Submission: In Society

Forms of Government

The nation of Israel under the priesthood should have continued as a theocracy in which God and His Word would govern the nation. Sadly, they rejected God’s rule in favor of having their own king, so to be like the surrounding nations. Samuel, the prophet and judge, spelt out the high price of monarchy (1Sa 8:10-18). Overall, it was not a success. After being united for 120 years under Saul, David and Solomon, the kingdom divided. All of the northern kings turned out to be evil; that kingdom was exiled to Assyria. The southern kingdom had the advantage of being ruled by several godly kings but, even then, their progress was inconsistent. God disciplined them through the Babylonian captivity and exile. Effectively, the monarchy had ended, even if in later years the Romans installed a puppet regime of leaders under the family known as the Herods.

In the western world, advocates of democracy claim that everyone has a voice and a vote. Other forms of government are also found worldwide: autocracy (the rule of one man) or oligarchy (the rule of a small elite group). These latter forms are often corrupt and descend into cruel dictatorships. However, even a democracy can be easily marred by a manipulative and self-serving elected government.

Interestingly, most of the great men of God in Bible times lived under authoritarian societies. And yet, their testimonies shone out all the brighter for the darkness around them. They were respectful before the authorities, even when confronted with difficult challenges to their faith. There are many examples of those who submitted to authority and those who rebelled, leaders who ruled well and others who did not. Several of these are mentioned briefly.

Slavery in Egypt

We recall the suffering of the teenager Joseph. He was a faithful son in his father’s house in Canaan, a trustworthy slave in his master’s house in Egypt, and a responsible inmate in Pharaoh’s prison house. He accepted God’s will in his trials. Finally, when elevated to the royal house itself, he was indispensable as the wise savior of the people in a time of famine. His secret was that “the Lord was with him” (Gen 39:3,21,23).

Moses’ pathway to leadership was a long and challenging one. In contrast to Joseph, Moses began in the palace in Egypt and ended up in the desert. A new Pharaoh meant new attitudes, especially regarding the burgeoning number of Jacob’s descendants. Egyptian fear and animosity meant that the Israelites were persecuted as slaves. God declared that He had seen their affliction and heard their cries and He would deliver them. They did not need to take matters into their own hands.

Rebellion in the Desert

Moses was described as being the meekest man upon the earth (Num 12:3). As the divinely confirmed leader of the nation, he needed to be! The children of Israel were wayward and rebellious. They were constantly murmuring, criticizing, and despising Moses’ authority. They accused him of leading them into the desert to die there. No sooner had he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the tables of the law than they fell headlong into gross idolatry.

Later, Korah and his associates rose up against Moses and Aaron. Their accusation was dressed up to sound spiritual, but at the root of it was a desire for power and control (Num 16:3). Judgement from God was severe and many died. One would have expected the people to be humbled and fearful. Sadly, they were soon back to complaining about their leaders.

Anarchy in the Land

There was great instability in the land of Canaan after Joshua had completed his conquests. The times that followed were marked by repeated cycles of spiritual backsliding. God intervened by allowing Israel’s enemies to conquer and subdue them. This brought them to their senses, and when they cried out in repentance, God sent them a judge to deliver them once again. The commentary on those turbulent times was stark: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21:25).[1]

Betrayal in the Palace

One incident in the life of King David brought pain and anguish to his heart. He had a proud and ambitious son called Absalom. He used his good looks and persuasiveness to undermine the king and gain a following. The Bible says that “Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2Sa 15:6). An elaborate but bloodless coup was enacted that resulted in King David’s fleeing from Jerusalem and being in exile for a time. Eventually, Absalom was killed by Joab and the rightful king could return. Once again, we are confronted with the evil heart of men who would usurp God’s authority as invested in the leaders of His people.

Pressure in Babylon and Peril in Persia

Daniel and his three friends were exiled teenagers in Babylon. They outshone all other young men who were being schooled in Babylonian ways, but they consistently refused to abandon or even compromise their trust in the living God. The fiery furnace and the den of lions were both overcome by faith: “But the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (Dan 11:32). The situation in Persia was even more extreme. Genocide loomed large, but through Mordecai and Queen Esther the exiled Jews were saved. Once again, God preserved His faithful remnant.

Imprisonment Under Rome

The apostle Paul and many other Christians in the early Church suffered persecution under the Roman authorities. We hear Paul arguing his own legal case and pleading for justice, but he did not advocate a rebellion. Rather, he committed himself to God and continued to uphold the principle that “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom 13:1-7). We should be subject to them and be law-abiding. However, if they legislate against our practicing our faith, for example, by banning the preaching of the gospel, we are free to put God and His Word first and continue preaching. This might mean we will suffer the consequences (Act 4:17-20).

“But what if …?”

What if one lives under an oppressive regime? Is there not a case for protesting and rising up to overthrow the authorities? The Bible gives no such license. It enjoins respect for those who rule. Indeed, we are to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1Ti 2:2).

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.