Brian Schwertley on Isaiah 49:23 and Establishment

In the quotation below Rev. Schwertley corrects both the modern Theonomic neglect of this text, and the Puritan abuse of it, to provide us with a balance Establishmentarian-Theonomic interpretation:

“Isaiah 49:23 is an important passage regarding the role of the state in a Christian nation. This passage however has been basically ignored by the modern theonomy movement. The likely reason for this is that this passage appears to give the civil government a role too active in religious affairs for many theonomists. Theonomists for the most part restrict the magistrate’s role to the punishment of evil doers. One can understand why theonomists have avoided this passage when one sees how it was used in the past. Calvin says in his commentary on this passage, “Undoubtedly, while kings bestow careful attention on these things, they at the same time supply the pastors and ministers of the Word with all that is necessary for food and maintenance, provide for the poor and guard the Church against the disgrace of pauperism; erect schools, and appoint salaries for the teachers and board for the students; build poorhouses and hospitals, and make every other arrangement that belongs to the protection and defense of the Church.”23 Calvin appears to argue for a type of Christian-welfare-statism. However, he does not say where all of the money will come from to pay for these state benefits. The Puritans and early Presbyterians were totally in favor of establishing State Christian schools. Rushdoony dismisses all such thinking in his Institutes, “The heavily classical learning of medieval and Reformation scholars often led them astray. A verse sometimes cited as evidence of the parental role of the state is Isaiah 49:23. But this verse refers to the remnant of Israel, who shall be restored to Jerusalem and reestablished as a state under the protection of other states, who shall be as ‘nursing fathers.’ The reference is to the reestablishment of the Hebrew commonwealth under Nehemiah, with the protection of the Medo-Persian Empire. The imagery has nothing to do with a parental role for the state and everything to do with the superior protecting role of a great empire for a small civil order which is reconstituting.” Although Rushdoony’s desire to avoid the civil magistrate’s active role in welfare programs, church funding and public schools is understandable, there is no need to restrict Isaiah 49:23 to Old Testament Israel.25 As noted, the vast majority of commentators believe it also applies to the New Covenant church; and, even if it did refer only to national Israel it still could be extended to the New Covenant era by way of application. The word ómnâ translated foster fathers does not necessarily imply a Christian welfare state. Calvin and the puritans in their exegesis of Isaiah 49:23 have ignored the strict parameters in God’s law which place schooling in the hands of the parents, not the state; and charity in the hands of families, individuals and the church, not the civil magistrate. There is simply no way that a state can pay for all the programs enumerated by Calvin without taxing the populace. Taxation without divine authorization is theft.26 Furthermore, Romans 13:1-6 limits the state to punishing evildoers and praising those who do good. Praise cannot be extended into welfare checks and socialized medicine. Calvin, the Puritans and early Presbyterians were sometimes led astray by vague medieval notions regarding natural law. However, if a state came upon great wealth through the spoils of a just war it could donate funds to church planting, printing, missionary endeavors, etc. The state’s job is not to collect tithes for the church by coercing its citizens. Given the biblical teaching regarding the role of civil magistrate the words foster fathers should be interpreted in the sense that the civil magistrate is the guardian, the protector of the church. The state is to have an active role in suppressing idolatry, damnable heresies and blasphemy; punishing blatant Sabbath desecrators, etc.”

Read more:

Political Polytheism

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One Response to “Brian Schwertley on Isaiah 49:23 and Establishment”

  1. Esther Says:

    This is good! Thank you for sharing this on your blog.
    Blessings brother!

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