Samuel Balentine on the Temple and the Government

While discussing the provenance of the canonical shape of the Torah and the role that the Persian Government played in the development of these texts, Samuel Balentine, in his Torah’s Vision of Worship, writes,

As a religious center, the temple provided the imperial government with the opportunity to use it’s own perception of reality to shape the “ritual world” celebrated in Yehud. Not only could the government require that sacrifices and prayers for the imperial rulers be incorporated into the liturgy (cf. Ezra 6:10), but its funding of the temple enterprises meant that every religious act had a potential political dividend. This is because ritual, as Berquist [Judaism in Persia’s Shadow] notes, builds a sense of solidarity and consensus that is based more on emotional ardor than on intellectual assent. Each time the community gathered in worship, therefore, it recognized at least tacitly its debt of gratitude to its Persian benefactors. The devotion offered to God would not necessarily interfere with obedience to, or at least compliance with, Persian objectives. Indeed, it might encourage them. The ritual of sabbath observance for example, provided opportunity for worshipers to offer thanks to God and (implicitly) to the Persian authorities who permitted scheduled times of rest from the normal routines of work. (54)

This paragraph struck me in light of how churches in our modern context so often feel a debt of gratitude to our government for “religious freedom.” Many churches today fly American flags, endorse political parties/candidates, and even pray for America’s success in her military endeavors! It is one thing to appreciate what the government has made possible for people of faith and to pray for the well-being of men and women (whether they be soldiers, emperors, etc.), but we completely cross the line when the church believes it owes something to the government for the “freedoms” it experiences (c.f. Rom 13:1b). If churches, rather than implicitly (if not explicitly) endorsing the government, were to provide a continual stream of prophetic critique against its sins, one wonders how long the government would continue to provide this “freedom.” And if such “freedom” is so easily withdrawn, one must ask how free such “freedom” really is?

Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, “Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (Rev 14:9-10)


Balentine, Samuel E. The Torah’s Vision of Worship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.


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