Does Righteousness Matter in Our Political Leaders?

Rivlin, Netanyahu, Gantz meet September 27, 2019
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (L), President Reuven Rivlin (C) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meet at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Contrary to popular belief, most politicians are not corrupt. Most are dedicated public servants. Yes, there are a few bad apples, and in normal times these individuals are removed from power either through election or prosecution. But we live in strange times. As the prophet Isaiah said, “woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” These days political corruption is justified by likening certain political leaders to King David or King Cyrus. The argument is that God used these imperfect men to accomplish His purposes, and He can do so today as well. As many have said, we’re not voting for a pastor. Therefore, the view is that as long as political leaders promote an agenda that reflect our values, we should be able to excuse or forgive their behavior. But is that what the Bible says or represents?

The part of the Bible most dedicated to ethics is the Book of Proverbs, written in large part by a king, King Solomon. He directs his words to one whom he calls his son. This could mean one of his literal sons or more generally, to the sons of Israel. Either way, the focus of many of his words is to contrast the life of the righteous to that of the wicked. Note the beginning of the Book: “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair.” The king begins his book with the challenge of living a righteous life. This is for all people.

In Proverbs 6, the king categorizes behavior that is despised by the Lord: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among his brothers.” Political leaders are not exempted from these standards. Rather, in my view, a political leader characterized by the above disqualifies himself from serving as a public servant.

Proverbs 8:13-15 more specifically addresses political leaders: “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine. I have understanding and power. By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just.” In Deuteronomy we see how God’s law distinguished the ancient kings of Israel from the surrounding nations by their being subject to the laws of God. They specifically were prohibited from claiming they were above the law or had sole authority to determine the law. Political leaders who seek to undermine the rule of law and/or the judicial system — which is responsible for upholding the law — are corrupt and must be removed from power.

The following two passages make things clearer: “Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:12) “By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.” (Proverbs 29:4) Character matters. Behavior matters. Speech matters. A country led by an unrighteous leader will decline.

Unlike the period when Proverbs was written, many of us live in democracies. We ultimately are responsible for those who serve in public office. When we support candidates or politicians who are corrupt by their words and actions, we are violating the principles of God’s word. Please do not lump all politicians into the same mold. No one is perfect, but that’s not an excuse or license to live and act in ways contrary to what is written above. As elections occur, everyone should vote and vote for people of integrity.