For over 200 years an understanding of the Bible’s allusions and symbols have shed light on the U.S. Constitution and who we are as a people. We would do well to recover what was lost and to remember where we came from as these indirect and direct references clarify current discussions.
Some would say that an understanding of the Bible is essential to a true knowledge of the founding of America. For example, culture analyst, Os Guinness, asserts that American liberties can more directly be traced from Ancient Israel than from Ancient Greece:
In its essence, the roots of the United States Constitution can be traced back to the notion of covenant from the Jewish Torah. Through its rediscovery in the Protestant Reformation, the idea of covenant had touched such countries as Switzerland, Scotland, and Germany; and though the Puritans, it had shaped New England churches, then marriages, then townships, then colonies and finally the nation itself.
He is not alone in this understanding or this proclamation.
In the book of Exodus, the focus moves from one family (Abraham’s family) to one nation (the nation of Israel). The narrative moves from slavery to a free people; from God’s call to the prominence of the covenant.
Exodus is the great story of Western freedom: a people who were held captive and oppressed sought to worship God and were delivered. Their theme, like ours, is freedom. However hopeless one’s situation is, in light of this biblical story, there is always hope.
Some years after the Protestant Reformation and thousands of years after the Exodus, we have the Mayflower Compact and the Model of Christian Charity, documents dripping with biblical imagery and allusions.
Even skeptics like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson wanted to use images depicting the Exodus in the seal of the United States! Moses and the deliverance of the Israelites from the hands of Pharaoh – Moses with his staff extending over the Red Sea, as the chariots of the Egyptian army pursues them – was to be a picture for the American City on a Hill.
On Franklin’s proposed seal for the United States, these words were inscribed: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Whether or not the Founders were orthodox Christians or Evangelicals, they were certainly God-fearing men. They knew the history of the Bible. They knew the story of Moses. And they trusted that God would deliver them from their tyrannical king.
The ancient Israelites cried for liberty as they suffered under the weight of slavery. The story of their deliverance in Exodus has been profoundly written into both the rhetoric and the reality of the Western church and Western society.
Some try to rewrite American history to scrub the rich biblical allusions out of literature, politics, and society. Others individualize and spiritualize Exodus so that it is only about our personal salvation prefigured in some way. In fact, however, it has application in society, as well as in personal salvation.
The American Revolution’s roots are obvious now. However, not all revolutionaries of the last two hundred years saw themselves as successors to the biblical narrative. While the American patriots did, those of the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolutions did not. As Dr. Guinness observes in his book, A Free People’s Suicide:
Far from ordering freedom – or equality, fraternity, a classless society or any of the shining visions for which they fought – they spiraled down to demonic disorder and tyranny – often far worse than any evil they replaced.
All three of these put their hope in a humanistic freedom and godless “reason” and “progress” that viewed Christian institutions with skepticism.
We must remember who we are, where we came from, and recover what we lost. We are children of the living God! Where, then, is our hope? It is in deliverance from bondage.
The Christian views liberty as a God-given right. Because man is made in the image of God, and because our American Founders trusted in God and not pagan reason, we are heirs of the promise.
Early Americans believed that no man is sovereign in the same way that God is sovereign. But as the Declaration of Independence asserts, “All men are created equal, [and] they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
These rights, according to our Founding Fathers, are rooted in “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God."
Let us remember that the story of Exodus has application today.
Let us remember where we came from, and, as Os Guinness concluded, "Without faith properly understood, there is no freedom. And without freedom, faith is in trouble."
Let us pray that God will be gracious to us as we work to preserve the liberties that have been handed down to us through the ages!