The Hebrew Scriptures of ancient Israel (a.k.a. the Old Testament) are frequently quarried for proof-texts—pretexts, really—for leftist politics. In prophetic calls for justice, liberal Christianity and liberal Judaism claim ample support to legitimize big-government intervention into every area of life, and “Justice, justice pursue” is broadly interpreted as a divine endorsement of the platform of the Democratic Party. But the use of Scripture by the left to claim that God concurs with government solutions to the crisis du jour does not intimidate those of us on the right who value Scripture as well.

The difference lies in the context in which Scripture is invoked. Leftward-leaning exegesis finds verses that say what the exegete wants to hear; ripped out of cultural context, any verse can mean whatever you want to make of it. But divine revelation, taken whole and in context, shapes a culture of remarkably conservative qualities: continuity, tradition, and respect for received truth, for example. Indeed, it is no accident that those who value Scripture as God’s Word, not just good advice, derive from it the lesson that the new should be measured by the standard of the true, and truth derives from principle, reason, and the logic of history.

The social order that Scripture seeks to construct out of ancient Israel builds upon ancient foundations: the very creation of the world. The law of the Torah conveys God’s plan for the world He made. What could offer a more conservative conception of culture dian the view, expressed by the ancient sages of Judaism in Genesis Rabbah (their commentary on the book of Genesis) that God looked into the Torah for guidance in creating the world? It follows that the law of the Torah may be interpreted diversely but never dismissed as ephemeral. Here is a sublime expression of this profoundly conservative philosophy of culture, rooted in God’s plan and will for creation:

“In the beginning God created” (Gen. 1:1):


R. Oshaia commenced [discourse by citing the following verse:] “Then I was beside him like a little child, and I was daily his delight [rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world, and delighting in the sons of men]” (Prov. 8:30-31).

[In the cited verse] the Torah speaks, “I was the work plan of the Holy One, blessed be he.”

In the accepted practice of the world, when a mortal king builds a palace, he does not build it out of his own head, but he follows a work-plan.

And [the one who supplies] the work-plan does not build out of his own head, but he has designs and diagrams, so as to know how to situate the rooms and the doorways.

Thus the Holy One, blessed be he, consulted the Torah when he created the world.

So the Torah stated, “By means of ‘the beginning’ [that is to say, the Torah] did God create . . . ” (Gen. 1:1).

And the word for “beginning” refers only to the Torah, as Scripture says, “The Lord made me as the beginning of his way” (Prov. 8:22).

Here is an explicit claim that the social order set forth by the Torah, with its emphasis on the critical role of the family in the formation of that order, is the foundation of civilization. Furthermore, Scripture is clear that capital punishment forms part of justice. The Talmud explicitly states that it is a means of atoning for sin, so that the felon may also inherit the world to come and eternal life at the resurrection of the dead. And to take a third component of the conservative philosophy of the social order—the preference for decentralized decisionmaking—Scripture offers devolution as the pinnacle of wisdom when Jethro advises his son-in-law, Moses, to provide for local decisions and to address only the most difficult matters himself Hence, in matters of philosophy. Scripture read in context sustains conservative, and rejects disruptive, policies. It is only when interpreted out of context that Scripture can be read to oppose capital punishment, support non-natural “families,” and uphold the destruction of local communities through the centralization of power.