Volume 13, Number 2, July-August 2009
To Whom Does God Give Authority for Civil Government Today? (part 2)
Part 1 showed us saw that the Bible contains little teaching
about civil government before Moses, the outstanding exception is that God
certainly did not approve the human “one world government” of
This study continues with selected examples from the Old Testament that will help us understand answers to some of these big questions:
• What civil government(s) should we submit to?
• To any and every one that claims authority over us?
• Only to ones that are clearly put in place by God?
• How does one know which those are?
• Is it ever all right to participate in a revolution against an evil government?
The situation is not simple—it is actually quite complex. By examining both Old and New Testament examples, we can learn how civil government has and does work. Every effort has been made to base this study on the teaching of the Scripture. We reprint the key verses and summarize the longer chapters, but encourage the reader who is interested to read all of the references for themselves.
We start this section with five important points
Five Principles of Biblical Civil Government
1) The Eternal Takes an Active Role in Human Leaders
God apparently leaves some things to our own free choice, or even time and chance (Eccl ; Luke 13:1-5). But, He does promise to take an active role in leadership.
“…In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men” (Dan 4:17).
For exaltation comes neither from the east Nor from the west nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another (Pslm 75:6-7).
There are many times in the scripture where God specifically sets people up as leaders (1Sam 15:1, 28:17; 2Sam 2:4; 1Kngs ; -16; 1Chr 28:5; Dan , etc.) There are places where He either commands or allows people to choose their own leaders (Deut 1:13; 16:18; Judges 11:6; Isa 3:6-7;Acts 6:3)
2) It is Good to Have a Righteous Ruler:
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan (Prov 29:2).
While the above principle may seem obvious and simple, it is frequently overlooked by people debating government. People argue that the best form of government is democratic, republican, socialist, communist or something else. Usually, they claim that if the world or their nation would just use that form of government that everything would be so much better. Whereas, the Bible teaches that it is not the system of government that matters as much as the righteousness of the people.
The books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles give God’s evaluation of many rulers. Generally righteous Old Testament leaders include: Moses, Joshua & the Elders, David, Amaziah, Azariah, Jotham, Hezekiah and, Josiah. None of these were perfect, but most of the others were a whole lot worse. Solomon and Jehoash were noted for righteous rule at the beginning, but going bad in the end. King Manasseh had the longest unrighteous rule, but repented in the end. The Bible always simply comments on the relative righteousness of the ruler, not the form of government whereby he governed.
The Bible has numerous other verses commanding righteous and just government. Here are a few:
To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice (Prov 21:3)
“But a beautiful palace does not make a great king! Why did your father, Josiah, reign so long? Because he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him” (Jer ).
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).
3) God Frequently Allows Unrighteous Rulers
And he [Samuel] said,
“This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take
[military draft] your sons and appoint
them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen [Department of
Defense], and some will run before his chariots [Secret Service]. 12 He
will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties
[endless Civil Service], will set some to plow his ground and reap his
harvest [huge state owned lands, Dept. of Agriculture], and some to
make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots [military-industrial
complex]. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and
bakers [the Federal government employs millions of women as clerks]. 14 And
he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves,
and give them to his servants. [Most land in the
governments, such as David’s, Solomon’s and our own, start out largely
righteous, but they tend to deteriorate over time as people stop taking
responsibility to watch them. Since God had promised David that Solomon’s throne
would be established forever (2Sam 7:8-16), the next king of
writer believes that the situation in the
God made no promise of a continued line of Kings in
one asks why ancient
4) Sometimes God Gives us a Choice of Leaders
Some Christians read the scriptures in Principle 1, above, and conclude that God sets up all leaders and that Christians would be working against God if they voted or got involved with choosing a leader. This is like reading the scriptures where God miraculously fed people and concluding that we should not do anything to feed the hungry because we would be infringing on God’s work. In this light, most people realize that God usually does not do for us what we can do for ourselves. We can grow food or work for money to buy it. There are scriptures that command us to do those things—for ourselves and for others. But if these methods fail, we would certainly pray for God to miraculously feed us. So there are biblical commands to choose good leaders when we have the opportunity, and to pray for leaders.
this most fundamental verse God commands
“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God is giving you (Deut -20).
This is the basis of local and tribal (state) government upon which much of the rest of the Old Testament depends. These were the judges that carried out the punishments for the many Scriptural laws. There is no doubt that the people addressed here are the common people. Only two verses prior (Deut ), the same people are commanded to bring offerings three times a year. It is not the elders, priests, ministry or some other special class that should choose the judges of the land, but all of the heads of household.
There are other times when conflicting leaders arise and people must choose which leader they will follow based on their understanding of the situation.
Israelites had to choose between Moses and a coalition of 250 elders of the
people, headed by Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who properly pointed out that
Moses had taken them out of Egypt, a place with plenty of food, and had yet
to deliver the “land flowing with milk and honey” that he had promised. That
was a true statement. They just left out the fact that they had been
mistreated slaves in
centuries later, an opposite sort of decision faced the people of
Kings 18 tells an interesting story. The evil king Ahab and queen Jezebel
When there is a lot of freedom in a land, we must all chose, on a daily basis, whether to serve the true God, or the false Gods in the land around us. Joshua was not a king and did not control what the people did. But he did set them the right example.
“And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh 24:15 ).
5) Sometimes The Eternal Does Not Give us a Choice
The story in Numbers 13 and 14 is an excellent example of how the Eternal’s instruction supercedes apparent physical circumstances. The story is not reproduced here for lack of space, but it is worth reading. The important points are:
• God told
• He had them send 12 men on a 40-day preliminary reconnaissance mission.
• Two of the men reported the great resources here and were eager to conquer it. The other 10 were fearful of the people there and exaggerated their power.
• The 10 fearful men convinced the people
that they should not go into the land and stirred them to look for a leader
to lead them back to
• The 10 men died by a plague from God.
• The people were told that they would die in the wilderness during 40 years, and that only the two faithful spies were to enter into the promised land.
• The people repented of their sin and decided that they wanted to go and conquer the land anyway.
• Moses told them not to go, that they would not succeed.
• They went anyway and were defeated.
lesson is simple. The
Judges, Kings and
Chronicles contain many stories of when the nation of
says the LORD of hosts: ‘Because you [Judah] have not heard My words, 9
‘behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the LORD,
‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them
against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all
around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a
hissing, and perpetual desolations. 10 ‘Moreover I will take from them the
voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the
voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. 11
‘And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and
these nations shall serve the king of
“Therefore do not listen to your
prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers,
who speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of
with this warning, there were still people of
“‘If you will still
remain in this land, then I will build you and not pull you down, and
I will plant you and not pluck you up. For I relent concerning the
disaster that I have brought upon you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of
was amazing that God had mercy on them and actually promised them protection
in their own land, if they would simply trust him. But from their own human
political and economic wisdom,
We Need to Know the Will of God for Each Situation
There are some times that God gives us a choice, and sometimes He does not. He may command us to serve a certain leader, even though the leader may be a foreigner and an unbeliever. The question often boils down to, “What is the will of God for a particular situation?” In all the situations above, the will of God was clearly known to the people, they simply chose to listen to their leaders, who were saying what they wanted to hear, rather than a known prophet of God.
The reader might rightfully ask, “How can I know the will of God in the messy political situation that we find ourselves in today?” One of the most important things a Christian should develop is the ability to know the will of God for their life on a regular basis. Some people do this through prayer. Some gain understanding by the Holy Spirit. Others have confidence in the council of their local congregation.
Knowing the will of God for a governmental—or a personal situation is another multi-faceted subject that exceeds the scope of this article. The article, “Does God Still Talk to People” on page 3 may provide some help.
One Individual can Make a Big Difference
supposing that one does not have a clear revelation from the Eternal, but
feels compelled to get involved in governmental affairs for good. Does God
allow that? Certainly. An entire city was saved by the actions of an unnamed,
but wise woman in the city of
And there happened
to be there a rebel, whose name was
Then they came and
besieged him in Abel of Beth Maachah; and they cast up a siege mound against
the city, and it stood by the rampart. And all the people who were with
Joab battered the wall to throw it down. 16 Then a wise woman cried out from
the city, “Hear, Hear! Please say to Joab, ‘Come nearby, that I may speak
with you.’ “ 17 When he had come near to her, the woman said, “Are you
Joab?” He answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Hear the words of
your maidservant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” 18 So she spoke,
saying, “They used to talk in former times, saying, ‘They shall surely seek guidance
at Abel,’ and so they would end disputes. 19 “I am among the peaceable
and faithful in
when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants,
born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto
Dan. And he divided himself against
them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto
Hobah, which is on the left hand of
The Scripture does not say that Abraham knew ahead of time how his rescue effort would turn out. Melchizedek told him after the fact that it was blessed by God (Gen ). Abraham was doing a wonderful job of applying the golden rule. If we were taken prisoner unjustly, would we want our relatives to try to rescue us?
Probably one of the most charming individual effort stories is the one recorded in the book of Esther. Esther, a young Jewish woman, became queen by winning a beauty contest. Later, when the evil Haman extracted a law from the king calling for the death of all Jews in the empire, she realized that she might have to go before the king to plead for their safety. However, this was not a trivial matter: We enter the story at Esther’s message to her uncle Mordecai, who raised her:
“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.” So they told Mordecai Esther’s words. And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esth 4:11-14)
The story ends happily, with Esther saving her people and the evil Haman dying on the gallows that he built for Mordecai. But this was a marvelous example of two people taking action against a major government and saving many thousands of people.
Does God Ever Support Revolutions?
Some Bible students conclude that it is always wrong to oppose an existing authority because it is God that sets up leaders (Dan 4:17; Rom 13:1-2). But the plain history of the Bible is that many leaders are apparently deposed or appointed by other human leaders. While certainly nothing escapes the attention and control of God, it is obvious that he frequently uses other men to set up the leaders that he wants. When men attempt to overthrow good leaders, they run the risk of failure and God’s wrath. When men with righteous intent oppose evil leaders, they often meet with Gods approval and sometimes divine intervention.
Ehud was a judge whom God raised to deliver
the best Bible Story of good people overthrowing evil is the priest Jehoiada’s
revolution against the evil queen Athaliah. 2 Kings chapters nine and ten
tell of all the royal heirs of
When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal heirs. 2 But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king’s sons who were being murdered; and they hid him and his nurse in the bedroom, from Athaliah, so that he was not killed. 3So he was hidden with her in the house of the LORD for six years, while Athaliah reigned over the land. 4 In the seventh year Jehoiada [the priest] sent and brought the captains of hundreds—of the bodyguards and the escorts—and brought them into the house of the LORD to him. And he made a covenant with them and took an oath from them in the house of the LORD, and showed them the king’s son. 5 Then he commanded them, saying, “This is what you shall do: One-third of you who come on duty on the Sabbath shall be keeping watch over the king’s house, 6 “one-third shall be at the gate of Sur, and one-third at the gate behind the escorts. You shall keep the watch of the house, lest it be broken down. 7“The two contingents of you who go off duty on the Sabbath shall keep the watch of the house of the LORD for the king. 8 “But you shall surround the king on all sides, every man with his weapons in his hand; and whoever comes within range, let him be put to death. You are to be with the king as he goes out and as he comes in.” 9 So the captains of the hundreds did according to all that Jehoiada the priest commanded. Each of them took his men who were to be on duty on the Sabbath, with those who were going off duty on the Sabbath, and came to Jehoiada the priest. 10 And the priest gave the captains of hundreds the spears and shields which had belonged to King David, that were in the temple of the LORD. 11 Then the escorts stood, every man with his weapons in his hand, all around the king, from the right side of the temple to the left side of the temple, by the altar and the house. 12 And he brought out the king’s son, put the crown on him, and gave him the Testimony; they made him king and anointed him, and they clapped their hands and said, “Long live the king!” 13 Now when Athaliah heard the noise of the escorts and the people, she came to the people in the temple of the LORD. 14 When she looked, there was the king standing by a pillar according to custom; and the leaders and the trumpeters were by the king. All the people of the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets. So Athaliah tore her clothes and cried out, “Treason! Treason!” 15 And Jehoiada the priest commanded the captains of the hundreds, the officers of the army, and said to them, “Take her outside under guard, and slay with the sword whoever follows her.” For the priest had said, “Do not let her be killed in the house of the LORD.” 16 So they seized her; and she went by way of the horses’ entrance into the king’s house, and there she was killed (2Kngs 11:1-16).
The story continues, showing that Jehoiada was not simply interested in power for himself, but real change to righteous government. He led the people in tearing down the temples of Baal, reinstituting worship of the true God, and providing justice in the land.
is not to say that God is behind every revolution—or even every revolution
against an evil government. As stated previously, sometimes He allows people
to choose their leaders or choose among leaders, and sometimes He does not
give people a choice. The apocryphal books of Maccabees and other secular
history record Jewish efforts to rebel against other oppressors. Sometimes
they were marvelously successful, other times they were not. God is not
impressed, when people rise up to replace an evil government, with another
evil government. Even within the last few centuries, the
The overwhelming teaching of the Bible is that God
upholds righteous nations, and punishes evil ones (Lev 26; Deut 28; Jer
18:7-10). There are also many cases where righteous individuals or groups of
people escaped the fate of evil nations. God would have spared
• Study the Bible to know what righteousness is.
• Live it, by the Spirit of God.
• Evaluate civil governments by biblical standards of righteousness, judging them no more or less severely than you judge yourself. Do not give favor to your own governments or to ones that are economically beneficial to you at the moment. Do not believe what governments say about themselves, look at what they actually do.
• Seek God’s will in how to act.
One More Part in This Series
The final Part 3 will appear in the next issue. We will see what the New Testament says about civil government and how it relates to the believer. We will answer questions like..
How much should the believer participate in civil government?
Should he make suggestions to leaders?
Should he vote?
Should he run for office?
The answers may surprise you! &
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