Let me begin by saying that I am a card-carrying member of the United States of America. I was born and raised here. I have a birth certificate. I have a driver’s license. I pay taxes. My children went to public school. My wife teaches in a public school. I’m registered to vote, and most elections I exercise that privilege. I’ve never even set foot outside our borders.
I say all this to let you know that this post isn’t a bashing of America or the American political process, and if you read any of that into it that’s your doing not mine. I’m just trying to draw your attention today to what I’ve felt for years is an interesting thought from the Bible about politics in general. As for applying it to your life, there’s really no way you can. So, this isn’t some rah-rah “call to arms” kind of thing by which I’m trying to motivate you to go out and do something. Consider this, instead, just another little nugget of Biblical knowledge for your spiritual collection. And what is this thought that I find so interesting? It’s this: God didn’t establish a democracy in ancient Israel.
When the Israelites finally claimed the promised land of Canaan, Joshua was their national leader. He had replaced Moses in that role when Moses had died. But in claiming Canaan, the Israelites didn’t do a thorough enough job in either driving out or killing off the other races that called Canaan home. Consequently, long after Joshua’s death Israel had to deal with periodic military threats from those races. This is vividly on display in the book of Judges that follows the book of Joshua.
The time-period of Israel’s Judges lasted for approximately 350 years. It’s important to note, though, that Israel’s Judges were not national leaders the way Moses and Joshua had been. They were, instead, regional leaders whom God raised up to deal with localized military threats as needed. However, once a person had been cast into the role of Judge, he (or she, in Deborah’s case) would serve in that capacity for the rest of their life, and many of the Judges held that title for decades.
Israel’s last Judge was Samuel (1 Samuel 7:15), who also served as a Priest and a Prophet. Even though his home was in Ramah, each year he traveled a circuit that took him to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:16). At each stop he rendered decisions in regards to civil, religious, and military matters. The people of Israel loved Samuel, respected his wisdom, and obeyed his instructions. Everything worked well until Samuel grew too old to continue in his duties and made the mistake of installing his sons, Joel and Abijah, as his successors. These two men did not walk in Samuel’s ways and were well known for chasing after dishonest gain, accepting bribes, and perverting justice (1 Samuel 8:3). Because of this, the elders of the tribes of Israel got together and made a trip to Ramah to present Samuel with an alternative plan. They wanted Samuel to appoint a King over all Israel.
To say that Samuel wasn’t on board with the idea would be an understatement. He understood better than anyone that Israel functioned at its idyllic best when they let God be their King and let Him speak through the Prophets, the Judges, and the Mosaic law. Scholars call this a Theocracy, as opposed to a Monarchy (where a King rules) or a Democracy. To his credit, though, Samuel took the matter to the Lord in prayer. I figure that he was hoping that God would tell him to take a strong stand against the idea, and I also figure that he was disappointed with God’s answer. That answer was, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).
God did also add in that Samuel should warn the people about the potential dangers of having a King, and Samuel certainly ran wild in giving that warning. He told the people that a King would: make children serve as runners before his chariots; recruit citizens as forced labor to tend to his crops and make his weapons of war; force young women to be his cooks, bakers, and perfumers; claim a tenth of all harvests and sheep as his own; and confiscate donkeys, servants, and the finest young men and make them do his work (1 Samuel 8:11-18).
We would think that such a graphic warning would have given the Israelites pause for concern about having a King, but it didn’t. Their response was, “We will have a King over us that we may be like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Samuel then took that reply back to God, who had heard it anyway, and God said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and give them a king” (1 Samuel 8:21-22). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how ancient Israel got into the King business.
The time-period of Israel’s Kings was very much a roller-coaster ride for the nation. Some of the Kings were godly men, but others weren’t. Even the godly ones sometimes did ungodly things. For example, Solomon might generally be classified as a godly King, but he inflicted so much burden upon the people that the nation underwent a civil war after his death. This split the nation into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom (called Israel) and the southern kingdom (called Judah). Naturally, with two kingdoms operating at any given time you get two Kings operating at any given time. You can read about it all in the Bible’s books of 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles.
But now let me get back to my topic. At no point in Israel’s complex, sordid history did God ever say, “Okay, now I’m going to abolish the Kingship and install a new concept called a democracy.” This might seem strange to those of us who have never lived in anything but a democracy, but if you think about it there are certain problems that come ingrained with any democracy. Consider the following:
- In a democracy, the majority wins the vote. This works fine as long as the majority are godly people who vote as God would have them to vote. But what happens when the majority are ungodly and vote to suit themselves? At that point, God’s will doesn’t stand a chance. And, by the way, if you study your Bible you will find that God’s people are just about always in the minority (Matthew 7:13-14).
- In a democracy, everyone’s opinion counts. The problem with this is that many people couldn’t care less about God or His word. Consequently, when all voices are brought down to the same level, God’s voice doesn’t carry any real weight. His opinion simply becomes one more in a sea of opinions that all serve as little more than fodder for public debate.
- In a democracy, once a nation reaches a low ebb spiritually and morally, it is virtually impossible to get things set back right again. Why is this? It’s because even if one person gets right with God and wants to begin a national revival, he can’t do it because he is only one person. Even if this one person happens to be the President, his hands are still tied because even the President can’t impose his will in a democracy. When a King rules, if God can get the King where he needs to be spiritually, the nation can be turned back to God almost overnight as the King decrees His orders and forces them to be carried out. That can’t happen in a democracy.
Please understand now that I’m not saying that there aren’t also potential problems with a Monarchy. Samuel himself laid out a pretty sizable list of those problems, and world history has taught us that even his list didn’t scratch the surface. I guess when you get right down to it any form of government can become a problem if ungodly people are dominating it. As Proverbs 29:2 says:
“When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan.” (New Living Translation)
So, my goal today has simply been to help you better understand how politics and God either mesh together or don’t mesh together. As I said, a democracy can work fine as long the godly are the majority and they vote in ways pleasing to God, but once that set-up has been turned upside down then real trouble follows. That’s where we are in America today, and no one election that installs any one candidate is going to fix it.