By David Tulis
I have been thinking about Laish, the town occupied by Canaanites in territory long before assigned by God to the children of Dan. In Judges 18 the city is spied out by the Danites, who have fallen into idolatry reprehensible among the children of Israel and now getting ’round to taking up their charge.
Judges records a low time in the history of Israel. God’s beloved people are repeatedly given over to sin and idolatry, and are subject to enslavement by the Philistines and others.
The reference to Dan catches my notice because it describes a somnolent people who follow the libertarian error of self-ownership. They know no law other than their own, and they reject the law of God.
So the five men departed and went to Laish. They saw the people who were there, how they dwelt safely, in the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure. There were no rulers in the land who might put them to shame for anything. They were far from the Sidonians, and they had no ties with anyone (Judges 18:7).
This picture is shared by Christians who’ve slidden back and the modern zealot for so-called marriage equality and gay marriage. The scene is of lawlessness. The federal supreme court within the next year will consider pleas to overturn one state’s definition of marriage and pretend to impose on all other states its own homoerotic sense of that creational covenant that comes from the mind of God. Will Christendom fight back? The jurists hear plenty of clamor against marriage by the gay lobby and its lawyers and sympathetic district judges. Will the court have had any sense that ordinary people like you treasure marriage as between one man and one woman? But will it discern our care about this human ordinance that preceded church and state? Will they care to secure an ancient liberty, a common law right?
How do these judges come to understand that you care about marriage?
Christians share in moral carelessness
In the Bible’s description of Laish we see ourselves. We see not just the people who reject the gospel, but also American Christendom, one that shares in the slackness and permissiveness that discount God’s holy character and His perfect law.
One might suppose Laish has a strong local economy, and it is described as being independent, as I propose Chattanooga become an independent city conceptually and, eventually, legally. The sin of Laish is multitudinous, and touches in part its rejection of equity. Matthew Henry tells about Laish and its anarchy.
“The observation which the spies made upon the city of Laish, and the posture of its inhabitants, v. 7. Never was place so ill governed and so ill guarded, which would make it a very easy prey to the invader.
Grace, law essential to fallen society
“1. It was ill governed, for every man might be as bad as he would, and there was no magistrate, no heir of restraint (as the word is), that might so much as put them to shame in any thing, much less put them to death, so that by the most impudent immoralities they provoked God’s wrath, and by all manner of mutual mischiefs weakened and consumed one another. See here, (1.) What the office of magistrates is. They are to be heirs of restraint, that is, to preserve a constant entail of power, as heirs to an inheritance, in the places where they are, for the restraining of that which is evil.”
Matthew Henry’s discussion of the role of judge is important as we consider the wiles of federal courts and their superimposition of humanistic positive law upon the states and cities like ours. The federal judiciary has strayed beyond lawful authority under the constitution in many ways. It is responsible for the bloodletting of abortion starting in 1973 and many on its bench desire to deconstruct marriage. Their acts should be understood as judgments of God, and resisted as the Lord provides.
“[Judges] are possessors of restraint,” Henry says, “entrusted with their authority for this end, that they may check and suppress every thing that is vicious and be a terror to evil doers. It is only God’s grace that can renew men’s depraved minds and turn their hearts; but the magistrate’s power may restrain their bad practices and tie their hands, so that the wickedness of the wicked may not be either so injurious or so infectious as otherwise it would be.
“Though the sword of justice cannot cut up the root of bitterness, it may cut off its branches and hinder its growth and spreading, that vice may not go without a check, for then it becomes daring and dangerous, and the community shares in the guilt.” Henry here points out that the law oppresses sin and sinners, but cannot bring a right relation to God. For that is the work of God’s grace upon our fallen race.
Why law? To impose shame
“(2.) See what method must be used for the restraint of wickedness. Sinners must be put to shame, that those who will not be restrained by the shamefulness of the sin before God and their own consciences may be restrained by the shamefulness of the punishment before men. All ways must be tried to dash sin out of countenance and cover it with contempt, to make people ashamed of their idleness, drunkenness, cheating, lying, and other sins, by making reputation always appear on virtue’s side.
Careless wicked fear no vengeance
“(3.) See how miserable, and how near to ruin, those places are that either have no magistrates or none that bear the sword to any purpose; the wicked then walk on every side, Ps. 12:8 . And how happy we are in good laws and a good government.
“2. It was ill guarded. The people of Laish were careless, quiet, and secure, their gates left open, their walls out of repair, because under no apprehension of danger in any way, though their wickedness was so great that they had reason to fear divine vengeance every day. It was a sign that the Israelites, through their sloth and cowardice, were not now such a terror to the Canaanites as they were when they first came among them, else the city of Laish, which probably knew itself to be assigned to them, would not have been so very secure.
Isolation of Laish
I wonder above if perhaps in its independence Laish had a strong local economy. Henry suggests its people do not because they are lazy and luxurious – hence their false sense of security.
“Though they were an open and inland town, they lived secure, like the Zidonians (who were surrounded with the sea and were well fortified both by art and nature), but were far from the Zidonians, who therefore could not come in to their assistance, nor help to defend them from the danger which, by debauching their manners, they had helped to bring them into.
“And, lastly, they had no business with any man, which bespeaks either the idleness they affected (they followed no trade, and so grew lazy and luxurious, and utterly unable to defend themselves) or the independency they affected: they scorned to be either in subjection to or alliance with any of their neighbours, and so they had none to protect them nor bring in any aid to them. They cared for nobody and therefore nobody cared for them.”