First Fruits

McDonnell posterThe Commonwealth of Virginia is going off the deep end.

First came the election last November of Bob McDonnell as Virginia’s new governor. McDonnell is a graduate of Regent University, a right-wing Christian law school. His 1989 thesis, “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family,” laid out a detailed plan for restoring Oliver Cromwell-style Godly rule to the Commonwealth: putting religion back in the public schools, banning contraception, and keeping women out of the workplace where God does not want them to be. When his opponent began telling voters about this paper, McDonnell countered that it was unfair to criticize him for what he had written when he was a mere child of 34, and that he would never actually try to put in place what he had so passionately argued was God’s will for the people of Virginia.

In McDonnell’s first weeks in office, debate broke out on the floor of the Virginia legislature about whether a particular proposal did or did not conform to the Book of Revelation in the Bible. The bill in question may well have been a good one. It prohibited employers from implanting microchips in their employees, apparently a new technique designed to let employers track the movements of employees such as deliverymen. It would also allow the churches who receive billions of tax dollars from the Obama faith-based initiative to track how much time their employees spend at church services. They could then fire those who were insufficiently devout, since President Obama has broken his campaign promise to apply the civil rights laws that govern the private sector to these organizations. But that’s not what they were talking about in the legislature.

“My understanding [is that] there’s a prophecy in the Bible that says you’ll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times,” said Delegate Mark Cole, a Republican from Fredericksburg. “Some people think these computer chips might be that mark.” Cole was referring to Revelation 13:16-17, which describes the rise of a satanic figure known as “the Beast”: “And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Delegate Charles Carrico, a Republican from Grayson County, chimed in that “As a Christian, I believe there is a time that Christ will come back to receive his people home, and that’s just the basis of what the Bible shows, and that there will be an antichrist that arises during that time, and those that remain, to buy or sell anything, they will have to take on this mark.”

Bob MarshallThe God expert focus on the Book of Revelation was disrupted last week, though, when Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican from Prince William County, demanded that Virginia stop funding Planned Parenthood because its activities are leading to an increase in the number of handicapped children, which are a punishment from God for women who have abortions. “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically,” he said. “Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children … In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment, Christians would suggest – and with the knowledge that they have in faith, it’s been verified by a study from Virginia Commonwealth University – first abortions, of a first pregnancy, are much more damaging than later abortions.”

Marshall seems to be implying that Sarah Palin has a child with Down’s Syndrome because she previously had an abortion. I wonder how he came by this information? I wonder why Ms. Palin, quick to jump on a White House staffer for casual use of the word “retarded,” had nothing to say about her fellow Republican Delegate Marshall?

Like the apostle Peter denying Jesus, Marshall backed down from his position as soon as he started taking heat in the press, claiming he didn’t really mean what he had just said. Anyway, his Biblical reference was totally off the mark; if the Virginia legislature plans to use the Bible as a guide to lawmaking, they at least ought to understand what it really says.

Marshall is technically correct, but misleading, when he says that “In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord.” “Dedicated” is a euphemism – the idea was that the first born was supposed to be sacrificed, preferably by burning. In the Book of Exodus, God himself commanded that “Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep” [Exodus 22:29-30].

Modern investigation confirms that these were not empty words – the sacrifice of children seems to have been common in early Palestine. Archeologists have found the remains of decapitated infants under house floors near the Dead Sea, which appear to have been deliberate sacrifices made at the time the foundation of the building was constructed, to assure the strength of the building. In the sanctuary at Gezer, two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children were found, along with the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawn in two. At Megiddo a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. God didn’t communicate these wishes only to the Jews, either. The practice of sacrificing the first-born child has been found in places as diverse as Australia, China, America, Africa, and Russia. When Patrick brought Catholicism to Ireland in the 5th century, he is said to have preached against the burning of the first-born children at the fair of Taillte.

When Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, he gave no murmur of surprise or protest; it was just God being God. Today, weak-kneed Christians interpret this story as God somehow disfavoring the practice of first-born sacrifice. But God never said that; at a time when God was devoting many hours to telling Abraham, Moses and others exactly what people should and should not be doing, he never said a word about “Don’t kill your first-born children anymore.” [Genesis 22:1-18.] So the Jews kept doing it. The Bible says the Jewish King Manassah did so [II Kings 21:6]; King Ahaz got such a kick out of it that he burnt several more [I Chronicles 28:3].

JephthahOne of my favorite Bible stories is about a military commander named Jephthah, who sought God’s help in exterminating the residents of twenty recalcitrant Palestinian towns. He promised God that if he was successful, which he was, that he would sacrifice the first living thing he saw when he returned to his home. He was probably envisioning something like a sheep; but when he reached his home, darned if the first thing he saw wasn’t his first-born daughter running out the door to greet him. Expressing considerably more remorse than Abraham, Jephthah proceeded to keep his promise to God by putting her to death [Judges 11:30-39]. A grateful Jewish people later rewarded his piety by making him judge to rule all of Israel.

There is no disputing that God has inflicted tremendous punishment on humanity ever since we stopped obeying his direct command in the Book of Exodus to sacrifice our first-born animals and children to him. Perhaps a committee of Virginia Republicans should be formed to study how to implement this inerrant truth of the Bible.

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