Politics were important even in Israel 2000 years ago. In Acts 25, Paul was standing before Festus, and there were pretty high stakes for Paul.
Act 25:9 But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?
Act 25:10 Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.
Act 25:11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.
Paul understood the legal system. He knew that if he went back to Jerusalem, it would be nothing more than a show trial. He also knew that he did not do anything wrong, so he wanted justice to be done as well as to fulfill the previous prophecy that he would go to Rome. Festus might have been willing to humor the Jewish people for some reason, but Paul knew what he was allowed to do.
Taking this into modern society, there are still governments. We don’t live in anarchy. It seems to me then that we need to be as aware as Paul was. He knew the reality that was around him, and he knew how the government worked. He knew he could appeal, and he exercised that right because he saw the political implications of not doing so.
Obviously, I know that many people are not interested in politics or government. However, I think that one thing we can see from Paul here is that he at least knew and understood the situation he was in and how to make the best of it. As we saw earlier, he understood he had to go to Rome. He was able to utilize even the governmental structure at the time to advance the mission.
What is our job on earth? We are to glorify God in all that we do. If we can do that by working through government, then there’s no problem.
Ecclesiastes 8 presents a potential problem, and this was a lot of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer must have gone through when he was in Nazi Germany.
Ecc 8:2 I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
Ecc 8:3 Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
Ecc 8:4 Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
Ecc 8:5 Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.
Here on earth, there are people who are given powerful positions. We might really support some of them, and we might really disagree with others. How then do we handle this passage in Ecclesiastes?
On the surface, it seems pretty obvious. We submit to those who are put in authority. God put them there. Verse two seems to point that out clearly.
Verse three seems similarly wise. Don’t go away from the king and do something evil. Notice that there is something implied here. This implies that the king will not lead you down the bad path, but in actuality, there have been kings that do evil. As I mentioned above, Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived under one of the worst rulers of all time. Was he obligated to do everything that Adolf Hitler wanted?
I think that the important thing to remember about this passage is that it was written at a specific time for a specific purpose. Certainly, the rulers of Israel were not perfect on the whole, but their law was based on the word of God. The people themselves had problems, but the law was not the problem. The same cannot be said for laws that are created today without regard for the Bible.
I think that the essence of the rule is still the same. We ought to submit to our rulers. God has put them there for a purpose. There are other places in Scripture that support that argument as well. However, there is also something to be said for the case of Daniel. It was illegal to pray, but he still prayed. Why is there some kind of exception here? Shouldn’t he have listened to the commandment of the king?
Our commitment to God needs to be higher than our commitment to man. Daniel could have stopped praying, but then he would not have been doing what God wanted. God’s law was more important.
I said in the beginning that this could be a potential problem. I can certainly see the world we live in becoming less and less hospitable to Christianity. There are places in the world where our faith would be illegal right now. Say I lived in North Korea, and I was distributing Bibles. People have been killed for doing it, and it is clearly against the law. Should I stop distributing Bibles? Should the law of the country rise above the Great Commission which tells me to take the Gospel of Christ everywhere? I think the answer is rather obvious.
In Psalms 67, we read about how great it would be to have God ruling the world from the literal throne here on earth, and even though I know some people are probably already thinking, “Separation of church and state!” at least hear me out for the rest of this article.
Psa 67:1 To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song. God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah.
Psa 67:2 That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.
Psa 67:3 Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
Psa 67:4 O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah.
Psa 67:5 Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
Psa 67:6 Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.
Psa 67:7 God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.
Now, notice that we are dealing with a definite presupposition here. In this situation, if God was literally on earth running the government, these are some of the results we would see. They are entirely consistent with the character of God.
For one thing, He would be a righteous judge. The point that He is fair and just is emphasized numerous times throughout the Bible, and it would be a major improvement over what we have right now. Honestly, you hear about our justice system here in America, and it is definitely not always fair or just. I’m sure that the rest of the world is similar. With God in charge, we would have a fair judge.
Also, God would be good for the people. He would bless them. Again, we see a lot of blessings from God all throughout the Bible when people follow His way. Think about the promises at the end of Deuteronomy. The people of Israel could have blessings, or they could have curses. It really depended on how they followed God. This verse seems to be making a similar point.
Let me tell you, even if these were the only two benefits of having God govern the entire earth, they are definitely steps in the right direction as compared to where we are now. There is no world leader who is perfect, but we do serve God who is.
1 Samuel 12 essentially outlines the problem with putting our faith in worldly things.
On one hand, having a government is not a bad thing. Under the judges and even under Moses, there was a definite sense that Israel had some type of governmental structure. However, the difference lies in the fact that God put the first system in place.
At this point, the people of Israel were saying that they wanted something different than what God had put in place.
1Sa 12:12 And when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the LORD your God was your king.
They did not want to have God as their King anymore. They wanted a literal human king like every other country in the world. Wouldn’t you think that having a perfect King who had proved himself over and over again would be better than the alternative?
Getting back to my first point, the government was not the problem. Samuel even said that, despite the fact that the people should not have said they didn’t want God, this system could be successful.
1Sa 12:14 If ye will fear the LORD, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you continue following the LORD your God:
1Sa 12:15 But if ye will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then shall the hand of the LORD be against you, as it was against your fathers.
If everyone involved followed God, there’d be no problem. That makes a lot of sense. After all, we are each told to follow God, and if you scale that up to all of society, it follows that everyone should follow God.
I think that the major application from this passage reemphasizes that God should be the ultimate authority in our lives. Even if society uses different standards for measurement, God is our ultimate bottom line for truth.
I have written a few times before about the cities of refuge in Israel, and today is another time to do that. Joshua chapter 20 is a discussion between God and Joshua about these cities.
Jos 20:9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.
I think that this clearly emphasizes that God is truly a God of justice. I see that particularly in the final part of this verse. The direct purpose of these cities was to allow people who may have unintentionally killed someone a safe place to wait until the trial.
God put this system in place to establish some type of justice. He wanted to make sure that people were not dying unnecessarily. He wanted to make sure that the punishment fit the crime rather than an overreaction by an angry relative.
Although I don’t have a lot of experience with this, I would assume that if a close family member or relative died in some type of accident, it would be incredibly easy to blame whoever was with my relative at that time. That blame can lead to anger which can lead to crimes being committed.
God decided to eliminate this problem. By providing these cities, the justice system had time to work. He wanted people to be accountable for what they did, but he also wanted to make sure that the punishment fit the crime.
This takes us right back to something I wrote a few months ago about the idea of an eye for an eye. God loves justice, and that implies fairness. The punishment cannot be exponentially greater than the crime, and that punishment needs to be done through the legal system and the congregation rather than one person taking the law into his or her own hand.