The Bible is filled with references to conspiracy, which I am going to prove to you in this article and the next. In this piece, we are going to deal with the regular usage of the term conspiracy in the Bible, and in a further piece we will look at how the Bible has a detailed theology of conspiracy overlapping with its theology of evil; the two realities are intricately interwoven. The sum of this whole argument will show that it is not those who say that we should avoid all talk of conspiracy that are wise, it is those who recognize that our world is filled with conspiracies that are wise. Because we are dealing with the world the way it is according to the Lord himself.
Those that refuse to acknowledge that our world is ruled by people making wicked decisions in the dark, decisions that are directly designed to undermine God, are walking around either naively, or willfully ignorant. Their blind trust in the power structures of our world can get them hurt, as well as those they influence. God does not put anything in His Word for no reason. Those things which He spends much time explaining in His Word are there for our profit, reproof and sanctification, so we are foolish to ignore what He says.
This is Part Two in a continuing series, and in Part One we established an important fact, often Isaiah 8:12 is read backwards. Many read that verse to be saying that we should not be discussing or calling things conspiracy, we should simply accept what the powerful say at face value. However, the context of Isaiah shows very clearly that this is not the case. As we demonstrated in the last article:
“This verse is not rebuking those who entertain what some call conspiracies, it is rebuking those who say anything they don’t want to hear is a conspiracy. Throughout this whole passage, Ahaz, and the people of Judah collectively, are rejecting God’s word, therefore denigrating the prophet’s message. What the people likely fear is that Isaiah’s message is true, and they are likely afraid to contradict the king who calls Isaiah’s message false. In other words, Isaiah is being written off as a conspiracy theorist here, or a man conspiring against the people. It is remarkable, because some people then take this verse, invert it, and use it to rebuke those who entertain things that the mainstream calls conspiracies. Isaiah is doing the very opposite of that.”
This is important to establish, because it is common for those in power to lie. It is common for sceptical people to call out their lies. It is common for those in power to brush aside those calling them out as conspiracy theorists. And it is common for ordinary people who want to believe their leaders have the best intentions towards them, and who want to shun knowledge that is not popular in the mainstream, to turn around and accuse their fellow citizens of being conspiracy theorists along with those political leaders.
This is one of the most consistent patterns of behaviour in any group of people, and Isaiah himself was experiencing this. His warnings were being brushed aside as conspiracy or he was being accused of engaging in a conspiracy, by a non-believing public which could not accept that God would turn against Israel/Judah, or that their king was the bad guy. This pattern is experienced by whistle-blowers who try to call out corruption in a company, which could damage the popular leader in the company. This pattern is experienced by congregants in churches which try to tell people the famous pastor (or not so famous pastor) is an adulterer or abuser or something else. And this pattern is common in the mainstream discourse of society in general.
It is common for any group of people led by wicked rulers, to create a culture of secrecy around themselves, coupled with a culture of approved topics of discussion, followed by policing of those who threaten the power structures. To deny this is to deny one of the most basic realities of living in this fallen world, and not understand how corruption and power work in this world. Which is precisely where most people sit. Having never been exposed to the circles of power many people are not aware of how they work. This is why the Bible spends so much time explaining this. Jesus wants us to be as wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16), and the Bible is partially designed to help us be this way.
Many Church leaders act as if the Bible encourages us to ignore the idea of conspiracy altogether. But it does nothing of the sort. In fact, the push to deny conspiracy really comes from our culture and from worldly forces. Wickedness reigns in our society and secrecy is necessary for wickedness; and those in power need to maintain the appearance of being genuine; to do this, people who shed light on these conspiracies need to be shunned. This is a major theme in the Bible and there are many examples of direct references to conspiracy in the Scriptures. Let me show you.
We are going to look at this in some detail because this will help us build toward our theology of conspiracy. In this piece, we will look at direct uses of the word conspiracy in the King James Version and English Standard Version. The first being in the book of the Prophets.
2 Samuel 15:11
The first use of the actual word conspiracy is, appropriately, at the beginning of the reign of the Kings, in the time of David. We read in 2 Samuel 15 that Absalom began to plot against his father, and he did this by winning the ears of the people. As all populist usurpers do, he used the people’s pleas for help to build himself a power base. After he had achieved this, we read:
“And it came to pass after forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed unto the Lord, in Hebron. 8 For thy servant vowed a vow while I abode at Geshur in Syria, saying, If the Lord shall bring me again indeed to Jerusalem, then I will serve the Lord. 9 And the king said unto him, Go in peace. So he arose, and went to Hebron. 10 But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron. 11 And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing. 12 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom. 13 And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.”2 Samuel 15:7-13, KJV
This is not the first conspiracy in Israel, as we shall see when we explore other examples in our next piece. But this first use of the actual word is a powerful one, because in this account a son is conspiring against his father. Absalom had a grievance against David, and it is possible David did not even realize this until it was too late. Such is the devious way that the conspirator operates. They lay in the quiet, awaiting their moment to strike. Absalom was obviously highly intelligent and capable, as his premeditated gathering of support shows. Highly capable and highly dangerous.
So, the first thing we learn about conspiracy is that if you offend the wrong person they can become a highly dangerous and highly capable threat to you and your position. In this case, the danger comes from a son, but this could easily be anyone else.
2 Kings 12:20
You would think that it would be good to be king. You have almost complete power at your fingertips. You have the ability to attract almost any woman you want, gather incredible wealth, or achieve your policy dreams, good or ill, for your people. You can stamp your legacy on your nation, change its direction, and so much more because you hold a lot of power. But to be king, to be the chief alpha, of a nation is to also make yourself the centre, not just of power, but also of attention, and you will draw good and bad attention because of that. Like Joash/Jehoash:
“Now the rest of the acts of Joash and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 20 His servants arose and made a conspiracy and struck down Joash in the house of Millo, on the way that goes down to Silla. 21 It was Jozacar the son of Shimeath and Jehozabad the son of Shomer, his servants, who struck him down, so that he died. And they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Amaziah his son reigned in his place.”2 Kings 12:19-21
The writer of 2 Kings does not tell us exactly why Joash was killed, only that it was a conspiracy of his servants. The context of the chapter tends to hint that he may have drawn the ire of his servants because he redirected a lot of money from the pockets of the priests into the actual work of the temple for which it was originally intended. But this is not made explicit. It could also have been an act of revenge because he paid off the Syrian king Hazael with all the wealth in the temple, as tribute to stop him from invading. We are not explicitly told the reason, but the context shows why he would have made enemies.
This is something that all kings, and leaders, have had to deal with throughout history, whether they seek to reign righteously or not. They will make enemies, and in this case two of this man’s own servants turned on him, “His servants arose and made a conspiracy and struck down Joash in the house of Millo, on the way that goes down to Silla.” This happens a lot in the Bible and in history. The man with the most power is also the man with the biggest target on his back. But these servants did not get away with their crimes. Joash’s son, Amaziah struck them down the moment his power was secure enough for him to get it done.
We learn something important for our theology of conspiracy here; if you hold a position of power you will make enemies, even among those who are your own servants, or in today’s world, loyal workers. Especially if you seek to make reforms.
2 Kings 14:19
As Judah and Israel got more corrupt the conspiracies became more constant and more common. Amaziah suffered a similar fate to this own father:
“Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, lived fifteen years after the death of Jehoash son of Jehoahaz, king of Israel. 18 Now the rest of the deeds of Amaziah, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 19 And they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But they sent after him to Lachish and put him to death there. 20 And they brought him on horses; and he was buried in Jerusalem with his fathers in the city of David. 21 And all the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. 22 He built Elath and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his fathers.”2 Kings 14:19-22
This time it appears that the king was conspired against because he was perceived as either weak, brash or a combination of both. In an act of overconfidence, he started a war with a larger power and his foolish act got his nation defeated in battle by that far larger kingdom, Samaria (northern Israel). The next thing we are told about him is that his people turned on him. Amaziah almost managed to get away from the conspirators on this occasion, but they caught up with him. Likely because there was a large amount of the people involved, as is implied by the statement, “And they made a conspiracy…” against him.
Alphas that show weakness are prone to conspiratorial attacks because the man in charge has to consistently show that he should remain the man in charge. He cannot coast, he cannot display high levels of weakness or vulnerability, and he needs to minimize failures. Otherwise, he will inspire all kinds of attacks, whether from competing nations, businesses, organizations, or internal challenges. Many leaders do not survive these attacks with their power intact. This is another important lesson for our theology of conspiracy.
2 Kings 15
These conspiracies were not just contained to the nation of Judah either. Israel had its fair share of conspirators. As with Judah so we also see with Israel that as it became more corrupt conspiracies became not just common, but the norm.
Zechariah the son of Jeroboam was taken down by Shallum the son of Jabesh who, “conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place” (v.10). Then Shallum was taken down by Menahem the son of Gadi who, “came up from Tirzah and came to Samaria, and he struck down Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and put him to death and reigned in his place” (v.14). Menahem managed to hold onto the throne and die of natural causes, but he was recorded as a usurper and therefore he was also a conspirator. Menahem’s son Pekahiah took the throne, but he did not last long, “25 And Pekah the son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty men of the people of Gilead, and struck him down in Samaria, in the citadel of the king’s house with Argob and Arieh; he put him to death and reigned in his place” (v.25). Pekah reaped what he sowed, “Then Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah and struck him down and put him to death and reigned in his place, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah” (v.30).
Consistently in 2 Kings 15, we hear how evil these kings were. Zechariah did evil and he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam (v.9). Shallum did evil in conspiring against his king (v.10). Menahem did evil and did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam (v.18). Pekahiah did the same evil as his father (v.24). And so did Pehak after him (v.28). All of these final backstabbing kings of Israel are described in very similar ways, right up until the final king of Israel, King Hoshea. He is described thus, “And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him” (2 Kings 17:2). Hoshea was still an evil man, in God’s eyes, but he was not evil in the same way. We are not told here whether he was more or less evil, but he was still bad. And he was still taken down by conspiratorial ways, but in a very different way:
“Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria. And Hoshea became his vassal and paid him tribute. 4 But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So, king of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up and bound him in prison. 5 Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”2 Kings 17:3-6
Hoshea had taken on board the scheming ways of the other final kings of Israel. But rather than recognize that such ways were foolish, he turned them against a major power, and it cost him his throne, his freedom and the existence of his entire kingdom.
We learn here another important lesson for our theology of conspiracy. We see that as wickedness increases in a nation it starts to lean on wicked means, such as conspiracy. This is to be expected because darkness loves to work in the shadows. Conspiracies multiply and become the way of the people, and especially amongst those in power or those near power. Treachery, backbiting, betrayal of all kinds, undermining, subversion, even treason, all become the ways of a wicked nation in decline and given over to evil. The Bible itself makes this point to us in many ways. It is actually quite disturbing how little Christian teaching covers these major biblical themes.
Jeremiah directly connects conspiracy to a people being given over to evil:
“And the Lord said to me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. 7 For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.’
“Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 10 They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers.”Jeremiah 11:6-10
The tendency of the evil heart is toward acting in the shroud of darkness. The implication here in Jeremiah is that in their hearts and in their wickedness the people of Judah are conspiring against the Lord. The evil man is given over to conspiracy because this is a fruit of wickedness. Ezekiel agrees with Jeremiah here.
Evil people are given over to conspiracy:
“And the word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.”Ezekiel 22:23-27
This could be a description of any number of modern nations, especially in the declining West. The wicked work from the dark to hurt and take advantage of the weak for self-gain and selfish ends. They steal wealth, they take from and crush the easily oppressed, and they do violence to all that is good and just and right. The representatives of the law ignore it or apply it arbitrarily, in doing so they do violence to it. They disregard proper decorum and righteousness and taint all things with evil. They are conspiratorial to their core and this affects all that they do. As wickedness increases, so does the wicked doing conspiratorial things increase. Indeed, in many ways, wickedness requires conspiracy and conspiracy flourishes in wickedness. This is not just a concern of the Old Testament either.
We read of an interesting and rather ridiculous conspiracy in the book of Acts. This is not the only reference to conspiracy in the New Testament, but it is the only example of the precise use of the word ‘conspiracy’. We read in Acts 23:
“When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.”Acts 23:12-15
The fate of these foolish men is not given to us, but we know that they failed in their quest to kill Paul, as, according to Church tradition, he died later in his life at the hands of Nero. But we see that these men show all the classic signs of conspirators. They are wicked, violent men, who hate the just and righteous and who work out their plans behind closed doors and seek to take out their evil aims on the innocent.
Of course, if we include the word conspired, which we really should, then we can note how the Pharisees themselves show all of these same wicked tendencies: “Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him” (Matt. 12:13-14). Jesus was everything that Satanic, wicked people hate. The Pharisees were everything that evil conspirators display; evil men, who rejected God, hate the light of his truth, are dedicated to keeping their power and are happy to seek to conspire against righteous people to achieve their ends. We will come back to this more in our next piece.
A Developing Theology of Conspiracy
So, we can at this point say with assurance that those teachers and preachers who say that conspiracy should not be a concern of believers are flat out wrong. It is a major theme in the Bible, and this is important; we have only just begun to explore it by limiting ourselves to the uses of the word conspiracy and yet we have already built the beginnings of a solid theology:
- Conspiracy is most common around centres of power. Kings, as leaders of tribal groups and nations, are going to attract all sorts of attention, including threats to their power. David, as the centre of power, had a lot of power, but he was also vulnerable to powerful actors striking from the dark.
- Conspiracy is most likely to come from offended and/or wicked people. Generally, a combination of both. Absalom’s bitterness drove him to evil action. Rejection of God caused many of the kings and powerful members of Israel to be given over to evil. These evil people did all they could to oppose reforms, working in the dark to achieve their evil ends.
- Conspiracy is a fruit of wickedness. Those who are given over to evil cannot help but work in darkness. We will explore this concept more fully in the next piece, but it is important to note where evil is there will be conspiracy. It’s not a maybe, it is a given. It is dangerous to think otherwise.
- Where evil increases in a nation, conspiracy increases in a nation. As Israel became more corrupt it was given over to more and more conspiracy, until hardly could a king reign without ending his days with a knife in the back. Therefore, the more wickedness your nation or people tolerate in the open, the more certain you can be that there is evil happening in secret, including conspiracies. You would be foolish to think otherwise.
- Conspiracy is evil and evil is inherently foolish, therefore those who engage in conspiracy will be inherently given over to ends that suit their foolishness. Like Hoshea believing he could conspire against the dominant world power of his day, which ended with him losing his throne, his kingdom and his freedom. Conspiracy gives influential people a false sense of power. Israel was decimated by such evil. Judah was decimated by such evil. Every fallen kingdom and people has been decimated by such evil.
So, we have begun to build a solid and scripturally supported theology of conspiracy just by evaluating the usage of the word “conspiracy” in the Bible. We can see already that conspiracy is not something that the Bible wants people to ignore. It is as much a fruit of evil as sexual immorality, gluttony, and theft, and it is rightly given a lot of airtime in the Bible to highlight this. It is a behaviour of corrupt and evil human beings that we need to be aware of. It is also a behaviour that the righteous should shun. Righteousness needs to work in the light, righteousness needs to be open in wise and God honouring ways. This might seem like a disadvantage in this evil world, but to work in the darkness sets you against God and sets God against you. To work in the light puts him on your team.
But even though we have made a good start, our theology is still very incomplete, because it lacks another dimension, and without that dimension, our theology of conspiracy will be seriously lacking. We must bring in what the Bible says about evil to make our theology complete. This will be our task in Part Three.