A City On a Hill, If You Can Keep It
The history behind the religious observances known as Passover and Easter are not just foundational to the Jewish and Christian faiths, but also to the founding of the United States of America.
The story of the Passover displays the awesome power of the one, true living God in whose image we are made. Through a series of plagues He inflicts upon the tyrannical kingdom of Egypt and its pagan pantheon, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob demonstrates that He alone is God—and there is no other. That the state is not god, despite Pharaoh’s claims to the contrary, nor are the false idols the state demands the people worship.
To make plain His sovereignty, the God of Israel selects a defrocked member of the Egyptian court, who is now a lowly shepherd because he defied the state and stood up for his fellow Jew, to be His people’s deliverer.
His name is Moses.
Since Pharaoh refuses to obey God’s command to “let my people go” throughout the course of the plagues, God raises the stakes on the stubborn and wicked Egyptian government. After many years of shedding innocent Jewish blood, even decreeing forced abortions to keep the Israelite population down, the oppressive Egyptian regime faces a reckoning. So God sends a plague of death on the first-born sons of Egypt as justice for their mass murder and enslavement of the Jews.
For their own protection, the Jews are instructed to paint their doorposts with the sacrificial blood of a precious lamb, which was an animal that signified innocence. That way, the plague would “pass over” the Jewish families and spare them from the judgment. This is the plague that finally breaks Pharaoh’s will, and he agrees to allow the Israelites to leave.
There is more to the story, but once their “exodus” is complete the Jews are finally free.
However, even a free people need order. So God gives Moses “the law” beginning with the “Ten Commandments.” This is how the Jews will live so that they will be a light to all nations. Modeling the character, holiness, mercy, and justice of God to the rest of the world as His covenant people.
It is from this story the founding generations of this country established what our Declaration of Independence refers to as “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” In fact, the original basis for our civic laws comes right from the law revealed through Moses:
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
Every state Constitution mentions and thanks God for its existence, freedom, or both.
2. You shall not make idols.
The state is not god. Only God is God. Therefore, the state cannot establish a religion, nor restrict it.
3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
The name of God is so sacred, we make every elected official swear an oath of integrity and loyalty “so help me God.” A reminder that by betraying your promise to your countrymen, you’re really betraying God.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Days of remembrance (Saturday for Jews, Sunday for Christians, religious holidays, observances, etc.) are protected and made accessible by law.
5. Honor your father and your mother.
Parents were the ultimate arbiter of how best to raise, educate, and prepare their children to become adults. Only in extreme situations would the state interfere.
6. You shall not murder.
The “unalienable” right to life mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
The civil law so revered the sacrament of marriage that it originally criminalized sexual behavior outside of the marriage covenant.
8. You shall not steal.
Private property rights were protected by law.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Perjury is a crime. We even impeached a president for it.
10. You shall not covet.
You don’t have a “right” to that which you didn’t earn and doesn’t belong to you, but instead have the same opportunity to succeed and fail in our meritocracy as everyone else does.
Then there’s Easter, which is so integral to Christianity there isn’t Christianity without it.
Either the God of Israel supernaturally intervened into human history to raise from the dead His only begotten Son named Jesus Christ, himself a Jew, or He did not. Christianity leaves no middle ground for interpretation here, but simply puts the onus on each individual to believe or not believe based on the evidence (faith and reason).
Making each individual responsible for their belief or unbelief demonstrates how individualism is prioritized in Christianity. While the Jews were given a covenant as a people reconciled to God as a distinct culture, Christianity says every individual in the world can now be reconciled to God through Christ—who paid for their sins at the Cross. No matter where they live, how they look, or what language they speak.
As the lamb’s blood once protected the Jews from God’s wrath at the Passover, Christ has become the “the lamb of God.” God has shed the blood of His own son to atone for our sins that separated us from Him (what Christians refer to as “Good Friday”). Thus protecting us from the judgment we deserve. As a result, a relationship between individual believer and the most powerful being in the universe is now possible.
The emphasis Christianity places on the individual was a great influence on our Founders, many of whom were Christians. Hence, they established a government where rights and liberties were granted by God to individuals, not through a collective like government, and were not based on a group identity or social status.
Both Passover and Easter prove the God we serve is not a passive being, nor does He turn a blind eye to sin and injustice. That He will go to great lengths to put rebellious regimes in their place, but also to seek and save those who are lost. These two events are not merely religious theory, but actual history that transformed the world and inspired the founding of the world’s greatest nation—the United States of America.
And we will suffer consequences for abandoning these truths. As the great Puritan Founder John Winthrop said in his famous “City on a Hill” speech, citing the words of Moses from the Torah:
“But if our hearts shall turn away so that we will not obey. But shall be seduced and worship other gods of our pleasures and profits and serve them, it is propounded to us this day we shall surely perish out of the good land whether we pass over this vast sea to possess it. Therefore, let us choose life that we and our children may live. By obeying His law and cleaving to Him. For He is our life and our prosperity.”
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