Resisting Tyranny – Two case studies

In response to my articles on obeying Government and civil disobedience, I saw this comment on twitter.

So, I thought it might be worth working through the two case studies.  First of all Daniel.  I want you to notice a few things about Daniel’s account because it is in fact important to our thinking. First of all, Daniel and his friends have been removed from their home country as prisoners of war, they have been taken into captive service for the king and they have all been given new names (Daniel 1:1-7).  In other words, a significant tyrannical move has been made which robs them of liberty, status and identity.

It is specifically when Daniel is asked to eat the king’s food that he puts his first line in the sand.  Notice Daniel 1:8

“8 But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods. “

His concern here is that he will be asked to defile himself. In other words, this is not a case of the Government merely overstepping its jurisdiction, Daniel is being asked to eat non-kosher food. This is a choice between obeying God and obeying man. His response at this stage is not civil disobedience but rather dialogue. He asks for an exemption.  Even still at this stage, his response is not to challenge or condemn other Jews who comply with this requirement. 

Later in the book, Daniel’s three friends are placed in a position where they must bow down to a statue of Nebuchadnezzar. Oddly, Daniel is absent from the story line here. Does he find a way to absent himself from this worship or does he have a wobble? The text is silent.    It is at this point that the three friends choose to publicly defy.[1]

In Daniel 6, the ruler attempts to compel all people to pray to him and not to their own gods. Daniel here refuses to comply and does so publicly.  The line crossed is that God’s people are being called into idolatry. They are being asked to choose to turn from worship of the true and living God to worship another. Of course, this should give us all pause for thought because the state itself can become idolatrous and can seek to draw our trust and worship away from God to it.

The important thing is that in all three cases, the issue is not that God’s people consider the King’s commands unreasonable but that they are being asked to go against God’s Word.  The red line for God’s people is idolatry. They will not give up their worship to and trust in Yahweh.

The second example that Joseph raises in his tweet is segregation in the States in the 20th Century.  Segregation was a kind of hangover from slavery. Black people may in theory have received their freedom, slavery may have been abolished but they were still being treated as second class.  Now, remember that people like Wilberforce, Newton, Wesley and Clarkson had identified that race based slavery was in disobedience to God’s word. It was and is a sin. We would want to affirm that today. Racism is a sin that attacks the image of God in our fellow men and women. 

This means that believers in Jesus Christ should respond when asked to do things that would discriminate on race not by saying “this is unreasonable, it is inconvenient for me” but by saying “This is sin, this is grievous wickedness.” 

Both of these case studies support the argument that we do not have permission simply to pick and choose when we comply with the authorities based on our own perceptions of reasonableness and jurisdiction. We do have a responsibility to stand firm when asked to disobey God.

[1] Daniel 3.

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