“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul. Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with You? They gather together against the life of the righteous, and condemn innocent blood” (Psalm 94:17-21).
What does it mean for a human being, particularly one in a position of authority, to “devise evil by law?”
First of all, what is “evil?” As understood by most, evil is the opposite of “good.” But, as we also know, individuals and peoples have their own idea of what is evil and what is good. What some may consider good may be bad to others, and vice-versa.
Although many may not like it, it is actually God’s sole prerogative to decide and dictate what is good and what is evil. [See: The Divine Prerogatives.] Satan, in the guise of a serpent, got our first mother (Eve), to choose to disobey God regarding His prohibition to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree [the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”] by making her believe that if she ate the forbidden fruit, she would become like God – knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:1-22). [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!” and The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
When we come right down to it, any act or conduct conceived of and enacted by anyone – regardless of status in life – that is directly contrary to the law of God is evil! For, as the “sweet psalmist” and a man after God’s own heart, Israel’s great King David (2 Samuel 23:1;1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) , affirmed: “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11).
God’s “law,” of course, refers to God’s “code of conduct,” put into a formal code of laws as recorded in the books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – known as the “Pentateuch” or the “first five books” of the Old Testament. Jews refer to these books as comprising their torah or “book of the law” or “the law of Moses.”
In a larger sense, however, the “law” of God includes the entire writings of the Bible!
In one of His confrontations with the Jews, Jesus was accused by them of blasphemy “because You, being a man, make Yourself God.” To which Jesus replied, “Is it not written in your law [Greek, nomos], ‘I said, “You are gods”’ (John 10:33-34). This particular quotation from the Jews’ “law” was actually taken from Psalm 94:20. Here the Psalms, which are a part of what Bible scholars call the “writings,” are actually referred to by Christ as the “law.”
In John 15:25, Jesus tells His disciples about those (especially the Jews) who hated Him and His Father, that “…this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.” This passage is also quoted from another psalm, Psalm 69:4, also referred to as a part of the Jews’ “law.”
Psalm 119:142 declares, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.” Jesus also said to His heavenly Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). God’s word or truth, in a manner of speaking, thus becomes His law, and His righteousness (Psalm 119:172). As Psalm 119: 96 also asserts: “I have seen the consummation of all perfection, but Your commandment is exceedingly broad.” God’s law is so broad that it can encompass all aspects of life!
The apostle Paul referred to the narrative about Abraham and his dealings with his wife Sarah and their Egyptian servant Hagar as having been written in “the law” (Galatians 4:21-31; Genesis 16). Paul also referred to fulfilling Christ’s instructions and commandments, especially regarding loving one another as He has loved us, as fulfilling “the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2; John 13:34). Such would be the case when Christians “bear one another’s burdens,” as Paul exhorts. [See: The Law of Christ.]
The writings of the “prophets” who testified for God, which they have left with us, are God’s written testimony as inspired by Christ or His Spirit(Revelation 19:10; 2 Peter 1:21; 12 Corinthians 3:17). God’s prophets invariably refer to God’s law when they reprove or rebuke people for their sins, which are transgressions of God’s law (1 John 3:4, especially KJV). Thus, to commit sin is also to commit evil!
Evil laws passed by leaders
Because they are in a position of authority, leaders and rulers who espouse evil concepts of conduct for people can impose or enforce those concepts on others, the dire judgment of God for evil will fall on themselves and their followers (Romans 6:23).
Under inspiration by the “god of this age,” Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), some leaders have devised and implemented laws that worked evil for God’s people and others. As mentioned earlier, Satan started the ball rolling when he got our first parents, Adam and Eve, to devise their own concepts of good and evil – setting up standards or norms of conduct contrary to God’s law. [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!” and The Sin of Rebellion.]
Since the earliest days of human “civilization,” men have devised laws that promote worship of gods other than the true God and Creator of all things. This is idolatry, which is forbidden by the first two of God’s “Ten Commandments” (Exodus 20:1-17). Archeological evidence dug from the remains of early and later civilizations reveals the widespread worship of idols, gods and goddesses.
One of the earliest human patriarchs, Lamech, proclaimed a “law” which greatly multiplied the vengeance God had allowed to be taken for the death of Cain (“sevenfold”) – by as much as “seventy-seven fold” (Genesis 4:15, 24). Is it any wonder that many generations later, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and…every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually;” “all flesh [humanity] had corrupted their way on the earth,” and “the earth [was] filled with violence through them” (Genesis 6:8, 12, 13)?
As a result, God sent a worldwide flood to destroy all mankind and other air-breathing creatures, except Noah and his family, and the animals sheltered in the ark (Genesis 6-8). [See: The Battles of the Almighty.] That’s how mankind and today’s animals (fauna) have survived and thrived again.
Before long, after that flood a band of human beings devised a plan, and as it were bound it as a law among themselves: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). This was contrary to God’s will and command for them to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1, 7).
God caused the people’s one common language to be confounded or broken up into different languages, so that the people would become scattered through all the earth (Genesis 11:7-9), and so fulfill His purpose. The remains of the “tower of Babel” stand as an eloquent testimony of God’s judgment on this evil.
Among the early post-flood civilizations of man was that of Egypt. It was when the children of Israel had taken refuge in Egypt—thanks to their countryman hero Joseph, who provided food, shelter, and livelihood for them during the seven years of famine in the Middle East area—that Egypt’s ruler, Pharoah, later proclaimed laws harmful to the Israelites. The story is told in Genesis 37, 39-50; Exodus 1 and onward.
Because the Israelites reproduced rapidly, the Pharaoh feared that they would become mightier than the Egyptians and would perhaps join forces with the enemies . He thus commanded that the Israelites would serve the Egyptians with rigor and hard bondage (Exodus 1:7-14). He also ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill every male child born among the Israelites (Verses 15-22).
However, this law of Pharoah became the way of God to get His future servant Moses into Pharoah’s court and prepare him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, in Canaan (Exodus 2-3, etc.). The rest of the Old Testament details how God worked out His plans for Israel despite the people’s rebellion. [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
Evil laws imposed by and upon Israel
From the start, Israel had been a rebellious, stiff-necked people (Deuteronomy 9:6, 13; Exodus 32:9; 33:3, 15; 34:9; Isaiah 30:9; Ezekiel 12:2). They asked for a human king like the nations among them had, thereby rejecting God as their King. The fourth king they had, [Rehoboam, who succeeded Solomon], passed a taxation law that exceeded God’s law demanding a mere 10% of the people’s income as basic tax. [See: The New testament Teaching on Giving.]
As a result the people, led by Solomon’s military captain Jeroboam, revolted and formed a separate kingdom comprised of most of the ten tribes of Israel (the story is recorded in 1 Kings 11 and onward).
Jeroboam did evil also in requiring his followers to worship the golden calves he made as the people’s new “gods,” made priests from other tribes than the God-ordained children of Levi, and ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in place of God’s commanded Feast on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (1 Kings 12:28-32; Exodus 20:1-4; Leviticus 1:5, etc.; 23:33). God roundly condemned Jeroboam for the evils he did (1 Kings 13:1-33). Eventually, because of their evil deeds, the 10-tribed northern kingdom of Israel was taken captive by the Assyrians and brought to other places. [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
The southern kingdom of Judah did not fare better than their brethren in the north. The Jews were also led into sin or disobedience to God’s laws by a succession of evil kings, who ordained evil ordinances (1 Kings 14:21-24; 2 Kings 17:13-20; 21:1-25; 23:31-37; 24:13-20).
When the Jews were carried away captive by the Babylonians to Babylon, they became subject to evil laws devised against them. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon erected a huge golden image, and required the captive Jews to bow down and pay homage to the image, or else suffer the penalty of death by being burned in a furnace – a law contrary to God’s command against worshiping images or idols. A dramatic story about this event and God’s miraculous intervention on behalf of His faithful servants is recorded in Daniel 3.
After the Medes and Persians took over the empire from the Babylonians, King Darius was prevailed upon by his officials, jealous of Daniel’s high status, to decree a law forbidding any subject from praying to anyone – human or divine – but the king, under penalty of death for those who disobeyed, by being fed alive to lions. Daniel disobeyed the king’s decree, still prayed to His God, as his custom was, and was thrown into the lion’s den. But God delivered him from the lions, and those who devised the evil law were fed to the lions instead. This other dramatic story is told in Daniel 6.
During the reign of the Persian king Ahasuerus a petty official, Haman, felt disrespected by the Jew Mordecai, who refused to pay homage to him. Because of this, Haman prevailed on the king to issue an irrevocable decree to destroy all Jews in the empire on a certain date. Because of the faith of Mordecai in His God, and the intervention of his cousin Esther, Ahasuerus’ queen, this evil extermination law was neutralized, and the Jews were delivered from destruction. This heroic story is recorded in Esther 2-9, and is deservedly celebrated by the Jews to this day as a special national holiday and festival, the Festival of Purim.
After the birth of Jesus, King Herod issued an evil law requiring that all male children two years and below in all Judea be killed. The infant Jesus was safely taken to Egypt for refuge, until Herod died. The narrative is preserved in Matthew 2.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus had several confrontations with the Jewish leaders of His day. At one point certain scribes and Pharisees confronted Jesus and His disciples for not following the traditions of the Jewish elders about ritual washing of the hands before eating. Jesus concluded His discussion with them by saying that, by holding this and their other man-made traditions, they had laid aside God’s commandment (Mark 7:1-13). [See: Did Christ Cleanse All Meats?]
Future evil laws prophesied
The prophet Daniel prophesied about a religious leader who would arise after his day, who would “speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law” (Daniel 7:25).
The apostle Paul also warned about such a “man of sin” and a “lawless one” who would oppose God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12), such as by overturning God’s laws, as Daniel had prophesied. Revelation 13:11-18 prophesies about such a leader who would impose a “mark” on all, or else they would not be allowed to buy or sell.
That “mark” has something to do with the observance of days of worship other than God’s commanded Sabbath and festivals. For more on this, see this link: https://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets” and scroll down to the booklets titled “What Is the “Mark of the beast?’” and “Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?”
These booklets reveal how, during the “dark age” of our civilization a religious leader, backed by a political leader or dictator, persecuted those who kept God’s Sabbath as “Judaizers.” It is very likely that this part of our history will repeat itself in the near future!
Another instance of devising evil by law occurred in the Worldwide Church of God in the mid-1990s. After the death of WCG founder and pastor-general Herbert W. Armstrong, his successor Joseph Tkach made changes in doctrine and policy and ordered ministers and members to comply, on threat of disfellowshipment [or excommunication]. [See: Where Is God’s Church Today?]
Our guarantee of salvation
We are living in these latter times that Jesus prophesied would see an increase and proliferation of lawlessness (Matthew 24:11). Indeed, humanity has not been as eager to do away with God’s perfect laws and commandments as today!
Many nations have done away with God’s judgment prescribing capital punishment (death) for capital sin or crime. [See: Of Dungeons and Prisons.] Many are also in a race to approve same-sex marriages and condone same-sex relations. [See: The Rainbow Connection.]
In the face of the challenge of unjust legislation by this world’s authorities – legislation meant to benefit some while oppressing others, as Psalm 94:18-23 condemns – a man or woman of God is commanded to remain “…faithful unto death” and promised, “…and I will give you the crown of life,” and “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11) – will be saved and have everlasting life in God’s kingdom. Jesus also told His disciples, and tells all today who would follow Him faithfully, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Christ, as the “Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17) repeatedly tells members of His Church that His promise of salvation and rewards is for those who overcome in this present evil world or age (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).
Overcoming, however, is not a matter of mere human effort or endurance. As Jesus said, “…without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) – and that especially about bearing much spiritual fruit, by which God is glorified (Verse 8). That is possible only when we “abide” in Christ – when we make Him the center of our lives. [See: What Do You Mean – “Christ-centered?”]
To understand better how we can overcome, see: God’s Spirit and Obedience, The Higher Law of the Spirit, Breaking Down Our “Walls of Jericho,” and Being and Doing.
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.