The Old Testament Made Me an Optimist

by Ian Cox

I recently made a discovery. For me, it changes everything…

Well, maybe not actually everything. Here’s what happened: 

I was doing some research, and I realized that there are multiple ways to study the Bible (and other great classics, for that matter). I knew this before, of course; but this time something clicked. By the time I was done, the way I read the Bible was forever changed. In particular, I now see a number of lessons that apply directly to current events and the biggest trends and problems in today’s news—with solutions! Maybe you’ll have a similar experience as I share a few of my discoveries.

My main influences in this change were John Locke and Oliver DeMille. Locke pulls from the Bible in his Treatises, showing how familiar Bible stories directly applied to political issues in his day, even though he was writing thousands of years after those stories played out. DeMille, in The U.S. Constitution and the 196 Indispensable Principles of Freedom, helps reveal depth and symbolism in the Bible text that can have current-events implications. 

The Beginning

One example from DeMille’s book is in the beginning—pun intended—when the three distinct lights were organized to govern the earth (Genesis 1). Classical political thinkers understood this to signify that powers should be divided into three governing bodies. The sun was seen to symbolize the executive branch, balanced by the moon (the judiciary). The legislature is made up of many individuals (represented by the many stars), but still acts as one authority. 

This sensus plenior reading of a verse I had been reading since my childhood altered my view radically.  The simple shift in approach immediately brought new insight and meaning to the scriptures I’ve read many times. For me, it was like reading it for the first time! And it brought real meaning to reading current events in one hand with the Bible in the other. This started me down a road of uncovering some of the depth and breadth of the Bible as a freedom classic, and how it provides effective solutions for today’s political struggles.

The Difference

I’ll get to the specific lessons that apply to current events in the latter half of this article; but first, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. 

To begin with, I generally agree with those who have expressed that God seems more kind, generous and forgiving in the New Testament than in the Old. The Old Testament at times felt like a book of condemnation, sin, war, rules, and punishment. 

This time through I realized that this analysis is … incomplete. On the one hand, I began new testament compiling scholarto notice how many dark times, contentions, rules and punishment there are throughout the New Testament. At the same time, I began noticing more and more how the Old Testament presents a kind, generous, giving, serving, and forgiving God. I determined that the separation, as I once thought, of “the God of the New Testament” and “the God of the Old Testament” wasn’t accurate. The way I’m starting to see it now is that the New Testament tells the principles more often, whereas the Old Testament shows the results of good and bad principles—applied over time.

I see time and again the display of God’s love, mercy and generosity. The trends of freedom and slavery found in the Old keep flowing right through the New Testament. For example, Jesus and the Apostles are loved and adored, then within days they are persecuted by mobs made up of many of the same people. These people are so quickly swayed and easily enticed by free stuff and counterfeits. Rome itself was nearing its peak and beginning its rapid decline (also dominated by bread and circuses). Another “Promised Land” falls to sin, loss of freedom and destruction. And this isn’t the Old Testament; it’s the New.

As mentioned before, the Old Testament shows how God acts when we come up short. Yes, the tone may seem harsher than the repeated message of love one another, turn the other cheek, and judge not. But the Old Testament’s purpose, audience, and message is very different. It is more of a history, while the New Testament is more a standard for living. Plus, you can find pretty much every “happy” and “kind” message from the New Testament in the Old. 

Case Studies

But the real shift for me came when I turned my attention toward a few people and accounts that show the New Testament principles and the freedom/slavery cycle in action. How kind, generous, giving, forgiving, and caring is God? How important is freedom? How likely is it that freedom wins out over oppression? 

In the following case studies, both history and principles combine:

Noah: He lived in a society of oppression, greed, and great lasciviousness. He was given a new Promised Land where freedom and abundance could flourish. But within one generation, the people turned away from the potential of freedom and took another path.

          Lesson: There are cycles to history. A small group of committed individuals is enough. If we don’t remain vigilant and maintain freedom, then it cannot be guaranteed. 

Abraham: He grew up in a society of pride, greed, and oppression. He was led to a new Promised Land where freedom and abundance could flourish. Still, his own children chose the path of rulers and force.

          Lesson: A great leader or king only lasts so long. They are given windows of opportunity to make lasting changes. Although, establishing self-government takes time. 

NOTE TO READER: Okay, so these little summaries are nothing new. Except they are actually newbecause we’re applying each of them to our current world and politics/economics today! What do we learn from each of these examples that applies directly to today’s news? These examples are relevant now. To our nation. To what’s happening here to our current society, government, and laws, businesses, homes. See if you can find the parallel in each example:

The Tribes of Israel: There was much jockeying for power, much contention, and many issues and problems between the different tribes of Israel (much like the States today as well as Washington versus the States). 

          Lesson: Because they tended to check and balance one another (the governing system of divided roles and divided provinces naturally created such checks and balances), freedom was enabled to flourish for many generations.

Moses: The people were oppressed and enslaved by Pharaoh. Moses, and the people who had faith, were freed from their enslavers. The people did not comprehend how to govern or lead themselves and they lost faith many times. They were given manna that rained from the sky. Poisoned water was made pure. (Evidences of a generous and merciful God.) Though they were in the wilderness for many long years, they had the opportunity and ability to choose for themselves and they learned what freedom really was. At the right time, they were given the Promised Land. Sadly, they soon chose a return to top-down government, like they had experienced under Pharaoh. 

          Lesson: The allure to surrender freedom was power and government money, just like the rebirth of socialism in America today. Still, the opportunities and possibilities for freedom were always present. 

Joshua: Freedom was threatened by Jericho; by a miraculous turn of events the Israelites were able to overcome the great walled city. 

          Lesson: They removed the tyrants of the land and made way for the culture of freedom to continue in the Promised Land. 

Gideon: The people lacked faith that they could defend their families and their freedoms. They had a great foe to face. God directed Gideon to reduce his army to a small group of faithful. They easily overcame the oppressors. The American Founders won with a small percentage of the people taking up arms as well. 

          Lesson: Today, how many will it take for freedom to win? Likely a small, but wise and committed, minority.

Joshua and Caleb: They were faithful and desired full freedom now. When confronted with the giants in their Promised Land they feared not and were firm in the belief that righteousness and freedom would win, as was promised. Joshua was the prophet that led the children of Israel into the Promised Land and they began to flourish with freedom and abundance. 

          Lesson: Just a few leaders made a huge difference, not by force, but by example, wisdom, and leadership.

David: The Philistines threatened to oppress the free Children of Israel. David was able, against terrifying odds, to easily defeat the giant Goliath. Throughout his life, David made many mistakes, yet he was still blessed with the crown, with great leadership, with wealth, and to be the line to which the Messiah would be born. 

          Lesson: Even with a king who made mistakes as a leader, the people chose a system with freedom and prosperity.

Solomon: Solomon has a story similar to David’s. He grew in wisdom, and his people enjoyed wealth, prosperity and freedom. He messed up several times, yet was still the builder of a great Temple and considered one of the wisest men to ever live. 

          Lesson: His leadership flourished largely by engaging the people in leading society.

Daniel: Daniel started with freedom, but through treachery and cunning in the government, he fell under oppression. He continued to exercise his natural rights, and was sentenced to death because of it. Against all odds, through God’s hand, he survived the lions’ den and the protection of rights for all was re-established. 

          Lesson: God’s intervention is available when the people are pure and faithful.

Esther: Esther grew up in relative freedom and prosperity. She gained a position of influence and power in the kingdom. Through negligence and deceit, laws were passed that greatly oppressed and removed many rights from certain people—sounds like our world today. She stood for freedom and the protection of rights for all at the peril of her own life and her people. 

          Lesson: As a result of her faith, strength and understanding, she re-established the freedoms and protection of rights for all. 

Job: Job lived strong and firm for freedom all his life—one of the few. He is a good example that bad things happen to good people. 

          Lesson: Because he remained steadfast in his hope in God’s promise of freedom and abundance, even in times of “recession” or great loss, he gained far more than he had before or could have achieved by himself. He also set a powerful standard and was a great leader to those around him who increased in freedom and prosperity because of his leadership. 

The books of Ecclesiastes, Psalms and Proverbs are full of nuggets on how to rightly treat one another if we are to have a culture that supports freedom. Zechariah chapter 7 declares the heart of the culture of a free people, saying that they have true judgment, they judge with mercy, they have compassion, they oppress not and imagine no evil. Note that this is the regular people, the masses—not just a few officials at the top. When these values went into decline, the people fell into a period of loss, slavery and great harm to one another. 

 Deuteronomy chapter 29 lays out why humans cycle through freedom and slavery: if you keep His commandments you will prosper in all that you do; if you don’t the land will be cursed for your sake. (Note that the curse is for our sake, to encourage us to value and work for freedom. How applicable is this today!)

We could keep going, both deeper into each example and broader with more passages. But it would be far better if you tried this for yourself, if you haven’t already. Here are a few great starts to dig into: 

  • Genesis 1: Three Branches of Government
  • Genesis 1, Deuteronomy 30: The Separation of Powers 
  • Deuteronomy 30: Checks on the Courts 

Keep reading and looking for what the Bible has to say on the following subjects:

  • Local government should have more powers than the national government
  • The division of a nation into states/provinces and local counties/departments/or your country’s equivalent
  • What are the vertical powers? What are the horizontal powers at each level?
  • and so much more…

The Pattern

We see again and again that God is ready and willing to give, provide, and maintain freedom. He wants us to be prosperous, free and happy, and this is evident in God’s dealings with His people throughout history—even in the Old Testament. He really does want this for us and always has. 

We repeatedly see that the people who live the principles of freedom flourish. And when they don’t live the principles of freedom, they go into decline, including periods of oppression and even slavery. Even then, they are warned and given many opportunities and messengers to re-establish their freedom. Any nation or people that does not abide by the principles of freedom grows weak, and causes great harm to themselves as well as many others in the process (particularly their own posterity). 

Each of these individuals listed above, and many other prophets and leaders throughout the Bible, had opportunities—and arguably good reasons—to turn their backs on the people. They could have given up on the cause of freedom, to save themselves from the persecution of its struggle. Again and again they stand against all odds, and win. We see examples from every sector of society—merchants, leaders, government officials, warriors, clergy, parents, teachers, etc.—acting in times of war and times of peace, moving the cause of freedom. We truly see that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” (2 Kings 6:16)  

An Interesting Contrast

It is fascinating to note that the prominent story where a prophet rejected God’s call—and then was given little choice in the matter—was still successful. His half-hearted and prejudiced preaching of principles inspired the city of Nineveh to change their ways, and freedom and abundance began to flourish again. Nineveh didn’t require any major external trauma to reset the cycle or re-establish freedom. They chose it. (Again: can this apply today?) What a wonderful and highly-desired outcome! 

Jonah himself had a lapse in charity, and for a time did not remain faithfully open to freedom for all. His pride and prejudice led to some pretty hard self-inflicted oppression. The fact is that freedom, prosperity and greatness are for everyone. It’s interesting that as long as the people apply the principles of freedom, they don’t lose—even with a pessimist at the helm. (“Choose you this day whom ye will serve…” Joshua 24:15.)

Ok…great…but how does this apply to us, right now?  

These common—and because they are so common they seem almost simplistic—stories combine to portray a shared theme. A powerful pattern. Historical cycles do occur, almost like clockwork. Durant’s Story of Civilization, Strauss and Howe’s The 4th Turning, Bobbitt’s Shield of Achilles and Modern Times by Johnson all demonstrate similar patterns, themes and cycles. Historians may put their own twist on things, but hindsight is very revealing: the results and principles tend to consistently shine through. 

Secular history almost always shows these same patterns of what produced freedom and what caused slavery. Where they contrast from one another is in their proposed solutions and applications of the principles. Like Jonah, we sometimes miss the mark. Like so many others throughout history, we are destined for freedom. If we choose it.

But only if we choose it.

Freedom Can Prevail, Now

It’s inspiring to me how many times the people escaped tyranny and obtained freedom. All the miracles wrought in order to support, guide and produce free societies is inspiring.  It is also deeply inspiring that even with the weaknesses and shortcomings of men and women so evident, how often freedom flourished. It is encouraging to see these principles applied by so many over the course of history. 

The principles of freedom have power. For me, the Old Testament has again inspired a much greater trust, faith and personal perseverance in the cause of freedom. It teaches that it doesn’t help to be a pessimist, even when current trends look bleak. It doesn’t serve us or our interests to not believe. Not believing freedom will happen leads to more years wandering in the wilderness, more years under oppressive rule, and—maybe worst of all—sitting on a hill starving ourselves to death waiting for everyone else to burn, like Jonah (or, as in the case of modern America, sitting in front of televisions stuffing ourselves to death).

Practically all of history shows that what is really needed is the simple and steady work of developing the culture of freedom wherever and however you are personally called. In the home, in the workplace, in the arts and sciences and entertainment, and in government and political participation. 

The insights into human nature, the cycles of history, the miracles that do happen, the promises from God …how can the reader have these realizations and not become an optimist? How can the reader feel such optimism and not take action? 

Freedom matters—deeply, powerfully. It is worth a great price. We can only prevail if we implement the principles of freedom.

What are these principles?

How well do you know them?

What are you doing to learn them?

What are you doing to apply them effectively?

Why not? 

The Bible is a great book on freedom. What a book of hope! What a book of patience and enduring love! What a book of victory! What a long, miraculous history of proof that God’s team wins. And we can win…now. The principles of freedom are real, and powerful—if we apply them. Like Nineveh, like the Children of Israel, like the Anglo-Saxons, like the American Founding Fathers… 

Whenever we choose, God is ready—and it happens. 

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