Governance: Biblical Perspective (Part 2)

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Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem (Photo: israeltourism/Wikimedia Commons)

God’s Justice, Judgement, and Mercy 

Throughout human history, the people have always talked about justice in society. Everyone wants to live in a society with the opportunity to be heard and be secure. Justice should build up society and protect people. In biblical Israel, justice was not an abstract concept because it stemmed from the nature of God. Moreover, God himself was a model and an example of justice, which is a fundamental part of His temperament. 

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
mercy and truth go before Your face. 
Psalm 89:14, NKJV

The phrase “righteousness and justice” is frequently used in Old Testament writings. The word “righteousness” in this context corresponds to the Hebrew word tzedek, which can be translated as “the highest standard, the model.” God revealed the highest standard of moral justice to the Jewish people through Himself. And because He is just, all that He does is righteous and just. 

He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice,
a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.
Deuteronomy 32:4, NKJV

His justice is not opposed to love and mercy. On the contrary, it is connected to them. The Hebrew word tzedakah, derived from the same root, later came to mean “alms to the poor.” 

The word “justice,” corresponds to the Hebrew word mishpat, which relates to doing justice at different levels. In biblical Israel, the court, as a representative and executor of the Law, was to examine situations and decide on the outcome of cases. The court would declare a person guilty or innocent and render a sentence. The purpose of the court was to establish justice. 

When the Lord said that righteousness (tzedek) and justice (mishpat) are the foundation of His throne, He was proclaiming His intentions to the whole world and His people. 

Another word revealing God’s character is chesed, which means God’s mercy and unfailing faithfulness to His promises. People truly walking in covenant with the Lord can count on God’s love, mercy and compassion. King David declared God’s “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). He cherished the Lord’s mercy. However, God expected that King David would show mercy to his people as well. 

Centuries later, through the prophet Jeremiah, God defined what it means to know Him. 

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24, NKJV

Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me? Declares the Lord. Jeremiah 22:15-16, NKJV

According to these verses, the knowledge of God is not limited to inner spiritual revelation or mystical experiences. The true knowledge of God always transforms the human system of values, the result of which is a reflection of God’s values in everyday life. 

On the pages of Scripture, God calls kings to take care of the orphans, widows and the poor because these people are the most vulnerable in society. 

God expected that the rulers would not seek wealth and honor, but rather exercise their God-given power with equity. The government was to reflect the nature of the King of kings. It was to rule justly, deal with peoples’ disputes, eradicate oppression and harassment, show compassion for the most vulnerable society members, and strive to serve as an example of God’s standards. 

Joseph—Tried and Tested 

Not everyone is called to work in government. However, Scripture records stories of courageous believers who were called to serve in even secular governments, which provides an example for us today. 

For example, God used Joseph to serve in the government of Egypt. What a story! From family intrigue to enslavement, and eventually imprisonment, Joseph miraculously rose to the highest level in office under the Egyptian Pharaoh. His complete reliance on God’s guidance formed a strong char- acter through difficult trials. 

Once in Egypt, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the head of the bodyguards in the court of Pharaoh. The Scripture says: 

“And the Lord was with Joseph: he was successful in business and lived in the house of his master, the Egyptian” (Genesis 39:2). Young Joseph, led by the Lord, was so successful in all he did that he was put as manager of Potiphar’s entire household. 

Joseph was gifted. He knew how to use resources well as a manager. By and large, management is a combination of methods, which allows you to achieve the best results. 

Because of Joseph’s wise management, God’s blessing rested on the house of Potiphar. 

So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Genesis 39:5, NKJV

The wife of Potiphar tried to seduce the young, good- looking Joseph day after day, but he did everything possible to avoid this woman. He refused to sin with her and against God his master who trusted him with all he had. Potiphar’s wife then accused him of attempted rape. 

This is how Joseph ended up in prison. Imagine what was probably happening in his soul. He was betrayed and sold into slavery by his own brothers, falsely accused of attempted rape, and thrown into prison. However, the Scripture says that “the Lord was with Joseph, and extended mercy to him, and granted him grace in the eyes of the head of the prison” (Genesis 39:21). 

I believe that Joseph saw the hand of God in his life and decided not to give up under the pressure of all the injustice he faced. God had revealed his future in a dream, and was able to lead him through all the difficulties to get to the fulfillment of what He had promised. God led Joseph through a test of character and faith, from a slave and a prisoner to a future statesman in the Egyptian government. 

As time passed, a butler and a baker were found guilty in the eyes of Pharaoh, and thrown into the dungeon where Joseph was kept. On the same night, they had dreams filled with mysterious meanings. Joseph noticed their confusion and offered to interpret their dreams. The interpretation turned out to be correct, and three days later, on his birthday, Pharaoh returned the butler to his place, and ordered the baker to be executed. However, Joseph was forgotten in prison. 

The correct interpretation of dreams confirmed the spiritual gift of Joseph. Joseph asked the butler to intercede before Pharaoh for his release from prison. Although the man forgot for a long time, God never forgot Joseph. 

Two years after Joseph and the butler met, Pharaoh had two dreams. These dreams greatly alarmed him, and not one of the court magicians could interpret them. The court butler finally remembered Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and he was called from prison. 

Joseph appeared before Pharaoh and immediately declared that the interpretation of dreams comes only from God. Pharaoh told Joseph both of the dreams. The dreams of Pharaoh foreshadowed seven years of abundance and seven years of famine. 

After the dreams were interpreted, Joseph offered a practical way out of the upcoming circumstances. As a wise household manager, experienced from the years of work in the house of Potiphar and in prison, Joseph advised Pharaoh to find a rational and wise man, and make him responsible for collecting 20 percent of all grain in the good years to provide Egypt with bread for the coming years of famine. What was the Pharaoh’s answer? 

And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Genesis 41:38-41, NKJV

The only person whom Pharaoh saw as capable of carrying out such a task was Joseph himself. According to Pharaoh, he saw the Spirit of God in Joseph! In front of all his subjects, Pharaoh testified that God was present in Joseph’s life giving Joseph deep understanding and wisdom. Pharaoh made Joseph the second in charge after himself, and demanded that all Egyptians render him due honor. 

Joseph, being faithful to God in all He led him through, was now set to rule over all the land of Egypt under Pharaoh. He proved himself faithful to God, suitable for further service to Him. Although he served a nation that exalted idols and practiced occultism, Joseph kept his faith in God his whole life. 

Joseph demonstrated integrity, character, the ability to forgive, and an understanding of God’s purposes. Joseph served God and the government of one of the most developed countries of that time. 

Today, our countries need people like Joseph with godly character to serve the people despite corruption and greed existing in society. We need leaders whose lives depend on God’s Spirit and His wisdom. Maybe you are one of them? 

Uncompromising Daniel 

God also used the prophet Daniel powerfully in government. Daniel lived during a time of great change for God’s people. In 605 B.C. the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar won an impressive victory over the Egyptians near the city of Karchemish, which laid the foundation for Babylon to gain the status of the strongest power in the region. After the victory at Karkemish, Nebuchadnezzar opposed the Judean King Joachim (4 Kings 24: 1-2; 2 Chronicles 36: 5-7) and, having won again, tookmanyoftheJewscaptive. Daniel was among them. God used Babylon to punish Judea for ongoing disobe- dience and idolatry. 

Daniel was taken to Babylon as a teenager. Most likely he was born around 620 BC and may have heard the sermons of the prophet Jeremiah. It is possible that God’s Word through Jeremiah shaped the worldview and faith of Daniel. 

When the captured Jews were in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar took the best of the young captives of the royal family and decided to make these men “true Babylonians.” They began to teach them the wisdom and sciences of Babylon, so that in the future the most capable of the slaves would be able to serve in the government. After three years of intensive training, the young men had to pass a test – most likely, to reveal their level of intelligence and ability to learn. 

Nebuchadnezzar was a visionary ruler who decided to invest in the development of scientific knowledge and achievements. The future of a nation depends on how it sees itself in the future. 

These young Jewish men were given the privilege of eating the best food in the country from the king’s table. Notice how Daniel behaved in Daniel 1:8: 

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Daniel 1:8, NKJV

All the royal food was sacrificed to idols before being served to the king. Each meal, the Babylonian king began with an act of pagan worship. Anyone who then took this food was considered a participant in the pagan ritual. Daniel’s decision not to eat from the royal table reveals he firmly decided not to be part of the pagan cult. 

Perhaps Daniel also knew that food indulgence could lead to loss of concentration and sensitivity. He remembered the prophetic words of Moses; 

But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; you grew fat, you grew thick, you are obese! Then he forsook God who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they did not know, to new gods, new arrivals that your fathers did not fear. Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, and have forgotten the God who fathered you.
Deuteronomy 32:15-18, NKJV

Excessive food cravings can lead to loss of sensitivity to the Spirit of God. The next thing that can happen is that we can lose the desire to spend time in fellowship with the Lord and in His Word, therefore becoming vulnerable to the devil and various temptations. We can forget the goodness of God and go astray 

Daniel and his friends decided to be content with vegetables and water. Scripture explains, “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17). They successfully passed the royal exam and entered into the government structure of Babylon. 

Even after Daniel and his friends were given pagan names, they did not forget who they were – God’s chosen people. Babylon was around, but not inside them. Instead of letting Babylon influence them, they influenced Babylon! 

Daniel understood that Babylon was in opposition to God, and an enemy to Him. However, not only did Daniel decide to serve their government, he also challenged the kings, proclaiming God’s rule over the whole world. Daniel demonstrated God’s justice and never compromised his faith. 

God gave Daniel a unique sense of when to obey the king and when to openly disagree and stand for the righteousness of God revealed in His Word. Daniel carried on with his daily activities, maintaining honesty and dedication to God. Even in his old age, Daniel was referred to as “a man in whom there is the Spirit of the holy God” (Daniel 5:11). 

Modern Christians need the same understanding and desire to receive education and experience in order to work in the political and public spheres. Even if our countries do not recognize God, we are still a part of His world. God also grants us mercy, the goodwill of people, the knowledge and understanding in every situation, and for some – the spiritual ability to understand and interpret visions and dreams, as He gave it to Daniel. Daniel was a man of prayer. He treasured his time with God, keeping his prayer life unchanged from a young age (Daniel 2:19). 

As a role model for Christians, Daniel encourages service to God’s purposes at this time. Even when he clearly saw the evil around him, Daniel continued to serve the people. He knew that the ultimate power over kings belongs to God. Daniel gives us an example of a leader who knew how to work in the political sphere with spiritual understanding. His behavior demonstrates determination, readiness for change, and the spiritual maturity of a man who is chosen to serve God’s purposes in the government. 

Christians called to work in political structures need to understand their position and serve uncompromisingly in today’s governments. 

Are we ready for change? 

A long, busy and full day of meetings during a visit to Hamburg, Germany, was finally drawing to an end. I asked my acquaintance Dr. Jörn Axel Kämmerer, a professor of Public Law at the Buserius Law School in Hamburg who is an expert and International teacher of law if he thinks Christians should seek political experience and work in the political arena or in government? His answer was clear. He told me; 

We need to encourage Christians to take stock of themselves and to make out whether they have a vocation to immerse themselves in politics. As the counterpart of society and an entity that is at the same time rooted in the latter, the State and its laws cannot be expected to bear a Christian imprint if Christians refrain from ruling it and confine themselves to praying for the authorities. I am not propagating a “Christian State” as one that unilaterally protects Christianity and imposed hurdles on the exercise of other religions, right on the contrary. A State whose leaders are firmly entrenched in Christian faith will rest in itself politically and morally and will not feel the need to restrict religious freedoms of others for the sake of protecting Christian values. 

Jörn’s answer was encouraging and confirmed my understanding of our Christian mission. Every Christian is called to be a law-abiding citizen and participate in politics. Paul the apostle points out, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). But here it refers to the institution of power, rather than specific persons, the choice of which was entrusted by God to the people. That’s why we need to keep up-to-date on developments in our country and participate in public governance. We need to vote during elections and constantly pray for our government, “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior(1 Timothy 2:2-3). 

If we care about our children and think about their future, we must explain to them that the Lord has given us the right and the responsibility to be part of political life. Each of us has talents and abilities, and the Lord could call our children to work in the government. Perhaps some of them will be like William Wilberforce (the British Christian, who headed the parliamentary campaign to abolish the British slave trade for over twenty years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807) and will fight for the rights of people. 

Will we allow the Lord to salt us with His Word and enlighten us with His Spirit to gain His perspective on our world? May God affect our countries through us, His disciples, who are a part of His strategy. 

This article is a part of Andrey’s book “INFLUENCE, Responding to the Call of God.”