Americans influenced by idea of interposition; Nehemiah used it

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Israelites guard the walls of Jerusalem during their reconstruction under Nehemiah.

By David Tulis

The magistrates of our day need to find encouragement in the ancient concepts of interposition and nullification. These were developed by people in the reformed church at the time of the Reformation. The writings of John Calvin and the political treatise Vindication of Liberty Against Tyrants, by a French Huguenot writing under the pen name Junius Brutus, had tremendous influence on early Americans. John Adams called Vindicae Contra Tyrannos one of the key books of the period immediately before the Americans’ separation from Great Britain.

The main idea behind these authorities is the absolute sovereignty of God over men small and great, and the necessity of kings to be subject to God’s law. Men, discovering real liberty for the first time, made their kings subject to God, and were less and less willing to accept the alleged divinity of monarchs. Their thinking created the concept of bilateral covenantalism, as Joe Morecraft of Chalcedon Presbyterian Church in central Georgia describes it.

The king receives and accepts God’s covenant as his marching orders; the people, seeing his fidelity to truth and justice before God, pledge obedience to their monarch in all commands that don’t contradict the scripture.

A second political idea derives from the first. That is the concept of intervention and the doctrine of the lesser magistrate. A lesser magistrate can lead a popular resistance against a tyrant and legitimize that resistance and lawful action, saving it from being lawlessness, anarchy and revolution, all of which God forbids, and to which heavily armed American citizens under the 2nd Amendment seem to be prone.

Frederick the Wise rescues Martin Luther from death

In 1521 the German reformer Martin Luther was facing death from the order of Charles V., who in an edict decried Luther as a “notorious heretic.”  Luther had stood his ground at the Council of Worms, and as he was enroute home he was captured in a forest by apparent brigands, who kidnapped him. The kidnappers were in the employ of Frederick the Wise, a prince but one of lesser authority and stature than Charles. Frederick did not seize Luther to turn him over for trial and death, but to rescue him. “He feigned Luther’s abduction in order to hide and protect him,” notes Rev. Matt Trewhella in a recent essay about the doctrine of interposition. “He used his lesser authority to contravene Charles’ unjust order and defend Luther, who resided in his jurisdiction, from death. Though Frederick would not have known it as such, he was practicing what later would become known as the doctrine of the lesser magistrate.”

The lesser magistrate interposes himself and his office between lawless higher authority and a potentially victimized people. The legislatures of the Southern states viewed themselves as intervening between their people and the national government under President Lincoln.

The lesser magistrate by his challenge of the usurper leads that monarch or authority away from his offense against the liberty of the people and the sovereignty of God. The lesser magistrate leads the offender and back into service of God and His distinct limitations on the actions of man.

Nehemiah as a model

Nehemiah exercised the doctrine of interposition — one government against another. He did so in defending Jerusalem against indigenous lords and governments, including Sanballat, Tobiah,Arabs, Ammonites and Ashdodites.

What every state will need eventually are Nehemiahs to contradict and defend state citizens from an incorrigible, warlike and spendthrift federal power that is ruining the country. Every city, in its turn, needs is a lesser magistrate to persist in vocal, public and legal intervention against careless state governments and legislatures and others in defense of the poor and the ancient rights of the people.

I say eventually because such a magistrate would have little support today. One might suggest that Chattanooga needs no Nehemiah because its people are unworthy of his protection, unaware of their poverty, ignorant of their servitude and devoted to idols of self. There is much to think about in such an assertion. No Nehemiahs are likely to appear anytime soon.

The American people, generally speaking, have been spiritually and morally weakened by the apostasy of the Christian church. And so they are undeserving of such saviors and interposers as Nehemiah. In the 1770s, when the American people were far more godly and Puritan in their outlook, the American colonial legislatures interposed themselves between their people and the English king, and brought deliverance through political independence. Clarity of thought and purpose were much more common in that era than in ours.

As we saw in my earlier post, Nehemiah unchained hundreds of Israelites among the dwellers at Jerusalem from an economic tyranny, that of debt slavery, and he did so by a public act.

Militia concept in scripture

Sanballat’s threat was military in nature. The Israelites enjoyed the militia concept of armed service, as do Tennesseans. “Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. *** So it was *** that half my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor”  (Nehemiah 4:13, 16).

Chapter 4 is especially exciting for sons to hear at family worship. Because while in one hand is a trowel, borne in the other is the bow. Now some of this description seems figurative, because many tasks in wall-building require both hands and a body unencumbered by anything but basic clothing.

Nehemiah viewed every man as capable of fighting. And evidently the people all possessed lethal weapons which they were called upon to wield as watchfully they built the wall.

“Frederick the Wise and Scott Walker,” Rev. Matt Trewhella, Mercy Seat Christian Church. He is founder of Missionaries to the Preborn. Mr. Trewhella’s sermon on the lesser magistrate doctrine is available at the church site on sermon audio.