Returning to Egypt

By John David Clark, Sr. - August, 1992

"the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. . . . Thou shalt see it [Egypt] no more again."
Dt. 17:16; 28:68

After being delivered out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were led by Moses into the wilderness of Sinai to meet with God, the God Who had promised to give them the land of Canaan. All they had to do was to follow the guide which God had given them: a comforting, towering cloud by day, which became a pillar of fire by night. The Bible says, "So it was always. The cloud covered it [the tabernacle] by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed. And in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents. At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they pitched their tents. As long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents" (Num. 9:16-18).

In the wilderness, God tried Israel's faith in Him. Unfortunately, on several occasions Israel responded to the tests by making plans to return to Egypt - not to be slaves again, of course, but to rule. They knew that the Egyptians now feared them and their God. They had seen the land of Egypt wasted by the plagues sent from Israel's angry God. And Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the Red Sea. It seemed better to many Israelites to return and rule in Egypt than to continue struggling in the wilderness to reach the promised land. But the cloud would not lead them back toward the west. It traveled eastward, to the promised land of Canaan.

The cloud's clear direction notwithstanding, the Israelites wanted to return, even at times threatening to stone Moses and to elect another leader (Num. 16). No doubt, they thought they could please God by reigning in Egypt in His name, as they had earlier thought to honor God by building a golden calf in His name at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 32:3-5). Despite Moses's greatest efforts, this is the way many Israelites thought, and it is a way of thinking that is as destructive as anything on earth. Every man is afflicted by it who fails to understand that there is a death sentence upon every soul of man who refuses to live according to the commandments of God.

This is the way of many Christian ministers today who would lead the Church into earthly entanglements, such as politics or social activism. God has commanded the Church to stay out of the world's business. And politics is certainly the world's business. Old Testament Israel was an earthly kingdom; it necessarily had earthly entanglements: politics, civil administration, wars, and all the other necessities of earthly government. But Jesus, in reference to the Church, said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight" (Jn. 18:36).

Paul encouraged his "son in the Lord", Timothy, to "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ", going on to explain, "No man that warreth [the warfare of faith] entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man strive for masteries, yet he is not crowned except he strive lawfully" (2Tim. 2:3-5). Two great truths are contained in these fatherly instructions from Paul. First, when we become too involved with the affairs of this life, we cannot please God. The Church's only business is the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. Whether any earthly government collapses or any society crumbles is not the Church's concern. All nations will eventually fall. As citizens of an earthly country, the Church is to abide by the laws of that country (1Pet. 2:13), always mindful that we are here as ambassadors (2Cor. 5:20), not as rulers. Neither are the social policies of a country any of our business. Paul did not even lament the existence of slavery in his time. He told believers who were slaves to be good, dependable, hard-working slaves. He did not stir up trouble. He wrote, "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ. Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men" (Eph. 6:6).

Paul was no social activist, seeking to correct social evils by political action. The evil which the Church is to oppose is the evil which afflicts not just a portion of society, but all men, rich and poor, noble and base, wise and foolish, black, white, yellow, or red. The gospel is a message of liberty from sin itself, which cruelly enslaves all men and offers no hope of release. "O wretched man that I am", lamented Paul, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . . For the law of the Spirit of life hath set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 7:24,25; 8:2).

Of course, Paul encouraged slaves to embrace freedom, if they were offered it, or if they could legally obtain it (1Cor. 7:21), but slaves who ran away from their masters were doing evil, and in at least one case Paul returned such a slave to his owner (Philemon). The Church is not here to reshape society through social activism; we are here to reshape men's hearts through the knowledge and power of Jesus Christ.

The second great truth in Paul's statement to young Timothy is that earthly means will not achieve the liberty from sin which men need. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2Cor. 10:4).

This means that believers cannot any better fulfill their duty to Christ in high political office than they can as an ordinary laborer. Social position is irrelevant because nothing but the power of God accomplishes righteousness or communicates it (Rom. 1:15-16). Therefore, to seek political power as a means of accomplishing spiritual good is a waste of time, a foolishly blind endeavor. It is like the Israelites, seeking to return to Egypt, the "sure thing", rather than "risk" following the cloud into the land of Canaan. Similarly, the men today who bear the title, "minister", yet are embroiled in political, economic, or social struggles are a stumbling block to the Church. They are like the rebels in the wilderness, who are tired of following the cloud and eating manna, and long for the former pleasures of Egypt. But just as the Israelites followed that protective cloud that baptized them when they left Egypt (1Cor. 10:2), our only hope of reaching our promised land is to follow the holy Spirit that baptized us when we left sin. We must be good citizens of the country in which we live, but we must not become entangled in policy making or political partisanship.

Paul's chief desire for the church at Corinth was that they learn to put their trust in the power of God rather than the wisdom of men (1Cor. 2:4-5). "Look around you", he would say to them, "See whom God has chosen! Are the rulers of the world at Jesus' feet with you? Do the rich enter with thanksgiving into your assembly to worship the Savior? Where are the highly educated? The strong? The popular?"

"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. And God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen" (1Cor.1:26-28).

To Paul's assessment of whom God chooses, James agreed (2:5): "Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?... Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?"

We have in the Church some otherwise good men who have become so frustrated by what they see as incompetent leadership in this country that they have all but abandoned their ministries to try to take the reins of power away from those men. This is a very wicked thing which they do, because it betrays a lack of trust in God. He alone decides who will rule on earth, when he will rule, where he will rule, and for how long. Besides, a man can accomplish no more righteousness from the White House than one can accomplish from anywhere else if he has no power with God. And a man anointed with the power of God to do good and deliver those oppressed by the devil would find that the responsibilities of the White House would get in the way!

A terrible result of the Church's intrusion into the politics of man is that we are destined to suffer for it, just as Jesus warned Peter, when he attempted to rescue Jesus from the mob that arrested him. He said, "Put up again thy sword into its place, for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Mt. 26:52).

Thoughtfully consider , please, this question. Does Jesus's prohibition here apply only to swords? Would it have been acceptable with Jesus if Peter had pulled out a gun instead of a sword? Or would a whip or a knife been acceptable to the Lord? Or would he have been pleased if Peter had organized a rebellion against the chief priests? Or sponsored a petition drive to have Caiaphas ousted? What difference does it make, what form the fighting takes? "It is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord" (Zech. 4:6). If it is not led by the Spirit of the Lord, the deed is carnal, and carnal weapons are counter-productive in the Church's warfare (2 Cor. 10:4). The weapons of the Spirit, however, cannot fail. Peace with God is a weapon, a mighty weapon. Joy is a weapon, and I have seen it overthrow strongholds of Satan. The love of God is a weapon which nothing can overthrow. The power of the holy Ghost is a weapon which altogether confuses the enemies of Christ. Truth is a weapon that makes demons tremble. Yes, the Church is in a battle, but the enemy is invisible and can be conquered only by invisible weapons. Satan would have the Church resort to social and political action because his work is neither harmed nor impeded by any of that. They are Satan's ministers who would lead God's children to take up earthly swords to do the work of the Church.

If rather than take up the sword of the Spirit, the Church resorts to earthly weapons, such as politics, then according to Jesus's own words, the Church is destined to be trampled upon by the earthly power to which it turns for help. Rome's involvement in the affairs of ancient Israel was begun by invitation of the Jews. During the time of the Maccabees, certain leaders of the Jews asked for Rome's help in resolving their conflicts. And it may be that the much-dreaded final, bloody persecution of the Church at the close of this age will be nothing more than the Church’s deserved harvest from seeds of political involvement being sown now.

Let us be reasonable. If the saints, being in the minority, resort to the ballot box, as many now propose that we do, common sense--not to mention the holy Spirit--screams to us the incontestable truth that we must fail! The majority always wins at the ballot box. For anyone who claims to be a servant of God to suggest that the Church should endorse any political party is wickedness; it is self-destructive heresy!. We must have no part in such earthly matters. In ancient Rome, arenas were sometimes used for the gruesome "sport" of watching humble saints torn apart by hungry lions. Today, by some of its own leaders, the Church is being led into another arena, the political arena. Again hopelessly outnumbered. Again futilely struggling against a carnal beast, man. And again to become nothing but a pitiful spectacle if this course continues to be pursued.

Pray for every person in political office everywhere! That is our duty. They need all the help from God they can get. Obey the laws of the country in which you live. Be thankful with all your heart for the government over you because, as bad as some laws may seem to be, this world would be a far worse place to live were their no laws at all. Love the peace which laws sustain, just as you love God, because, although many do not realize it, every government on earth is ordained by God to play its role in bringing this age to its conclusion. God has not lost control of His universe, and as long as the Church remembers that, it leave Egypt behind and will mind its own business, the business of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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