Governance: What's the Godly Way?
Updated: Dec 2, 2018
The prophets of the Old Testament were an unpopular group, but they endured ridicule, persecution, enslavement, and abuse for the sake of Israel. To these prophets though, their hearts broke more for the state of Israel, who forsook their God, the God who led them out of Egypt, for idols, the lure of riches, and the faculties of men. They were, in essence, an extension of God's governance. God spoke to the prophets and they, in turn, relayed what God was saying to the people. This format, of course, was the first alternative to man walking with God in the garden free of sin. This alternative, though, still honored God as judge, until the eighth chapter of Samuel, when some brazen leaders asked instead for a king.
A BIBLICAL TURNING POINT - 1ST SAMUEL 8: ISRAEL DEMANDS A KING
"So Samuel spoke all the words of the Lord to the people who had asked of him a king.11 He said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots.12 He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.13 He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers.14 He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants.15 He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants.16 He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work.17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.18 Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
One would think that after this warning, from the appointed, anointed, and very accurate Samuel, Israel's leaders would clear the cob webs in their thinking and submit to God, fearing imminent hardship and doom. But amazingly they doubled down.
"Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
There are three glaring characteristics in this response.
1. [they] refused to listen to the voice of Samuel - This speaks of rebellion - the chief and most original of all sin. Samuel's voice was an extension of God's voice and to refuse to listen is the most brazen disregard for God's ways imaginable.
2. ...that we also may be like all the nations - This, like point #3, is holding man in higher regard than God. It's the fear of man, the trap of comparison, and the idol of self-gratification all wrapped up in one.
3. ...that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles - This is replacing God with man, and man himself can become an idol, and perhaps the most dangerous of all. As if God had not gone before Israel and fought her battles before - how quickly they had forgotten.
The Pros to this system - There were righteous kings in Israel after this turning point, although much rarer than wicked ones, and God in His grace and mercy actually prospered Israel and won her wars thereafter. David and Josiah come to mind as two of the several kings that were after God's heart and ways. The condition, though, with having a Godly king or ruler is that he has to actually be Godly!
The Cons to this system - Ahab comes to mind as the worst example, in fact, scripture (1st Kings 16) actually cites his top rank evil doing. These were the kings who traded Godly governance for the advice of fools, the pursuit of selfish gain, or the oracles of false gods and idols.
Even after Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, the monarchical system was still a predominant form of government even up to a few hundred years ago. But as rulers phased God out their rule became progressively more tyrannical. When you boil it down it's quite simple: if one person is making all the decisions for the welfare of a nation that person better be hearing from God or surely the people will be neglected.
So, although there were many revolutions, reformations and periods in Europe (I don't mean to skip over centuries of history, but only to prove my point) which produced some governmental corrections and a few just rulers, nations began to experiment with representative forms of government. That's how we land on America's system, the way it was initially intended and for the most part has been maintained.
The Best Possible Substitute in the History of the World - [Economically, Socially, & to the benefit of the Church] - The Democratic Republic
The first key to understanding this new, unique form of representative government is understanding the nature of America's founding. (1) Next, who were the founders and what did they believe? (2) Finally, why and how was this version of government different than other democracies of the age? (3)
1. Principally, the first few waves of settlers to America were fleeing the harsh religious persecution of Europe. There were fur traders, profiteers, and explorers, but the bulk of these American progenitors were Christian separatists. This alone is quite unique to the founding of a country. They risked the journey and the uncertainty of an unknown land for the purpose of their relationship with God and their Christian community. What a great start!
2. On the whole, the founders were a very Godly lot. A strange, new version of history has tried to challenge this fact but primary documents and objective measurements of history overwhelmingly support this reality. This was a group that commonly prayed and fasted to hear God on how to govern. If you read letter correspondence between founders of this era you see a deep reverence to God and a burning desire to please Him. The personal lives of most of these first politicians were marked with honor, diligence, and a degree of righteousness. These men adopted a culture of deference, which is simply a form of humility that would turn to the most expert and experienced person or group on a particular topic. In other words, if you didn't know "anything" about "something," you probably didn't push your opinion. This formula produced our founding documents (The Declaration of Independence - 1776) and (The Constitution - 1787). This formula also, more broadly, accounted in America for what I'd call a "Christian culture." This culture, in my view, directly led to America's prosperity, sound governing, wartime victories, and place of honor in the world in the years to follow.
3. A unique understanding that our founders had as they waded through the details at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was the perils of centralized government. Remember, they were on the losing end of extreme harassment, over-taxation, injustice, bribery, and other abuses for many years at the hands of the British government. This coupled with point #1, that from the start, these "Americans" deeply believed in religious freedom, was the basis for their forging of a democratic republic. Mechanisms were built into this government that could prevent the Center from abusing the populace. History has afforded us, in my opinion, proof that this American system of government, in its purest form, is the best alternative to the governing of God's prophets & judges or a just king like David. Alexis De Tocqueville marveled at this wrinkle in the 1830's when he observed the American way and penned "Democracy in America." He admired the system but also the ingenuity, innovation, inventiveness, and unselfishness that he saw in its individuals.
And that's just it, individuals, albeit living in community, that are free to choose or to come and go. Individuals having the ability to prosper with God with little interference, I believe, is a good way to govern. That two-way has to be stewarded well in order to be prosperous, and the government should enforce and ensure some basic standards, but for the most part, freedom really does work. Consider, as a final point, 1st Chronicles 21:7-17. Here we see the people of Israel paying dearly for David's wrongdoing. The effects of his sin as king spelled disaster for the land. On the other hand, the freest possible form of representative government masters the idea of personal responsibility, and what's more just than being accountable for your actions and words to God and others? What's more just than reaping what you've sown? On judgment day you'll give an account for what you've done before God, not on behalf of anyone else. You don't get a proxy for your life on that day!
When I think and write about our history of governing as a country I'm truly thankful. It's just about the best there is! What a gift! Join me in working to preserve it!
- JF D'Orsie - Communications Director - PCC