Distinction Between Society and the State.
Apostasy—Babylon and Assyria.
“The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.
“And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
“There is none other commandment greater than these.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
It is certain that if these two commandments had always been observed by all men, there never could have been a state on the earth.
There would have been government, but no State. The government would have been altogether the government of God; He, the only King, the only Governor, on earth even as in heaven.
There would have been society, but no State. Because, men loving God with all the heart, and all the soul, and all the mind, and all the strength, and their neighbors as themselves, the will of God would have been done on earth even as in heaven. All would have been one united, harmonious, happy, holy family.
There is an essential distinction between society and the State.
“Society is the union which exists between men, without distinction of frontiers—without exterior restraint—and for the sole reason that they are men.
“The civil society or State is an assemblage of men subject to a common authority, to common laws,—that is to say, a society whose members may be constrained by public force to respect their reciprocal rights. Two necessary elements enter into the idea of the State: laws and force.”—Janet, Elements of Morals, p. 143.
This distinction, however, though clear and easily evident, is seldom recognized. Indeed, it is not recognized at all by those who are anxious to secure the union of religion and the State in the United States.
But men did not observe these two “first of all the commandments.” They would not love God with all their heart; they would not love their neighbors as themselves. They rejected God as their only ruler, their only sovereign, and became ambitious to rule over one another. And thus originated politics and the State.
The Scripture outlines the story of this:
“When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” Romans 1:21-25, 28.
Note, that at the first, men did know God. But they chose not to glorify Him, not to honor Him, not to give Him the first place in all their thoughts and actions. Knowing God, they did not like to retain Him in their knowledge.
The next step was that they became vain in their own imaginations. They professed themselves to be wise, of themselves. The consequence was that they became fools and their foolish heart was darkened.
In their vain imaginations they made gods of their own. And them to assist themselves in their worship, they made images of the gods which they had imagined.
The image was always the outward, tangible, form of the god which they had already conceived in the imagination. Imagining is simply mental image-ing. The outward form of the god, whether it be the shining sun in the heavens or a hideously-shaped block of wood or stone, is only the outward form of the image-ing that has already been performed in the imagination.
Thus, from the knowledge of the true God, they went to the worship of false gods. From the light, they went into darkness. From righteousness, they went to wickedness.
This is the truth. And the records of the earliest nations witnessed to it. The earliest records—those of the plain of Shinar—witness that the people at first had a knowledge of the true God. The records of the next two of the earliest nations, Egypt and Assyria, bear witness to this same thing.
In all those places the earliest records testify that the gods were their first rulers and the real kings; while men, in the places of authority, were but the servants, the viceroys, of the gods who were held to be the real kings.
For instance, one of the earliest records from Shinar runs thus:
“To [the god] Ninridu, his King, for the preservation of Idadu, viceroy of Ridu, the servant the delight of Ninridu.”
Another: “To [the god] Ninip the King, his King, Gudea, viceroy of [the god] Zirgulla, his house built.”
Another: “To Nanu, the lady, lady splendid, his lady, Gudea,viceroy of Zirgulla. . .raised.”—Empires of the Bible, p. 50.
These are not only the earliest of the records that have been found in that land, but they themselves show that they are of the earliest records that were made in that land. And they clearly testify of a time when there were no kings amongst men. The gods were the kings; and the men in authority claimed only to be the viceroys of the gods who were held to be the real kings.
And all this testifies of a time further back, when the people knew and recognized God as the only king and rightful ruler of men. They show also that this knowledge of God was so recent, and still so strong upon the minds of the people, that men who stood in places of authority had not the boldness to assume the title of king, even though they held the power.
The records of Egypt and Assyria testify precisely to these same things. And at that time also, there was no State. There was society.
There came a time, however, when even this lingering knowledge of God as king and the only rightful ruler, was cast off, and the man assumed the full title and prerogatives of king, himself.
The first man to do this was Nimrod. Nimrod was the first man in the world who had the boldness to take to himself the title and prerogative of king, in the face of the yet lingering idea of God as king. And the name which he bears, itself testifies to the fact that his action in this, was considered by men and also by the Lord, as precisely the bold thing which is here indicated. The word “Nimrod” “signifies rebellion, supercilious contempt, and is equivalent to ‘the extremely impious rebel.’”
The Bible record of Nimrod is that “he began to be a mighty-one in the earth.” Another translation reads: “Cush begat Nimrod, who was the first to be a despot on the earth. He was an overbearing tyrant in Jehovah’s sight; wherefore the saying, Even as Nimrod, the overbearing tyrant in Jehovah’s sight.” Genesis 10:8, 9.
That is, Nimrod was the first one to establish the might, the power, the authority, of human government, in the form of an organized State. He was the first man to assert the power and prerogatives, and assume the title, of king over men. “And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.”
“With the setting up of Nimrod’s kingdom, the entire ancient world entered a new historical phase. The oriental tradition which makes that warrior the first man who wore a kingly crown, points to a fact more significant than the assumption of a new ornament of dress, or even the conquest of a province. His reign introduced to the world a new system of relations between the governor and the governed. The authority of former rulers rested upon the feeling of kindred; and the ascendency of the chief was an image of parental control. Nimrod, on the contrary, was a sovereign of territory, and of men just so far as they were its inhabitants, and irrespective of personal ties. Hitherto there had been tribes—enlarged families—society: now there was a nation, a political community—THE STATE. The political and social history of the world henceforth are distinct, if not divergent.”—Empires of the Bible, p. 51.
Such was the true origin of the State. The State was, and is, the result of the apostasy of men from God. Such only could possibly be its origin; for if all men had always observed the two “first of all the commandments,” it would have been impossible for there ever to be any State. There could have been no human authority exercised. All would have been equally subject to God; He would have been the only Sovereign.
Before Nimrod there was society. Respect of the rights of persons and of their property was maintained. It was only when the apostasy grew, and men got farther and farther from God, that the monarchical idea was established and personified in Nimrod.
Let no one misunderstand. This is not to say, nor even to imply, that there should now be no human government, that there should be no State, nor even that there should be no monarchy. It is simply to say that which is the truth, that if there never had been any apostasy from God, there never could have been on earth a State, not any human government.
It is true that these things are the consequences of the apostasy from God. But men having apostatised from God, these things all, even to such monarchy as that of Nimrod or of Nero, became necessary, just in proportion to the degree of apostasy.
It is better that there should be a government, bad as it may be, than that there should be no government at all. Even such a government as Nimrod’s or Nero’s is better than none at all. But without apostasy there could never have been any human government at all; and without the apostasy having gone to a fearful length, there never could have been any such government as Nimrod’s or Nero’s.
Nimrod’s example was eagerly followed by all the nations around, until they were all absorbed in it. Society had passed away, and only States remained; and these universally idolatrous. In all that region, only Abraham believed God; even his own parents being idolaters. “They served other gods.”
God chose Abraham then to be the father of all them that believe God; the father of all who will have God alone to be their God. Abraham represented then the religion of God, the beginning of the church of God.
And from that State God separated Abraham. He said to Abraham, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, into a land that I will show thee.”
And in thus separating Abraham from that State, from his country, God taught the people then, and through all time, the separation of religion and the State, the separation of Church and State.
And it must not be forgotten that in the case of Abraham, this universal example, the separation of religion and the State was the separation of the individual believer from the State. And as Abraham was at that time the church, and he was separated from the State, in this it is plainly taught that the true separation of Church and State is in the separation of the individual church-member from the State. Besides, it is perfectly plain in itself that where the same individual is a member of the Church and of the State at the same time there is at once in him a union of Church and State.
Note: The featured image at the top is a detail of the throne base from Fort Shalmaneser, showing Shalmaneser III (on the left) grasping the hand of Marduk-zakir-šumi , king of Babylonia. The scene commemorates Shalmaneser’s support of Marduk-zakir-šumi against his rebellious brother, Marduk-bel-usati . Photo: Iraq Museum.