What happens when people take something and flip it on its head? What impact does doing the opposite of the intention have on people? What would happen if something was put in place to limit one but then people flip it on its head and try to limit the other? When you read the following, what does it say to you?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
–from The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States
Does it limit what the government should do? Does it limit what the people can do?
Ever heard anyone say that the Constitution and Bill of Rights are to restrictive on the government? Having gone through the citizenship process these documents are the central piece to how the United States of America was supposed to run. It speaks to our rights that can’t be taken away by man because they weren’t given to us by man. And yet there are always people who will try. Be it in relations to religion, to speech, to the press, to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government. We need to be a country of laws or else the country will become lawless and where will things spiral down to.
We need to consider the reason and the intent. We need to remember that they realized from where they had come from the potential for the government to try to exceed its boundaries and hence they not only setup limits, but they also created the separation of powers in order that each branch could help keep the others in check. We see this in how we have the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. The other one which we find in the first amendment is the press which is supposed to help the people know what is taking place and to be the fourth way to help keep things aligned. The country is ours “we the people” and we delegate permission and authority to the government. So if or when things look to be going off course, it becomes the responsibility of us to step up and step in and do our God-given roles. (We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.)
Does it mean the government can’t make laws about religion like what was taking place back in England and caused the people to seek a new country? Does it mean that people can’t practice or have religion in all areas of their life?
Is it trying to keep religion out of the government or government out of the church?
When you hear the phrase separation of church and state, what does it mean to you?
Today’s devotional from the Global Impact Bible on the category of human rights comes from Ezra 7:24 and is on the topic of “Separation of Church and State”.
Let’s start out in God’s Word to read what it says and make sure we have the context for it fully…
Ezra Sent to Teach the People
1Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— 6this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.
7And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
11This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, a man learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel: 12“Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven. Peace. And now 13I make a decree that anyone of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. 14For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand, 15and also to carry the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16with all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offerings of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God that is in Jerusalem. 17With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and you shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God that is in Jerusalem. 18Whatever seems good to you and your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. 19The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. 20And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which it falls to you to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.
21“And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, 22up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. 24We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on anyone of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.
25“And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach. 26Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.”
27Blessed be the Lord, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, 28and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the Lord my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.
It is interesting to hear from the letter of the king what he was expecting and commanding to the people through Ezra. It is interesting the blessing God put upon His people. It is interesting the provision that was provided to Ezra in order to worship God.
Ever considered the impact of Ezra 7:24 on the US government? How it speaks to things like taxation and charitable contributions? Today’s devotional points to …
‘We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on anyone of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.’ –from Ezra 7:24
We see how they had rules around the church.
We see from the constitution’s First Amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” how the writers wanted to limit the government’s relation to religion. (they had left a place where there was a church of England where there was relation between government and religion – some might even say it was part of the government) Today’s devotional points to how many scholars believe that inspiration for the First Amendment came from the Bible including Ezra 7:24 which points to giving tax exemption and freedom from oppressive financial orders.
The separation of church and state was spoken of by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. It wasn’t a government document but was a letter he wrote and that was later published in the newspaper. Here is a part of it (you can read more about this in the link that started this section)…
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association assurance of my high respect and esteem.”
— copied from http://teachourhistory.com/jefferson-first-amendment.htm
He wrote to them to confirm/affirm that:
Jefferson understood their concerns, and also felt strongly that the government should not be permitted to regulate, restrict or interfere with the free exercise of religious expression. In response to the Danbury Baptists’ letter, he wrote back, assuring them that they did not need to worry; that the free exercise of religion would never be interfered with by the government.
— copied from http://teachourhistory.com/jefferson-first-amendment.htm
We can’t just take part of something to really understand the intent and purpose. We need to get the full context of what was going on. Be it from the Word of God and so I included all of Ezra 7 or from the letter from Thomas Jefferson, we can’t just take the parts we like and throw out the other parts. We need to understand the context, the situation, and the intent. By only using the parts we want, we take things out of context and then start getting things with a backwards understanding. So let’s take hold of the truth, the full truth, and the reality of what the intention and purposes are. Let’s listen to what others are saying so that we don’t just start planning our reply rather than actually actively listening to what they are saying.
I thank You for this day and for all that You have planned in advance for it. Grant me wisdom Lord so that in and through it I may be able to stand strong, be bold and courageous, and complete the work You have prepared in advance for me to accomplish. Help me Lord to speak truth in love to the people You bring into my day. Help me Lord to be glorifying to You in all that I think, say, and do. Lord, I give this day into Your hands and ask that You will help me to take hold of the fullness and reality of Your purpose and plan in my life. Help me Lord to let my light shine. Help me Lord with wisdom and discernment into what I am to do. Help me to know the things I can let go of, the things I can delegate, the things I can manage, and the things I have to do. I give this all into Your hands and pray that in and through my life You will receive the praise, the honor, and the glory in Jesus’ name. Amen.