The Bible clearly portrays the truth about government: God is the sovereign ruler from which all authority flows (Rom 12:1-7). Since last fall, we’ve been working through what the Old Testament reveals about God and government in a series of blog articles. Before we turn to the New Testament, let’s pause and review what we’ve covered so far.
What Genesis Tells Us About the Nature of Man and Government
Part 1 explains creation through Abraham. Read the first article here.
Adam and Eve were partners. They ruled over creation together, but not over other men. Man was created free under God’s rule and as God’s vice-regent for rule over creation. But Adam failed to govern himself appropriately over his dominion in the Garden. Here is the launch of governments as sanctioned by God.
The pre-flood world was ruled by heroic, strong, and self-driven men. There was no external standard to govern by, which led the world to become “filled with violence.” Mankind’s sinful inner nature invited God’s judgment in the flood, saving one righteous man, Noah.
At this point, local and clannish governments were established to limit violence and retribution. The exceptions include Sodom and Gomorrah, both of which have kings and called down direct judgment from God.
The Journey from Pharaoh to a King for Israel
Part 2 explains the span between Pharaoh and Saul. Read the second article here.
Although Joseph was wise, trustworthy, and virtuous, his power enslaved his people as tenants to Egypt. Israel was crumbling under the oppression of Egypt’s government and tyrannical Pharaoh for hundreds of years.
Moses redeems the Israelites as God’s “slaves,” his “possession,” his “kingdom” as “priests.” Their earthly mission is to exemplify how a people ruled by God should live. It’s a theocratic arrangement, until the Torah allows for the possibility of a king who “the Lord your God chooses” (Deut 17:15).
Israel remains king-less until the time of Samuel, the beginning of the period of the prophets, when the people rebel against God’s kingship and demand a human king.
What Happened When Israel Demanded a King?
Part 3 discusses Israel’s first kings. Read the third article here.
The people desired a king to fight their battles, but they do not heed Samuel’s warnings about who a king will “take” until the people cry out for relief.
First, Saul comes into power and the people swiftly reject their “God who saves.” This first king ends up being rebellious, capricious, and on the verge of witchcraft and depression.
God rejects him and installs a more ideal candidate, one who is subservient to God, his prophets, and his priests. King David is a sharp contrast to Saul’s character. Despite his tragic sin and humiliation, David exemplified the limitation of monarchy under God and the theme of David as shepherd and prince, with the addition of “servant.”
The Failure of the Monarchy in Israel
Part 4 covers the final remaining men in Israel’s monarchy. Read the fourth article here.
David’s son, Solomon, oppressively pursued policies that glorified himself, his kingdom, and even the Lord’s house. His actions led to the breakdown of kingdom unity, a direct result of his failure to assume a role as “servant” as his father David had done. He understood power and was committed to maintaining a strong governmental hand, one even stronger than that of David—including harsh punishments for those he felt threatened by and heavy tax burdens on his people.
Solomon’s government was already large and his heir, Rehoboam, made it even bigger. Ten of Israel’s twelve tribes seceded from the union and went to war to secure their secession.
The lure of kingly prerogatives warned about during the initial clamor for a new form of government in the days of Samuel proved too much to overcome. No attempts at establishing treaty relationships with the great powers of the day saved the kingdom. The Assyrians swallowed up the north (722 BC), and Babylon carried off the south (607-586 BC).
The Gap Between’s Israel’s Monarchy and their True King
Part 5 is about what happens between Israel’s earthly kings and the arrival of their true king. Read the fifth article here.
At this place in history, Israel’s prophets are emphasizing God as their king, as the coming one who will rule in light of the failure of the Davidic monarchy. Ezekiel gives a vision of an ideal Temple and rule to come where the “prince” will no longer cheat the people in the marketplace or steal their land. The Psalms point to the shepherd who will fulfill the promise and who will suffer for/with his people.
Israel, from Abraham’s day forward, has always found itself in tension with overpowering empires as well as petty kings. The unique character of the Hebrew Scriptures is that they unrelentingly concentrate on Israel’s failure to live up to the call and mission she has been given to exhibit justice and righteousness to the nations.
Editor’s Note: This series was adapted from the IFWE research paper, God and Government: A Biblical Perspective (The Bible and Limited Government) by Dr. Tom Pratt. Read the full paper here.