A "theocracy" exists when God's dominion is coupled with a domain, his rule with a realm. In other words, for a theocracy to exist, God's people must have a land to call their own (such as the land of Canaan). In a theocracy, there are not two distinct kingdoms, but one. All of life is holy.
But what about the other condition, exile?
Exile is radically different from theocracy. When the people of God are without a homeland, they find themselves co-existing in two kingdoms, with a divine distinction being made between cult and culture, the holy and the common, and the sacred and the secular.
To demonstrate this, let's consider Abraham.
In the Abrahamic covenant, the patriarch was chosen from among the sinful members of the human race and made the father of a distinct people (Gen. 17:1-14). But it is the nature of Abraham’s distinctiveness that is important for our discussion. Abraham’s distinctiveness, as I will demonstrate, was not cultural but cultic. In other words, the covenant that God made with him contained no instructions governing his activity in the common grace realm, but he was to continue to participate in culture as he had done before—he conducted business transactions (Gen. 23:16), settled land and property disputes (Gen. 21:22ff; 26:26ff), engaged in warfare (Gen. 14:14), and showed appropriate deference to earthly kings (Gen. 20:17).
Exactly unlike Israel in Canaan, the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and their descendents were called to coexist peacefully in the land that God had promised them, waiting in hope and journeying in faith until Yahweh would drive out the Canaanites forever (Heb. 11:8-22).
The situation of the patriarchs before the giving of the law, therefore, can be characterized as pilgrim politics which highlighted their status, not as a triumphant theocratic army, but as “resident aliens” and “tolerated sojourners” whose inheritance was not yet a reality.
Moreover, it was specifically in the cultic and religious sphere that Abraham’s particularity was displayed. This is seen most strikingly in the fact that the sacrament of the Abrahamic covenant—circumcision—was a bloody rite foreshadowing the sacrificial redemptive work of his true Seed (Gen. 17:9-14; Rom. 2:28-29; Col. 2:11). As OT scholar Meredith Kline has written, “Tolerated pilgrims, not triumphant possessors—such is the life of the nontheocratic community of faith, waiting while the kingdom is withheld.”
The patriarchal community, therefore, was culturally common but religiously distinct.
And such is the case with us today. As we await the true, heavenly theocracy our calling is to lead peaceful, quiet, and Christlike lives (I Tim. 2:2). We dare not take up the sword in the name of Christ, we do not wage our warfare in the voting booth, and we must not attempt to usher in the eschatological kingdom by cultural, secular, common grace means (II Cor. 10:4).
More to come....