ORIGIN OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT
(Its Application to American Government)
by Kerry Lee Morgan*
“Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said,
We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!'” 2 Samuel 20:1.
“And when all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.’ So Israel went to their tents.” I Kings 12:16.
Having surveyed the law of nature and of nature’s God and several of its key expressions in the Bible and reflected in the Declaration of Independence, let us ask if the concept of declaring independence from one’s current civil government is consistent with or contrary to what God has said on the subject. Recall that the signers of the Declaration of Independence declared Great Britain would not be their country and King George III would not be their sovereign king. Instead, they declared that the former colonies were now free and independent from Great Britain, that they would have no king at all, and only be governed and taxed by their own consent. Great Britain and the king called this rebellion. The framers called this the exercise of a God-given unalienable right of revolution. Which was it– a lawless rebellion or a lawful revolution? The framers asserted that their right to revolution lay in the laws of nature and the laws of God. This law they said justified their actions, and this law’s author Almighty God, would protect them regarding the outcome of the pending war.
Sir William Blackstone in his Commentaries on The Laws of England, declared that the laws of nature and of nature’s God were one and the same law. He observed that the laws of nature were those laws of God written by Himself into the creation of the world and now reflected in nature, God’s creation. Likewise the laws of nature’s God, were those laws God had written Himself through his prophets, and recorded in the Scripture. Much has been written about the first, but little about the second.
Modern religious writers look at the Declaration of Independence judging its consistency with God’s laws on the basis of whether it preserves religious freedom or simply on the basis that such declarations refer to or invoke God Himself. This is short sighted. Our examination, however, is much broader because God’s views are much more comprehensive than just religious freedom or ceremonially referencing His name.
Declarations, Past and Present
While we have alluded to some of these ideas in prior chapters, we shall look more closely in this chapter to declarations of independence in the Scripture itself. There are three key such declarations. The first is the declaration of independence made by Israel rejecting God as their King and seeking a human king to replace God. This declaration was asserted as necessary to win the war then being waged against Israel. Only a human king could do it reasoned the people. So the people hoped this change in the form of their government would better guarantee their freedom from foreign invasions.
Yet, the change in their form of government from God as their King, to Saul as their king, only set the stage for losing their freedom. Samuel describes the condition of servitude such a new form of government would bring in 1 Samuel 8:10-20. The new form of government would take from the people their sons, daughters, the best of their seeds, produce, servants, and livestock. He ends the list of cruel oppression with the promise that “you yourselves will be his servants. In that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you in that day.” The people did not really assert that God had failed them or that God s protection of them had fallen short justifying their change. They articulated no train of abuses or usurpations. How could they tell God He let them down?
Thus, not every change in the form of government is for the better, even if the old form is altered or abolished. God allowed the people to make foolish choices, even though He Himself was deposed as king. The American people may alter their form of government. If they do so foolishly or well, God will not interfere. If they do so foolishly, however, He may not answer Americans in that day, either. Let us not drag God into the matter, except to say that He may give us a spirt of wisdom to understand the times and know what must be done. 1 Chronicles 12:32.
The second declaration is presented in 2 Samuel 20:20. It describes a man who declared independence from the kings of Israel and Judah. How did that turn out? Samuel records that: “Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!” So the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba and the men of Judah followed King David.
We are later informed that Sheba took shelter in a fortified city. The people of that city killed him, cut off his head and threw it over the wall to David’s general waiting below. If you are thinking along the same lines as Sheba, it will be better to present more persuasive arguments than, “I just don’t like our civil leaders.” That sort of thinking will get you killed.
Sheba’s declaration of independence from King David’s monarchy was crushed. It amounted to nothing. We do not see God as declaring an opinion on the declaration, one way or the other. Sheba did not appear to have popular support, though he did garner some followers. He did not appear, however, to assert any grievance or oppressive conduct by David as king.
The general rule from these examples is that we should closely examine the basis of any declaration to see what grievances may be accurately lodged against the current government. Light and transient causes will not suffice. Personality differences are insufficient criteria upon which to base a revolution. Those who blow the loudest trumpet for change should be held up to the harsh light of the law of nature and examined carefully as to what they are actually proposing and for whose benefit. So too should those who protest any change.
Third, after King David’s death and the death of his son King Solomon, a new king arose named Rehoboam. A man with a very similar sounding name, Jeroboam and all the people of Israel, came to Rehoboam at his inauguration and petitioned him saying that Solomon had made their life very difficult and inflicted hard service upon them. Will King Rehoboam govern more justly? Will King Rehoboam lighten their load? Rehoboam’s response was something on the order of “if you think Solomon made your life hard, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The Book of 1 Kings 12:16 records Israel’s response. It was a declaration of independence with very similar wording as Sheba’s declaration, yet with a very different outcome. In Israel’s declaration of independence from King Rehoboam, speaking with one voice, the People declared: “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Look now to your own house, David.”
Regarding this declaration of independence, God himself said it was from Him and King Rehoboam and his nation Judah should not fight with the new King Jeroboam and his nation, Israel. We are not undertaking this review to criticize the framers for failure to keep their Declaration to four sentences in length, but one must marvel at the economy of language employed by the Israelites. Nor are we interested in a superficial analysis which rejects Israel’s declaration on the basis that it has no preamble appealing to God and is therefore humanistic! What nonsense. We are rather concerned to inquire why one revolution was a failure and the other a success, at least from God’s point of view.
Perhaps Sheba’s rebellion was a failure because he never petitioned the existing government to redress his grievances. He did not follow the doctrine of lesser magistrates. Rather, he attempted to capitalize on a dispute between Israel and Judah over who was the more patriotic servant of the king. The basis for his declaration of independence lay in personality and political intrigue. It was an argument about who would be the greatest servant of David. There was no great principle, no great purpose, no great truth sought to be vindicated.
There was no long train of abuses and usurpations which invariably would reduce one or the other to an absolute state of slavery. Moreover, Sheba simply declared independence on his own authority. Though some of the people of Israel followed him, it was a mistake. He declared he would be king and demanded the people follow him. In short, Sheba’s declaration was nothing like that of the framers and certainly nothing like that of the people.
In the case of Jeroboam, however, the people of Israel declared independence only after first petitioning their current King Rehoboam with their grievances. That “olive branch” petition was completely and irrevocably rejected. It was accompanied with promises of even greater despotism and tyrannical rule. The people sought to lessen the hard service they had lived under and no doubt the accompanying abuses and usurpations of their rights and freedoms. We are not told if they appealed to the king’s native justice or magnanimity, or referred to their ties of common kinship. We do know, however, that the king was deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. He listened rather to his political cronies. The result was plain and obvious — a revolution of the people, by the people and for the people against the king’s past abuse and his promise of their future slavery.
The American Declaration of Independence adhered more closely to the example of the people of Israel and King Jeroboam, than to the example of Sheba. The Declaration itself is a petition to the king of Great Britain enumerating their grievances. The Declaration describes how King George made the life of the colonials hard. The Declaration describes a hard way of living, made hard by a king who refused to govern through adoption of good laws. It asserted that the king was a king who refused to recognize that people should only be governed and taxed by their own consent and that the people ought to have a say in choosing those who govern and tax them. The Declaration also asserted that the king of Great Britain was a king who was a usurper himself. He was a man who sought to control the executive, legislative as well as the judicial branches of the colonial governments and bring them all under himself in one supreme office.
As for God, He lets people do what they will in establishing their forms of civil government, in altering them or abolishing them. He will not interfere if people enslave themselves by their own consent. 1 Samuel 8:7. He will not interfere if people free themselves by their own consent. 1 Kings 12:16. He favors any old or new form of civil government that will respect his universal legal code, that refuses to usurp His jurisdiction and will better secure the unalienable rights of the people, but He will not impose such a civil government against the will of the people. King David, chosen by the people, who loved God’s law is an example of this. Psalm 119. God asks and expects people to govern themselves and be wise about it. If they refuse, He lets them go their own way unto their destruction. Genesis 19:24. Romans 8. The Book of Judges testifies to this. God is liberal in giving multiple chances to get civil government right. That is His gracious nature. He is interested to see what we make of it. The Books of the Kings testifies to this.
God looks to the ends of the earth and observes everything under the heavens. Job 28:24. From the place where He lives he looks carefully at all the earth’s inhabitants. Psalm 33:14. The actions of civil government and its leaders do not escape His notice. Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9. To be strengthened, however, those devoted to God must also be devoted to first understanding how God thinks about the authority of people to institute and abolish their civil governments. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil. 1 Peter 3:12. It makes no difference if the evildoer is elected or appointed, or the People themselves, he or she is still an evildoer and God is against them.