Freedom as divine law

Freedom is not a natural state, it needs frames and structures. In the Bible, three thousand years before Montesquieu, the Hebrew people secured their freedom by establishing the separation of judicial, religious and political powers…

In the Bible, freedom is the first affirmation before enunciating the ten words (ten commandments) that summarize God’s law: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery ” (Ex 20,2). If freedom is a commandment, it is not natural. The natural thing is the gregariousness that succumbs to the temptation of conforming to the way of life of the neighbors. It is the false freedom of adolescents who demand to be able to behave exactly like others, listen to the same music, have the same clothes and the same hobbies as their peers. A wise man once said that if he could add an eleventh commandment to the ten words, it would be: “You shall not cheat.”

The temptation of slavery

In the book of Exodus, every seven years, the sabbatical years, the slaves were freed. Sometimes the slave refused to be freed. The book says: “But if the slave declares: “I love my master, my wife and my children, I do not want to go free”, then his master will bring him before God and, bringing him closer to the door or the jamb, will pierce him. his ear with an awl; and he will be his slave forever.” (Ex 21,5-6). The pierced ear sign is often understood as a symbol of ownership. Talmudic masters offer another interpretation: “The ear will be pierced, because it is the ear that has heard the word that says: ‘I have freed you from the house of slavery’.” The ear is pricked because, by renouncing the liberation offered to him, man distances himself from the word of God. The slave who rejects his liberation becomes the image of the people who consider the desert too high a price to pay for freedom and who cultivate nostalgia for Egypt, “when we sat around the pot of meat and ate bread until fed up” (Ex 16,3). In biblical memory, the achievement of freedom was achieved through a journey through the desert, but as a wise man said: “If one day was enough for the Hebrews to leave Egypt; to Egypt, which symbolizes the categories of servitude, It took him forty years to get out of the hearts of the Hebrews”. This march towards freedom is marked by the establishment of three orders.

First, establish justice

Shortly after arriving in the desert, Moses received a visit from his father-in-law Jethro, who noticed the organization of the people. Observe a lack of delegation of responsibilities: “Moses’ father-in-law replied: ‘What you are doing is not right; you and the people with you are killing yourselves. The task is too great and you cannot handle it by yourself. Now, listen to me : I’ll give you a tip: […] seek among all the people some brave men, fearing God, sincere and enemies of bribery, and appoint from among them leaders of a thousand, of a hundred, of fifty and of twenty. They will administer justice to the people regularly: serious matters, let them pass them on to you; simple matters, let them solve them. In this way you will lighten your load, for they will share it with you'” (Ex 18:17-22). Jethro was a priest of a foreign God, but he knew that the first condition for a people to experience freedom is the establishment of a judicial system .

Theodore Monod wrote that man will always be inferior to the animal in terms of natural qualities: he is surpassed in speed by the gazelle, in strength by the elephant, in ferocity by the panther, and even in the realization of the ideal of the totalitarian state, the ant. Is superior. What belongs to humans is reason, the search for beauty and, above all, the sense of justice and injustice.

In Deuteronomy, which, according to tradition, evokes the memory of the exodus of Moses while he was on his deathbed, the appointment of judges is placed in the first chapter. At the moment of reckoning, Moses reminds us that the first condition of life in society is the existence of a judicial power that regulates conflicts. Sociology defines the State as the body that has the legitimate use of violence, which determines and applies sanctions according to the rules of justice. Community life without justice gives free rein to the law of the jungle, to the power of the mafias, to the return of humans to the animal state.

Religion versus totalitarianism

After the appointment of the judges, Moses was faced with the question of how to organize the cult. Rabbinic commentaries have stated that the Lord did not initially plan to build the tabernacle, because he wanted to have a direct relationship with his people. When he fell into the idolatry of the golden calf, God understood that humans needed mediations to organize their relationship with the divine. He then sent instructions for the construction of the Tent of Meeting, the sacrificial altar, and the ark of the covenant. To complement the place, the Lord instituted a priestly caste made up of Moses’ brother, Aaron, and his descendants.

When, a few years earlier, the Lord called Moses to the burning bush to be the deliverer of his people, he encouraged him, saying, “I am with you; and this is the sign that I am sending you: when you bring the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (Ex 3:12). The sign of God places religious freedom at the base of all freedoms. It is no accident that totalitarian regimes have always tried to muzzle or control religions. Religion opposes totalitarianism by cultivating a space in which the subject can define itself independently of politics.

Throughout history, religion has often brought out the best in people when it has fostered spirituality, dedication, acceptance of others and has helped men and women overcome the trials of life. But religions can also drift into fanaticism and fundamentalism when seduced by the pursuit of power. To prevent this, Moses appointed the elders to organize politics regardless of religion.

decentralize decisions

After the delivery of the Law and the construction of the Tent of Meeting, the people left again for the promised land. The Hebrews now had judges, a law, priests, and a portable religious space. They still lack an institution that gives them freedom.

God tells Moses that he must go one step further in his organization by appointing elders to decentralize decisions and be closer to the people. He asks her to choose seventy sages and gather them near the Tent of Meeting. God blesses them and puts in them part of the spirit that Moses had to share his burden (Num. 11,16-17). In its history, the town has known various political organizations with successive elders, judges and kings. With regard to the latter, Deuteronomy provides a framework for the exercise of kingship by giving these recommendations about the ruler: “He shall not possess many horses nor bring the people back to Egypt to increase their horses, for the Lord has said to you: ‘ You shall never return that way.’ He shall not possess many women, lest his heart be led astray, nor shall he lay up too much silver and gold. Levitical priests. He will have it with him and read it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, observing all the words of this law and all these commands to fulfill them. So that his heart will not be proud of his brothers nor will he turn from this commandment to the right hand or to the left, and he and his sons will prolong the days of his reign in the midst of Israel” (Dt 17:16-20). In Israel’s history, kings have ruled, but they have often been confronted by prophets who were sent to remind them of the demands of justice and fidelity to the God of the covenant.

In the constitution of the town, the institution of three orders -judges, priests and elders- marked the process of liberation. When, three thousand years later, John Locke and Montesquieu established the separation of powers as the basis of a regime of freedom, they were merely updating what was written in the first books of the Bible.

Freedom as divine law