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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Foundation of Biblical Government

I did not write this post. It is another old post written by a young man I know, probably back when he was sixteen, maybe seventeen. His prose has gotten a bit more polished since then, but still, this isn't bad.
The Bible is not just a book of religion, it is not just an emotional experience. It has something to say on the entirety of man's existence, his everyday living for example. As Christians, it is important to know what the Bible says on these issues so that we can live a life pleasing to God. The purpose of this post is to examine the foundation on which biblical government rests. What is its purpose? Is the government chosen by God alone, or do the people play a role? Can a government lose its validity by abusing its powers? The answers, according to the Bible, are that the power of government comes from God through the people; that people give their power to the government on condition; and that if that power is abused, the people may take back their power. A big claim, right? But a true one, as I hope to show. Before I do that I want you to be aware that whenever I use the word 'king' in quotations, I am referring to government in general. When I just say king, I am referring to a real king(usually the king of Israel).

The Bible tells us that the office of the 'king' is from God. But does this mean that the specific person in that office by God immediately, that is by God solely and directly? Does the Bible exclude the people from the process of choosing a 'king?' No, it does not. Yes, the Bible teaches that the office of government is ordained by God, but whether this man or that man becomes 'king' is in the hands of the people. There are numerous Biblical examples to support this claim: the Israelites made Omri king and not Zimri (1 Kings 16); the people made Abimelech king (Judg 9:6); the people made Azariah king (2 Chron 23:3); the people made Uzziah king rather than his father Amaziah (2 Chron 26:1); though God promised David the throne, he did not receive it until the people made him king (2 Sam 5:3); the same with Saul (1 Sam 11:15); the people made Jeroboam king (1 Kings 12:20); and the people made Joash king (2 Kings 11:12); Solomon became the king with the consent of the people and David (1 Kings 1:39-40). The only reason that there was a king of Israel was because the people requested it (1 Sam 8:5).

Now some might say that the people merely approved of God's choices of the 'king.' Some point to the case of Solomon and Adonijah. Adonijah was the elder son of David, but God and David chose Solomon to be king. The people, they say, only gave their approval, by crying "Long live King Solomon" (1 Kings 1:39-40), to the king that God chose. However, this does not take away from the fact that Solomon did not become king until the people approved him.
"God is the first agent in all acts of the creature. Where a people maketh choice of a man to be their king, the states do no other thing... but create this man rather than another; and we cannot here find two actions, one of God, another of the people; but in one and the same action, God, by the people's free suffrages and voices, createth such a man king...."
(Rev. Rutherford, Lex Rex, Question IV) The man made king passes from a private man to a king when the people make him so. Again, some mention verses that say that the power of the 'king' comes from God. So does this mean the people have nothing to do with the matter? God makes the grain to grow (Ps. 65:8-9), so, therefore, sun, earth, rain, and the farmer have nothing to do with the matter. That conclusion does not follow, but it is the same one being reached by the person who excludes the people in choosing a 'king.'

I further present Deut. 17:14-15 as evidence for my position:
"When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, 'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,' you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother."
If the people did not have the power to choose the king, why did God mock the people so by giving them rules by which to choose one? If the person(or body) acting as the government comes immediately from God without the people's consent, then this is a useless passage of Scripture.

If God, when he ordained the office of government, immediately chooses the 'king' without the people's consent, then why does this not apply to the other offices God has created? The office of the pastor comes from God, but the people choose who this pastor will be. And this pastor is accountable to the people, he is not independent. He cannot say heretical and blasphemous things; or commit immoral deeds yet be independent of the people who put him into that office. What of the people in government who occupy a lower position, like judges? In Deu. 1:15-17, God sets up judges for Israel telling them
"You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God's."
The judgment is God's and the office to carry it out is from God, but the people (indirectly or directly) choose who will carry out God's judgment. If the 'king' is immediately from God and to resist a specific, evil man is to resist the ordinance of God, then the same would be true of resisting specific, evil pastors and judges. I, however, as I will delve into later, say that specific men are not immediately from God. A man who abuses the power of his office, for example corrupting God's judgment, loses that office and is accountable to the people.

Not only do the people make a specific man 'king,' they also make covenants with that man. In other words, they give him the office of king on certain conditions. The people of Israel made a covenant with David at Hebron (2 Sam 5:3); and a covenant with Joash (2 Kings 11:17); they made a covenant with Jehoida (2 Chron 23:3); and Zedekiah made a covenant with the people (Jer 34:8). In 1 Sam 10:25, Samuel wrote a book on the rights and duties of the kingship. What were these duties? We know that the 'king' could not keep his throne if he refused to obey God's Word(examples are too numerous to mention, but Ps 132:12 is one); and we also know that the entire reason a king was established in Israel was for justice and protection from enemies(1 Sam 8:5, 20). We know that there were covenants that tied him, when he received the crown, to do these things. Even the first hint of government, the punishment of murderers (Gen 9:5-6), was for the protection of the people from those murderers. Summing it up, we know that, at the least, the 'king' was established for the just protection of the community and the punishment of the offenders, that he was only given power for the good of the community, not for evil.

So, after looking at Scripture, we come to the understanding that (A) the 'king' is chosen by the people; and (B) that the 'king' is given this power conditionally, these conditions being in the oath taken by the 'king;' and (C) that the conditions are that he rule for the good of the community, not the for evil. So what if the 'king' abuses this power? What if he takes the power to punish murderers and uses it on the innocent to their destruction? Then the people have the right, and the duty to their families, to take back that power, by violence if necessary. The 'king,' in accepting the covenant with the people, has limited himself to rule according to the law and with equity; and so, when he rules by violence, he is no longer fully the 'king.' When the 'king' does not rule according to his office, he loses the office of 'king' because he limited himself for the defense of the community. And the 'king' is limited, as can be seen from God limiting the 'king' in Deu. 17. In the same way the people limit the 'king's' power for their defense. The power of doing evil has no part in the divine institution of government; it is wholly opposed to the end of it. And so it is not a sin when the people take the power of doing good from a tyrant. They do not rob the 'king' of the power that was given to him by God or the people; they merely defend themselves from a bloody tyrant.

Suppose you gave a man your rifle, or whichever weapon you prefer, to defend you, your family, and the rest of the surrounding community. If this man uses this weapon to murder your wife and children, is it then wrong to take back this weapon and office from him, even by force? This man is using a power that was never given to him. The power given to him was for the defense of the community, not for the wholesale slaughter of it. In the same way, the 'king' was never given the power to murder. Even if the people, unlikely as it may be, swore an oath that they granted the 'king' this power and that they would willfully die at his command, they would not be held to fulfill that promise. This would be against the sixth commandment, which forbids murder, in the same way that suicide is against it. It would be intrinsically sinful to swear and fulfill the promise to be murdered, for again it would be suicide. Or what if a father commands his sons to sin? Is it wrong to resist that man? Though children are to obey and honor their father, they should not commit evil acts at their father's word. In the same way, the 'king' was never given the power to command evil; and so when he does this, he is not acting as 'king,' the command to do evil does not have the office of the 'king' to oblige the conscience to fulfill that command.

Some might say that the idea that the 'king' loses his office when he commands or commits evil is false. If the 'king' does not lose his office when he commands or commits evil, then that means he has been given this power by God and the people. As I said earlier, the people cannot give away the power to murder, this being against the sixth commandment. And how can God give the power to sin to the 'king'? If this power is from God; the power to rape, murder, steal, etc. is included in this power grant to the 'king.' If this is so David lied when he confessed his sin to God in the 51 Psalm. It was not sin to murder Uriah or to sleep with Bathsheba. This power was given to David by God and the people. It was not sin for Hitler or Stalin to murder their people, for this power would have been given to them by God and the people. If the power to sin is given by God to the 'king,' then there is no end to the atrocities he can commit. But then why does God promise to punish Ahab so severely for murdering Naboth (1 Kings 21:19, 21-22); why does God tell David it was evil to murder Uriah and sleep with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:9); and why does the Bible say of so many Israelite and Judean kings that they did evil in the sight of the Lord?

So far a good theory, but are there Scriptural examples of people using force against 'kings' when they turn tyrant? The people of Israel swarmed to David's side in 1 Chron. 12:22-34. Now it looks like this is out of order, that Saul died before the people swarmed to him in this passage. However, in the beginning of this chapter it says,"Now these are the men who came to David at Ziklag, while he could not move about freely because of Saul the son of Kish." The Bible also says,"Some of the men of Manasseh deserted to David when he came with the Philistines for the battle against Saul(1 Chron. 12:19). This battle did not take place because the Philistines removed David from their ranks, but people were still coming to David to help him against Saul. It also say in 1 Chron. 12:23 that the people were coming with the intent of turning the kingdom of Saul over to David. And God gave approval to this by speaking through Amasai,
"Then the Spirit clothed Amasai, chief of the thirty, and he said, 'We are yours, O David, and with you, O son of Jesse! Peace, peace to you, and peace to your helpers! For your God helps you.'"
(v. 18) In 1 Sam 23:13, David had a fighting force of 600 men to defend himself if Saul caught up to him. 1 Sam 21:8-10 tells us that David took the sword of Goliath in a time when he was being hunted by Saul. The Bible says many times in these passages that these men were heavily armed. Why did David and his followers arm themselves so if not to use them in self-defense?

In 2 Kings 6:32, Elisha told the 'elders' to shut the door and forcibly hold it fast against the messenger of the king. The Hebrew word used for 'fast' is: lachats A primitive root; properly to press, that is, (figuratively) to distress: - afflict, crush, force, hold fast, oppress (-or), thrust self. (Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries) This is not just passive resistence to the king's messenger, this is violent, forcible resistence. If it is wrong to forcibly resist the 'king' under all circumstances, then why does Elisha command it? In 2 Chron 26:17-20, Azariah and 80 priests stop Uzziah from offering incense to the Lord. It was only for the priests to do this and so Uzziah would be sinning in the act. They confronted him with 80 men, and we when we had become leprous, hastened him out of the temple. What were they going to do with 80 men if Uzziah refused to listen and God had not intervened? They were preparing to use force to uphold God's law. If it is right to take the censer out of the king's hand because it is against God's law; then it is right to take weapons, forts, and other objects from a murdering tyrant when he uses it for the people's destruction. The subjects of the king were able to judge him on this matter. They are also able to protect themselves. In 2 Sam 20, the Bible tells us a traitor went and hid himself in a city called Abel. When Joab came to destroy the whole city for that one man, the people of that city resisted even though Joab was under the orders of David. During the fight, a woman negotiated with Joab for the city's life in return for the traitor's head. Joab, learning that the people were only defending themselves, did not later condemn them for resisting him. The people of Israel, when Saul said that Jonathan should die, rescued Jonathan from that unjustified act and, in so doing, resisted the king (1 Sam 14:44-45). These verses show that the people may defend themselves from tyrannous acts, by force if necessary.

Now some Christians will object that Romans 13 tells us to subject to the 'higher powers.' First, what are the 'higher powers?' After all, judges, governors, and sheriffs are 'higher powers' to the everyday citizen. Are we to obey all these without regard to the content of their commands? If it is answered no, that there are 'higher powers' over these (the president, Congress, etc...), then I would reply that there is a Higher Power over even these: God, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And how do we know what God's opinion is on the issue? Through His written Word: the Bible. If the 'higher powers' command something contrary to the Higher Power, then their command is null and void. Second, as I said earlier, when the 'king' commands or commits an evil act, he does not do so as 'king,' for the 'king' was never granted the power to do evil. In that act, the 'king' ceases to be a 'higher power' and becomes a 'lower power' to be resisted. Paul here talks of the 'king' in abstract; and he also is talking about a power that is punishing evil. This passage should not be used to compel the conscience to obey a tyrant. Taxes, revenue, and subjection are not owed to a murderer who has lost his office by forsaking the covenant between him and God, through the people, to punish evil and protect the innocent.

And so we come to the conclusion. The foundation for Biblical government is the ordaining of government by God for the defense of the innocent and the punishment of the wicked; that the specific forms and people put into office are there put by the people's consent; that there is a conditional covenant between the 'king,' God, and the people; and that if these conditions are not met, and the 'king' turns tyrant, the people have the right to set up a 'king' that fulfills God's justice.


  1. You guys don't get it; a lot of us realize the value of metaphor in the Bible, but is just a Book of stories. Written by men. It is not fair or just.
    And using the quotes from the document in question to represent an argument supporting the document in question is just spinning your wheels.
    We do not need a Christian Taliban anymore than an Islamic Taliban.
    The Basis for our government is the U.S. Constitution, which has NO reference to the Bible or A god at all. In fact, the treaty of Tripoli, official U.S. policy, states that we do not base our government on religion at all. We are a secular nation.

  2. Thanks for reading, anyway, DR. I'm not at all sure that you got the point of the post, as the US government, per se, is not discussed in it at all, nor is there anything in it that supports anything other than the right of the people to resist and remove tyrants, and to institute government responsive to their needs, which makes it seem very strange, no more than you trust government, that you would have an issue with it. You seem to be arguing with a position that has not, as far as I can tell, been presented in this post.

  3. Forgive me if I misunderstood the pourpose of this post, it's easy to get lost in all the verse.
    -But it's statements like this that confuse me about the author's intent:

    "Is the government chosen by God alone, or do the people play a role?"

  4. No need to apologize. You have to understand that there are still Christians--many of them--who seriously hold to something like the old concept of the Divine right of kings to rule. These people seriously advance the idea that Christians should never resist government, not even tyrannical government that has ceased to meet its obligations to the people. The post was written to refute that point of view.

    Don't worry, DR--there will plenty of stuff coming that you will enjoy vigorously objecting to. :)

  5. Ok, that explanation helps, thanks.