the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Principles contained in the word of God find a variety of applications according to time and place. A well-known example is the admonition to love your enemy so that If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it (Exodus 23:5). God's word is unchanging and the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself (even your enemy) is likewise unchanging. Nonetheless the application of this rule varies according to time and place. Nowadays we might obey this command in helping the town gossip (who has maliciously maligned us) when we see her at the side of the road with a flat tire.
In the realm of civic polity the Bible teaches representative government. This is illustrated in the selection of judges and elders in the Mosaic economy (Numbers 11:24 etc.) and the confirmation of kings in the monarchy (1 Samuel 10:24, 11:14-15, 2 Samuel 2:4, 5:1-5 etc.). In both examples the underlying principle is self-government under God; since the individual is responsible for his own behavior before Yahweh he must participate in the selection of his civic representatives. Without involvement in the process his God-given duty of self-government is undermined.
Beyond the principle of self-government and the practice of choosing representatives the Bible does not demand a certain form of civil government. Just as it is with the law concerning a donkey fallen under its load, so it is with the biblical laws of civil society. Each nation has the God-given right to decide how it will apply these precepts. Yet, no nation has the right to ignore any of the principles of public policy provided by God's word. It is ironic that one of the generalizations often overlooked by modern Christians happens to be a construct instrumental in the birth of this nation.
In 1 Samuel chapter 14 we read of a particular battle fought by king Saul against the Philistines. At the commencement of the conflict, Saul had proclaimed that any man who ate food that day would be put to death. Jonathan, son of the king, had not heard the edict and so when he happened upon some wild honey during the battle he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb and put it to his mouth and his countenance brightened (1 Samuel 14:27). Later, after a lull in the action, Saul wanted the blessing of God in continued pursuit of his enemies. However, the ear of the Lord was deaf to his inquiries and so Saul sought a reason for the rebuff. Eventually it came to light that Jonathan had defied the King's decree and so Saul proclaimed, God do so and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:44b). However, the people said to Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who has worked out this great salvation in Israel? Far be it! As Jehovah lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan, so that he did not die (1 Samuel 14:45). Just as the people had a hand in the selection of king Saul, they also had a hand in limiting his authority.
This principle of challenging ungodly governance is at the root of our national history. Although they claimed they had been denied direct representation in Parliament, the American British colonies demanded the rights of Englishmen and thus the right of resistance (cf. The 1689 English Bill Of Rights, requiring monarchs to obey the laws of Parliament and thus ultimately uphold the principle of self government).
Next week: godly national customs encouraged by godless men.