The Gospel According to Hamilton, Part I: The World Turned Upside Down

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January 24, 2017 by Drew

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God.  God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. 

–Exodus 2: 23-25

Who was Hamilton?

If you’ve seen the musical, we know that our country’s first Secretary of the Treasury began as an illegitimate, immigrant orphan.  He had no money, no power, and no people, but he was industrious, brilliant, and intensely determined.

Thus, the story of Hamilton is an American story.

An American Story?

In that he was one of the founders, yes, but also in that this is the story of little guys rising up.

In this song, Yorktown (the world turned upside down), we see that it’s not only Hamilton rising up to victory, but we see other underdogs, too.

Like who?

In Laurens, we hear of enslaved Africans who want to rise up and be free.

In Lafayette, we hear of dreams of Revolution in Europe.

In Hercules Mulligan, we hear an Irish immigrant who’s had it with British colonialism

What about Women?

Not in this song, but the musical tells the story of the Skylar sisters. (Just try not singing their names). Angelica sings:

‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.’

And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!

When we watch a movie, or a musical, or listen to a story, We know who the good guys are right, because these stories always have you rooting for the underdog.

But are these characters REALLY underdogs?

Good point.

The Skylar sisters are incredibly wealthy.

Lafayette is more so.

Laurens wasn’t a slave who rose up, but a slave owner who concluded that Africans were no different than other people, and promised freedom IF they fought in the war (a promise that was not kept along with many other promises to soldiers who fought in the war)

Mulligan was a tailor, according to the musical, which is true, but he was educated at King’s college and who owned the business (and a slave) and was a tailor to the elite.

And Hamilton? He starts out as an immigrant and an orphan, but does he remember his roots?  The musical is mostly historically accurate, but it underplays Hamilton’s quest to consolidate power in the federal government. Hamilton may have been ok having a new King, and many people believe his final showdown with Burr was really about a personal/political power struggle.

But still they sing “The world turned upside down . . .”

Right, so we have to ask. Does the world turn upside down?

Or is it, to borrow a line from the who, “Meet the New Boss, Same as the old boss?”

Does the Bible answer that question?

Obviously, the American revolution is not in the bible, but it is a biblical story, in that the idea that the Bible is full of stories of the underdog winning (Think Jacob, David, Ruth, Mary . . . ) But the Bible doesn’t JUST tell underdog stories. It also has something to say about what happens when the underdog wins.  The Bible points out that the underdogs are rarely “pure” underdogs, and, more importantly, how the good guy sometimes becomes the bad guy.

Like Jesus?

Well… no. He doesn’t become the bad guy, at least. But he does turn the world upside down. He’s the one who said, “the first will be last and the last will be first.” “They who exalt themselves will be humbled, and they who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus proclaimed freedom for the prisoner, good news for the poor, the year of the Lord’s favor. He is was the crucified one before he was the King.

But the flipping upside down of this world began even before that. Even though Jesus undoubtedly turned the world upside down, God was God even before Jesus was born.

So this isn’t a Jesus story?

Yes and no. But we’re going to talk about what God did in Moses.

How are Moses and Hamilton similar?

Hamilton was abandoned by his Father, and his Mother died. Moses was abandoned by his birth Mom, albeit for different reasons.

Hamilton was an immigrant. Moses named his son Gershom, which means “I have been an alien, living in a foreign land.”

Moses was taken in as a boy by Pharaoh’s daughter, Hamilton was “adopted” by Washington when he was much older, but both were had power way beyond what they were born into.

More importantly, both participated in a revolution that made people free.

And both were tragic figures.

Tragic?

Fast forward to the end of Moses’s life. He had led God’s people to freedom, he was there for the giving of the law (another parallel with Hamilton), but he died outside the promised land, and it wasn’t a coincidence. Scripture makes it clear that it is God’s judgement for Moses’s hubris that leads to Moses dying when he did and where he did.

Hamilton the musical is so catchy and entertaining that it’s easy to forget that it is, also in fact, a tragedy.

Remember the Lit 101 definitions? Comedy ends in a wedding, Tragedy ends with a funeral. Well, spoiler alert, Hamilton gets into a duel with Aaron Burr, and it does not go well for him. He doesn’t “get to decide who lives who dies who tells [his] story.”

Dang. That was encouraging.

Sorry, but mentioning this now lets us end on a high note.

Right. Isn’t this supposed to be “Gospel?”

It is. So go back to the good news from Exodus.

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

Even if the hero ends up a villain. Even if the people crying out are’t pure underdogs or morally perfect, God hears their cry–and acts.

Sure, in this case . . .

Actually, this is a theme throughout the Bible

The very first death we see in the Bible is when Cain kills his brother Abel. What does God say about it?

He says to Cain “ your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.”

In the law, Israel is warned not to oppress foreigners, lest they cry out to God.

Is this how the world turns upside down?

The old way (and for many people, the current way) of seeing God was that God was the one who MADE people cry. If you were crying, you deserved it.

But in the Bible, cries from victims rise up to God, and God hears.

This is the world turned upside down. Because outside of God, might makes right, the poor deserve it, the sick must have done something to do it, and there’s no justice for the murdered.

But the people in slavery cried out to God.

God hears the cry of the oppressed.

Does that mean that God is always on the side of the oppressed?

Yes, even if the oppressed aren’t always on the side of God. (h/t to my systematic theology professor, Dr. Tokunbo Adelekan for that line)

So what’s the good news?

When there’s no one else to cry to, in slavery, in sickness, in a strange land, God hears your cry.

Those cries rise up to God. God notices, and God acts.

The world turned upside down in Hamilton the musical (and the American revolution) because God took the people at the bottom of society and put them on top.

God did it a long time ago with Moses and the Israelites.

God did it eternally and effectively in Jesus Christ.

And God still does it today.

A revolutionary God brings the mighty down from high places and lifts up the humble. God still makes people free.

If you’re suffering. If you’re afraid, if you’re not free, cry out. God hears these cries. God will notice, and God will lift you up.  

And if I’m not oppressed?

Other people are. You’d better start listening for their cry, because that’s what God does. If you’re not with them, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll be on the bottom as the world turns upside down.

I’ve got to spend some time thinking about this…

That’s smart, but don’t think too much about it. You don’t want to throw away your shot.

Is that a plug?

You’re smart! Next week, we’ll consider “My Shot” and the story of Esther.

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