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Socialist Ron Sider

Sider's Ideal King

 

By Joel McDurmon

(Anexcerpt from God versus Socialism: A Biblical Critique of the New Social Gospel)

Christian socialist, RonaldJ. Sider attempts to justify a socialist-style Welfare State by pointing to“the biblical materials that describe the ideal monarch.”[1] Where doesScripture describe the “ideal monarch”? Sider says, “Both the royal psalms andthe messianic prophecies shed light on this ideal ruler.”[2] Sider then coverssome typical Old Testament passages used by social-gospelers to make aconnection between the king and “justice” for the poor. These include Psalm 72,Isaiah 11:1–4, 32:1–8, Jeremiah 22:15–16, and Ezekiel 34:23–24 among others. Inmy book, God versus Socialism: A Biblical Critique of the New Social Gospel, I respond to each of these mishandled passages and much, much more. Inthis article I will focus on just one of these favorite passages for ChristianSocialists, Ezekiel 34:23–24.

At the outset we must noteone general problem: the royal psalms and messianic prophecies are just that, messianic. The passagesalmost to the verse apply to and describe the Messiah—not your earthly civil ruler, noteven an “ideal” king. These passages describe Jesus Christ, the divine Sonof God, who canheal all his people miraculously, who cancreate and distribute bread abundantly, who canomnipotently plan and manage society, who isSavior, healer, benefactor, shepherd, etc. These passages refer to our divineKing—the one Israel rejected when they asked for an earthly king like othernations (1 Sam. 8:5, 7)—not human institutions of civil government. Byturning to these passages to justify his version of a socialistic welfareState, Sider essentially admits that he wants civil government to be messianic.If not, he must abandon his application of the royal psalms and messianicprophecies. Let us look at his specific instances.

Ezekiel 34:23–24

Ezekiel 34 contains theprophet’s denunciation of the civil rulers of his day. He speaks of them as“shepherds” and condemns them for fleecing and killing rather than “feeding”the flock. Here more than any other place Sider appears to havejustification for making his “ideal ruler” into a messianic bread-giver.Aren’t rulers supposed to “feed” their “flock” after all? This is Sider’sargument:

This ideal ruler will actlike a shepherd in taking responsibility for the needs of his people. “He shallfeed them and be their shepherd” (Ezek. 34:23 NRSV). Ezekiel 34:4 denounces theshepherds (i.e., the rulers) of Israel to “feed” the people. Then in verses15–16, the same phrases are repeated to describe God’s promise of justice.…[3]

Sider rightly sees themessianic aspect of this passage: “This promise will be fulfilled by the comingDavidic ruler (vv. 23–24).”[4]But this does not stop him from arguing that it applies to every other civilruler as well. Let us examine this passage in light of Sider’s claims.

Does the “feeding” that Godrequires of these “shepherds” refer to literal food? Many reasons mitigateagainst this. First, the “shepherds” were not simply the normal civil rulers ofIsrael. In Ezekiel, Israel’s rulers were the Babylonians. The “shepherd”metaphor for these rulers first appears in Jeremiah 23:1, quickly after God hadpromised to deliver Hispeople into the hands of another King, Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 21), and condemnedthe corrupt reign of Jehoiakim (Jer. 22, see above). God calls the flock “my”flock in Ezekiel 34:10. He is the true Shepherd. Since they rejected His ways,however, God turned against them, and delivered them to falseshepherds—shepherds who did not love the flock—for judgment for a time. Whenthese shepherds oppressed the people, God pronounced judgment upon them. TheBabylonian shepherds suffered invasion and defeat by the Persians, under whomthe shepherd theme continues to have messianic prophetic significance (Zech.9–11). To tie this together, only God is the true Shepherd (Ps. 80:1),the flock is His; only He can truly feed the flock in every sense of the word.The “office” of shepherd, if we can call it that, is once again a messianic appointment.When earthly rulers attempt to carry out this office, it turns to tyranny.

Secondly, in light of thetyranny, the text makes it clear that the feeding cannot be literal. Part of Ezekiel’s condemnation ofthe shepherds involved the shepherds feeding themselves on the flock: So the shepherds will not feedthemselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that theywill not be food for them (Ezek. 34:10). If the feeding spoken ofin these passages were literal, then we must understand this particularcondemnation to involve literal cannibalism. Were the shepherds literally eating the people? No.Therefore, we should not understand their obligation to feed the people as literaleither.

Thirdly, the Ezekiel 34passage prophesies the Good Shepherd to be David, but we know this is not aliteral David who was dead,and who remained dead even after Christ was raised to the throne (Acts2:25–36). Therefore, this again is not a literal prophecy. We should certainlynot take the feeding of the shepherds as literal either.

Finally, the promised GoodShepherd to come settles the feeding as spiritual as well. Ezekiel 34:23 promises thisShepherd: Then I will setover them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feedthem himself and be their shepherd. Jeremiah had promised amessianic shepherd as well (Jer. 23:5–6). These clearly refer to Jesus, therighteous branch and son of David (Matt. 1:6; Luke 3:31). Jesus Himself appliedthe passage to Himself: I amthe good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John10:11, 14). Moreover, Jesus said, Allwho came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.All shepherds who came before Christ, including the pseudo-god-Kings of Babylonand Persia—all who have attempted to set up a divine-feeder State—haveactually robbed and thieved the flock rather than fed it.

Only Jesus could feed theflock, and this He did. He demonstrated this miraculously twice: once with5,000 and again with 4,000 people (Matt. 14:20–21; 15:34–38). But this feedingonly pointed to his divine office, not to any alleged function of civilgovernment. The people, however, wished to make Jesus an earthly welfare Kingon account of this:

Therefore when the peoplesaw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet whois to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending tocome and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain byHimself alone (John6:14–15).

Jesus refused to be made Kingin connection to his distribution of wealth and resources. Yet the peoplecontinued to follow him. He warned them:

Jesus answered them andsaid, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, butbecause you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food whichperishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Manwill give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:26–27).

Furthering the point—which weshould understand here as well as the “feeding” of Ezekiel—Jesus answered apointed question:

 So they said toHim, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? Whatwork do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it iswritten, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said tothem, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread outof heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. Forthe bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to theworld.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said tothem, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he whobelieves in Me will never thirst”(John 6:30–35).

Gary North aptly comments:

Jesus understood the lureof free bread. Romewas a society built on free bread and circuses. Any political order thatpromises to deliver free bread to the masses will find followers. Jesus warnedHis listeners against any such faith in any such promise. Such a promise hasnothing to do with the kingdom of God. On the contrary, it is an extension ofSatan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. “And when the tempter came tohim, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be madebread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by breadalone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt.4:3–4).[5]

These very peopleeventually rejected the Good Shepherd, and crucified him. This fulfilled a prophecy of therejected Shepherd that had come from Zechariah during the Persian captivity(Zech. 9–11). So dangerous is the lust for a socialist welfare State.

The feeding, therefore, meansspiritual feeding. This is why, just before Jesus went away, he commissionPeter, as “the Rock” and head representative of the Church, to feed my sheep (John21:15–17). Christ gave the feeding responsibilities to the Church, not tothe civil State. This is one reason all acts of charity taking place in theNew Testament involve church members giving, and church officers distributingfood and resources to the poor and needy.

In summary, then, none of thepassages Sider presents for his doctrine of the “ideal monarch” support what heclaims. This is because there is no such thing in Scripture as an “idealmonarch.” There are civil rulers, who should execute justice according to God’srevealed law, and then there is the Messiah, who stands in a class all byhimself. These are all the text reveals. The “ideal monarch” Sider hasabstracted from the texts is a construction of his own imagination, laced withliberal political policy.

Conclusion

Like the other outspokenChristian socialists Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, it becomes clear that thetexts Sider appeals to do not teach the system of government that he claims; rather,he allows his political agenda to drive his interpretations of Scripture.

In the end, after a lot ofcherry-picking of Scripture, Sider arrives where his political beliefs had himall the time: “the traditional criterion of distributive justice that comesclosest to the biblical paradigm is distribution according to needs.”[6] The biblicalcritic must respond, “Not if this distribution is carried out by forcedtaxation and redistribution by civil government.” The astute reader willrecall such a paradigm from the communist slogan, “From each according to hisability, to each according to his needs.” Here Sider started, here Sider ends.

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Endnotes:

[1]Ronald J. Sider, Just Generosity:A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, 2nd Ed.(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 87.
[2]Ronald J. Sider, JustGenerosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, 2ndEd. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 87.
[3]Ronald J. Sider, JustGenerosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, 2ndEd. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 88.
[4]Ronald J. Sider, JustGenerosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, 2ndEd. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 88.
[5] Forthis quotation and several of the ideas in relation to Ezekiel 34 and some ofthe other prophetic texts, I have been privileged to have an unpublishedmanuscript copy of Gary North, Restorationand Dominion: An Economic Commentary on the Prophets (electronicversion: GaryNorth.com, Inc., 2008). For this quotation see p. 155.
[6]Ronald J. Sider, JustGenerosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, 2ndEd. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 91.