ORIGIN OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT
(A Biblical Examination of Its Origin and Jurisdiction)
by Kerry Lee Morgan*
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. So Moses came and summoned the elders of Israel. He set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him, and all the people answered together, All that the Lord has commanded we will do!’ So Moses brought the words of the people back to the Lord.” Exodus 19:4-8.
A Treasured Possession, A Kingdom of Priests and A Holy Nation
Is God ready to do something different after all these years? Yes and no. Is He ready to make another covenant? That would seem to be the approach. He has already made a covenant with Adam, with Noah, and of course with Abraham. Now He is preparing to make another covenant with the people of Israel after their Exodus from Egypt by Moses as their redeemer and judge. God said to Moses: “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel, You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” Exodus 19:4-6.
Here God is saying, “The earth is mine.” It is His possession. God does not say the earth is the Devil’s property. He does not say Satan owns it. He does not say that the earth is possessed by the nations of the earth who claim it. Since God owns it, he has authority to govern it. King Jehoshaphat said, “Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.” 2 Chronicles 20:6. No man can withstand God. No king can withstand God.
God does not say that the earth is the exclusive property of mankind or any nation to govern it as it pleases. American Foreign policy experts should reevaluate their claim to govern the nations of the earth in the national interest. Indeed, “let the nations know they are only mortal.” Psalm 9:20. “Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.” Isaiah 40:17.
So God is reaffirming that while nations originated after the Tower of Babel and spread out over the face of the earth as recorded in Genesis 10, yet He has not instituted their civil governments, selected their rulers, appointed their judges or empowered their legislatures. He is now proposing to Israel something new–that He will make them more than just one of these nations. He is proposing to establish the people as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. That is a different proposal than anything He has ever done with any nation.
He is also proposing it, not imposing it. That is important. Arguably the people of Israel could say, “No thanks, we appreciate all you’ve done in Egypt, but we want to be a nation just like all the other nations.” Though they don’t say it at this point in time, this is exactly what they foolishly say later in I Samuel 8 when they renege on their promise. It is hard to imagine that a nation once offered the opportunity to be a holy nation governed by God directly, should later say they only want a king like all the other nations. They would exchange God as their King, for a man to wage their wars. I Samuel 18:19-20. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The point is that God is proposing something new to Israel and the people have to decide to accept or reject this proposal.
What do the people say in response to this proposal? All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” The people agreed. The People consented. This is the first Biblical instance of a nation being governed directly by God with its consent. The people consented freely to make God their national King, Supreme Judge and Legislative body. Don’t let any theologian diminish this free choice by claiming that Israel was predestined to accept God’s offer, or that Israel was unable to accept because God caused them to accept. What nonsense. God’s offer was genuine as was the People’s acceptance. They freely consented to abide by His enacted laws that they had not yet heard. They simply trusted that God would govern them lawfully.
The question now becomes how did God implement this particular relationship accepted by the People. How does He achieve His proposal to make the people His treasured possession among all the peoples of the earth and to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation?
The answer to that question could fill volumes. Let’s try to summarize. After the people consented en masse to God’s proposal, God enacts ten commandments. He then enacts and informs the people through Moses, various laws about altars, slaves, restitution, sacrifices, the Sabbath, and war. You might think after hearing all these laws and rules and regulations the people would have second thoughts. Did they say, “Boy this is more than we bargained for?” Perhaps God was thinking the same thing? Yet, after God states all these laws about the foregoing matters, He again asks the people to ratify everything. He wants to be sure. The people answered with one voice and again said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Exodus 24:3-4.
This is not like Congress that adopts bills no one has read and leaves it to Agency bureaucrats to implement and judge to defer. Why should you expect that you will have an opportunity to read it if Congress does not? If only Congress (and state legislatures) could be as transparent and open as God Almighty. God seeks national approval by the people of his laws after he enacts them. Can you imagine Congress proposing a referendum of its Public Acts by asking the American people to approve or reject what it has enacted? But God is more open-minded about consent of the People than Congress.
The next morning after this referendum, Moses “took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.'” Exodus 24:7. So the law was written down in a book, read back to the people who for the third time consented to obey the law. The law was written down. There were no surprises here. Nor is there room for judicial modification of the law either. No phony substantive due process posing as Constitutionalism.
God has a greater interest in making sure the people know the law, than our politicians who manipulate their voting patterns to hide what they are doing. God drafts laws with precision. The “Torah” consisting of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible contains 79,976 words. The entire King James Authorized Bible has 783,137 words. There are approximately 11,588,500 words in the final regulations implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA). That is just two laws of Congress. Let us hear no more complaints about the number or complexity of God’s laws.
State and congressional laws take up volumes of shelf space. God on the other hand, is to the point. In fact, God is clearer when writing the law and explaining it to the people than your state legislature or the United States Congress. You don’t need a gaggle of lawyers and judges to explain the law of God as compared to the law of your state or United States. God is simply more concise and the model of legal brevity compared to the laws of men. God also respects the liberty he has entrusted to humans eliminating the need for endless regulations.
Remember these points the next time someone complains about how God’s laws are difficult to understand or don’t make sense. At least the people consented to the law after it was read to them on two or three occasions. Can you say the same for yourself with regard to your local, county, state or national governments? If you want to see what tyrannical laws look like, try deciphering your local US attorney’s indictments or simply read Title 18 of the United States Code which comprises the Penal Code of the United States. You would live in Israel with Moses any day of the week.
So here is the situation. We have the people of Israel, a nation among the nations of the earth agreeing to be a nation unlike the rest. We have a description of God’s proposal to initiate the transformation of that single nation into a treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We do not find that God has made this offer to any other nation, before or since. When we think about American government, let us not forget this. America never was nor is a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. It was founded on the laws of nature and of nature’s God as articulated in the Declaration of Independence which is a magnificent human achievement and recognition of God’s authority over nations, but that is not the same foundation as Israel. Still have that yellow marker with you?
Let us not fall into the deception of believing that God came to the Pilgrims in 1620 up in Massachusetts, and offered the same deal to them as He did to Israel. God did not. They were founded by men and woman who sought religious freedom from a tyrannical government.
We must appreciate the unique contribution each settlement made in shaping America. This included Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Hakluyt’s Colony at Roanoke Island in the 1580’s, and especially the Ancient Planters and Adventurers with the Virginia Company of London founding Henricus and settling in Jamestown in 1607.
These settlements were founded by those who sought to be masters of their own land and labor, just as God had directed Adam and Noah. They all sought to adopt theistic and Christian ideas and make them the cornerstone of their colonies and the nation that would be later birthed. But we ought not confuse these wonderful contributions with what God proposed to Israel in Exodus or with the Puritan’s hyper- spiritual characterization of their own endeavors as a “New Israel.” They were not a new Israel because they were never Israel to begin with.
Returning to our examination of God making Israel a treasured possession, what made the difference? What could begin to make them a treasured nation and not just another nation over which God has authority? Did they get a unique civil government? Did they get a king? What about a national legislature? What about judges? Did they get special or unique laws which applied wherever they geographically wandered? Did they get a set of laws that were the law of the land? What about that?
What is the path for a people to become a treasured possession out of all the nations? What does it take to be a kingdom of priests? How do a people become a holy nation? These purposes are Israel-specific. God does not make this particular offer to any other nation, people or priests. He never made this offer to Christians either. The way God initiated these special and unique purposes for this nation and to transform them as a nation into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation is through giving the people a special set of laws and establish those laws in a special system of government. God set Israel apart from all other nations as His most favored nation. Exodus 19:6. But Israel did not fully become either a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. The process was just started. Those descriptions also look forward to the day when the Millennium begins. Then will the nation truly be holy and every member thereof stand as a priest before God. In the meantime, God acting as the legislature will give Israel His laws to begin the process of become priests and holy.
God Is The Legislature
With Israel, we see that the law which God gave Moses for the People is truly from God and not from Moses. The most obvious case is God enacting ten commands and writing them on stone Himself twice. It means that God Himself is the lawgiver. He is the legislature for Israel. He sets the rules. He does not set up any legislative body with authority to make, modify or repeal His laws. Ancient Israel did not draft laws or statutes for legislative purposes. There was no man-made legislature. There were no elections. There were no gerrymandered districts. Thank God there were no political parties bent on corrupting the people with campaign promises.
Broadly speaking, God himself enacted laws for the entire Nation. The “Ultimate Bible Summary Collection” gives a good and concise overview. We reference and quote liberally. See http://biblehub.com/summary/exodus/1.htm
In chapters 18-24 of Exodus, Moses presents the Laws including the Ten Commandments to all the people at Mt. Sinai as God has commanded. In chapters 25-40, Moses gives the Israelites the tabernacle, priest and worship instructions. These commands are how God will guide Israel into becoming a holy nation and kingdom of priests. Leviticus was written to draw the Israelites to an understanding of the holiness of God, and that He desires them to act in a holy manner toward Himself. In doing this, God gives them many instructions to carry out. It describes Moses giving procedural instructions for the Israelites, especially to the Levitical priests, about how they are to carry out offerings, ceremonies, and celebrations. The word “Holy” is mentioned more times in Leviticus, than any other book in the Bible. How does God desire to make Israel into a holy nation? He gives the rules for holiness. How does He make a kingdom of priests? He gives rules and instructions for priests.
Sacrifice and Offerings are laid out for priests and individuals. These passages also describe how to use the altar for the sacrifices and the offerings to God. In chapters 8-10, Moses describes the instructions for the Levitical priesthood as a start. Since Israel is to be “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus. 19:6) we may assume that the Levitical priesthood was just the beginning. One day all Israel will become this kingdom. 1 Peter 2:9. The Levitical priesthood did not make Israel a kingdom of priests. Under that system, only a small number of persons were priests – the rest of the nation, even the rest of the Levites, were not. The concept behind a kingdom of priests is that every single member of the kingdom will be a priest, not just some. But it was a start.
Moses teaches the importance and procedures for things that are unclean. These holiness requirements include food, diseases, animals, insects, dead bodies, birth, cleaning and many others. Moses gives instruction about the Day of Atonement. The High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies and offers a sacrifice to God for sins on behalf of the entire nation of Israel. He describes laws that apply generally for living a holy life. There are many laws covering sexual immorality, idolatry, land laws, more priestly laws, religious festivals and celebrations, the Sabbath year and the year of Jubilee. A holy nation is one that has consented to follow these laws.
Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy approximately 1407-1406 B.C. That would be about 2,597 years into human history. The name literally means “Second Law.” Moses gives “the Law” for the second time. In chapters 1-4, Moses reviews details of the history of Israel such as the Exodus and the wandering in the wilderness. Then, in chapters 5-28 Moses restates the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. Moses explains the principles and instructions for living a godly life as God’s chosen nation. These include how to love the Lord, laws of worship, laws regarding relationships (and divorce), and also the consequences and penalties if these laws are broken. In chapters 29-30 there is a move to commit to them as a nation, and to stand apart unto God. This consists of not only knowing the laws that God has commanded, but also obeying them as a People.
See the structure? God sets two purposes for the nation a kingdom of priests and a holy nations. As the legislature, He then enacts specific laws that regulate ancient Israelite conduct to serve these purposes.
Thus, our superficial and brief tour of the law shows it is given for the very purpose of initiating God’s proposal to Israel to make them into his treasured possession. The people agreed to these terms and obedience to these laws on several occasions. This is the way the nation of Israel was to take the fledging steps toward a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. It never then achieved that goal. Though God, by making a covenant will fulfil that purpose in the Millennial Kingdom one day. Jeremiah 33:17-21.
Israel Had No Lawmaking Body
God did not commit the law giving or lawmaking function to any man or ruler. He kept it himself and He exercised it exclusively. History teaches what happens when men establish rules for holy living. Liberty is lost. Tyranny follows. Thus, in our search for civil government from God’s point of view, we can draw no universal rule about the legislative power. Consider if you will that God has not proposed to make any other nation his treasured possession before or after Israel in human history. He has not proposed that America become His treasured possession. Adoption of the specific laws of Israel given for that purpose is no rule of conduct or guide for any other civil government or nation.
We should not take away from this examination of the legislative power and law in Israel, the idea that, “Well, since Israel had no legislature, then neither should any other nation.” Nor should we conclude that, “Well, God gave his laws for Israel pursuant to a covenant with Abraham and then the people, then those exact same laws should apply to all other nations.” We should not conclude these things because they are not supported by what God declares to be His unique purpose for Israel — to be his treasured possession out of all of the earth. Nor are they supported by what He declares to be His unique means by which that purpose is to be obtained — the giving of law intended to show this people how to live a holy and priestly life in the physical presence or manifestation of God as their King, Judge and Lawgiver.
We are sorry to disappoint you if you were thinking that we had finally reached the promised land of civil government. We have not. These early beginnings for Israel do not establish a rule for all nations. What we can take away, however, is what we previously learned about God and government; God is the King of all nations. “Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you.” Jeremiah 10:7. God is also the great judge of all the earth. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Genesis 18:25.
The Law Was “The Law Of The Land”
Let us not lose track of the fact that all of these holiness and priestly laws were also given in a specific context. Leviticus 14 is one of the earliest indications about applying certain laws that will apply when the people actually come into the land God has promised them. God thereafter states on several occasions that this law or that law will apply when the people come into the land. These particular rules may be justly called the law of the land.
These are laws which principally and perhaps exclusively applied in the land to which they were given to dwell. This means if you lived within the specific geographical boundaries of Israel these laws would apply to you even though you were not an Israelite. See Leviticus 24:22 “You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” The law given to Israel was the law of their land in the land they were given. It was not the law of the land for Israel’s neighbors.
The Law Was Necessary For God To Live In The Land
Let us also not forget the ultimate reason God provided his laws about priests and holiness to the nation. It was so that a holy God could live among His sinful people. It is amazing that God would want to actually live among the people of the nation for He says after describing the laws on atonement and holiness that “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.”
When Moses repeated God’s laws for Israel he made a point of observing that obedience to these laws would permit them to take possession of the land promised to Abraham. God also commanded that if Israel would keep these laws, especially those that allowed the people to be considered holy in the sight of God thereby permitting them to be in God’s presence and talk to God, albeit through their high priest, then the people of other nations would marvel at such a God.
Moses explains to the people in Deuteronomy 4:6-8 that Israel’s wisdom and understanding in the sight of other nations will be a source of envy. Other nations will say when they hear the statutes of God and in particular those holiness laws which allow God and his people to be near to each other. “What great nation is there that has a God so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”
Moses states this to show the people of Israel they have something no other nation has. Israel has a God near them and who will speak with them provided they obey his laws. No other nation has such a God. Israel has laws given by God so He may be permitted to be approached by his people, even though they are sinful and God is holy. Some teachers simply claim this passage means God’s laws for Israel are a model for the laws of all nations, but the context says that other nations will envy these laws because they permit God to be near His people.
Moses is not declaring that the laws of Israel which allow them this privilege are a rule of conduct for all nations. This is not the context. The Laws given to Israel are great and righteous. But they are great and righteous for a purpose. They are great and righteous so that the people of Israel may be and become a treasured possession, kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They are great and righteous so that the people of Israel may have their God live within their presence. They are great and righteous laws so that the people of Israel may inherit and dwell in the specific land which was promised to Abraham. They are not great and righteous laws so that the peoples of the earth and its nations which follow may copy them down verbatim and apply them in their own nations. We are instead required to discern which have universal application and which are specific to Israel’s purpose.
John Locke (1632-1704) in A Letter Concerning Toleration originally published in 1689 summarized it this way, “Nobody pretends that everything generally enjoined by the law of Moses ought to be practiced by Christians; but there is nothing more frivolous than that common distinction of moral, judicial, and ceremonial law, which men ordinarily make use of. For no positive law whatsoever can oblige any people but those to whom it is given. Hear, O Israel,’ [Deuteronomy 6:4] sufficiently restrains the obligations of the law of Moses only to that people.”
God Is The King
We have extensively examined how Israel became a treasured possession of God by examining God as the legislative branch. Now we shall turn our attention to how God proposed that Israel should be a treasured possession by God being the King of that nation. We are thus switching gears from the legislature to the executive branch. The nation becomes a treasured one by God Himself serving as its King. As its King, He appoints persons such as Moses and Joshua to serve under Him and in His administration. Moses is not the king. Joshua is not the king. They are subordinate executive officials under God as the Supreme King of the Nation.
The Scripture refers to the 70 elders of Israel. Who are these men? Did they rule the nation as an oligarchy? No, not even close. After Moses complained about how hard it was to carry the burdens of the people and asked God to kill himself because life was just too hard to go on, the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.” Numbers 11:16-17.
So here we have God providing Moses with 70 men to help Moses share the administrative burden of overseeing and guiding the executive branch of the government. Nothing in this account, however, establishes some universal rule that 70 is a magic number for an executive branch. Nothing herein provides a general rule that the executive branch officials should be appointed by the supreme leader, chancellor, king, president or prime minister.
They may appoint, however, executive officials on the principle that the burden they must carry is too heavy for one man. That seems to be a better rule to deduce rather than any rule of general applicability that wise elders are entitled to govern or that oligarchy is the best form of civil government. Of course the problem is when appointees don’t help to rule under law, but rule in their own name with their own agenda. This well describes the American administrative state, judicial deference and Congressional abuse of the Constitution’s commerce power. Indeed, “The prophets prophesy falsely, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” Jeremiah 5:31.
God Is The Great Judge
We have examined the beginnings of the nation of Israel, its special purpose among all the nations and its unique laws serving as the means by which God chose it to become a treasured possession thereby permitting God to entertain the real possibility He could actually live in the land among his own people. We have also seen how that covenant played out in connection with God as the sole and supreme legislature and God as the only King using Moses and 70 elders to serve in his administration. Let us now complete the analysis with an examination of God as judge.
We have already seen that Noah acknowledged properly that God Himself is the Great Judge of mankind and of nations. Now here in Israel, we see that God will use the preexisting judicial system Moses established on advice of his father-in-law with its recognition that ultimately God is the final and supreme Court. All the hard appeals come to God through his Appellate courts and his Circuit Judge Moses. God is the final and highest judicial authority. While there are subordinate human judges for 1 of every 10 people in Israel, they all judge cases according to God’s law.
What law is this? Jethro gave his advice before God gave his laws including the Ten Commandments to Moses. Moses set up this judicial system before he received the Law at Mount Sinai. Even Jethro recognize there was a law that preceded the law of Israel for he says to Moses that, “You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.” Exodus 18:19-20.
Nor do Israel’s judges make up law or are they empowered to override the law after “a quite extensive discussion.” like the Obergefell v. Hodges United States Supreme Court majority did. Perhaps the reason Israel’s judges did not habitually go their own way during the early years was because their selection was not a function of political favor, as is the selection of our federal judiciary. Moses looked “for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe.” Absent from this list is political party affiliation, prior employment in the Justice Department, or graduation from Harvard or Yale Law schools.
If a rule of universal applicability relates to judges, it is Jethro’s pre-covenant advice to look for local people who fear God who are trustworthy and hate a bribe. While the list is short, perhaps that is the best that can be hoped for. Beyond that, one judge for every 10 people is a pragmatic decision. Given this plethora of judges, however, it’s easy to see how the nation was bound to the law by judges acting under the law. Judges merely decided disputes between parties that came before them. They did not draft laws of general applicability binding the people at large. For the hard cases, Moses would bring them “before the Lord” (Numbers 27:5) and wait until “the decision of the Lord should be declared” (Leviticus 24:12), or before others as directed by the Lord. Deuteronomy 17:9-12. Moses himself did not decide all the cases.
There were no police or public prosecutors. All prosecution and punishment had to be carried out by the injured party and his family. The family was still the only real government in town. Judges judged disputes between parties, but the judges themselves were heads of families which served to ensure that familial structure remained intact.
Simply put, God is and has always been the king, the judge, and the lawgiver of every nation. The law that applied to the nations was that law which He laid down at creation. We do not refer here to the specific laws of Israel just discussed, but the laws of God which he has written into the creation and nature. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” Romans 1:18-20.
He has also written his universal law into the hearts and conscience of every man and woman. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness . . .” Romans 2:14-15. It is God who has written that law in his created work–nature. It is mankind, not just Israel that knows “God’s righteous decree.” Romans 1:32.
What changed was that God now became the immediate King of Israel in residence, the supreme judge of that land’s disputes, and the exclusive lawgiver for this one nation out of all the nations. He gave Israel His special laws on priests and holiness so that God might, if the people were obedient, fulfill His desire to live among His people on the face of the earth in the specific parcel of land He had promised. That should be highlighted in yellow.
God did not establish His government of Israel by conquest or violence, or because He was God the Creator. It was established by consent offered on at least three occasions. If God will not use force, if He would seek consent, how much more is the actual or proposed civil government of any other nation obliged to follow suit?
Our search to determine if God establishes civil governments for the nations has found no such example. Moses received the law 2,513 year into human history when God proposed a specific government for only one nation, established only by their consent. That is the sum of the matter. The other civil governments of pharaohs, kings and victorious warlords are the creation of humans, not God.