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Proverbs & Rulers



Blog title card; topic is what does the Bible say about government
Proverbs & Rulers

God has authority over the whole world. The earth we see, the fullness of it, and the people populating it belong to the Lord (Psalm 24:1). His jurisdiction, then, extends over everything He has created. The book of Proverbs doesn’t spend much time discussing God’s role as Creator, except to say in chapter 8 that wisdom is the thread God used to stitch the material world out of nothing. Wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10), still firmly secures the fabric for successful living in God’s world. Ignore wisdom, and life will unravel.

Wisdom is a universal law that all people obey to their benefit and reject to their peril. As studying Proverbs demonstrates, wisdom makes demands on those with authority as well as those under authority. Rulers are not exempt from God’s demands because they create and enforce laws, just like fathers are not exempt from God’s laws just because they are the heads of their home. Thus, what God says, rulers should obey. In Proverbs 8:15-16, wisdom personified says this: “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.” The instruction for civil rulers to be wise is rather general, so God gives those in charge more requirements throughout Proverbs. Here are general commands Proverbs gives to those in positions of civil authority.


Rule according to God’s law


The most authoritative source for legal and administrative rule is found in Scripture. In fact, rulers who reject or replace God’s Word with another source of moral authority will form alliances with those they ought to rebuke or punish. “They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them” (Proverbs 28:4). Applying God’s revealed Word, especially (for rulers) the codified principles of Israel’s civil law, with a clear head is extremely important, as the queen tells her son in Proverbs 31:4-5: It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink; lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted." A leader can be trusted to make decisions that are good for the people in direct proportion to his willingness to follow God’s Word.


Encourage prosperity in citizens


The good of the people is properly one of the central goals of a civic leader. Proverbs 14:28 says that when the citizens flourish, the ruler’s position is secure: “In the multitude of people is the king’s honor: but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.” It is a foolish ruler, not a wise one, who exploits those under his authority. Proverbs 28:16 says this: “The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.” For the authority to see the citizens as a resource to get what he wants is not only a sinful attitude, but it also endangers his rule.


Promote the truth


Kings and rulers have a responsibility to understand the true condition of their jurisdiction and make decisions accordingly. Though “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing,” Proverbs 25:2 says, “the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” Once the authority comprehends the true state of those things under his authority, he is then to rule with truth, for “mercy and truth preserve the king” (Proverbs 20:28). Once a ruler understands the truth, he is then in the right position to rule mercifully. After all, Proverbs 20:28 finishes this way: “Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.” Mercy is rightly distributed by a man in full possession of the facts. A ruler who fails to gather accurate information may discover that what he thought was merciful is actually damaging. Certainly, his attitude toward the truth is an accurate indicator of the condition of his cabinet, administration, or staff. “If a ruler hearken to lies,” Proverbs 19:12 says, “all his servants are wicked.” According to Proverbs, kings who reject the truth are allowing other wicked things to be done in their name as well.


Rule with justice and impartiality


Another complementary set of characteristics a ruler is required by God to possess is that of impartial judgment. In other words, an authority should not be pressured to prefer one person or situation over another when the two ought properly to be treated the same. Proverbs 24:23 said it first: “These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.” Proverbs indicates two ways that rulers tend to have respect of persons. The first is to favor wicked men against righteous men. “It is not good to accept the person of the wicked, to overthrow the righteous in judgment” (Proverbs 18:5). This temptation exists because wicked men are willing to use wealth, position, or influence as tools to achieve their ends. In other words, rulers are tempted with bribes. According to Proverbs 29:4, a ruler who accepts a bribe damages his sphere of authority: “The king by judgment establisheth the land: but he that receiveth gifts overthroweth it.” As we have already seen in Proverbs, a king who is so corrupt that good is called evil and evildoers are rewarded provokes his people. “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” (Proverbs 24:24-25).

The second way a ruler might have respect of persons is to favor the rich over the poor, often for reasons related to the previous discussion on bribery. Scripture does not portray this kind of king positively: “As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people” (Proverbs 25:15). God even promises to secure the rule of an authority who is judges the poor impartially. “The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established forever” (Proverbs 29:14). God’s Word in Proverbs almost treats the matter of impartiality as a direct command. The queen mother instructs her son in Proverbs 31:8-9 this way: “Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”


Have wise counselors


We have already seen how important it is for rulers to purge wickedness and lies from their influences and to choose to ascertain the truth. Proverbs reminds us once more that an authority’s advisors are a thoroughly accurate reflection of whether God approves of his rule: “Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness” (Proverbs 25:5). However, the opposite is also true: wise counselors are a tremendous benefit to rulers. Proverbs 15:22 says it this way: “Without counsel purposes are disappointed; but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” The quality of a ruler’s counsel will inevitably change the quality of his decrees, for good or evil.


Strike fear into the hearts of evildoers


This aspect of civil authority’s responsibility is one of the most well-known. However, it’s important to note how much the ruler’s ability to punish evil depends on his faithfulness to the above principles. Without respect for God’s word, commitment to the truth and impartial judgment, and rejecting wicked influences, the authority to punish is easily corrupted, and righteous people fear for their safety and freedom. Proverbs plainly says that it is the wicked who should fear the civil authority, not the righteous. Proverbs 20:8 shows the power of the authority’s approval or disapproval: “A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes.” However, the ruler should not stop at merely disapproving of evil. According to Proverbs 20:26, “A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.” He crushes evil and those who practice it. Rulers should not be neutral or secular in the way they execute justice, nor should they stop at speeches and official pronouncements. Justice, judgment, and righteousness are to be characteristic of civil society as well, and it is the civil ruler’s job to ensure those things are done. God is pleased with righteous rulers and will establish their rule, while he is displeased with civil authorities who tolerate sin and evil, the consequences of which are unrest, uprising, and social turmoil. Rulers are accountable to God, and Proverbs reminds us of this truth.

 

Every Tuesday, SFL publishes relevant Bible-based content. Check back next Tuesday to read the next SFL article.

 

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