The pendulum swings, a little left and a little right, returning to the center each time

One in a series on Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. So far, we have discussed these topics:

  • central government vs. states’ rights:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/hamilton-early-lessons-still-apply/

  • religion:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/hamilton-on-religion-belief-in-god-as-moral-authority/

  • politics:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/politics-continuing-what-hamilton-and-his-peers-started/

  • slavery, the judiciary:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/slavery-and-the-judiciary-hamiltons-far-reaching-views/

Populism

The 1800 elections revealed, for the first time, the powerful centrist pull of American politics – the electorate’s tendency to rein in anything perceived as extreme. (p. 626)

 

In that 1800 election, the first Republican, Thomas Jefferson, was elected president after George Washington and John Adams as members of the Federalist party had set the early course for the new United States. In the House of Representatives, the Republicans took 65 seats to 41 for the Federalists.

“The people had registered their dismay with a long litany of unpopular Federalist actions: the Jay Treaty, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the truculent policy toward France, the vast army being formed under Hamilton and the taxes levied to support it.” (p. 626)

Isn’t this what happened a year ago as well?

  • A large number of the electorate believed that social policies had swung too far left, thanks in large part to U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
  • The Congressional stalemate over budget, economic and social issues convinced large segments of the public that Republicans and Democrats were incapable of making decisions and therefore leading the country.
  • Donald Trump, as a political outsider, offered a contrasting alternative.

While his tweets and staff firings and resignations have signaled disorganization in his administration, his strong support of the military and more conservative social agenda have connected with many. Is Trump pulling us too far in that direction? Upcoming elections will tell.

Trump’s presidency proves that we can’t go too far left, or too far right, as a nation and get away with it. The pendulum eventually returns to center, or close to it.

 

… Jefferson proved a more moderate president than either he or Hamilton cared to admit. The Virginian no longer had the luxury of being in opposition and could not denounce every assertion of executive power as a rank betrayal of the Revolution. (p. 646)

 

I wonder if Trump eventually will understand this principle. It’s easy to point fingers when you’re not in charge, as Republicans did for the previous eight years and as Democrats are doing now. It’s harder to do that when controversial decisions land on your desk. We’ll see how many of Trump’s policies moderate as his presidency develops.

 

(Hamilton) saw the chaos in France as a frightening portent of what could happen in America if the safeguards of order were stripped away by the love of liberty. (p. 434)

hamilton mug

The French Revolution in the 1790s divided the political parties in this country. Hamilton’s Federalist party denounced the Revolution as violent and deadly, while Jefferson’s Republicans supported the opposition in France, even if it was violent, because they felt that French leaders were oppressive.

Hamilton could not turn a blind eye to the bloodthirsty nature of the French Revolution, which included the guillotine death of Louis XVI, a supporter of the American Revolution. Republicans said that if he was an “enemy of human nature,” then his death was justified. (p. 433)

“For Hamilton, the utopian revolutionaries in France had emphasized liberty to the exclusion of order, morality, religion and property rights.” (p. 434)

I see this happening in our country today. Statues of long-ago Confederate leaders are being smashed or removed. Perhaps they should be, because the Confederates supported slavery. We fought a Civil War over that issue. We don’t need to fight it again.

Do we?

 

Revenge had always frightened (Hamilton), and class envy and mob violence had long been his bugaboos. (p. 195)

 

And yet …

 

“I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” he told (James) Madison loftily from Paris, “and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” … the more hopeful and complacent Jefferson thought that periodic excesses would correct themselves. (p. 225)

 

Jefferson and Hamilton, then, while political opponents who did not get along with each other, seemed more alike than either was willing to admit. Neither supported “periodic excesses.” They trusted the pendulum swing to keep the young nation on track. As we should today.

Journalism

Hamilton wrote volumes upon volumes of letters, treatises and pamphlets, often writing late into the night after hectic days running his family, his law practice and/or the country as treasury secretary. Indeed, sometimes he couldn’t stop himself. He incriminated himself and others with several of his pamphlets that made his supporters – and his wife, certainly – cringe. He felt he had to defend his personal honor at all costs.

 

To understand Hamilton’s productivity, it is important to note that virtually all of his important work was journalism, prompted by topical issues and written in the midst of controversy. He never wrote as a solitary philosopher for the ages. … he plumbed the timeless principles behind contemporary events. (p. 250)

 

Even though he never visited Europe, Hamilton researched the continent extensively, learning everything he could about its economies, politics, judiciaries, governments, social structures, taxes, trade policies, and so many other issues. As he wrote The Federalist Papers and numerous other documents, he culled his research to seek the best of Europe for us, documenting his research thoroughly.

Hamilton wrote many newspaper articles, most of them anonymously because that’s the way it was done back then, defending his viewpoints and criticizing his opponents.

Late in his life, Hamilton defended a Federalist newspaper editor charged with libel by President Jefferson. “The standard had been that plaintiffs in libel cases needed to prove only that statements made against them were defamatory, not that they were false.” (p. 668)

In a six-hour speech in February 1804 before the New York Supreme Court, Hamilton defended a free press. Only a free press could check abuses of executive power, Hamilton asserted.

 

By spotlighting the issue of intent, Hamilton identified the criteria for libel that still hold sway in America today: that the writing in question must be false, defamatory and malicious. (p. 669)

 

Hamilton did not argue that truth should be conclusive, only that it should be admissible; if a journalist slandered his target accurately but maliciously, then he was still guilty of libel. He noted that the Sedition Act, “branded indeed with epithets the most odious,” contained one redeeming feature: it allowed the alleged libeler to plead both truth and intent before a jury. (p. 669)

Earlier, Hamilton instigated a libel suit against New York’s leading Republican newspaper, The Argus, which wrote that Hamilton had tried to buy another Republican paper for $6,000 – and that he accumulated such funds “from British secret service money.”

Falling back on common law, the court did not allow Hamilton to testify as to the truth or falsity of charges leveled against him – a situation that may have firmed his resolve to establish this principle in American libel law. The newspaper’s editor was convicted, fined $100 and incarcerated for four months. (p. 576)

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A sports vacation to see the world’s best

No Federer, No Murray, no Djokovic? No problem.

Three of the Big Four in men’s professional tennis pulled out of last week’s Western & Southern ATP World Tour Masters 100 tournament in Mason, Ohio, north of Cincinnati, which many top male and female players use as a tune-up for the U.S. Open in New York City early in September.

All three are nursing injuries, Federer his back and Murray his hip. Djokovic’s elbow injury has sidelined him for the remainder of the year.

Even without those three stars, my oldest son and I saw some awesome world-class tennis during the two days (well, one and a half, really) that we attended the tournament.

The fourth of the Big Four, Rafael Nadal, a Spaniard who now is the world’s No. 1 male player, was supposed to play Thursday night and again Friday night (assuming he won Thursday, of course).

We never saw him play on Thursday. Neither did anyone else. The entire nighttime slate got rained out. Even some of the Thursday day matches didn’t get completed.

Rain, rain, go away

As the rain drizzled and sometimes poured down, my son and I hung out underneath the Center Court stands with dozens of others. We met a couple from Louisville who drove up for the Thursday night and Friday day sessions – it’s less than two hours to Mason from their home. They arrived just in time to see rain.

All of us were hoping to see some action on the court. We did see some action, just not from the players.

rain4

rain7

As soon as the rain stopped, ball boys and girls came out with squeegees to begin drying off the court. They were followed by their peers and operations staff with huge dryers that made conversation inside the court area difficult. Others grabbed towels and got down on their knees to wipe off the lines, which are slippery when wet.

rain8

Before the job was finished, however, the rain started again. The operations manager in charge of the situation sagged his shoulders and motioned everyone back into hiding.

 

This process was repeated twice more as the rain kept falling, then stopping, then re-starting. Finally, a few minutes after 11 p.m. (the night session was supposed to start at 7 p.m.), the public address announcer informed those of us remaining that the weather was not cooperating, and all matches would be rescheduled for Friday.

The men

Nadal 2
Rafael Nadal. Below left: Grigor Dimitrov. Below right: Nick Kyrgios.

Nadal, like quite a few other players, was forced to play two matches on Friday. He won his afternoon match easily, but got smoked by Nick Kyrgios of Australia – who also had to play two matches on Friday – in the most surprising result of the tournament.

Kyrgios was hitting serves upwards of 140 mph, the fastest serves my son and I saw, and hardly missed a one. He didn’t miss any other shots either. Or so it seemed.

 

After the match, according to The Associated Press, Nadal wore a ribbon honoring the victims of a van attack earlier in the day in Barcelona that left 13 people dead.

“A tragedy,” Nadal said. “The feeling that you’re not safe nowhere – that’s terrible … To all the victims, the families, friends – all my support.”

I’m hoping that didn’t distract him on the court.

In the men’s final, which I watched on TV on Sunday, Kyrgios played Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, a steady, consistent player – the opposite of the emotional, roller coaster ride that Kyrgios takes his fans on. In the Round of 16, we saw Kyrgios hit a shot while running off the court to the right; he kept going and high-fived a half-dozen fans in the first row after winning the point. Earlier, he conceded one point by hitting a ball between his legs that his opponent, Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, hit back for a winner.

Dimitrov won the title, 6-3, 7-5.

The women

For star power, we enjoyed watching the women’s draw. All the top women played in Mason, and most were still around when we showed up for the Round of 16 matches on Thursday. The one disappointment was Venus Williams, who lost her Wednesday match.

Muguruza1
Garbine Muguruza. Below left, Madison Keys. Below right, Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The eventual winner, Garbine Muguruza of Spain, played arguably the two best matches of the tournament – and we saw them both. On Thursday, she defeated American Madison Keys in a three-set thriller. Keys actually had a couple of match points, but Muguruza won those points and then won in a third-set tiebreaker.

On Friday, she defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in another three-setter that took 2 hours, 45 minutes – the first of six matches in 12 hours played on Center Court on Friday, thanks to Thursday night’s rainouts. Muguruza won 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. Both played at the top of their games.

We saw many of the best players in the world playing their best tennis. What a treat.

Halep 2
Simona Halep
Pliskova3
Kristina Pliskova

After those two scintillating matches, the semi and final were almost routine for Muguruza, who earlier this summer also won the prestigious Wimbledon championship in Great Britain. In the semi-final, she defeated the female world’s No. 1 player and defending Western & Southern Open champion Kristina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-2, then in the final dispatched Simona Halep of Romania, 6-1, 6-0.

Halep would have taken over the No. 1 spot in the world had she won the tournament. It wasn’t to be.

An event worth repeating

My son and I are turning this into an annual event. We attended the Thursday and Friday sessions last year as well, and enjoyed it so much we went for an encore performance this year.

This time, we stayed at a motel three-quarters of a mile from the tennis center, so we didn’t even have to fight the traffic to get there. We walked. Great exercise as we passed cars trapped in the grassy parking lot waiting to exit (the grassy field was less muddy this year, which means they improved it).

 

During a late-afternoon Thursday rain delay, we left the tennis center to grab dinner at a local restaurant (much cheaper than the food at the center, which wasn’t bad, actually), then returned for the night session that didn’t happen.

It’s an awesome tournament. The grandstand and the side courts are small enough that fans can get close to the players (close enough for a high-five, for those so inclined). We could hear them talk to themselves, and see the expressions on their faces.

Kyrgios was the only player we saw throw a racket in frustration (he didn’t break it).

We saw Nadal’s patented fist pump after he broke Kyrgios’s serve (he only did it the one time).

Tennis is a game of sportsmanship and respect, for the opponents, the judges, the chair umpire and even for the ball boys and ball girls. All the support officials played their roles very well. I enjoyed watching the ball boys and girls roll the balls to the proper side of the court, depending who was serving, quickly, efficiently and unobtrusively.

The players could challenge line judges’ calls, but the original calls were rarely overturned. They have some great eyes to see exactly where a 100-plus mph ball lands.

Tennis does replay right. Fast. They show the evidence to the fans as well as the players. In or out. Play on.

We most likely will be back in 2018. Come join us, if you can. It’s worth the trip – and for those of us in the Midwest, not nearly so far or so crowded (or so expensive) as the U.S. Open in New York City would be. Although I’m sure that’s an experience too.

Professional tennis is a big hit. Even with the rain.

Slavery and the judiciary: Hamilton’s far-reaching views

One in a series on Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. So far, we have discussed these topics:

  • central government vs. states’ rights:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/hamilton-early-lessons-still-apply/

  • religion:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/hamilton-on-religion-belief-in-god-as-moral-authority/

  • politics:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/politics-continuing-what-hamilton-and-his-peers-started/

 

 

After last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Va., I thought slavery would be a good topic this week.

Hamilton unequivocally opposed slavery, a position he never changed throughout his life.

 

The memories of his West Indian childhood left Hamilton with a settled antipathy to slavery … He had expressed an unwavering belief in the genetic equality of blacks and whites – unlike (Thomas) Jefferson, for instance, who regarded blacks as innately inferior – that was enlightened for his day. And he knew this from his personal boyhood experience. (p. 210)

 

Hamilton claimed Nevis in the British West Indies as his birthplace. “British authorities colonized Nevis with vagabonds, criminals and other riffraff swept from the London streets to work as indentured servants or overseers.” (p. 8)

Hamilton rarely talked about his childhood with anyone. He was illegitimate. He was raised in “the insecure middle rung of West Indian life, squeezed between plantation aristocrats above and street rabble and unruly slaves below.” (p.8)

hamilton mug

Nevis, in the Caribbean, was (and still is) a producer of sugar cane, which required slaves in Hamilton’s day. “The eight thousand captive blacks easily dwarfed in number the one thousand whites …” (p. 19) Hamilton saw slave-auction blocks and frequent public whippings. “The Caribbean sugar economy was a system of inimitable savagery …” (p. 19), which made a huge impression on Hamilton as a child.

As an adult helping to form the nascent United States of America, Hamilton continued to oppose slavery. However, because slavery was deeply ingrained in the South, he and other abolitionists had no chance to write their views into the Constitution.

 

… the American Revolution had been premised on a tacit bargain that regional conflicts would be subordinated to the need for unity among the states. This understanding dictated that slavery would remain a taboo subject. (p. 122)

 

Southern leaders would not compromise on this issue. Indeed, they “wondered how their human property would be counted for congressional-apportionment purposes.”

 

Northern states finally agreed that five slaves would be counted as equivalent to three free whites, the infamous “federal ratio” that survived for another eighty years. … Without the federal ratio, Hamilton glumly concluded, “no union could possibly have been formed.” Indeed, the whole superstructure erected in Philadelphia rested on that unstable, undemocratic foundation. (p. 239)

 

When Jefferson moved into the brand-new White House as U.S. president in 1801, he continued to own slaves. Indeed, for more than 50 years of owning and running Monticello, he bought and sold human beings. He never freed even one until his death, when he emancipated only five slaves – all of them relatives of his mistress, Sally Hemings.

 

… the majority of the six hundred workers who erected the White House and the Capitol were slaves whose wages were garnisheed by their masters. (p. 635-6)

 

It took another half-century, long after Hamilton’s death in 1804, for a Civil War to be fought over slavery.

While the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed by Congress on Jan. 31, 1865, abolished slavery legally, the fight for equality for minority groups, including blacks, continues today. White supremacists, who rallied in Charlottesville on Saturday over the fate of a monument of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general, have no place in the United States, legally or morally.

Confederate Monuments Protest
Rescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into a large group of protesters after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017. (The Associated Press)

All humans, regardless of race or ethnic background, are created equal in the eyes of God – and U.S. law. As a white male, I am ashamed that some of my race and gender refuse to acknowledge this.

White supremacists do not speak for all white males – not even close. I hope the man who drove a car into a crowd of peaceful protesters who were opposing the supremacists’ rally, killing one and injuring 19, gets prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I hope that kind of anger and hatred never appears in this country again.

The authority of the judiciary

As a lawyer, Hamilton preferred cases that established Constitutional law, preferring precedence-setting cases to those that benefited only one individual – even if that meant he passed up lucrative cases filed by wealthy landowners to take a case of someone whom Hamilton felt was being wronged.

One such case was Rutgers v. Waddington, held in the New York City Mayor’s Court in 1784.

Following the Revolutionary War, New York’s legislature enacted a series of laws that stripped British Tories of their property and privilege. One such law passed by the legislature in 1783 was the Trespass Act. It gave patriots the legal right to sue anyone who had occupied, damaged or destroyed homes they had left behind British lines during the war. This law served the foundation for the case.

The plaintiff, Elizabeth Rutgers, owned a large brewery and alehouse that she was forced to abandon during the British occupation of New York City. Under the then recently enacted Trespass Act, Rutgers demanded rent in the sum of 8,000 pounds from Joshua Waddington, who had been running the brewery since it was abandoned.

Hamilton defended Waddington, the British man managing the brewery, claiming the Trespass Act violated the 1783 peace treaty ratified by Congress.

Chief Justice James Duane handed down a split verdict that entitled Rutgers to rent only from the time before the British occupation, and the two parties agreed to the amount of 800 pounds. This case set a precedent for Congress’ legal authority over the states. Duane wrote in his ruling that “no state in this union can alter or abridge, in a single point, the federal articles or the treaty.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutgers_v._Waddington

 

Hamilton expounded the all-important doctrine of judicial review – the notion that high courts had a right to scrutinize laws and if necessary declare them void. (p. 198)

 

This was a radical argument because at the time, the country “still lacked a federal judiciary.” (p. 198) State legislatures set the law of the land. Rutgers’ lawyers defended this position, while Hamilton defended the British Tory – which cost him huge political points among his opponents.

But the judge’s ruling defended the law of nations over states’ rights.

At about the same time as this case, Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay were writing 85 essays defending the U.S. Constitution called The Federalist Papers. Hamilton wrote six of those essays on the judiciary.

 

In number 78, Hamilton introduced an essential concept, never made explicit in the Constitution: that the Supreme Court should be able to review and overturn legislation as unconstitutional. … “no legislative act … contrary to the constitution can be valid …” (p. 259)

 

This is why appointments to the politically divided U.S. Supreme Court have caused large debates in recent years. Top Court rulings do establish law by either upholding or overturning it. We can thank Alexander Hamilton for first promoting this idea.

Positive v. negative: Which prevails?

When they had come to the land of Canaan … the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Genesis 12:5, 7

 

“We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out …

Numbers 13:31-32

 

How easy we forget a promise. Or, perhaps because we know all about broken promises, we just won’t take God at His word.

In the first book of the Bible, God promised Abram (later renamed Abraham) a land flowing with milk and honey for his descendants. A few books later, God is ready to fulfill His promise by leading Israel into the Promised Land.

Before entering the land, Moses wanted to see what (and who) was there, so he sent 12 leaders, one from each of Israel’s tribes, to spy out the land. They reported that the land indeed was flowing with milk and honey.

They also noted that the inhabitants of Canaan were strong with large fortified cities – which they didn’t think they could conquer.

Two of the 12 spies, Caleb and Joshua, remembered God’s promise to Abram, saying, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us …” (Numbers 14:8)

The nation’s response? “The whole congregation threatened to stone them.” (v. 10)

The majority opinion

You know the story. God forced Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years until that entire generation (except for Caleb and Joshua) died, and their descendants entered the Promised Land.

As I studied this familiar story recently, one I’ve read many times, a new thought came to me. (God does this all the time, as regular Bible readers know.)

The nation in the wilderness supported the majority opinion. Ten v. two. Ten spies said the inhabitants were too strong to overcome. Two said God was able to keep His promise, and that somehow God would lead Israel into the Promised Land.

It’s easy to judge the 10 in hindsight, because of course God eventually did help Israel conquer Canaan.

At the moment, however, I’m sure the 10 were very persuasive.

The big picture

It’s so easy to focus on our circumstances and lose sight of the big picture, as those 10 spies did. Who cares that God made a promise many generations earlier? These enemies are too strong for us. We can’t do it.

Caleb and Joshua saw the same situation that the other spies did. All of them saw the fruit of the land, how good it was, and the inhabitants, how big and strong they were.

The difference? Their attitudes.

Caleb and Joshua had seen God’s power as Israel escaped Egypt: the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the 10 Commandments, manna in the wilderness that just appeared every day – all of it. They saw and experienced God’s power.

When they spied the Promised Land, they did not forget.

The other 10 did.

How easy it is to leave God in the wilderness, to focus on the challenges facing us and not on the God who promises to overcome the challenges.

Perspective

The majority saw the negative. Caleb and Joshua saw the positive.

As a (retired) journalist, I am by nature cynical. It’s so easy for me to see the negative side. I have trouble finding joy in life, even though I know it’s there, because I see all the strife and turmoil around me.

I experience it every day. Road rage. Companies downsizing, including the one I worked for a few years ago. The opioid epidemic, which makes the news nearly every day around here. People on their phones instead of interacting face-to-face. And I haven’t even mentioned politics, which is its own special case.

How do I experience such things? With pessimism or optimism?

It’s the popular thing to complain and criticize. Even, perhaps especially, if we’re the majority.

But does that make it right?

What if the majority is off-track? What if most of us are missing the big picture?

Attitude

I get upset when someone cuts me off at 65 mph because he or she is in a hurry to get somewhere. If I turn that into road rage, a fleeting incident would have lasting consequences, perhaps life-taking consequences.

Let it go and move on. Pick your battles. I’m on the highway because I’m going somewhere, and I want to get there. That’s the big picture. Suck it up and swallow my pride. I just hope that speeder doesn’t cause a crash down the road that takes or ruins an innocent life.

Do I see life in a positive or negative fashion?

Can I find the good in you? It’s there, of course.

Or, do I focus on the bad in you? That’s there too.

As it is in me.

If you want to find fault with me, you certainly can. If you focus on that, you might draw that out of me.

If you focus on the good in me, you might draw that out instead.

Attitude. That’s the difference.

Caleb and Joshua did not see an insurmountable obstacle. They saw a way to conquer the land. They didn’t know the details of how it would happen, but they trusted their God and His promise.

Even when the other 10 leaders and the entire nation of Israel didn’t see it.

Human nature is selfish. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own world and miss what’s really going on around us.

If we seek a positive outcome, we just might find it. This is one reason I believe in God, and try to see life through His lens. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, what Promised Land I will enter.

I need to remind myself of this all the time.

My cynical, self-centered, critical attitude is only part of the picture. When God offers a positive outlook, I need to pursue it.

I saw a John Eldredge movie last night with some friends. The author and adventurer says each of us has a story, and we need to discover it. That story involves not only adventure, but beauty.

If the world is such a bad place, Eldredge, says, where does beauty come from?

Perspective. Attitude. What we’re looking for.

Beauty or evil?

Which do you see?

Don’t trust the majority on this one.

 

God’s benediction prepares us for each moment

The LORD bless you and keep you;

The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26

 

I heard this benediction many times in church as a child. It’s a warm, positive, uplifting way to send a congregation out of the sanctuary and into our big, bad world.

This blessing rests in the middle of a lecture from God to Moses for the people of Israel camped at Mount Sinai, as they were beginning their wanderings in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. This part of the lecture included rules for the Levites, whom God designated as the priests for the entire nation.

Numbers is a book about holiness. Israel is set apart from all other nations. The Levites are set apart from all other Israelites. Break the rules, and you die. Literally.

Not every rule was punishable by death, of course – at least for the perpetrator. God instituted plenty of sacrifices for the people, including the Levites, to regain their holiness when they become “unclean” or when they sinned.

Those sacrifices meant that an animal had to die for a human’s errant ways.

Serious stuff. And bloody.

Most of Numbers 6 talks about the meaning of a nazirite vow, “to separate themselves to the LORD” (v. 2). We’re familiar with this vow because Samson broke all of it, reaping a heavy price while still receiving many blessings from God (his story is told in Judges 13-16).

So, while this blessing asks God for favor, we have a role to play as well. If we turn our backs on God and reject His laws, we can’t expect many blessings from Him, can we?

I frequently test God this way. I want to do things my way, then ask God to bless it and make it good. Most of the time, my way is a cheap imitation of what my Lord and Savior really wants to give me, and wants me to do.

I know that God wants the best for me. If I only understood what that really means …

The LORD bless you …

Dictionary.com offers six definitions of “blessing:”

  1. the act or words of a person who blesses.
  2. a special favor, mercy, or benefit:

the blessings of liberty.

  1. a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.
  2. the invoking of God’s favor upon a person:

The son was denied his father’s blessing.

  1. praise; devotion; worship, especially grace said before a meal:

The children took turns reciting the blessing.

  1. approval or good wishes:

The proposed law had the blessing of the governor.

God wanted to give the Israelites favor, mercy and good wishes. He wants the same for us today.

… and keep you

This blessing also asks God to “keep you.” This means that God will protect Israel and keep them from harm. http://www.gospel.com/bookmarks/Lord-bless-keep-Christian-perspective/12210/

God protects us today as well.

The LORD make his face to shine upon you …

This implies that God does not shine on everyone. He causes His face to shine on those who seek His face and want to be a blessing to Him. Several times in the Bible, people asked that God not hide His face from them (Job 13:24, Psalm 27:9, 44:24, 69:17, 88:14, 102:2, 143:7).

http://storage.cloversites.com/makinglifecountministriesinc/documents/What%20does%20His%20face%20shine%20on%20us%20mean.pdf

… and be gracious to you

Dictionary.com offers these definitions of “gracious:”

  1. pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous.
  2. characterized by good taste, comfort, ease, or luxury:

gracious suburban living; a gracious home.

  1. indulgent or beneficent in a pleasantly condescending way, especiallyto inferiors.
  2. merciful or compassionate:

our gracious king.

  1. Obsolete. fortunate or happy.

I like the “merciful or compassionate” definition for Numbers 6, although “kind, benevolent, and courteous” certainly could apply as well.

We’re asking God to be on our side, not because we deserve it or we even know what “merciful” or “compassionate” mean, but because we know God has the best plan, the right plan, for each of us. By giving us mercy and compassion, God wants us to give those away – ie, share mercy and compassion with literally everyone we meet.

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you …

What is countenance? Dictionary.com explains it this way:

  1. appearance, especially the look or expression of the face:

a sad countenance.

  1. the face; visage.
  2. calm facial expression; composure.
  3. approval or favor; encouragement; moral support.
  4. Obsolete. bearing; behavior.

Countenance is a person’s face or facial expression. It doesn’t have to be positive, but it often is. Moses is asking God to smile for us, because of us. What a thought that is.

… and give you peace

Peace is a tough concept to understand. Dictionary.com lists many possibilities:

  1. the normal, nonwarring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world.
  2. (often initial capital letter) an agreement or treaty between warring or antagonistic nations, groups, etc., to end hostilities and abstain from further fighting or antagonism:

the Peace of Ryswick.

  1. a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations:

Try to live in peace with your neighbors.

  1. the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community; public order and security:

He was arrested for being drunk and disturbing the peace.

  1. cessation of or freedom from any strife or dissension.
  2. freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity.
  3. a state of tranquility or serenity:

May he rest in peace.

These definitions say “peace” is the absence of war, but it’s much more than that. Absence leaves a vacuum. If not war, what replaces it? Mutual harmony? Tranquility or serenity?

I think peace is more than those things.

Here’s a few Bible verses on peace:

 

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14

 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

 

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29:11

 

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:14

 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

 

We are to pursue peace; it’s not in our human nature to do this. We prefer to defend ourselves, even if that means we antagonize others. Jesus “gives strength to his people” to pursue peace.

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace 700 years before He is born. Jesus claims this by saying peace is one of His objectives for us. The world doesn’t understand peace; only Jesus offers peace that “transcends all understanding,” that “overcomes the world.”

Benediction

There’s a lot in this Old Testament benediction. If we do our part, God will surely do His.

Blessings will follow. That’s a promise.