Thoughts on the coming referendum on membership of the European Union.
The United Kingdom stands at one of the most significant and critical junctions in its long history as an island nation. On the 23rd June 2016 the UK will be voting in a referendum which will decide whether the UK stays in the European Union or chooses once again to be an independent sovereign nation outside the European Union.
The Second World War was fought and won by the UK and their Allies and in so doing preserved the independence of the UK as a nation, in the face of the military objectives of Hitler and the Third Reich. The cost of victory was huge – especially in terms of lives lost. And along the way there had been extraordinary and miraculous deliverances such as at Dunkirk, after the nation had been called to prayer by a God-fearing King.
When, as a nation, we, somewhat reluctantly, put our toe in the waters of Europe and entered the Common Market in 1975, it was a political experiment that promised much. Never again would we be vulnerable to war from any of our European brethren and the vast populations of all the European nations together would give us a market for our products which would guarantee prosperity for our businesses. It seemed an experiment worth exploring.
But now the nation is divided. We have a one-time opportunity to assess the success of the experiment and make a choice – either come out and plough our own furrow in the fields of international politics and government as a sovereign nation, or stay in. Which should it be? Will it be of greater strategic value to the nation and the world for us to remain inside Europe? Or should we pronounce the experiment a failure and walk away to fulfil our own destiny?
Those who are arguing for staying in Europe are issuing dire warnings of what it would be like for Britain if we came out. Those who are campaigning for Britain to leave (known as Brexit) are arguing equally passionately that, if we stay in, Britain will lose its sovereignty and we will no longer have any control over our laws or our borders. On many occasions now Britain has found that Brussels has trumped London, especially on legal matters, and imposed unwelcome decisions on the British people. There are a lot of question marks in peoples’ minds.
As I meditated on the situation and prayed about how I should vote, God turned my thoughts to the story of King Jehoshaphat, as it is told in Chapters 17-20 of 2 Chronicles.
Jehoshaphat was fundamentally a good King. We are told that the Lord was with him “because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed” (17:3) and “his heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord” (17:6). He gave instructions to his officials to go throughout Judah “taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord” (17:9) in order to teach the people. The result was amazing. “The fear of the Lord fell on all the Kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah” (17:9) and they didn’t make war with him. The fear of the Lord became their holy protection and Jehoshaphat “had great wealth and honour” (18:1).
So how was it that a King who was so clearly heading in the right direction, got side-tracked? There were two occasions in his life when he got things badly wrong – both were through wrong alliances.
First, he allied himself in marriage with Ahab’s family. Ahab was one of the most evil Kings who had ever ruled neighbouring Israel. As a result, Jehoshaphat was compromised. So when King Ahab asked King Jehoshaphat to go to war with him against Ramoth Gilead, Jehoshaphat said “I am as you are, and my people as your people; we will join you in the war” (18:3). King Ahab died in the battle (18:33-34) but King Jehoshaphat returned safely to his palace – no doubt very relieved to have survived.
But Jehu the prophet met him on his way home and asked him a very profound question, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord” (19:2) referring to Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel. “Because of this the wrath of the Lord is upon you. There is, however, some good in you, for you have rid the land of the Asherah poles and have set your heart on seeking God” (19:3).
Jehoshaphat had learned a very profound lesson and as a sign of his repentance “he went out again among the people and turned them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers” (19:4). In Jerusalem he spoke to the Levites, priests and heads of Israelite families and told them: “You must serve faithfully and wholeheartedly in the fear of the Lord” (19:9) and said “you are to warn the people not to sin against the Lord’ otherwise his wrath will come on you and your brothers. Do this and you will not sin” (19:10). Finally he said “Act with courage, and may the Lord be with those who do well” (19:11).
The whole of Chapter 20 describes what happened next. A vast army came against King Jehoshaphat and he led the people in faith, trusting in God for protection and victory. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the prophet and he said to the King, “This is what the Lord says to you: Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (20:15) and “You will not have to fight this battle, Take up your positions, stand firm and see thee deliverance the Lord will give you” (20:17).
The story of the battle is remarkable. For “as they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (20:22). And the end result? “The fear of God came upon all the Kingdoms of the countries when they heard how the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. And the Kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side” (20:29-30).
It would be great if that was the end of the story. But there is one more devastating experience in Jehoshaphat’s life-story, that was also of his own making. Following the death of Ahab, with whom Jehoshaphat had been compromised through a marriage relationship, Ahaziah, his son, came to the throne. But we read that “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord, because he walked in the ways of his father and mother and the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. He served and worshiped Baal and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger, just as his father had done” (1 Kings 22:52-53).
So why did Jehoshaphat join hands with this very ungodly man in a business alliance? Because he saw it as a way of making money by constructing “a fleet of trading ships” (20:36) in a joint business enterprise that he, no doubt, thought would make him even more money than he had. But why did he need to do that when the Lord had blessed him with so much in terms of both “wealth and honour” (17:5) and with “peace on every side” (20:30)? Maybe it was pride, or greed or that he was still under the spiritual influence of being compromised with the family of Ahab – Scripture is silent on the reason. But it is not silent on the result of his enterprise!
Eliezer, the prophet, came and spoke to Jehoshaphat and said, “’Because you have made an alliance with Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy what you have made”. The ships were wrecked and were not able to sail for trade” (20:37).
Jehoshaphat’s business enterprise was doomed to failure because he had entered into an alliance with an ungodly partner. Shortly after this sad event Jehoshaphat died – what a sad conclusion this final episode proved to be to the life of a King that began well, had been made prosperous by the Lord and had known the blessing of God on his kingdom in time of war.
So what are the lessons that I sensed God has been showing me through Jehoshaphat’s story, that would help me with deciding how to vote in the forthcoming referendum?
- Jehoshaphat compromised his godly foundations through a marital alliance with King Ahab who worshiped Baal and who, with his wife Jezebel, had put the prophets of God to death. Having learned the lesson through the words of the prophet Jehu, his repentance was clear and definite as he called the nation back to the worship of the living God.
- At the end of his days Jehoshaphat entered into an alliance with Ahab’s son for purposes of trade. It was an unmitigated disaster.
As I prayed through these two stark facts, I sensed the Lord was showing me that when the UK first went in to the European Union it was like a marriage of convenience that seemed good to our leaders and the nation at the time. But that it was not what God wanted for this Christian nation, with its extraordinary and godly heritage going right back to the oldest legal document in history, the Magna Carta. In this, God and Christian teaching were put at the forefront of the nation “to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.” And today we have a Queen who has not reneged on the vows of her Coronation, in which she acknowledged that the Bible contains “the law and the Gospel of God as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes . . . the most valuable thing that this world affords . . . Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.”
In centuries past the centrality of the Word of God and the Christian faith has been the solid mainstay of the UK’s life and government. Countless believers became martyrs for the cause of truth and God’s Word. The eighteenth century Wesleyan revival saved and transformed the nation. And in the nineteenth century countless believers left the shores of the UK to take the Gospel to the known world. People such as William Carey, Hudson Taylor and hundreds more, less well known but equally faithful, became true ambassadors for Christ. William Wilberforce led the way, as a Christian in politics, to the abolition of slavery and many other Christian leaders were active politically in the nineteenth century.
It is stated that “when asked by a diplomatic delegation how Britain had become powerful in the world, ‘our beloved Queen Victoria sent him, not the number of her fleet, not the number of her armies, not the account of her boundless merchandise, not the details of her inexhaustible wealth … but handing him a beautifully bound copy of the Bible, she said ‘Tell the Prince that this is the Secret of England’s Greatness’”.
In the twentieth century it was the UK which led the way in the two greatest conflicts the world has ever known to overcome an aggressor – and the hand of God was on the nation and her allies to become the victor. On several occasions Britain experienced a Jehoshaphat moment when it was clear that the Lord was with the people of the UK and their allies in holding the ground against a heinous and anti-semitic aggressor.
In May 1940, over 300,000 British soldiers were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk with the German forces closing in on them from all directions. Churchill thought that maybe 20,000 would survive and told the nation, “There is only one hope. Let’s all pray for them.” Several generals aid that “only a miracle” could save them. On the 26th May 1940 King George the Sixth declared a “National Day of Prayer for Deliverance”. The Archbishop of Canterbury led prayers from Westminster Abbey that were broadcast to the whole nation. The British people stopped to pray – and God heard and God answered.
The miracle of Dunkirk happened as fog descended on the beaches, the German air force could not take off and for “nine days the now calm and foggy English Channel made it possible for anything that would float – tugboats, yachts, pleasure boats – even the smallest of craft, as well as naval vessels – to sail across the channel and ferry 335,000 troops from the shallow beaches of Dunkirk back to England.”
Winston Churchill called it a “miracle of deliverance”. And Archbishop William Temple declared, “Why has God preserved us? We may, and we must, believe that He, who has preserved our land in a manner so marvellous, has a purpose for us to serve in the preparation of His perfect Kingdom.”
And so the nation survived, retained its sovereignty and, after the war was over, began to rebuild and play its part in a newly emerging post-war world.
But the words of William Temple were soon forgotten, for a wind of change was blowing hard through the western nations and the moral foundation of law, based on the authority of the Word of God, was gradually being eroded as the so-called enlightenment began to reap a harvest of agnosticism and atheism. Things were changing so fast that most people didn’t notice how the centuries old spiritual foundations of the nation were also shaking.
Christianity was challenged by the lack of belief of a generation that was indulging itself in the ‘free love’ rebellion of the pop-music dominated sixties, as well as the different beliefs of thousands of immigrants that were beginning to come to our shores. Our tolerant society quickly reneged on its historic conviction that Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life, indeed the only way to God. Multi-faith services gave way to the mutual equivalence and acceptance of other religions and eventually to fear of offending those who believe differently, as the more radical elements began to wield an influence through terror based activities.
The world was changing too fast for anyone to notice what was really happening to the spiritual heart of the nation. All the changes were producing a soft and vulnerable amoral underbelly, which has now gone full circle. In my own childhood a non-marital man-woman relationship was referred to by both believers and non-believers alike, as ‘living in sin’ – but today the word ‘sin’ is an offensive word and no-one dare question any form of sexual behaviour, almost no matter how ungodly it may be, because that is their human right!
Morality in relationships and human behaviour is no longer an ingredient of law. And what is of great significance to the current debate is that, within the European Union, Britain has had to make its statute book subservient to the dictates of Brussels. We are no longer free to make our own laws, if others might say that any such changes could infringe a person’s human rights! Our elected parliament no longer has the authority that the electorate wants it to have. We are, literally, ‘out of control’ because, the ultimate control of our affairs is now in the hands of Europe. We have been compromised by a political version of a marital alliance.
Denmark, Ireland and Britain first joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. It seemed a good business deal (Remember Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah!). Under the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, there was a UK referendum on continued membership of the EEC in 1975. The electorate voted ‘Yes’ by 67.2% to 32.8% to stay in Europe. At the time no-one had any idea of the extent to which Brussels would eventually dictate so much of what has become life in the UK. We were deceived. And now, even if we wanted to, we could never, within the European Union, reverse even one of the laws which, as a nation, we might believe are wrong – for whatever reason. Inside the EU we have become a subservient nation and we are no longer a sovereign state.
After Jehoshaphat realised what he had done through his marital, political and military relationship with Ahab, God gave him an opportunity to repent and change direction once more. He took it and the subsequent years were the most prosperous and God-protected of his entire reign. In some ways I now see this coming referendum as being like an opportunity for the whole nation to repent of the decision it made in 1975, in ignorance of what membership of the EU would mean.
But now we know what it has meant and what it will mean, and we have a one-time opportunity to choose whether or not we are going to remain in alliance with a type of Ahab or Ahaziah, through which we lose both our sovereignty and the potential to be a God inspired nation. Or, we can choose to take back into our own hands the future destiny of our government, our laws and our finances.
You may say that it won’t make any difference, for our own government has not shown any desire to return to our spiritual foundations, an opinion with which I, sadly, have to agree. But the difference is this: with the UK inside Europe, if leaders were to rise up in the future with the intent of changing things, to bring the UK more in line with God’s laws, they would have no legal authority to change anything – because everything would be subservient to our masters in Brussels. Even if God were to raise up a modern day ‘Joseph’, ‘Daniel’ or a repentant ‘Jehoshaphat’, inside the EU they would be impotent.
But, released from the shackles of what I now see as an ungodly alliance, who knows what God could still do in and through this nation?
I do not believe that God has forgotten our history, or the blood of the Christian martyrs who have laid down their lives and I would agree with the implication of what Archbishop William Temple said during the second world war – that God still has a purpose for this nation in the times that are yet to come before Jesus returns.
There are those who are saying that for the economic benefit of the nation and our workers we need to remain within the trading community that is the EU. However, let us not forget the painful lesson that Jehoshaphat learned the hard way – that trading alliances with the wrong partners will not be a source of blessing.
So, for deeply spiritual reasons – reasons that you will not see talked about in the Newspapers, or hear about on TV, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for the UK to cut itself free from alliances which undermine our sovereignty and limit our capacity to make our own laws. On the 23rd of June I will be voting to leave the EU – but I’m already praying for those hidden ‘Jehoshaphats’, ‘Daniels’ and ‘Josephs’ to come to the fore of public life, and start steering our nation back to the godly roots from which it has currently wandered so far.