of this study is not only to further God’s law order, but also that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren because he is a fellow subject of God. His authority is strictly limited. It is under God.

R. J. Rushdoony: 26:57 Jesus Christ, of course, as the true king, came to fulfill God’s law word and to establish God’s dominion. “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God. Yea, thy law is written in my heart.”

R. J. Rushdoony: 27:22 Then, finally, with respect to the limitation of man’s authority, the scripture makes clear in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 that personal whims cannot take precedent over God’s law, even where our property is concerned. The law has to do with inheritance. A favorite son as against a disliked son. A son by one wife is against the son of another wife in a polygamous union. In this case, the father cannot pass over the firstborn, as long as the firstborn is godly. The only legitimate grounds of heirship, in other words, are religious. Our personal feelings cannot take precedent, even where our property is concerned.

R. J. Rushdoony: 28:28 Thus authority is not only a religious concept, but it is a totally religious concept. It requires recognition at every point in our lives, of God’s absolute law order. The starting point of this recognition is in the family. “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Out of this obedience comes the basic, the fundamental religious training in authority. If the authority of the home is denied, it means that man is in revolution against the fabric and the structure life against life itself. Therefore, this commandment declares that obedience carries with it the promise of life.

R. J. Rushdoony: 29:30 Let us pray. Our Lord and our God, we thank thee for thy word. And we thank thee, our Father, that thou hast called us to be the people, thy word in Jesus Christ our Lord. We pray, our Father, that thou wouldst use us to the end that they word again may prevail in the hearts of men, in thy church, in civil government, in schools, throughout the length and breadth of our land and of this world. Bless us to this purpose, our Father, 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