Biblical principles concerning government

Perhaps one would ask the question: Does the Bible have anything to say about civil government? Where did the idea of government come from? What would be the purpose of government and how should governments be chosen? In previous articles, some of these questions have been addressed.

However, the first role of government should be to punish evil and encourage good. In Genesis 9:5-6, the first indication of God’s establishment in human society is mentioned. After the flood, when Noah and his family came out of the ark, God at this point says that he will require payment (“a reckoning”) for the crime of murder, and that he requires this to be carried out by other human beings: “And for your lifeblood, I will require a reckoning from every beast; I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man must his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

Here God indicates the crime of murder (expressed by the biblical image of “shedding blood”) would be repaid by the forfeiture of the criminal’s own life “by man shall his blood be shed.”

No further details are given here regarding civil government. But in speaking these words to Noah, God establishes the obligation to carry out the most severe punishment (the taking of a human life) in retribution for the most horrible crime (the murder of another human being). Once this principle is established, then the imposition of lesser penalties for lesser crimes is also validated, since if a government has the right to carry out the most severe of kind of punishment, then it certainly has the right to carry out lesser punishments for lesser crimes as well. (For example, various kinds of punishment were established for the government of the people of Israel in the laws found in Exodus to Deuteronomy).

This command, given to Noah, is significant for our purpose in the twenty-first century because that event took place long before the establishment of the people of Israel as descendants of Abraham (beginning in Genesis 12) or the establishment of the nation of Israel as a distinct nation (beginning with the exodus from Egypt in Exodus 12:33-42, the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14, and the assembly of the nation at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19-20). The commands to Noah in Genesis 9 were given at the beginning of the reestablishment of human society after God destroyed all but Noah’s family in the waters of the flood. Therefore, critical interpretation would not limit the principles in Genesis 9:5-6 to the time of the Old Testament only, or to the nation of Israel only, or to the nation of Israel only, for neither limitation is supported by the context in which these statements are found.

Another section of the Old Testament reinforces the need for government to restrain evil, for it shows that when there is no government, or the government is so weak that it cannot reinforce the laws, there are terrible destructive results. The stories in Judges 18-25 include some of the most horrible sins recorded in the Bible. These passages teach us the dreadful results of anarchy, a situation when there is no effective government at all, for “in those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

The tragic narrative in Judges shows in gruesome detail why civil government is badly needed among sinful human beings. Where there is no ruler, sinful people make up their own morality and soon begin to do terrible things to one another. If there is no governmental authority to stop evil people, evil simply increases.

Regrettably, we are witnessing a serious increase in crime and violence, some of which are being committed in broad daylight. We have become prisoners in our own homes and there is a fear gripping the nation. What is even more disgusting is that some of the perpetrators are those who should be defending the nation. Something is drastically wrong, and the government needs to get tough on crime, not just to verbalise it, but to seek ways by which this country will be protected and that the citizens will be able to go about their business in peace without wondering if he or she will be the next victim.

Even the church has become a target by these perpetrators since they are being broken into and desecrated as their instruments of worship, etc, are being stolen. There was a time when the church was revered; unfortunately, this has become a thing of the past. We need to get back the fear of God in this country – “Blessed is the country whose God is the Lord.”

When the very foundation is being destroyed, what will the righteous do? We need a revival, a spiritual awakening and a cleansing in our country. These are serious and desperate times and so the situation demands that we get desperate for more of God and less of man. We need to take off the mask of religion and self-righteousness and ask God for his divine intervention.