On biblical government…

I was asked last night to respond to a question on Facebook:

From a Biblical perspective, which form of government is better and why? Representative Democracy (Republic — USA) or Monarchy (Divine Right of Kings — Middle Ages)?

When I tried to post a comment this morning, it would not post. And since it’s an interesting topic in this soon-to-be-election season, I thought I would post the answer here…it should automatically post in FB as well…here goes

Well, at first blush I have to say that representative government is the biblical model. But not the kind of ‘representative government’ most folks think of. If you look at how Yahweh structured the government of His covenant people, Israel, it was properly considered a ‘theocracy.’ Yahweh was the ‘capital-K’ King, and those who ruled were ‘theocrats.’ They were a representative government, but they were representing Yahweh, as opposed to representing the people, in their governance.

We refer to Israel as a ‘unified monarchy’ under Saul, David and Solomon, and as a ‘divided monarchy’ thereafter. In the unified monarchy there are two ‘types’ of kings, Saul and David. Saul is a king after the hearts of the people (in the Greek…”Demos”) and David after God’s heart. And the ultimate Davidic king, the one who has a heart after God’s own heart, is the one who understands in his heart that Yahweh is King, and he is king.

There is a passage self-referring as “the last words of  David” starting at 1 Samuel 23:1:

“Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, ‘The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain. Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.’” (1 Samuel 23:1-5)

I don’t think that there is any place in the Scriptures that gives a more fulsome description of the qualifications for those that that govern than “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” This is a principle, and the Scriptures provide a whole lot of principial teaching.

Further on the comment to Aaron: That passage in Leviticus and the following verses make it clear that the king is to not become lifted up in his own eyes (as Saul did). In particular, he is to make a copy of the law BY HS OWN HAND, that he will have it and have no excuse, because he will have had to read and write every word.

I’m going to make analogical reference to what I understand the Scriptures to teach with regard to the government of the church. The Scriptures give principles in that regard. I think it is inescapable that the New Testament, primarily the Epistles, set forth the principle that churches are to be led by a plurality of elders. And we are given an instruction that all things are to be done decently and in good order. Is Congregationalism (as set out in, say, Savoy) an acceptable form of church government? Is there a plurality of elders and are things done decently and in good order? If so, then yes. Presbyterianism? Episcopacy? If the answer to the question is the same, then they are acceptable.

I think that you can analogize from that situation to civil government. Can a monarch be just and rule in the fear of God? As much as sinful man can, yes, it is possible. Can a representative form of government, such as we have? Same answer. The fact that neither does is not so much evidence that it’s not the ‘right one’ as it is of the sinfulness of man.

I will note that as we look back at the unified monarchy, and to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, that the king was not Yahweh’s sole representative in governing. There were prophets and priests as well. They were to serve (in many ways) as the correcting influence on the monarch. But even this factor is not determinative. Christ’s church is supposed to have a prophetic role in whatever context she finds herself, and at every level.

So…much as Socrates turned prior philosophy on its ear by saying “Know yourself,” I guess I have gone a different direction than you were thinking.

I am afraid that at the end of the day it all comes down to men. Whether the one ruling is monarch or Demos, if justice and the fear of God are not in place, if the representative is not representing Yahweh, it won’t go well.

Christ’s blessings on you.

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4 Responses to On biblical government…

  1. Great thoughts on a sticky and hotly-debated subject! I enjoyed reading. 🙂

  2. Trisha says:

    Thank you, Pastor Brainerd. We enjoyed discussing this around the dinner table last night.

  3. Tom Brainerd says:

    Reblogged this on Livin' in the foothills and commented:

    Somebody looked at this one from the Archive today. Seems appropriate for our current time.

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