Old Testament Heroes of the Faith
This series of posts is dedicated to answering the question of the Christian’s responsibility to a government and its laws when that government has become a force for evil instead of good as God originally intended. Does the God-given authority of government still apply when that government abuses its authority and stands in opposition to the kingdom of God? In the previous article (Part 1), this question was outlined in greater detail along with the answer that Francis A Schaeffer gives in his book, A Christian Manifesto. Of course, I recommend reading the whole book to gain proper context as well as a deeper understanding of the issue which he provides very well.
“The civil government, as all of life, stands under the Law of God. In this fallen world God has given us certain offices to protect us from the chaos which is the natural result of that fallenness. But when any office commands that which is contrary to the Word of God, those who hold that office abrogates their authority and they are not to be obeyed.” – Francis A Schaeffer
As a side-note, it may be wise to mention briefly that in writing these articles, I am in no way advocating a Dominionist theology. This view holds to the premise that it is the Christian responsibility to subdue and govern the earth, including all aspects of our society. Those who hold this view believe the subjection of society to God’s law is necessary to prepare the earth for the second coming of Jesus Christ. While this ideology has gained a lot of momentum in recent years, especially through the New Apostolic Reformation movement (think IHOP and Bethel Church in Redding, CA), I in no way endorse this movement. Possibly a future article should be written to sufficiently explain why along with its dangers.
That aside, in this article as well as the next, we will look at biblical evidence that defends our response. While we find that there is actually quite a lot of support for an answer like this, time will not allow me to cover everything exhaustively, so I have chosen two examples from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament.
The Lion’s Den
Speaking of lion’s dens as we referenced in the closing remarks of the last article (Part 1), maybe it would be good to start there. Maybe one of the clearest pictures of the dilemma of how a child of God should respond towards unjust, ungodly laws is found in the book of Daniel. As one of the primary stories that children are taught in Sunday School, it is surprising how so often the emphasis is placed upon the miraculous deliverance that the Lord grants to Daniel rather than the circumstances that led up to Daniel’s incarceration. Both are important.
“Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, ‘We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regards to the law of his God.'” Daniel 6:4-5 (NASB95)
Let’s pause for a minute and take notice of a couple of things. Daniel was living in a foreign land against his will as were all the Israelites that had been conquered and led into captivity by the Babylonians. Yet, in regards to this foreign government with its foreign laws, Daniel was faithful, steadfast, and honest in every way. He was the poster boy of someone who subjected himself to the governing authorities for the Lord’s sake. So much so, that those who hated him and plotted against him, watching him and waiting for him to make a mistake so they could accuse him, finally gave up saying we will not find any ground of accusation this way. This is very admirable considering Daniel’s circumstances! Secondly, we also need to recognize, as did Daniel’s enemies, that a distinguishing mark of God’s true people is that they are known as a people of integrity when directly faced with laws that conflict with God’s laws; pursuing their Lord above all else. Just as in this situation, when backed into a corner and faced with making a decision between the Lord’s ways or the king’s ways, even the enemies of God’s people recognized that Daniel would not sin against the Almighty by denying Him. No matter what the cost, as we will see.
“Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: ‘King Darius, live forever! All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man beside you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den.’ Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction.” Daniel 6:7, 9 (NASB95)
Recognizing that they would not be able to catch him breaking the existing laws of the government, Daniel’s enemies decided to seek to establish some new ones that would force him to go against the law of the land, therefore, in a sense, hanging himself. Unknowingly, the king complied, the trap was set, but Daniel paid no attention.
“Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.” Daniel 6:10 (NASB95)
I’m guessing, because of Daniel’s position in the kingdom that he knew the contents of the document. He knew the document had the king’s signature and therefore the authority that backed it. He no doubt knew the consequences of breaking the injunction. And so what did he do? He chose to face the consequences of breaking the law of the land in order to obey a higher law.
The rest of the story is that Daniel was indeed thrown into the lions’ den for a night. But this wasn’t the end of Daniel. King Darius, the one who regrettably signed the injunction, arrived at the cave in the morning to find out what had happened to Daniel. He had prophesied the night before to Daniel that God would deliver him. Had the Lord indeed protected him from the mouths of a den full of fierce lions? So arriving at the lair, he inquired whether or not God had protected him. Daniel’s reply is very important for us to understand.
“Then Daniel spoke to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.'” Daniel 6:21-22 (NASB95)
An evil law had been made that went against the principles of God’s kingdom. Daniel chose to ignore that evil law. Even though the law of the land declared him guilty and passed judgment upon him, God pronounced him innocent and protected him. He was innocent not only of any wrong-doing against the Lord but also against the king who had signed the document into law. The same king that he addressed with respect, by the way. The point being that in God’s eyes, a person is not found guilty before the Divine Judge when laws that are contrary to His laws are broken. In the case of Daniel, God found no fault in a person who disobeyed a wicked law that was in conflict with His own. The reason being because the authority of those evil laws have been abrogated (Schaeffer’s term) and no longer carry the approval of God. The Lord is not the author of evil nor the enforcer of it.
Another story from the Old Testament that I believe applies to this discussion is found in the beginning of Exodus. The bible tells us that after Joseph and his generation passed away, that a new Pharaoh arose over Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. Along with that it says the Hebrews were “fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.” This increase in the population of these foreign people concerned the Egyptians because they reasoned that in the case of a war, they might decide to join their enemies to fight against them. So what did they do? They assigned taskmasters over them and turned them into slaves for the glory of the kingdom of Egypt. But this didn’t slow down the growth of the descendants of Jacob. In fact, the bible says the more they afflicted them the more they multiplied and filled the land. Ultimately, they felt something further needed to be done. So Pharaoh, king of Egypt, a self proclaimed god among many gods, issued a command.
“Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.'” Exodus 1:15-16 (NASB95)
An evil king used his authority to give an evil command to do the unthinkable against the innocent and defenseless male children of the Hebrews. But once again, we see where the fear of the Lord prevails over the fear of a king and his edict.
“But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.'” Exodus 1:17-19 (NASB95)
The Hebrew midwives had deceived the king; they had intentionally disobeyed Pharaoh’s command and to top it off, they had lied directly to him about it. Surely God would be angry with these two women for their deception! Surely He would pour out His wrath upon these two women who defied the government’s authority! Surely He would show His right arm of justice throughout the land! Wouldn’t He?
“So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them.” Exodus 1:20-21 (NASB95)
God was good to the midwives! Instead of punishing the women for their disobedience to Pharaoh, God blessed them. Instead of disciplining the women for the lie they told to the king, God established them. Instead of pouring out wrath upon them, He blessed them. Why?
My understanding is because it was for the same principle we saw before. Just like Daniel, these women chose to honor the true King and His righteous laws instead of that of unrighteousness, even though it came from a place of authority. But once again, we see the privilege of governing authority was abused and turned into something sinful; the death of innocent children. As a consequence, we see that God repealed that authority and in fact, blessed those who opposed it. While I am sure that Daniel and the midwives both made their difficult situations a matter of deep prayer, seeking the wisdom of the Lord before they acted, the Lord honored both of their choices.
In the next article (Part 3), we will examine two examples from the New Testament to see how people of the new covenant respond when faced with similar adversity.