The book of Proverbs is unique. The majority of Scripture's testimony follows the promised coming of the Messiah through the history of God’s chosen people, Israel. In the New Testament we see the transition in God's plan from Israel to the Church after the Jewish nation formally rejected Christ. Proverbs is different; while speaking authoritatively on the fear of the Lord, rewards and punishments, death and life, and other matters of eternal significance, it primarily provides timeless wisdom in practical matters.
One area God uses Proverbs to speak to is that of governing authority. Christians are to take Biblical principles to cultivate a Biblical understanding of government, just as in other aspects of life. The need to be practically Biblical is great. One benefit of a world that is suspicious of truth is that it forces believers to inspect our ideas and assumptions and defend them from the Bible, the only unchanging standard. The book of Proverbs is God’s gracious gift to His people in such times of uncertainty.
So what does Proverbs have to say about government? Proverbs reveals some essential principles that reflect both God’s original design and the reality of life in a fallen world.
Righteous government matters more than type of government
In the United States, we are most familiar with democracies and constitutional republics, because of the way our founding fathers chose to build a nation. However, God cares far more about righteousness than democracy. For example, Proverbs 29:14 says that “the king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established forever.” The Lord is not fundamentally opposed to monarchies; He Himself is a King, and one day Christ will be king over the whole earth. Monarchy is not inherently wrong or evil. The quality of the ruler is what matters.
Power to rule should be restricted
Righteousness is not the only standard of rule. Proverbs indicates that authority is a restricted position. That is, not everyone is qualified to hold civic office. Proverbs 19:10 says that “delight is not seemly for a fool; much less for a servant to have rule over princes.” Proverbs 30:21 agrees: “For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear: for a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat.” Although the 21st century conception tends toward all citizens having an equal voice, Proverbs indicates that this is not wise.
Rulers have authority from God
Other places in Scripture indicate that God is responsible for exalting men to the position of ruler, but the principle is also declared in Proverbs: “A divine sentence is in the lips of the king: his mouth transgresseth not in judgment” (Proverbs 16:10). The procedure of a ruler handing down a command is approved by the Lord.
Power is best wielded by few people over long periods
The size of local, state, and federal governments tends to grow. Despite how some see this as a benefit, Proverbs says a large number of ruling individuals is a sign something has gone wrong. Proverbs 28:2 puts it this way: “For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.” In other words, a large administrative government is only required when the people are sinful. Having a bureaucratic state is a sign of national disease, not of health. It is much better to have a few, wise men leading for a long period of time. Proverbs 30:29-31 says that it is innately good to have a king against whom his subjects who do not feel the need to rebel: “there be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going: a lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; A greyhound; a he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.” When Christ reigns, there will be no term limits or four-year election cycles.
Having the ruler’s favor is wise
To be at odds with rulers is a mark of judgment and not blessing. Proverbs 19:12 says that “the king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion; but his favor is as dew upon the grass.” According to Proverbs 20:2, individuals who incite rebellion are in sin: “The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.” Twice in these verses the king is compared to a roaring lion. Just as it is life-threatening to provoke a lion, it is counterproductive to antagonize a ruler; those who try to incite revolution risk the authority’s anger for their folly. “The king’s favor is toward a wise servant: but his wrath is against him that causeth shame (Proverbs 14:35).
Unrighteous citizens threaten their city’s wellbeing
The best thing for social order and civil stability is for the people to obey God. Proverbs 11:10-11 says that “when it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting. By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.” It is foolish to promote unrighteous policies; the whole city, town, county, or state will suffer.
Unrighteous rulers place their rule in jeopardy
God has designed the world so that a civic system with wise rulers and Biblical laws is the most stable and prosperous. Here are the words of Proverbs on the matter. “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness” (Proverbs 16:12). “Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy” (Proverbs 20:28). As we have already observed from Proverbs—and can additionally observe from Biblical examples and from history—wicked rulers introduce turmoil, rebellion, and economic hardship into their sphere of authority. Proverbs 24:23-25 says this: “These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment. He that saith unto the wicked, ‘Thou art righteous’; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him. But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.” These verses explain two things we see in our nation today. First, we see that when rulers are ungodly, they also attempt to limit the free expression of the people who rebuke them. Second, we see that despite the turmoil, virtuous people will stand their ground to rebuke unrighteous leaders rather than simply submit to wickedness.
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at email@example.com.
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