In this session of Secret Church 20, Pastor David Platt provides a biblical overview of the Old Testament’s teachings on government. What does the Bible say about government and about how both God and humans relate to government? David Platt looks at the truths to be learned throughout the Old Testament: Law, History, Wisdom, and Prophets.
- Biblical Truths in the New Testament
- The Gospels
- The Letters
Biblical Truths: Law
Let’s dive into this journey, from cover to cover, through the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, we will look at 64 biblical truths. I’ve split Scripture into seven main categories:
- Law – the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis to Deuteronomy
- History – of God’s people from Joshua all the way to Esther
- Wisdom Literature – from Job through Song of Solomon
- Prophets – Isaiah through Malachi
- Gospels – the first four books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John which leads to the birth of the Church
- History of the Church – Acts
- Letters – from Romans to Revelation, written to individuals and churches throughout the history of the church
My aim is to look at all these categories in the Bible and identify certain truths that relate to God and government, looking at every type of Scripture. So we’ll have a holistic picture of what God has said in His Word about government, leaders, and citizens. Before we can think about how to apply this wisely in the world, we need to know what God’s Word says. The with these 64 truths we’re about see, my main aim is to say there are 64 ways God has spoken clearly in His Word about government.
So let’s dive in! Starting with the Law—the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis thru Deuteronomy. What do these books teach us about government?
1. All governance belongs to God.
We’ve already hit on this reality in the gospel, but I’ve put this here again because we need to see this simply relates to government. So from the first verse in the Bible, we learn…
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
God is the supreme Creator of all.
“And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:30)
God is the sovereign King over all, which means He gives the laws by which we should live.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17)
For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:28)
God is the righteous Judge of all, which means He judges all people based on His law.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein… (Psalm 24:1)
So think about what this means, because it goes totally against the grain, at least how people in the United States are wired to think, as well as people in other countries. The world is not a democracy; the world is a monarchy and God is King. Yes, we may use language about our rights; we may even ascribe to a bill of rights, but the reality is that ultimately we don’t make a list of rights. Ultimately God has all the rights and we submit to Him. All governance belongs to God…period. God is the supreme Ruler of all and we are all subservient to Him. God is not our equal; we are less than Him and accountable to Him.
2. What Does the Old Testament Say About Government and How Human governance is delegated by God.
So all governance belongs to God, yet God in His sovereignty rule, has decided to delegate governance to us—to you and me. This is clear from the creation of man and woman. Listen to the language in these verses. When God created man and woman in His own image, He said to them:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26–31)
God said, “I give dominion to you, responsibility to multiply the earth. Fill the earth and subdue it.” So the picture here is creation under the rule of man and woman. Governance is a privilege of relationship with God. Notice that God gave this privilege, not to animals or plants, but to people. Those of us made in God’s image, in His likeness, refers to the unique relationship you and I have with God. The plants and animals don’t have this relationship. We have the capacity to speak to God, relating to God in a way that is totally different than anything else in creation.
Governance is a responsibility for rule in God’s world. Like most privileges, this one comes with a responsibility to govern in the world according to God’s Word, in a way that reflects His character. All of this is exactly what Psalm 8 talks about. Obviously, this is not from the first five books of the Old Testament, but it’s here because it reinforces the reality the Psalmist says about how men and women were created. God has put the world under our feet, which means we’re responsible to care for, rule over and govern the world in a way that honors Him.
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:5–8)
So all governance ultimately belongs to God, but He gives governing privilege and responsibility in the world to us. This is a picture of His undeserved love—grace. He does this, not because man or woman has earned it, but because God is gracious.
3. All grace comes from God.
This is evident from the first breath God gives to man, from the first word God speaks to man, from the creation of woman to be with man and from the creation of marriage.
… then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7)
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:15–18)
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
Think about this. From the start of Scripture our lives are a gift of His grace.
- We depend on God for every breath we breathe.
- We depend on God for everything we need.
- We live in God’s world, not the other way around.
- Everything good around Adam and Eve was a gift from God. The same is true for you and me.
- Everything single thing in the world that is good around us is a gift from God to us. So our lives are a gift of His grace.
His law is a gift of His grace. When God speaks and tells Adam what to do or not do, what tree to eat from or not eat from, that is a picture of God’s grace.
- God’s law tells us how to enjoy life.
- God’s law tells us how to avoid death.
- We need to live according to God’s ways, not the other way around. We align around God’s way; He does not align around our ways.
Our families are a gift of His grace from the very beginning.
- God designs marriage as the means for multiplication of men and women made in His image. Children come from husbands and wives joined together in marriage.
- God designs marriage as an illustration of the gospel. He set up marriage between a man and a woman to be a picture of God’s love for us.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31–33 quoting from Genesis 2)
- We understand marriage according to God’s definition, not the other way around. It is not God understanding marriage according to our definition, which is what my country has said God should do.
Our freedom is a gift of His grace.
- Faith in God is not forced by God from the beginning of the Bible. Adam and Eve had a choice to make about whether or not to obey God. This is not God-imposed coercion; it is God-given freedom.
- Divine sovereignty does not eliminate human responsibility. This means that just because God is in control—sovereign over all things—does not mean men and women are not responsible for their actions. From the very beginning of the Bible, we see God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.
- We are accountable to God for our actions, not the other way around.
This leads directly into Genesis 3 and the entrance of sin into the world. So what is sin? Think of it in light of everything we’ve seen. Man and woman defy the governing authority of God and everything is ruined.
4. Sin is defiance of God’s governance that leads to disorder in God’s world.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths…. The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:1–7, 14– 19)
So man and woman defy the governing authority of God and everything is ruined. Put this all together: If all governance belongs to God, by His grace He delegates governing responsibilities to men and women who defy God, then the world is now being governed by sinners who have turned and who are prone daily to turn from God. That is the major problem in the world.
- As a result of sin, our relationship with God is disordered.
- As a result of sin, our relationships with one another are disordered.
- As a result of sin, our relationships with the world are disordered.
This is not just the major problem in the world; it’s the major problem in any government. Any government in the world is made up of citizens who are sinners. Leaders are sinners. The more we defy God’s governance in our lives, the more we will miss out on God’s good design for our lives. The good news of the Bible though is that despite our sin, God is still gracious.
5. The most basic foundation for government is the equality of all people made in God’s image.
We’ve already seen this established in Genesis 1 and we’ve read this in Genesis 9. Remember this story of God sparing Noah and his family from judgment.
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.’ And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:1–7)
As society starts over after the flood, from the beginning God established the basic foundation for just governance in the world. In other words, every single person is made in the image of God, therefore every single person matters.
- Doing justice means recognizing the dignity of every life made in the image of God, without exception.
- Doing justice means ensuring the protection of every life, without exception.
The most basic foundation for government is the equality of all people made in God’s image. Why am I using this language of doing justice? That leads to the next truth based on the same passage in Genesis 9.
6. The most basic responsibility of government is to do justice by promoting good and punishing evil.
Remember that as soon as sin entered the world in Genesis 3, the very next chapter tells us about Cain killing Abel and everything spiraled down after that. So here in Genesis 9, God authorizes and requires people to do justice by promoting good and punishing evil. This responsibility for justice is delegated by God to people for the same purposes we described earlier. Notice in Genesis 9 how justice is surrounded by God’s command for His people to be fruitful and increase in numbers. So the purpose of justice is to enable people to flourish as God intended.
Just government exists under God for all the things we see here:
- For the enjoyment of life.
- For obedience to His law.
- For the support of families (namely, marriage).
- For multiplication through marriage.
- For the protection of freedom (namely, faith).
So we see all this supported by this good justice delegated by God and this responsibility for justice is entrusted to all. Notice in the language in Genesis 9 that God requires justice among fellow men and women—among each other. It’s like God is saying, “Okay everybody, gather around and listen. This is your responsibility together; make sure justice is carried out. It’s not just for certain people to be concerned about; it’s for everybody to be concerned about.”
We all have a responsibility to work so that just government is promoting that which is good and punishing that which is evil.
7. The most basic action of government is to prosecute crimes because of the harm done to people, not the dishonor shown to God.
Notice in Genesis 9 that the reckoning God is talking about is for crimes against other people. God says, “When someone else is harmed, justice must be carried out.” But nowhere in Genesis 9 or anywhere else do we see God give people authority to prosecute crimes where someone has not been harmed. Here’s why this is important.
These words from God come within the context of God’s covenant with Noah which was a covenant of common grace for all people, not just God’s chosen people of Israel; that picture will start when we get to Genesis 12. Here in Genesis 9, in this covenant that applies to all people of all time, God expects justice to be carried out when people harm one another. But God is not giving people authority to prosecute crimes that are solely against Him. God does not say here, “If someone sins against Me, you should carry out justice accordingly.” No. God says, “If someone sins against another person, you should carry out justice accordingly.”
This is really important, but I want don’t want to get too practical at this point; that’s what we’re leading toward. As we focus on these biblical foundations, this is why government punishes murder or stealing, but not false religion or pride. Yes, those are offenses against God to be sure and they may lead to harm of others, but God is specifically authorizing justice here when that harm is done to others, not just when someone sins against Him. So here’s a distinction between crime against people and actions (crime) against God.
Genesis 9 spells out is these takeaways:
- The most severe punishment for crime against people is the loss of one’s life on earth. This responsibility for justice at varying levels is given by God to people. This obviously does not mean that God’s justice is irrelevant because God’s justice for sin is on a whole other level.
- The most severe punishment for crime against God is the loss of one’s life for eternity. The point is this is justice that God has kept in His hands.
So to summarize all that, God has delegated justice on earth to people. Every single one of us is made in the image of God to do justice by promoting good and punishing evil, specifically prosecuting crimes that harm people. In other words, it’s no coincidence that we have laws in our countries against murder or stealing, or regulations concerning safety like food manufacturing and aviation standards that airlines must use. There is a biblically foundation for those things in government. God calls us to ensure that lives are protected, putting laws and regulations in place that promote the good and protection of people. These things reflect the most basic foundation, responsibilities and actions of government according to God from the very beginning of the Bible.
8. What Does the Old Testament Say About Government and how Leaders of government are responsible to God and will be judged by God.
This applies to any government leaders. As Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh, we see that God holds Pharaoh accountable.
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1–2)
That was not a good thing for Pharaoh to say and he was held accountable for it.
For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go. (Exodus 9:14–17)
God then sends plagues on Pharaoh himself, as well as on his family, servants and people, so he would know there is none like God in all the earth.
- Government leaders are ultimately accountable to God’s Word.
- Government leaders cannot compete with God’s power. He is the one Who raises up leaders; He has power to bring them down.
- Government leaders will ultimately yield to God’s glory.
Government leaders may do all they can to exalt themselves, but in the end they will all be humbled. They will all be brought low.
9. Wise leaders share governing responsibilities with other trustworthy leaders who fear God.
This is a clear takeaway from this passage in which Moses was trying to govern God’s people, sitting as judge over scores of people. He was not able to do it alone, so Moses was given the following counsel. This is a great passage for leadership as a whole, but specifically for leadership in government. Share governing responsibility with other trustworthy leaders who fear God.
You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace. (Exodus 18:18–23)
This kind of shared leadership will:
- Ensure God’s direction.
- Ensure a leader’s endurance.
- Ensure a people’s peace.
We see this statement at the very end: “…this people also will go to their place in peace.” In other words, it is good for everybody when governing responsibilities are shared among trustworthy leaders who fear God.
10. The Ten Commandments comprise a clear foundation for God’s governance of His people and a wise foundation for human governance of all people.
Notice that the Ten Commandments were given to God’s people—the people of Israel—in the Mosaic covenant, so these are the foundations of God’s governance of His people.
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:1–17)
There are wise foundations for human governance of all people. Just think of the Ten Commandments which are summarized here:
- Experience abundant life through worship of the right God. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
- Experience supernatural love through worship in the right way. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
- Revere God in a world of triviality.
- Rest responsibly in a world of toil. In a world that endlessly works, God says, “Don’t do that. Rest as I rested.”
- Prioritize honor in your home. “Honor your father and your mother.”
- Prioritize the protection of other people’s health. “You shall not murder.”
- Enjoy sexuality according to God’s design. “You shall not commit adultery.”
- Enjoy possessions according to God’s provision. “You shall not steal.” Don’t take what God has not given you.
- Be trustworthy with the truth in a world of lies and letdowns. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
- Be content with joy in a world of jealousy and competition. Don’t covet what your neighbor has.
These are wise foundations for human governance of all people and the clear foundation for God’s governance of His people.
11. What Does the Old Testament Say About Government and How God’s just governance promotes love for all peoples.
So in the middle of God’s law for His people, He says this:
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
God’s just governance of His people promotes love and mercy for all peoples. This is so key. Even in the Old Testament, under the old covenant between God and His people—the nation of Israel—there was concern for all people, not just for that nation. God’s Word was not just to love your neighbor as yourself, but love the nations as yourself.
- Treat the stranger as a native, as one of your own.
- Love the sojourner as yourself.
12. God’s just governance promotes righteousness in judicial, social and commercial transactions.
Think about all these levels as we read this passage:
You shall do no injustice in court.
You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:15–18)
Right after God said what He did about the sojourners among His people, He says this:
You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:35–36)
So God’s just governance promotes:
- Fairness in your courts.
- Kindness toward your neighbor.
- Integrity in your economy.
All of this is in the realm of God’s justice and just governance.
13. God’s just governance promotes care for the poor.
We’ve seen this already in Leviticus 19; now He says the same here in Leviticus 25 when He sets up the year of jubilee as a time when property, and to a degree prosperity, could be restored to the poor. God knew that in a fallen world, poverty would be a reality.
If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property. (Leviticus 25:25–28)
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)
God’s just governance prioritizes care for all the poor. Just think about what we’ve seen in these last three truths about God’s governance among His people. God’s governance promotes love for all people, righteousness in all transactions, and care for all who are poor. These are huge truths!
- The command is clear: Be generous to the poor in your land.
- The goal is clear: Meet the needs of all the poor in your land.
14. God calls leaders among His people to lead in ways that reflect His governance.
This is how God governs His people and how He expects leaders to reflect His governance with justice, love, righteousness, and care. Listen to how God instructs the people who will lead His people as king.
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. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, “You shall never return that way again.” And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:14–20)
Particularly among God’s people, with various implications for leaders, all people must:
- Hear and obey God’s Word.
- Avoid greed.
- Avoid adultery.
- Avoid idolatry.
- Fear and submit to God’s authority.
- Demonstrate humility before God and those they lead.
Josiah is an awesome example of this.
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. (2 Kings 22:1–2)
But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. (2 Kings 22:18–19)
The closing commentary on Josiah’s life states:
Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23:25)
God calls leaders among His people to lead in a way that reflects His good, just, righteous, loving and caring governance. It is good for people to be led in government by leaders like that.
These 14 truths flow from the first five books of the Old Testament, leading right into the history of God’s people, starting with their entrance into the Promised Land in the book of Joshua where we learn a very valuable truth.
Biblical Truths: History
15. The government of a people is a reflection of the God or gods they serve.
Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond 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. (Joshua 24:14–15)
As God’s people entered the Promised Land, Joshua confronted them with a choice of who they would serve. The reason this is so important is because:
- We become like what or who we worship, therefore our government will be a reflection of the God or gods we serve. This is such an important truth to realize.
- We must evaluate what or who we worship. If you want to know the idols that are worshiped in a nation, look at the government of that nation, because government is a reflection of who they serve. There’s so much we could soak in here.
16. Evil abounds when everyone does what is right in his own eyes.
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6; 21:25)
Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. (Judges 2:16)
This is the story of the book of Judges and it is a horror story.
- Left to ourselves, we illustrate human depravity.
- Steeped in our sin, we need divine deliverance. We need God to save us from ourselves which He does by His grace throughout this book. Remember that evil abounds when everyone does what is right in his own eyes.
17. God is the perfect Leader with ultimate authority Who entrusts imperfect leaders to govern with delegated authority.
So God is perfect and entrusts imperfect leaders to govern. Focus on the word imperfect. This is an acknowledgment that all leaders on this earth who have been entrusted with leadership responsibilities from God are imperfect. This is illustrated in 1 Samuel 8 as God’s people reject God as King, crying out for a human king.
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:6–9)
In other words, warn them that every human king is going to fail them in some way.
- We are all tempted to turn from God as our King, looking to other leaders or things instead of God. As we do, we need to know…
- There is no king on earth who is worthy of all our trust.
18. God’s standards for those who govern are different from the world’s standards for those who govern.
When we think of leaders of government, we have a human perspective of what those leaders should look like; there’s also a divine perspective of what those leaders should look like. When Samuel was looking among Jesse’s sons for a king, God said this:
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
- The world looks for appearance and prominence. These are the things we prize in potential leaders.
- God looks for heart and humility, exemplified in the following passage as David confronts Goliath.
This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand. (1 Samuel 17:46–47)
I think about this in light of presidential elections in the United States. The entire election process is set up to find a leader with the most appealing prominence and appearance. The election is not set up to find humility and heart, which are actually seen as weaknesses and disqualifiers. We see so differently than God does. His standards for those who govern are not just different; in many ways they are the total opposite of the world’s standards for those who govern.
19. God promised to send a perfect King, His own Son, in the line of David in order to redeem His people from sin and reign over all people with justice.
Even in David, a leader chosen for heart and humility, we soon see his weakness and inability, yet God promises that from David’s line will come a King Who will do what no other king before or after him could do. He will save His people from sin and reign over all peoples with justice.
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:12–16)
As you read through all these prophecies, God promises David:
- A continual seed will endure.
- An honored Son will reign as God’s representative among His people.
And they made Solomon the son of David king the second time, and they anointed him as prince for the LORD, and Zadok as priest. Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD as king in place of David his father. And he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him. (1 Chronicles 29:22b–23)
An earthly King, the Son, Who represents…
- The heavenly King, the Father.
Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O LORD, became their God. And now, O LORD God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken. And your name will be magnified forever, saying, “The LORD of hosts is God over Israel,” and the house of your servant David will be established before you. For you, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, “I will build you a house.” (2 Samuel 7:22–27a)
- He will redeem God’s people from sin.
- He will reign over all peoples with justice.
This is what we’ll see in the prophets as they pick up on Isaiah 9, for example:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7)
This is prophecy of Jesus, the Son of God from the line of David, Who will redeem, reign with wisdom, execute justice and righteousness. He alone is the perfect King. David was definitely not perfect.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:5–6)
20. Sexual sin among those who govern is especially serious and carries far- reaching consequences in their governance.
Think of David’s sin with Bathsheba, followed by his murder of her husband, Uriah. The Lord was greatly displeased. You might think at this point, “Wait a minute. Sexual sin isn’t different from any other sin.” There’s a sense in which that is true, but there is also a sense in which it is not. Sexual sin is different according to God. Think of 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
It seems like the Bible is emphasizing something uniquely dangerous about sexual sin and the unique devastating effects of it. When you look at 2 Samuel 12, you’ll see, not just the effects of David’s sin in his own life, but also in his leadership.
But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. (2 Samuel 11:27c)
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” (2 Samuel 12:7–14)
Sexual sin among those who govern is especially serious and carries far-reaching consequences in their governance.
- Sexual sin appears so subtly. It started for David with a glance.
- Sexual sin harms so deeply. It affects people you never thought of harming. David never thought of the effects his sin would have on a child who would die, plus everybody he would lead.
- Sexual sin controls so quickly. It drove David to murder.
- Sexual sin devastates so comprehensively. David’s leadership was totally different after this point. And not just his leadership, but leadership of his son Solomon after him who turned his heart away after other gods, namely in the form of many wives in worse ways than even David had.
For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. (1 Kings 11:4–8)
21. What Does the Old Testament Say About Government and how the Prideful ambition is an extremely dangerous weapon in the heart of those who govern.
This is the story when David is king and orders a census, which is something a king would do for military purposes to assess their military capacity, but it’s clear when you read this passage that David does this as he’s driven by selfish desires. Basically he is fueling his pride. Hundreds of thousands of forces are at his command and Joab, one of his commanders, knew this was wrong and told David not to do it. But David insisted on doing it, so as a result look at the effects. Thousands of people died as a result of what David had done. Don’t underestimate the effects of pride in a leader’s heart; it’s a dangerous weapon.
So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel… But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”… So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. (2 Samuel 24:2–4)
Prideful ambition is an extremely dangerous weapon in the heart of those who govern.
- The king was driven by selfish desires.
- The king was resistant to wise counsel.
- The kingdom was shattered by death and suffering.
22. Wisdom from God is essential for just governance.
This truth flows from how Solomon’s leadership begins as king in the history of God’s people. God says, “I’ll give you what you ask.” So Solomon asks for wisdom, then we see an example of that wisdom later in the chapter.
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” (1 Kings 3:5–14)
And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice. (1 Kings 3:24–28)
It’s clear from 1 Kings 3 that…
- We lack the wisdom and discernment we need to govern. All of us—anyone—who would lead lacks wisdom.
- God possesses all wisdom and discernment in His governance. This is what Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar:
Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding…” (Daniel 2:20– 21)
So put this all together. Every one of us lacks the wisdom and discernment we need to govern; God possesses all wisdom with discernment in His governance. Therefore, anyone who desires to do justice in governance is desperate for and dependent on wisdom and discernment from God.
…in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3)
So wisdom from God—from Jesus—is essential for just governance. Any governing leader who has any wisdom has that wisdom only because God has given it. .
23. It is right (and at least sometimes required) for those with God’s Word to humbly, honorably, and boldly confront wickedness in worldly government.
The first example here from the history of God’s people was when Elijah the prophet went to Ahab the king, confronted him for the idolatry he was promoting among God’s people, specifically worship of the Canaanite rain god, Baal. Elijah confronted Ahab, saying, “I’m going to show you Who brings the rain and it’s not this false god you’re worshipping.”
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)
Likewise in Daniel 4, Daniel confronted king Nebuchadnezzar for evil in his kingdom.
Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity. (Daniel 4:27)
We see John the Baptist reproving Herod the tetrarch for sexual immorality here.
So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. (Luke 3:18–20)
Jesus Himself confronts Herod:
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’” (Luke 13:31–32)
Paul confronts the Roman ruler, Felix:
After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and selfcontrol and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” (Acts 24:24–25)
So we see it’s right and at least sometimes required or expected for those with God’s Word…
- To humbly, honorably, and boldly confront personal sin in people who govern, which is exactly what John the Baptist did with Herod and Elijah with Ahab.
- To humbly, honorably, and boldly confront injustice in how people are governed, which we see here with Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar.
When you think about the effects after Elijah confronts Ahab, God eventually comes and says:
Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house. (1 Kings 21:29)
Then after Daniel confronts the king, Nebuchadnezzar responds:
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:37)
So it’s not just right, but it’s good for those with God’s Word to humbly, honorably, and boldly confront wickedness in worldly government.
24. God possesses all power over all governments and all who govern in them.
This is powerfully depicted in a series of attacks on Judah, specifically the city of Jerusalem. Basically, there was a day when an army of 185,000 Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem to overtake that city. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sent a message to Hezekiah, king over God’s people, taunting him and saying, “Your God can’t do anything to me.” That’s not what you say to God. As a result, 185,000 troops were automatically struck down dead. Then Sennacherib himself died.
Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?” Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”… Have you not heard that I [the Lord] determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into heaps of ruins, while their inhabitants, shorn of strength, are dismayed and confounded, and have become like plants of the field and like tender grass, like grass on the housetops, blighted before it is grown. But I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me. Because you have raged against me and your complacency has come into my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came… And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. (2 Kings 19:10–19, 25–28, 35–37)
So the message of 2 Kings 19 is clear to all governments and all who govern in them.
- They should fear and tremble before the God Who holds them in His hands. All governments and all leaders should fear and tremble before the God Who holds their lives in His hands.
- They should do justice before the God Who will hold them accountable for the work of their hands. No leader of any government will escape justice from God.
God possesses all power over all governments and all who govern in them.
25. God ultimately uses governments and those who govern to accomplish His redemptive purposes for His people.
We see this throughout the history of God’s people. Listen to Ezra, talking about a pagan king whose heart the Lord stirred up to make a proclamation throughout his kingdom to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The Lord did that through a pagan.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:1–4)
In Nehemiah, he wants to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. Throughout this book, it is clear that kings and rulers are granting requests because God is in control.
And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me. (Nehemiah 2:7–8)
In Esther, we see the story of how God sovereignly put Esther in the king’s palace as the king’s wife. Why? For the deliverance of the Jews from a decree that they should all die. God put her in the kingdom “for such a time as this.”
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13–14)
God is using governments in the world and those who govern to accomplish His redemptive purposes for His people.
- Sometimes for discipline. God raises up the Chaldeans according to Habakkuk 1. Enemies of God and His people to seize lands that did not belong to them.
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. (Habakkuk 1:5–6)
- Ultimately for deliverance of His people. This is obviously not in the Old Testament, but Luke 2 tells us about the birth of Jesus. Why this decree at that time? Because God ordained for His Son to be born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem in the house of David. That’s why.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1–7)
History is not accidental; history is providential. God is always working for the accomplishment of His purposes and He’s using government and government leaders toward that end.
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)
That is good news on so many levels. First, when you see world leaders in your country or other countries making decisions that make you nervous about the state of the world, take heart in the reality that those leaders are not ultimately in control. God holds their hearts in His hands and the purposes of God will be accomplished.
The second encouragement, particularly as I think about the state of the world right now in the middle of this pandemic, God is always, always, always working for the accomplishment of His purposes which means we can always, always, always rest in His sovereign rule and reign over all.
Biblical Truths: Wisdom
Wisdom is seeing things from God’s perspective, not man’s perspective, which is what the wisdom books in the Bible are all about. The wisdom books are from Job to Song of Solomon. We will draw truths from the three middle books—Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
26. God derides and will ultimately destroy nations who defy or defame Him.
This is a really important Psalm:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:1–12)
See the picture here:
- The nations plot against God.
- The nations pretend to be God. They pretend to be in control. Nations, governments and government leaders pretend to have power. They think they are sovereign over their destiny. They play God, but what does He do? The One enthroned in heaven laughs.
I love how this passage in Acts 4 quotes from Psalm 2. When the church is starting to experience persecution, they pray “Sovereign Lord…” The word here for God is despotēs, like despot. Like, You’re the Ruler, not the Roman Empire.
And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:24–28)
Did you follow that? Even when the Romans Empire was crucifying Jesus, they were doing it under God’s sovereign design.
- The nations cannot thwart God’s plans.
- The nations will fulfill God’s purposes.
- They will experience His judgment.
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1)
The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. (Psalm 110:5–6)
- They will all bow before Jesus on that day. Every knee will bow to God, in heaven and earth and under the earth.
But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?” (Luke 20:41–44)
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
Thinking of the leaders I’ve mentioned already, know that Abiy Ahmed Ali from Ethiopia will one day bow before Jesus as Lord. Vladimir Putin from Russia will one day bow before Jesus as Lord. Kim Jong-un from North Korea will one day bow before Jesus as Lord. Angela Merkel from Germany will one day bow before Jesus as Lord. Donald Trump will one day bow before Jesus as Lord. Every leader in every nation and every area of history, including every leader of every government that has defied God, will all bow. Every leader who is actively persecuting Christians right now will ultimately bow at the feet of Christ and call Him Lord.
God derides and will ultimately destroy nations who defy or defame Him.
27. A just leader is a blessing to a nation.
Throughout the Psalms, we see prayers and songs concerning the King among God’s people. Listen to this picture:
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! (Psalm 72:1–7)
What a picture of a just Leader Who is a blessing to a nation!
- For all people, particularly the poor and the oppressed.
- For abounding peace, particularly the flourishing of the righteous.
A just leader is a blessing to a nation!
28. We should pray for God’s justice to reign on the earth.
We long for the perfect justice of God to reign, so pray like Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9–13:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations! (Psalm 82:1–8)
- As we pray, we long and wait for God’s Kingdom to come.
- As we pray, we live and work to make God’s mercy known around the world. We work for justice for the weak and fatherless, for the afflicted and destitute.
The Bible teaches us to pray for God’s justice to reign on the earth, then live and work accordingly.
29. What Does the Old Testament Say About Government and How Wise government fears God.
We’ve already seen the necessity for wisdom in government, so how do government leaders get wisdom? How do government citizens get wisdom?
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud: “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man.” (Proverbs 8:1–4)
Did you catch that? Who is being addressed here? Is it just the people of God or is it all people? It’s all people—”children of man.” All mankind needs this wisdom from God. This doesn’t just mean kings of Israel back then; this means presidents and prime ministers of countries today, senators and representatives today, leaders of the FAA and FDA today. What kind of wisdom do they need?
- Wisdom governs in view of Who God is.
- Wisdom governs in view of how God works.
- Wisdom governs in view of what God has said.
Wise government fears, reveres, and honors God among all people.
30. Wise government shows discernment.
Just think about all the different categories of discernment that are needed in wise government. It’s evident when there is wise just governance.
The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth. (Proverbs 17:24)
Wise government is able to discern between good and evil. Government is foolish when the leaders call that which is good evil or calls that which is evil good.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways. (Proverbs 2:9–15)
Wise government is able to discern between righteousness and wickedness.
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. (Proverbs 10:2–3)
Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot. (Proverbs 10:6–7)
Wise government is able to discern between honesty and dishonesty.
Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things; he who purses his lips brings evil to pass. (Proverbs 16:30)
Wise government is able to discern between the productive and unproductive in order to promote good for people.
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame. (Proverbs 10:4–5)
Wise government is able to discern between peace and violence.
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just. (Proverbs 21:7)
When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7)
Wise government is able to discern between valuable and worthless. If a government pursues that which is worthless, it will not be good for the people.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. (Proverbs 12:11)
Wise government is able to discern regarding the poor and oppressed. This will change everything about the way they rule and lead. Think about all these different levels of discernment that are needed in this picture of governance and leadership among any people anywhere, not just God’s people in the Old Testament.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge. (Proverbs 29:7)
If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever. (Proverbs 29:14)
Wise government is able to discern regarding poverty and riches.
Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me… (Proverbs 30:8)
Wise government is able to discern regarding integrity and purity which are essential to wise government.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. (Proverbs 10:9)
He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend. (Proverbs 22:11)
Wise government is able to discern regarding motives and ambitions.
A man of crooked heart does not discover good, and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity. (Proverbs 17:20)
Wise government is able to discern regarding speech and persuasion.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Proverbs 10:11)
The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. (Proverbs 16:21)
Wise government is able to discern regarding gifts and bribes.
The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice. (Proverbs 17:23)
A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath. (Proverbs 21:14)
Put all this together and see the necessity of wisdom in so many different ways for good government.
31. Wise government requires wise leadership.
This obviously flows from everything we’ve seen so far, but listen to wisdom speak here:
I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. (Proverbs 8:12–17)
So if that’s true, then those who govern should seek wisdom from God.
Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the LORD that a man gets justice. (Proverbs 29:26)
Those who govern should reflect the wisdom of God.
Here are four Proverbs that show this:
It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. (Proverbs 16:12)
A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes. (Proverbs 20:8)
A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 28:16)
If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever. (Proverbs 29:14)
And here’s the last truth from the wisdom literature:
32. Injustice and oppression are sober realities in a sinful world.
Listen to the author of Ecclesiastes which can be a pretty depressing book because it’s honest.
Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. (Ecclesiastes 3:16–17)
Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 4:1–3)
In all the pictures that we just saw in Proverbs, wisdom and discernment are so often absent in the world because government leaders don’t fear God and don’t seek wisdom from Him. Instead, government leaders play God, pretend to be God, sinfully rebel against God which is why…
- We should not be surprised by the existence of injustice and oppression in the world.
- We should all be grieved by the effects of injustice and oppression. Ecclesiastes 4 talks about seeing the tears of the oppressed and being provoked to action with hope in our hearts
- We should look forward to the end of injustice and oppression one day. Until then, injustice and oppression are sober realities in a sinful world.
Biblical Truths: Prophets
Let’s hit the prophets, then we’ll bring this session to a close. But we’re halfway through these 64 truths in Scripture, so hopefully, you’ll hang in there with me. What do we learn about government in the prophets?
33. God is holy and just and He hates unjust government
The book of Isaiah starts a stern condemnation of injustice among God’s people. God tells them…
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:16–17)
But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. (Isaiah 5:16)
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:1–3)
So takeaways here are:
- We must worship God for His justice. That’s what Isaiah is teaching us here. Exalt God for His justice.
- We must work hard against injustice.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
- With kindness toward others.
- With humility before God. We will look at Micah 6:8 more in a few minutes. God hates unjust government.
34. Injustice in government is grounded in the idolatry of false gods.
We just read from Isaiah 1 a minute ago, but look at the verses that immediately follow that:
Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well–fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:10–15)
God is talking about His people who are claiming to worship Him but are not actually worshipping Him. He’s disapproving of their worship. Why?
Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. (Isaiah 2:8)
So get the picture here. Injustice among God’s people was the result of idolatry among God’s people. They had turned away from God and as a result they were doing evil—oppressing the poor, neglecting the fatherless and widows. Idolatry leads to injustice. This passage makes the same connection:
If a man is righteous and does what is just and right—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 18:5–9)
Idolatry and injustice go together. And the converse is true: Love for God leads to love for neighbor.
- Idolatry: Abandoning love for God and it leads to…
- Injustice: Abandoning love for neighbor.
This is exactly the picture we have in the prophets about the coming Servant, the Messiah. When you read about prophecies of Jesus, it’s because His love for the Father and His love for people are both perfect.
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:1–8)
So injustice in government is grounded in the idolatry of false gods, which means whenever we see injustice in the world, we need to look for the idolatry that is behind it. That’s extremely important to remember when we get to practical takeaways later. Injustice in government is grounded in the idolatry of false gods. It’s the worship of false gods that leads to injustice.
35. Religion in the name of God is a detestable mask for injustice in government.
This mask has been commonly used in the history of God’s people. In this passage, the people of God are saying they love the temple, the center of our religion, but God said, “Stop saying these things.”
Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.” For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. (Jeremiah 7:4–7)
Amos talks about having all these worshipful assemblies, but they are not pleasing to God.
Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:18–24)
- It is possible to eagerly anticipate future salvation while conveniently denying present sin. In Amos, they were saying they could not wait for the day of the Lord, but they were totally ignoring sin and oppression in their midst.
- It is possible to carry out the supposed worship of God while carrying out sickening injustice before God. So you think you’re actually worshipping God when you’re actually carrying out sickening injustice before God.
- It is possible to be led in religion by leaders whom God loathes. Look through Ezekiel 22 and you’ll see condemnation of religious leaders among God’s people who were taking bribes, extorting people, slandering people, and taking advantage of people. They were showing all kinds of injustice.
Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst. In you men uncover their fathers’ nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity. One commits abomination with his neighbor’s wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father’s daughter. In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profit and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord GOD. Behold, I strike my hand at the dishonest gain that you have made, and at the blood that has been in your midst. Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. And you shall be profaned by your own doing in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the LORD. (Ezekiel 22:6–16)
So here’s the deal. This is another one of those rare places where I’m bringing in a quote from outside Scripture because I want us to realize this is not just a possibility in the Old Testament or a reality a long time ago. Listen to these words about anticipating future salvation while denying present sin; supposedly worshiping God while committing sickening injustice to God; leaders of religion doing that which God loathes. That’s not just Old Testament history; that’s American history.
This last summer, I reread Frederick Douglas’ autobiography about his experience as a slave in my country. In this autobiography, he basically said the more outwardly Christian a slave owner was, the worse it was for those slaves. I want you to hear his words because they express exactly what I think we’re seeing in the history of God’s people.
“I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land… I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of ‘stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.’ I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which everywhere surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week, fills the pulpit on Sunday and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus… The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master.
“Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery, the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.” – Frederick Douglass
I read that and wept. You know why? Because I realized I’m not above that. If this is possible throughout the Old Testament, if this is possible for God’s people throughout the American South, then I would be a fool to think this is not possible for me. It might be possible for you, too. Religion in the name of God is a detestable mask for injustice in government and we must do everything we can to make sure we never put it on. Ask God to open our eyes if we are wearing these masks.
36. God’s people should seek the welfare of the nation in which they live.
When God sent His people into exile, they were scattered among the nations.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)
God instructs His people to…
- Pray for your nation’s good, talking about the people among whom you live.
- Work for your nation’s well-being.
37. What Does the Old Testament Say About Government and how It is unjust for government to mandate or restrict worship.
I’m drawing this from Daniel where King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, declaring that all people should bow down and worship it or be thrown into a fiery furnace.
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces gathered for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” Therefore, as soon as all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (Daniel 3:1–7)
In Daniel 6, when Darius declared the people must only pray to him or be thrown into a den of lions. Both of these actions are unjust as government leaders mandate or restrict worship in certain ways. Why is that unjust? It goes all the way back to the truths we saw in the very beginning. Remember we saw all grace comes from God and our freedom, when it comes to faith, is a gift of God’s grace. We saw how faith in God is not forced by God Himself. Adam and Eve had a choice to make about whether or not to obey God; it was not God-imposed coercion, it was God-given freedom.
Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction. (Daniel 6:6–9)
- Genuine faith must be genuinely free, not forced. Forced faith is not genuine faith.
- Authentic belief requires authentic choice.
- Human dignity created by God necessitates personal discovery which means the opportunity to…
- Search for truth apart from threats.
- Settle on faith apart from force.
- Come to conclusions apart from coercion.
So we’re talking here about religious liberty, obviously an extremely significant truth for brothers and sisters in parts of the world that restrict Christian faith or mandates another faith. This is also an extremely significant truth when you think about more subtle threats to religious liberty, which we’ll talk about more later. The point now is to show in Scripture that it is unjust and against the very character and justice of God to mandate or restrict worship.
This is why Shadrach, Meshack, Abednego, and Daniel all refused to yield to orders from kings over them and they expressed faith at the risk of their lives.
Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way. (Daniel 3:28–29)
Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.” (Daniel 6:25–26)
38. Allegiance to God takes priority over allegiance to government.
Consider these words straight from these men :
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16–18)
Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.” (Daniel 6:13)
Daniel and his friends knew:
- Government is absolutely not worthy of worship.
- God alone is worthy of worship.
- Allegiance to God takes priority over life itself, not just over government.
39. It is possible for pride in our own nation to keep us from compassion for all nations.
This point is what the story of Jonah is all about. Here’s a little background: Jonah was like a hero when the Word of God had come to him and the people of God had to beef up a long section of Israel’s northern border to strengthen their defense against Syria. So King Jeroboam solidified those defenses, just like Jonah had said. He became a national hero, a proud son of Israel. But the purpose of God in Scripture is not to give us tales of national heroes; if so, we would have just had that story. Instead, God tells us about the day He told Jonah this:
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1–2)
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrians whom the Israelites hated, including Jonah himself. So Jonah said, “No, I’m not going to go.”
But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. (Jonah 1:3)
Look at verse three that starts with “But…” That’s never a good word to read right after God has given a command. Here’s the picture we see in Jonah 1:3:
- We can want our way more than we want God’s will. You know the story. Jonah jumps on a ship headed away from Nineveh. That ship encounters a storm; the crew throws Jonah overboard; he’s swallowed up by a fish; he’s spewed out on the shore. Then Jonah decides to go to Nineveh, preaches what God has said, they repent in that city and are spared. Jonah walks out of the city, sits down and is distressed by the mercy God has shown. Think about what we learn here!
- We can desire the good of our own people more than we desire the gospel for all peoples. Jonah was glad to have brought the word of Jeroboam that would provide for the defense of Israel, but he was not glad to bring word that would bring salvation for his enemies. He desired the good of his own people more than he desired taking the good news to all people.
And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9)
- We can be more concerned about our own empty desires than we are about others’ eternal destinies. Then when we get to Jonah 4, we see that God gave Jonah some shade, then takes it away. Jonah complains with such warped priorities, being more concerned about his own empty desires over the eternal destiny of others. Is that possible for you and me? •
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1–3)
- We can fail to connect the mercy of God in our lives with the mission of God in the world. Don’t miss this. Jonah was glad to receive the mercy of God in his own life, but was unwilling to extend God’s mercy to others.
And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle? (Jonah 4:11)
Let me just ask, particularly in light of what we’re talking about tonight, how many of us ever find ourselves in situations where we would rather have our way than God’s will? How easy is it for you or me to settle for having a good life among those whom we are familiar instead of giving our lives to take the gospel to people who are foreign to us, even to some who may want to harm us? How focused can you and I be on petty comforts and desires right in front of us when we are surrounded by souls in need of Jesus? How easy is it for us as Christians to sit back in our churches as recipients of the mercy of God and go on with our lives with just a simple tip of our hat to the mission of God in the world? It is possible. It is dangerously possible for pride in our own nation to keep us from compassion for all nations.
40. God requires His people to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him.
This is the last truth to close out the Old Testament portion of this journey.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
These are words straight from God Who requires His people to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
- This is the good life according to God.
- This leads to good government under God.
Session 3 Discussion Questions
(Law, History, Wisdom, Prophets)
1. As the sovereign Creator, God has ultimate authority and governance over all things. Why is this truth critical to our view of human governments?
2. Given government’s most basic responsibilities, why is an imperfect government better than no government?
3. God expects earthly rulers to reflect His own just governance. How are citizens benefitted when a government rules with justice?
4. In what ways does a government reflect the God or gods of its people? How can you see this dynamic in the government that you live under?
5. List some differences between the world’s standards for a leader and God’s standards.
6. In your own words, explain what it means to govern with biblical wisdom.
7. The prophets confronted Israel’s sinful leaders. If we never speak against the sins of our favorite political leaders or parties, what does this say about our allegiances?
8. What are some ways we show allegiance to government over allegiance to God?
9. What are some examples of unjust leadership in the Old Testament?
10. What are some ways that love for our own nation can keep us from compassion for all nations? In what ways have you allowed your desire for comfort to keep you from extending mercy to others?