We hold up our civic leaders to great celebration and honor while they are truly only mere mortals of great stature. is there a Biblical ideal regarding these instruments of human and divine power? ◊
We just celebrated President’s Day in America this past week. Actually, this annual holiday on the 3rd Monday of February is to celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, our first and sixteenth presidents. These two men are considering to be our greatest presidents for their heroic roles in the founding of the nation (Washington) and the preserving of our nation during the Civil War (Lincoln).
But then again, this holiday is also understood as a celebration of the birthdays and lives of all US presidents throughout our history. (45 different men have served as US president – Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms.)
As a nation of free states, what’s interesting is that there are today 13 states (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Wisconsin) which do not celebrate this official federal holiday.
Given our so-called “cancel culture” in 2021, it will be more interesting to see if this number increases over time and if there is further reassessment of what is considered historically great and heroic in the civic arena.
A Biblical Ideal?
For the most part, we the people naturally want to celebrate our civic heroes and hold them up to honor and accolades. In truth, and this we know, they are simply people who have risen to the ranks of power via military, government, or commercial positions of authority. And as greatness is often forged in the crucible of crisis and war, we hold up our proven victorious leaders as icons worthy of our respect and honor.
And we the people certainly feel better about being “led” by people of noble stature, presence, style, heritage, wisdom, power, and legacy. But does that mean we expect all our leaders to be free from human error and sinful pasts? That would be seeking leaders who are not human. For there is not one man or woman in all of human history that has lived a life free of sin, except Jesus Christ. Save for the issue of the divinity of Christ, even most atheists would agree with the premise that all of us have sin in our lives and are imperfect, regardless of human stature.
Given that, what does the Bible say about national leaders, whether kings or presidents? Is there an actual ideal? Actually, the Bible has plenty to say, in 3 contexts: 1) A King/Leader for Israel, 2) Characteristics of a King/Leader, and 3) Our Response to Kings/Leaders.
- A King for Israel – First of all, there is the context of judges or kings over the Israel/Hebrew nation after Moses led them out of Egyptian slavery about 3,500 years ago. The common teaching is that God did not want to give the Hebrews a king. That is incorrect. God did want Israel to have a king; He just had a certain kind of king in mind as an ideal.
- In Deuteronomy 17:15, long before the time of Saul, God said, “…you may indeed set as king over you him whom the Lord your God will choose.” God’s choice for king – that is what Israel ignored.1
- In Samuel 8:1-5, about 400 years later when the Hebrews were ruled by judges, the elders cry out for a king “like all the nations” around them: When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
- Note that the elders forced the issue and got Saul, a man who ultimately met utter failure as a leader in that he only proceeded to satisfy his own selfish desires and not God’s. God allowed them have what they wanted, and deserved.
- Characteristics of a King – in the 17th chapter of Deuteronomy, God, through Moses, lays out the specific characteristics for an ideal king of Israel. Additionally, there are general highlights throughout Proverbs, which is ironic in that these are mostly written by King Solomon who did not live up to God’s requirements for a Hebrew king:
- First, the king must be an Israelite (Deuteronomy 17:15).
- Second, he must not acquire many horses (17:16). As horses were first introduced to the Hebrews while in Egypt, they were not to interact with their old pagan masters who enslaved them.2
- Third, the king must not take many wives lest his heart be led astray from God (17:17a). Foreign women would influence a Hebrew man to abandon the unique lifestyle to which God had called him.
- Fourth, the king must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold (17:17b). Perhaps this was to keep his dependency on God.
- Fifth, the Hebrew king must keep a copy of the Torah, the Law, with him at all times (17:18-20). This is so that he may revere the Lord God and carefully follow all his instructions and decrees.
- In addition, from Proverbs:
- It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness. (Proverbs 16:12) An ideal king does not do evil while on the throne.
- Loyalty and truth preserve the kings, and he upholds his throne by righteousness. (Proverbs 20:28) An ideal king is loyal and true.
- The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will. (Proverbs 21:1) An ideal king allows himself to be under the authority of God.
- By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down. (Proverbs 29:4) An ideal king is just in prospering the land; the king does not steal from the people.
- The King gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it. (Proverbs 29:4) An ideal king promotes fair justice and does not take bribes.
- Our Responses to Kings/Leaders – As good king/leaders are to be just and righteous in following the ways of God, they are ideally led by “the hand of the Lord” rather than by their own selfish motives or those of the people around them. However, as God removes and promotes kings, we are to submit to them as our authorities, regardless of their corrupt or righteous stature.
- 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)
- Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17)
- Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. (Matthew 12:17)
Our model for kings or national presidents is Biblical. Yes, the Old Testament leadership structure was distinctly for the Jewish nation. Nevertheless, we can learn from the preferred standards of justice, righteousness, and source of guiding power. Certainly we find many examples of evil kings in the Old Testament, and a few good examples. (Careful reading of the Old Testament shows that every king’s introduction begins with either “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord” or “he did right in the eyes of the Lord.”)
But as kings and presidents come and go, in any national environment or point in human history, per the Word of God, we are to respect the office of authority, if not the man, and submit to that authority. At a minimum, we should pray for the hearts of leaders to submit to God.
For God is still our ultimate authority, as it should be for any wise leader.
Can you recognize a good and wise leader when you see one?
It is God who alters the times and seasons, and he removes kings and promotes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. – Daniel 2:21
1 Give Us a King, by Ray Vander Laan, thattheworldmayknow.com/giveusaking.