A Handbook of Bible Law - Government & civil officers

Copyright 1991 by Charles A. Weisman. 2nd Edition: Aug., 1992; 3rd Edition: Dec., 1994

Government & civil officers

Comments: Both secular history and the Bible show that the original human society was the family. Families which increased and survived expanded into clans and clans into tribes. Within the leadership and authority in these societies were the roots of government. A union of tribes formed a nation, such as with the twelve tribes of Israel.

Government, by its definition, is a means or system of regulation and control of something. It is a condition of being governed. The family or clan was governed by the patriarch or head of the house. The principle and need of such control is thus well established. When Israel was freed from Egypt, becoming a separate nation, they were governed by civil-military leaders such as Moses and Joshua. But after the death of Joshua the people ...

... did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; and they forsook the LORD God" (Judges 2:11-12).

The people were quickly led astray without Joshua to govern them. They became plundered by their enemies and there was great calamity and distress throughout the nation. To put the people back on a righteous course, God established a unique form of civil government-a government by Judges:

"Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them" (Judges 2:16).

The government of the judges forms the most unique and singular part of the Hebrew institutions. The kings, the priests, the generals, the heads of tribes-all these offer some points of comparison with the same functionaries in other nations; but the judges stand alone in the history of the world. It was an office ordained by God not by man.

A nation can survive corrupted leaders, administrators and even citizens to an extent, for all become amenable to the law via the judicial system. But as the judicial system becomes corrupted so does all order and justice.

In many of the instances in the Bible the appointment of judges seems to have been by the free, unsolicited choice of the people. Their authority was limited by the law alone. They could issue orders, but not enact laws; they could neither levy taxes nor appoint officers. Thus under the Hebrew Constitution or frame of Government, judges were a separate governmental body as they are under our law.

The Bible lays down many principles and guidelines for government and for those exercising governmental authority. The first and foremost principle is that all power and authority is from God and is to be used for godly aims: "For he (civil officer) is a minister of God to you for good . . . to execute wrath upon him that does evil" (Rom. 13:4). And as Martin Luther says:

"'For God has delegated to civil magistrates in place of parents the right to punish evil-doers " (1 Luther's Cat. Writings 79).

This Bible states that it is by the power of God that "kings reign and princes decree justice, and judges rule and preside" (Prov. 8:15-16). Since all authority originates and comes from God, it should be that all valid government be based upon God's laws. When officers or judges in authority do not exercise that authority for its designated purpose, the obligation to them would consequently ceases to exist. This was the basis of the American Revolution in 1776.

God has provided us with rules and guidelines for the selection, support and election of civil officers and judges, who are to control the affairs of government as His minister:

"Moreover thou shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties. . . "' (Exod. 18:21).

Civil officers in government are to possess the qualifications God requires of such men, not those who may appeal to us. They are to be men who desire truth and justice rather than the prestige of office; they are to fear God rather than persons or the power of special interest groups

8A - Requirements of Civil Leaders

  1. Leaders chosen must be wise and just. Deut. 1:13; 2 Sam. 23:3; Psa. 2:10; Prov. 21:10; Prov. 29:14; Ezek. 45:9.
  2. Civil leaders are to be diligent in governing. Rom. 12:8.
  3. Civil leaders are to be men of truth, hating covetousness. Exod. 18:21.
  4. Civil leaders, judges and officers are to fear God. Exod. 18:21; Deut. 17:19; 2 Sam. 23:3; 2 Chron. 19:7, 9; Psa. 2:10-11.
  5. Civil leaders are to be of God. Deut. 17:15; Hos. 8:4; Prov. 8:15-16; Rom. 13:1.
  6. Rulers are not to be a terror to good behavior, but rather to the wicked and evil doers. Prov. 20:26; Rom. 13:3-4.
  7. Civil rulers are not to use their office and position to bring gain to themselves. Deut. 17:16-17.
  8. Civil rulers are ministers of God for good. Rom. 13:4.
  9. Irresponsible civil leaders are they who are either blind, ignorant, lazy, greedy, self-centered, drunkards, or act for their own gain. Isa. 56:10-12.
  10. Civil rulers are to record, preserve, study and proclaim the law of God at all times. Exod. 18:20; Deut. 17:18-20; Deut. 31:9, 24-26; Josh. 8:32,34-35; 2 Kings 22:8-20; 2 Kings 23:1-3.
  11. If a ruler unintentionally or out of ignorance violates the law and the violation comes to his knowledge, he shall make restitution for it. Lev. 4:22-23.
  12. Civil leaders and authorities are to be men not women. Exod. 18:21; Deut. 1:13, 15; Isa. 3:12.
  13. Government officers are to execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor; they are to do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in the land. Jer. 22:3.
  14. Government officers that engage in conspiracy, treachery and murder are to be put to death. Judges 9:1-57.
  15. The Law of God is to be read in public addresses by civil leaders to direct the course of society and government. Josh. 8:34-35; 2 Kings 23:1-3; 2 Chron. 17:7-9; 2 Chron. 34:30; Neh. 13:1-3.
  16. A good civil leader or judge is from God, and keeps a people from rebelling against the ways of God. Judges 2:18-19; Judges 3:9-12.
  17. Civil authorities who are oppressive do not understand justice. Prov. 28:5,16.
  18. Lying is unbecoming in rulers. Prov. 17:7.
  19. If a ruler hearken to lies, all his aides and ministers become wicked. Prov. 29:12.
  20. Those in government are not to consult mediums or spiritists for guidance but are to inquire of the LORD. 1 Chron. 10:13-14.
  21. Civil leaders are not to drink lest it causes them to forget the law and pervert justice. Prov. 31:4-5.
  22. Civil rulers are to be chosen from among thy brethren or race, we are not to put a stranger (an alien or one of another race) over us in a position of authority. Exod. 18:21; Deut 17:15; Jer. 30:21.
  23. God will punish civil authorities who punish unjustly and contrary to the law. Acts 23:1-3.
  24. It is an abomination for a civil ruler to commit wickedness, for his office is established on righteousness. Prov. 16:12.

    8B - Frame of Government

    1. The powers of government are appointed by God and are in His hand. Prov. 8:15-16; Prov. 21:1; Rom. 13:1
    2. A distribution of power and levels of authority are to be established-rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. Exod. 18:21, 25; Deut 1:13-15.
    3. Judges, magistrates and officers are to be appointed in all towns and cities. Deut 16:18; 2 Chron. 19:5; Ezra 7:25.
    4. The less wicked a government is, the more the righteous will prosper. Prov. 28:12, 28.
    5. Government is to be for the punishment of the evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. Rom. 13:3; 1 Pet 2:14.
    6. Warnings against an all-powerful leader, king or central government. 1 Sam. 8:9-22.
    7. When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn. Prov. 29:2.
    8. Government officials are to be chosen by the people. Deut. 1:13; Deut 16:18.
    9. When the wicked are removed from the presence of civil leaders, the government will be established in righteousness. Prov. 25:5.

    8C - Judges & Magistrates

    1. Judges were originally established by God. Judges 2:16, 18; 2 Sam. 7:11.
    2. Judges shall justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. Deut. 25:1-3.
    3. Judges shall righteously judge the causes and transgressions between persons with just judgment. Lev. 19:15; Deut 1: 16; Deut 16:18; 1 Sam. 2:25; 2 Sam. 7:11; 2 Chron. 19:5; Psa. 82:2-4; Prov. 31:9.
    4. Judges are not to be partial or respect persons in judgment, but shall equally judge the small as well as the great. Exod. 23:31 6; Deut 1:17; Lev. 19:15; 2 Chron. 19:7; Prov. 18:5; Prov. 24:23; James 2:9.
    5. Judges are not to take a gift or bribe. 2 Chron. 19:7.
    6. Judges are to judge the people at all times. Exod. 18:22, 26.
    7. Judges and magistrates are to know the laws of God. Ezra 7:25.
    8. Judges judge not for man but for God. Deut. 1: 17; 2 Chron. 19:6.
    9. The judge that justifies the wicked and condemns the just is an abomination to God. Prov. 17:15.
    10. Wisdom and knowledge is needed and should be prayed for in order to judge between good and bad. 1 Kings 3:9; 2 Chron. 1:10; James 1:5.
    11. Judges are to judge matters according to the laws, statutes, commandments, and judgments of God. Exod. 18:16; 2 Chron. 19:10.

    8D - Obligations to Officers and Government

    1. We should respect and give obedience to rulers and authorities who preside as God's ministers. Deut. 17:12-13; Josh. 1:16-17; Rom. 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet 2:13-14, 17; 2 Pet 2:10.
    2. Disobedience to government is justified when government requires an ungodly or unlawful act. Exod. 1:15-20; Josh. 2:1-18.
    3. We should pray for civil leaders. Ezra 6:10; 1 Tim. 2:1-2.
    4. It is not proper to despise government. 2 Pet 2:10.
    5. Rebellion is justified by oppressive laws and taxes. 2 Chron. 10:13-19.
    6. We should disregard laws prohibiting the gospel. Acts 4:18-21; Acts 27-29.
    7. We should not rebel or cause insurrection against the established government. 2 Sam. 20:1-22.
    8. You shall not curse or speak evil of civil rulers or dignitaries. Exod. 22:28; Acts 23:5; 2 Pet. 2:10; Jude 1: 8.
    9. Submit to them that have civil authority. Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 2:13-14.
    10. We are not to submit to human edicts when in conflict with Divine laws. Dan. 3:10-18; Dan. 6:7-23; Acts 4:13-21; Acts 5:16-32.

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