ORIGIN OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT
(A Biblical Examination of Its Origin and Jurisdiction)
by Kerry Lee Morgan*
“There shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 1 Samuel 8:19-20.
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons . . . . He will take your daughters . . . . He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards . . . . He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards . . . . He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys . . . . He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.” 1 Samuel 8:10-18.
How Did Israel Get Its First King?
We have sojourned through the judges of Israel sent by God out of pity upon a wayward nation. Now comes along Samuel, the last real judge of Israel. He had two sons and both were rotten to the core. They took bribes and perverted justice. God could hardly raise them up to save the people as they were just as crooked as the people were. Perhaps you know rotten judges that took bribes? Perhaps you’ve read about justices who perverted justice? Bribes and perversion in the judicial system are nothing new, though today’s bribes are often simply flattery. At this point 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.” 1 Samuel 8:4-5.
What? What was that request? What is going on here? This was the beginning of something new. But was it the beginning of something good? God had been the King of Israel up to this time. He was the King because the people had accepted God’s proposal to “diligently listen to me and keep my covenant.” Exodus 19:5. Indeed, “the Lord their God is with them; his acclamation as king is among them.” Number 23:21. But God was not a king like the man made kings of the other nations. God was King pursuant to a covenant by the consent of the people. He was King by their free and voluntary consent.
Crafty Lying Politicians
The elders of the nation knew this. But rather than saying “we don’t want God as our King anymore” they told Samuel that since “your sons do not walk in your ways” that a king would now be appropriate. “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” See that? A king to judge. A king to go to war. They did not ask for a better judge to judge. They asked for a king and to make it sound more plausible they added “to judge.” This political approach was partly a sham and partly true. Samuel was old and his sons did not walk in his ways, but that is not the real reason the elders wanted a king like all the other nations.
The prior cycle of judges for the last 350 years showed that the people had to repent first before a judge would deliver them. The cycle was that the people sinned against God and the covenant. The people were captive to foreign control and lost freedom. The people lived in misery. The people eventually repented. God had pity and sent a judge and redeemer to fight and make war against their oppressors. The judge prevailed in war. The people lived in peace with God and the covenant. Then they chose idolatry and rebelled against God. That is the cycle which repeated itself.
But rather than continue that cycle with the inefficiency of the nation first being attacked and subjugated, perhaps the elders thought, “Idols are not all that bad. Why wait for another foreign king to attack us, be captive and then having to repent? Why keep going through cycle this over and over again? If we had a king now we could go to war right away and frankly not wait for God.” They sought a political solution that did not recognize what God had said about obedience to His law or repentance being required. Thus, no repentance, no need for pity, and no need to wait to go to war after being occupied was necessary to secure national independence. This approach seems no different than what might be proposed today by our elected officials or military. Why get God involved?
Who are these elders anyway? Weren’t these elders originally the wise men who were supposed to help with the administration of the covenant and God’s law under Moses, then Aaron, and now Samuel? These are the successors of those elders who 400 years earlier had assisted Moses and Aaron and had confronted pharaoh leading to the Exodus. Exodus 3:16-18. These are the elders whose predecessors were present when Moses caused water to come from rocks in the desert, who were later charged with the covenant and were present when the covenant was ratified with great power. Exodus 17:6; 19:7 & 24:1. You would think these elders would remember their history and be faithful. But what can we expect? Do you know what happened 400 years ago in the 1620s?
But despite this, these modern elders are fools for tyranny. They are basically throwing down God’s law and saying it doesn’t really matter. Repentance? That doesn’t matter. What matters is having a war machine like the other nations and a king that can make war. Let’s beat those terrorists ruining our nation. Of course these elder-statesman will need money and slaves to finance their military industrial security state. But that will come in time. At least then the nation will be respected. Get with it it’s the 2900s not the 2450s. That covenant business was 400 years ago! We are a modern society.
Judges lasted about 325-350 years. Now we are 2,850-2,900 years into human history from the creation of the world and nearly 400 from the giving of the law. Other nations have set up their own kings and we have a record of some of them after the flood. Recall that these kings and pharaohs were known for making war among their other passions. This is the prize sought by the “wise men” of Samuel’s day. Yet, what they are proposing is treason. They were appointed for one purpose and now they’re acting for a radically different purpose. That is human nature.
Perhaps you know politicians elected for one purpose — to preserve and protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, but once elected they work day and night to undermine that document? Treason and guile are nothing new. Nor was Samuel tricked by these men. Samuel knew about the judges of Israel. He understood the history. He knew the people did evil, that God delivered them into the hands of their enemies, that the people suffered, and that when the people repented God sent judges to deliver them by war. Samuel knew all of this.
What these elders are actually saying is this, “Samuel, you’re too old to go to war and your sons are unreliable.” Recall, the elders basically don’t want to go to the trouble of having the people first repent for their evildoing before God sends a judge to free them from their oppressors. What’s going on here is the elders are trying to circumvent the whole system of judges. They don’t want to wait for a judge to free them. They don’t want to wait for God to send a judge to free them. They want to be free without having to first obey the law. They want to be free from foreign rule and domination without having to obey God’s law and without having to honor the covenant they made. They want to be free from God. Do you see that? Their demand is not like a choice between this policy or that policy. It’s a demand that rejects the covenant and resumes their prior status as a nation among the other nations. It’s a rejection of their special purpose.
Being the pragmatists they are, they are proposing and attempting to persuade Samuel to go along with the scam. They know Samuel is close to God. They want to manipulate Samuel into a de facto rejection of God’s use of judges as deliverers by throwing guilt on Samuel as a failed parent. They want to get a king who will go to war whenever they want without the need for the people to embrace the covenant, follow the law or repent, then they can have their cake and eat it too.
Where did this idea come from that Samuel could appoint judges? The judges we’ve previously discussed were all chosen by God and called for a specific purpose. There is really no precedent for a judge choosing his son as a successor. Samuel could have said: “Look, the history of judges as deliverers always shows that when the judge dies the people become more corrupt than their fathers and then God delivers them into the hands of their enemies.” That’s what Samuel could have said. He could have also said to these elders: “Sure I’m old and going to die. But it’s your job to help the people obey the law and honor the covenant.” If the people do that then they will not be handed over to foreign dictators to be ruled. He could have said, “What you are proposing is treason. God should put you all to death for treason.” But Samuel talked to God first rather than shooting from the hip. He knew this was serious enough that he should go straight to the King.
Why Repent First And Wait For God To Get Around To Saving Us?
Now where are the people in the cycle? Are they at the point in the cycle where they are holy and free from foreign rule? Are they at the point in the cycle where they are being controlled by a foreign oppressor and not yet repentant? Are they in the cycle at the point where they have repented and seek deliverance? As it turns out the exact moment in history in the cycle is where they’ve sinned and done evil and are about to be delivered into the hands of a foreign dictator. Any fool can see what’s going to happen. God will deliver them into the hand of this dictator and it will go very badly for them.
Who was this foreign ruler? Who was this evil oppressor? He was a king named Nahash. When the people of Israel saw Nahash the king of the Ammonites, they feared him greatly. Why? Because his habit after conquest was to pluck out the right eye of every enemy soldier he caught. As you can imagine this makes depth perception difficult when fighting a battle. It’s hard to judge how far away the enemy is if you’re going to throw a spear at him. It’s hard to also see when the enemy comes from your blind side to strike you down. Soldiers with one eye make poor soldiers. However, a man can still work with one eye making him a better slave than a soldier. Israel feared this king and rightly so. Nahash had already demanded Israel enter into a treaty containing the right eye forfeiture requirement. 1 Samuel 11:2 & 12.
Samuel knew the elders feared the Ammonite king more than they feared God. Rather than saying to Samuel, “This fellow Nahash has got to be the most evil king to try and rule over us, so therefore we repent of all the evil we’ve done and ask God to save us.” That would’ve been the smart thing to do. That would have been the right thing to do. That is not what they did. Rather than return to first principles, they went down the slippery slope. They tried to con Samuel into agreeing to give them a king and not a judge. They tried to con Samuel into agreeing to give them a king like the kings who ruled all the other rotten nations around them. I can hear them brag, can’t you, “You think your king Nahash is bad, wait until you see our king! He will kick your army all the way back to Ammoniteville or even blow your country off the face of the earth.” They must have been pretty desperate to make such a request and probably had little confidence that their repentance could be seen as genuine rather than the opportunistic blather and political chicanery it really was.
They certainly did not want a king like all the other nations because they were actually concerned about the corruption of the judiciary. Remember, they originally said we want a king like the other nations “to judge us.” But when push came to legal shove they demanded a king that “shall reign over us.” They demanded this even though they knew the Lord was their King. They eventually consolidated their appeal and demanded a king for both reasons saying, “there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 1 Samuel 8:19-20. Why not cover all the political bases?
They wanted a king like all the other nations to fight their battles. They wanted a king that would make war like the other nations. They wanted a king that would fight Nahash. Friend, they wanted a king because they didn’t want to be under the covenant anymore. They wanted a king because they didn’t want to be judged by God. Isn’t that the way of things? Isn’t that the way of kings? The way of these elder politicians is to throw off the law and make their own rules. Does that sound like any Congressman or Senator you know? The way of kings is war. Does that sound like your favorite president of the United States? War making was exactly how the first kings ever recorded in the history of mankind in Genesis 14 acted– they went to war. Is it any different today?
God Was Displeased by the People’s Rejection of Himself as King
Now don’t think God was surprised at this demand. God didn’t say, “Oh my goodness who would’ve thought they would ever reject me as King?” God didn’t say, “I’m shocked they don’t want to first repent before I bring them fully into the land I promised Abraham.” God knew from the beginning this was a likely scenario. But simply because He knew it was going to happen, did not make it happen. Simply because He knew it was going to happen did not make it His will that it should happen.
God said back in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 that, “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me, you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” God knew.
Judgment and Mercy
What is going on here? What is going on is that God knows his people will be disobedient. What is going on is that God knows that his people will demand a king. What is going on is that God knows his people will reject Him as their King. What is God doing about it? God is showing pity again. God is showing mercy again. God is saying, “All right you can have a king but you’ve made a bad choice. You made an evil choice.” Yet, God is also saying, “I’m going to help you build in some protection against a completely tyrannical king.” God gives some good advice about who the people could choose as a king and that person’s obligations to read and obey the law as written down in the book of law. Maybe they will do better than the rotten elders? He also warns the king that he ought not be arrogant, make entangling treaties, buildup a war machine or make himself rich on the backs of the people. In other words, God says your king should not act like the kings of the other nations.
Are these kings of Israel a model for how God wants presidents, prime ministers, kings and monarchs of all nations to act? Not at all. What madness is that! God is laying out these rules to restrain the natural tyranny of mankind. He is not laying down a universal rule saying, “It is OK to have a tyrannical government as long as these few limitations are in place or at least you have religious freedom.” So even before the people decide to reject God, God is showing them some mercy in muting or attempting to mute the full effect of their terrible decision to have a military king during periods in which they remain unrighteous, lawless and covenant breakers. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t that how we act? Don’t we want to go to war without first examining our own conduct? You bet. So don’t be hard on Israel. Don’t say, “Boy, these people were stupid to throw God’s offer away.” Better to ask, “How often have we been stupid?” Don’t say, “God is too hard on these poor people. He should love them more.” Better to ask, “Will God show me the same grace and take pity on this Country as he showed to Israel?”
So God is not surprised at what is going on here. Yet, that doesn’t make Israel’s rejection of God any easier to bear. It doesn’t make Israel’s rejection of the need to repent and stop their evil ways any easier for God to reckon with. Even God has limits. His anger was kindled against Israel, and He said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” Judges 2:20-22. He also says that a day will come when the kings you have asked for will oppress you and “in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” I Samuel 8:18. What? God won’t bail them out again? God won’t listen?
If your nation cries out in that day to come, will God answer either? A day of financial ruination, of lawlessness, of domestic tyranny and foreign domination, of the failure of families and when the love of many grows cold, will He answer in that day? The next fundraising letter you receive may neglect to mention these things about God.
God also recognizes that the people want a king so they can eventually worship foreign gods and not the one true God. God is not deceived. God is not mocked. God let Samuel know in no uncertain terms just what the people can expect from the kings of Israel that are just like the kings of the other nations. Remember God hasn’t set up these other kings or authorized them to be rotten. They just are. That is the way of kings. That will be the way of the kings of Israel, so says God. And just in case you missed how rotten life will be under these kings, God spells it out with perfect clarity. It’s not a garden party.
The people of Israel came to Samuel and demanded this type of king. The Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 1 Samuel 8:7-9.
The King Will Take It All and Will Take It Now
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you, he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8:10-18.
Take, take, take, and take. That’s what these kings will do. They will take. Today the televised Ministry of Propaganda for the federal government would have us believe that it doesn’t take anything. They would have us believe it gives us everything. Don’t be naïve. Governments don’t give unless they first take. If there is a rule of general applicability present in this discussion it is that civil governments take. That is what governments do. In so doing, let us remember also that taking is not a good thing. It is a bad thing. God is describing bad conduct. He is describing the bad conduct of government. He is describing the bad conduct of the kings of the nations of this earth. He is describing theft and covetousness. Don’t try to twist this evil into some type of positive tax payment obligation.
Perhaps you have heard silly persons turn this around and make this bad conduct and use of force a positive rule. They say this description of kings is normative. They say this description of a king’s power and use of force to take that which is not earned is a model for all nations. Indeed, “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” Psalm 49:20. Stay away from these teachers of a false civil gospel. These confidence hucksters “maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power.” 2 Timothy 3:5.
Yet, incredibly the people of Israel agreed to all this. The people said, “Sure, take our children. Make them do whatever you need.” They said, “Take our land and our crops and give them to your political cronies. Take our property. Take our possessions. Take us as slaves. What’s not to like?” Here’s the deal. They thought being a slave of their own king was a better choice than being a slave of Nahash. Better to be a slave with two eyes, than one eye. I suppose you could say they voted for the lesser of two evils. That seems to be a popular way of thinking these days. Rather than choosing that which is right, we choose the lesser of two evils and justify it on multiple absurd grounds including our idolatrous fixation on political party affiliation.
Here the people should have done what was right, repented and called upon God to send them a deliverer. Or better yet, the people could have actually returned to the original covenant where God was their King. Go back to the founding? No, they couldn’t do that. Their society was evolving. It was getting better, right? Believe that fiction if you want. Instead, they chose the lesser of two evils, a king of their own to enslave them rather than a king of their neighbors to enslave and blind them. They were foolish and did not know their own history.
But do we do what is right? Do we support candidates for office that promise to keep taking our children, possessions, land, income, and labor? H.L. Mencken said, “Every election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods.” Friends; the spirit of covetousness is a strong evil in this day and age and stronger during elections. Where is the voter who does not serve this spirit of the age and its desire to take from others to ease his own way through the ballot box?
What else is going on here? A foreign nation threatens terrorism against Israel. The people of Israel under the judges were no slaves. They enjoyed a great deal of freedom. But now they think being a slave of their own king is a better choice than being a slave of Nahash, a foreign king. The people are willing to be governed by a king who will take, take, take and when done taking, make the people his slaves. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this makes no sense and you’re right. But does this senseless submission to slavery ring a modern bell? You think you are free?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the United States, you probably know we have been fighting a so-called war against foreign terrorists at least since the conclusion of the Cold War (which the deep state has reignited). We are told by our serial warmongering presidents and Congress, and by our Central Intelligence Agency, warmongering Generals and Joint Chiefs of Staff, police and media, that terrorists are trying to kill us because of our way of life and our love of freedom. Do you really believe that? Could retaliation have something to do with the fact that we have adopted a foreign policy of worldwide global intervention and control, placed troops in foreign countries, and bribed, threatened and assassinated foreign leaders through our covert operatives?
In any event, the people have continued to elect presidents and members of Congress who have not only taken money, confiscated things, and crushed our rights, but have done worse. They have listened in on our phone conversations. They have hacked into our emails and private communications. They have sent forth an army of drones to monitor and record our every movement. They have destroyed the fourth amendment with impunity. They have suppressed, demonized and prosecuted whistleblowers. We have rendition and torture. We have the Patriot Act. We have vaccine and mask mandates.
So be careful how you judge Israel. Be careful when you say how crazy they were to voluntarily become slaves of their own government when threatened by a foreign king. Have we not also given up our liberty for a little false security from our own government? At least Nahash had an army that was capable of attacking Israel in their own land. But modern terrorists have no such ability on any widespread scale. At least Nahsah never said: “I am here to help.” Who are the real fools?
What Rules of General Application Can We Identify?
In Samuel’s last days, he called upon the Lord to make it rain and thunder and the people feared Samuel because they saw that God listened to Samuel. At least the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” I Samuel 12:19.
Friend, what leader has come to this revelation in our day? Who has said we are fools to elect any government, especially one proficient in taking? We are just told “to vote.” But when the choice is between a liberal taker versus a conservative taker, is voting for either any different than Israel demanding a king to rule over them and take it all? Indeed, is there any voice warning us to never support, and indeed oppose, a government of near unlimited power, or to never vote for a candidate who will expand federal or state power? Who is standing in the gap and cautioning us to reject a judiciary unlimited by the rule of law? The willful sound of silence in our religious assemblies is deafening.
Summary, So Far
We should be very sobered by this passage in 1 Samuel 8:10-18. A general and universal rule is present. That rule is this, that civil government is dangerous. Civil government takes. It takes by force and violence. It takes our property, labor, income, increase and freedom. It takes our children and families and converts us to its will. It takes by force and kills with violence. The way of kings is war. Thus, severe limitations on civil government are needed to curb these evil inclinations if we are to bear with a civil government of our own making.
By the same token, God has given us some insight into how to control such a civil government should we ourselves replicate Israel’s choice of a civil government of men. God is showing them grace. He is also showing the future peoples and nations of the earth the same measure of grace. He has said that it is important that your civil government be limited. It is important that government be limited by law. The government should be required to read the law and to obey it. The government should not be exempt from law. The government should not have a set of laws that apply to you and me, but not to the government. The government should not enjoy exemption, immunity or freedom from prosecution. There should be one law and it should govern the people and the government.
Simply put, the universal principles of limited civil government found in Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Samuel 8 are this, that civil government should be forced under the law. Government should be limited by law. The law is above the king. Lex, Rex (1644). Moreover, government should avoid entangling alliances with other nations. The government should avoid enriching itself at the expense of the people. That government should keep its military small and not build up a war machine or seek worldwide global hegemony. These are the minimum limitations.
If we examine a candidate for public office, might it be important to inquire about his or her recognition of such limitations? If we examine our constitution, state or federal, might we consider how its terms and language shall square with or depart from these non-exclusive fundamentally wise limits on the civil power we may impose upon a civil government of our own making?
Is the civil government we are creating or have created, or which has been forced upon us, a government which is or can be held in check by law? Can it be forced under the law and not let it escape? Note the term “forced.” Government must be forced under the law. Does the constitution have a reliable mechanism to accomplish that? Impeachment is not enough. If the laws exempt public officials and judges from prosecution, or provide them essentially unlimited governmental immunity, the civil government can never be forced to obey the law. All such promises of a government are illusory.
Other questions come to mind. Do they come to yours? Is this a civil government limited by law? What are these limits? Where are they written? How are they enforced? Does the constitution have one law for the governed as well as those who govern? Has this government been prohibited from entering into entangling alliances with other nations? Does the constitution and law prevent the government and its friends from enriching themselves at the expense of the people? Does the constitution and law require that its military be small and prevent the buildup of a war machine that seeks worldwide global hegemony? These are salient inquiries. This is how you can judge your laws and the “law of the land” in determining if they take seriously God’s warning about the human rottenness and criminal conspiracies of kings and civil officials. None of this involves waiving a flag or singing the National Anthem or pledging allegiance to the flag. These are diversions from fascism for the gullible.
The principle stated above is not that the people should actually adopt a civil government. The principle is not that the people should seek a king like all the other nations. The principle is not that the people should have or must have any particular civil government whatsoever. Get your yellow marker ready. The principle is rather that if the people decide to create a civil government, that it should be one limited and restrained as much as humanly possible. It should be a government under many laws and limitations.1 If there are some basic principles of civil government to be identified here that would apply to all nations, all over the globe, at all times, under all circumstances, it would begin with these.
1. See also Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos: A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (1579), or Lex, Rex, by Samuel Rutherford (1644).