I will rejoice greatly in HaShem,
An examination of Romans 13
Shaul/Paul goes to great lengths in chapter 12 to explain every believer’s calling to peaceful co-existence with others. He concludes with the positive instruction, “Overcome evil with good.” Yeshua has said, “Why do you call me good? Only G-d is good.” (Mark 10:18) Therefore we overcome evil with G-d.
The hagadah (telling) of Shaul’s teaching is now followed by the halakhah (the way we walk), right action. Why? Because there’s no such thing as theology in Messianic Judaism, we are a religion of trust in action; either one devoid of the other will result in sin.
Many questions will arise from this chapter: we will ask, for example, “Does this mean we must be obedient even to wicked rulers?” The answer is inferred through the practical instruction given by Shaul/Paul regarding the term, “good,” which denotes good instruction and therefore voids the obligation to submit if the instruction is contrary to G-d’s good Instruction (Torah). However the greater answer is in the foundation set in the first few verses of this chapter. The order of rule is established with HaShem's position over all, hence any subsequent rule is subject to Him.
In order to glean answers to our questions we need to keep in mind things stated at the beginning of the letter to the Romans, such as, “For the wrath of G-d is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of human beings who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about G-d is evident within them” (Romans 1:18)
13:1 Let every nefesh (soul, person) be subject to the higher (hooperekho) rulers (Hebrew equivalent, elohim). For there is no Ruler (Hebrew: Elohim) (Messiah) except from G-d (Elohim): the rulers (elohim, other powers, human and superhuman) that exist are appointed by G-d (Elohim).
Firstly, the Hebrew equivalent to the Greek, “psookhay,” is, “nefesh,” which refers to the entire being, soul.
The second rendering of the Greek, “exooseeah—force, magistrate, superhuman, potentate,” is read in the singular; I believe this can refer to the Messiah, as shown. That is why it is followed by a specific statement regarding the existing, “rulers,” plural. This is a similar distinction to that made by Yeshua regarding Psalm 82:6 (John 10:33-38) where the Hebrew Elohim—G-d, gods, judges, rulers—is used to make clear that all rulers are subject to the Ruler.
2 Therefore whoever resists the Ruler (Messiah) has rebelled against the ordinance of G-d; and they who have rebelled will receive condemnation upon themselves.
There is no longer condemnation for those in Messiah Yeshua. (Romans 8:1) Therefore the Ruler here is Messiah. The ordinance of G-d is our means of salvation (Yeshua), that is, submission to Messiah, the receiving of the gift of G-d. The resisting of that gift is the road to wrath and condemnation.
3 For magistrates (arkhone) are not a cause of fear for those who practise good behaviour, but for those who practise evil. Do you want to be free from the fear of the Ruler (ha-El, Messiah)? Then do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for He is the minister of G-d, sent to you for good.
This verse begins using a different Greek word regarding ruling figures, “arkhone,” this is a subordinate title which I have rendered as magistrate in order to convey this ruler’s submission to the Ruler, HaShem. The very next verse refers back to, “exooseeah,” the Ruler, Messiah. This refers to Messiah rather than G-d the Father because, “the Ruler,” is, “the minister of G-d.”
When the imaginary listener is asked, “Do you want to be free from the fear of the Ruler,” he is also being told, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1 John 4:18) In other words, fear of punishment is the result of refusing G-d’s gift, Yeshua. Therefore the way to avoid fear is to receive Yeshua, which will birth right action in the believer.
But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for the Ruler (exooseeah) does not bear the sword (symbol of authority) for nothing; for He is the minister of G-d, one who carries out justice resulting in wrath--orgay--on those who continue to practice evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath--orgay--(discipline), but also for conscience’ sake (the Spirit speaking within us).
The Ruler here refers to Yeshua, who is the minister of G-d sent to us for good (v.4). Shaul/Paul looks to the end of the age and the ultimate fulfilment of wrath meted out upon those who continue to practise evil, resisting G-d’s gift.
The Greek “orgay,” wrath, is used in Romans prior to this only in reference to G-d. It is therefore most likely that it is also used here in reference to the outworking of G-d’s judgement rather than in relation to an earthly form of government.
The Roman ecclesia should not expect to go undisciplined if she wilfully sins and misrepresents G-d before the earthly ruling authorities, in regard to proper social law. G-d’s wrath against ungodliness is a form of discipline for the believer, for the unbeliever however it will end in eternal punishment. Believers are obligated both by discipline and more importantly out of love for The L-rd, to act rightly according to the laws of the land in this present age (olam hazeh) of darkness.
Shaul/Paul, having affirmed the Messiah and therefore G-d as the greatest authority, now turns to practical everyday examples of submission to the legal authorities that govern civilized society.
6 Because of this you also pay taxes, for those in authority are (also) servants of G-d, devoting themselves to the running of earthly government. 7 Render to all what is due them (Give to Cesar what is Cesar’s and to G-d what is G-d’s, Matthew 22:21): tax to whom tax is due (This could refer to Temple taxes paid by those making Aliyah); custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fully filled the Torah.
“As much as it depends on you, live in peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18)
Shaul/Paul challenges the Roman ecclesia (church community) to act rightly in situations regarding societal law, providing it doesn’t compromise the goal of the Torah (Messiah). If we refrain from evil we will become a witness of Messiah to those in authority over us. Remembering that no one is in authority, be it for good or evil, without G-d’s permission. Through our witness the L-rd will use our position with regard to public authority for the good of His kingdom.
What does this mean practically speaking? It means if tax is what funds the smooth running of the nation, pay it. If customs duties are charged to protect the nation, pay them. If you owe anyone a debt, pay it. If you live in a democracy, vote. If there is anything asked of you as a citizen that enables you to live at peace under the governing authorities—providing it doesn’t compromise the goal of the Torah—do it. Why? Because Yeshua, in G-d, is the One who governs all. Not believers only but everyone and everything.
In Judaism there is an Aramaic saying, “Dina dimalkuta dina,” which means, “The law of the kingdom is law,” Torah to be obeyed as if G-d had commanded it.
9 That’s why we read, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the full filling of the Torah.
These are all commandments concerning behaviour toward other human beings. This echoes the teaching of Messiah (Mark 12:28-34), affirming a principle that the famous Jewish Talmudic scholar Hillel also recognised:
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” –Hillel, tractate Shabbat
11 Do this, knowing that at the present time (olam hazeh), it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep;
Verse 11 begins a repetition of metaphors which juxtapose evil and good: sleep (death) and salvation, night and day, darkness and light.
When a Jew reads, “Present time,” he understands it to refer to the olam hazeh (present world), our current existence within time and space. Here Shaul/Paul relates the present state of the world to death, using the sleep metaphor common to rabbinical teaching, and used by Yeshua himself as a euphemism for death (temporal death awaiting final judgement).
“Stop living as though you are still dead like those living under wrath, you’re not, you’re a new creation,” says Shaul/Paul, “act like those who are awake (already alive eternally in Messiah).”
For now salvation (Yeshua) is nearer to us than when we first believed. 12 The night (olam hazeh, the present world subject to wrath) is almost gone, and the day (olam haba, the world to come) is near.
This salvation is the final resurrection and the olam haba (world to come), the physical return of Salvation (Yeshua) Himself.
The night, a metaphor for this present age and the dark acts of humanity, is almost over. The day, a metaphor for the world to come, the olam haba, is very close in terms of G-d’s plan for the reconciliation of creation. Though it may seem far off, we are admonished to understand our position outside of time from HaShem’s perspective. This darkness is truly temporary, like the night it will end and if, as Shaul/Paul says, it is near, then we are now approaching the dawn.
Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the hoplon (Greek shield) of light (Hebrew: Or, to illuminate, expose, lay bare, unhidden, revealed, shine, luminous).
“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”
We put aside the deeds of darkness as a result of understanding our position in G-d through Yeshua. We are now day dwellers living in the night but soon this night will be breached by the dawning of the Light of the world--Or ha-olam--Yeshua our King.
Note that the Greek, “hopolon,” refers specifically to the round shield of Greek/Roman armour and not to the entire body of armour; that’s why I have rendered it as, “shield of light.” It is therefore not related to the whole of the armour of Ephesians 6:10-18. It may however be connected to the shield of that same armour, thus linking the idea of Trust (Shield of faith, emunah: trust) and light (Hebrew: Or).
The Hebrew, “Or,” means to illuminate, expose, lay bare, make unhidden, reveal, shine. It is understood to expose all things because, “G-d is Or (light) and in Him there is no darkness.” (1 John 1:5) That is to say, light emanates from G-d. G-d is light but light is not G-d. There is of course darkness in G-d because all things exist in Him, therefore what is meant by this reference is that all things are clearly seen and exposed by Him: just as the Scripture says, “Even the darkness is as light to You.” (Psalm 139:12)
With this in mind we can understand the shield of light to reflect both our trust in G-d and the light of G-d that exposes all things for what they really are, shielding us from darkness/lies. It is also the result of right action born of trust. If we do what is right—as Shaul/Paul alluded to earlier—we are in fact shielding ourselves from the negative outcomes that result from doing what is evil. Therefore our right action born of trust, shields us.
Note that we are to put on the shield of light and in summation Shaul/Paul counsels us to clothe ourselves with Yeshua (v.14).
Yeshua is, “the light of the world,” the one who exposes all things, the one whom nothing can hide from.
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” –Yochanan/John 8:12
13 Let us walk (halakh) properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
In Messianic Judaism we understand that the way we think and act are to be made one in Messiah. The way we walk, halakhah, has been an essential part of Judaism from ancient days. This verse is saying, “Allow the light to seed your halakhah.”
Be intentional about not walking in darkness, drunkenness and sexual immorality. All these acts were associated to idolatry in ancient Rome and are no less idolatress today. Perhaps if we were to understand the blasphemous nature of these things we would be less likely to entertain the idea of them. The point is that Messiah, our light is the means by which we are able to resist the deeds of darkness.
14 Clothe yourselves with the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, and waste no more time thinking of how to please the desires of the old sinful nature.
“HaShem wraps Himself in light as with a garment; He stretches out the heavens like a tent.” –Psalm 104:2
When we walk intentionally in His light we are clothing ourselves with the truth that exposes the darkness. Our love for Him compels us to see ourselves surrounded by the tallit of Yeshua, it’s the light we daven (rock back and forth in prayer) in, the light we walk in, the light that encompasses us in immutable fidelity. His light, His shield, is a double portion of security in Him.
“I will rejoice greatly in HaShem,
My soul will exult in my Elohim;
For He has clothed me with garments of Yeshua (salvation),
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.