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Government of the People?

An interesting lesson in government can be found in the history of Ancient Israel. In the early years of that nation there was no visible governmental structure. Almost all government was family oriented. There were family and tribal elders that were recognized and acted as judges and leaders but their power was limited by how the people responded to them. There were no police, no prisons, no governors, no president, no lawmaking bodies. The only restraint on the citizenry was their voluntary obedience to the Torah—God’s law as written by Moses. They were a free people.

There were priests and a High Priest but these were teachers, not rulers. The primary purpose of the sacrifices they offered was to point to Christ, to teach the people to live in anticipation of His coming. The priests at times sat with the judges but were not judges themselves; they were there to explain God’s word as it may relate to the case under consideration. There were the Levites that did function as judges but only in cases that came to them and required special attention (Deut. 17:8-12).

We read of elders that sat at the gates of the cities and judged the people but never of any election or appointment of these elders. They had no expressed powers or authority other than what the people gave them. Evidently, they were just ordinary men that sat in a public place and communicated with each other and with passers-by. Anyone could sit but the younger men had to work and the older men were more likely to have the time to do so. They were seen as wise and just men and were generally respected for their wisdom. So much so that individuals that wanted justice brought their disputes to the elders at the gate for resolution.

Anyone could sit at the gate and could speak on any issue, whether related to a dispute presently under consideration or not. It appears to have been a free forum in which anyone could speak but where wisdom would discourage foolish words. Who then were the judges that decided the cases? Why, in a sense it was the entire population of the city and in another it was a collection of the wisest men. It was the entire population in that anyone could speak; it was the elders in that they were better able to convince the bystanders as to how God’s law applied to the dispute in question. The people had the greatest freedom possible; there was no coercive civil government. As long as the people obeyed God and lived by His law, it was unnecessary.

A few centuries after Moses though, their adherence to God’s law had declined and “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). They could no longer govern themselves and went to Samuel the prophet and asked him to anoint them a king:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways:  now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us.   And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said un to Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee:  for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. (1 Samuel 8:4-8)

God’s answer to this plea is telling: He said, “they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” God saw Himself as their rightful King! But in what way was He their King? Why through His law, of course. A king is a king only to the extent his law is obeyed. Those Israelites rejected God, not just by asking for another king, but by their disobedience to Him. He had given them a law that, had they continued to believe and obey, would make them a free and powerful nation (Deut. 4:5-9); but they threw it all away because they didn’t have the faith to live by that law. Their disobedience, followed by their desire for a physical king demonstrated their lack of faith in God. Here is the rest of God’s response to their request:

Now therefore hearken unto their voice:  howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them. And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you:  He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen;  and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties;  and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep:  and ye shall be his servants. (1 Samuel 8: 9-17)

God’s law had fallen into disuse; He was no longer King in Israel. From this point on they were ruled by men, a foolish and pitiful choice. The Kingdom of God is God’s people obeying the law of God. When they do so faithfully and diligently, they have no need for rulers or intermediaries of any kind. This truly free people, perhaps the only such nation in the pre-Christian world, chose to give up the great freedom they had and become the servants of a king. It seems incredible that they would do so but such is the hatred of God’s law for those under Satan’s bondage, those that have not been liberated by the Holy Spirit.

Does this seem familiar? There was a serious attempt to repeat it in the history of America. This country was originally patterned after the model of Ancient Israel. God’s law was foremost; judges would sentence offenders based on God’s law as found in the Bible, which they would typically read from when they passed sentence. The Constitution that came later was a procedural document and not a law book. The law of the land was God’s law-word and, because the great majority of the people obeyed, God was king. Sadly though, America has followed the path of Ancient Israel and is today a people that has rejected God and is now under the increasingly arduous rule of the kings that reign in Washington, D.C. and every state and county seat. We are no longer a free people.