ORIGIN OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT
(A Biblical Examination of Its Origin and Jurisdiction)
by Kerry Lee Morgan*
“These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” Genesis 10:32.
“Historical migration of human populations begins with the movement of Homo erectus out of Africa across Eurasia about 1.75 million years ago. Homo sapiens appear to have occupied all of Africa about 150,000 years ago, moved out of Africa 70,000 years ago, and had spread across Australia, Asia and Europe by 40,000 years BCE. Migration to the Americas took place 20,000 to 15,000 years ago, and by 2,000 years ago, most of the Pacific Islands were colonized.” History of Human Migration, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_human_migration
Dominion Travel, Inc.
Our exploration of God’s view of civil government in the first 1,656 years of history thus far has turned up nothing. Yet, we press on as history moves forward. We are at that time after the flood with the same rules as before regarding family and some new modifications regarding eating meat and punishing murderers. We are after the world-wide judgment by God, not by man, of humanity’s evil. Yet, we are again looking to see if a human based system of civil government will be set up by God to punish evildoing. Perhaps His approach will be to do nothing different than He did before the flood? Will He wait and judge mankind at the end of the age?
We have seen that God’s pre-flood regret was not over the family government He created, the absence of civil government or His own timing of judgment. Yet, here we are trying to find some rationale for civil government. We are searching for the elusive passage that says: “See here, God established civil government and we must obey.” But we have not yet found it. It was not at creation. It was not at the flood. It was not in the days of Noah after the flood or upon Noah’s death some 350 years later. So we are already 2000+ years into human history and have no word from God about civil government. Can you believe that?
You could argue from silence, “Well God set up civil governments and pharaohs and kings, He just didn’t tell us.” Sure you could say that. But claims from silence are not very convincing. Nor are they very informative. But what does He say about the time after the flood?
This period includes the first part of the life of Abraham. Abraham was 58 years old when Noah died. Perhaps Abraham spent time with Noah or Noah’s son Shem and learned all the details about the pre-flood world and the flood itself. Abraham lived in Ur down the Euphrates River from Mount Ararat. After the flood, Noah and his family came out of the Ark in the mountains of Ararat and eventually settled on a plain in Shinar. This makes sense. God told him to use the land and work it for food. He planted a vineyard. It makes perfect sense to relocate to a fertile plain from a mountain top full of rocks to fulfill this task. Yet, we can understand that some doubted the promise of God in the rainbow to never destroy the earth by water again. To these people, keeping the Ark close by would make sense too. It was a good backup plan. Scattering out across the face of the earth and leaving the Ark behind was the last thing on their mind.
Scholars believe that a great migration developed upon the “Fertile Crescent,” which was like a great arc of cultivable land that extended from the Persian Gulf, up and around Mesopotamia and back down to what would become Israel and Egypt. Genesis also refers to the plain of Shinar as the place where the Tower of Babel was eventually built. This fertile area was the center of everything–agriculture, commerce, all the great families of the earth, and the Ark nearby. It was the greatest metropolis on earth featuring the accomplishments of modern architecture a tower that reached to the heavens and perhaps to God himself. Noah and his sons were in the middle of it all. He is the guy who talked to God and whom God spared. You would like to live near him just in case God shared other big plans.
We know Abraham left his home in Ur and traveled north as far as Haran, right up the Euphrates River. Some scholars place this city in the Shinar region. It is not implausible to believe that Shem (Noah’s son) and Abraham may have met and talked. Think about that? That makes a lot more sense than Homo erectus migrated from Africa 1.75 million years ago.
Who Created Nations With the Same Language?
Meanwhile, we see the rise of nations. Did God create nations? Yes and no. God divided the people into language groups. Division into language groups was God’s means to accomplish two objects. First, He divided people into language groups to induced mankind to inhabit the whole earth, not just one place. Second, he confused the language so mankind would again search for God Himself. The natural and predictable result of being separated by language and fanning out over the face of the entire earth was the creation of nations. The Lord dispersed them from this one place over the face of all the earth. Genesis 11:8.
Nations arose from the original act of God confusing human language. God created languages and as a result humanity scattered into language groups, each occupying different geographical regions. These regions developed borders and assumed the particulars of nationality built on their unique language first and fraternal identity second. It seems only natural that nations would serve as the geographical boundary and physical limitation of any civil government that might subsequently be instituted. God’s institution of nations based on families who spoke the same language had the practical effect of preventing the various nations of the earth from joining together simply because they could not understand one another.
Before Babel, all the families of the earth were gathered in one physical location on the plains of Shinar. They erected a tower to “make a name for themselves.” This suggests that the goal of Babel was to declare the independence of mankind from God. The message of Babel is clear, “We the families of the earth are great without God.” God’s response is equally clear “We will limit God-less families by dividing them into nations according to language.”
We are now over four millennia later in time since Babel, and mankind through its nations have done their best to overcome the language barrier. All these years the nations have pressed toward returning to the singular worldwide cooperation and control of Babel by moving closer to overcoming the language barrier. The cover of this book illustrates the confusion of the ages continues.
In addition to 1) God instituting nations to induce mankind to spread out over the face of the earth as originally commanded, and 2) to retard the tendency of mankind to declare that their collective greatness does not depend on God, God also 3) used the institution of nations to force mankind back to looking for Himself since they could no longer immediately turn to their neighbor for support as they now spoke a different language. Paul observes this phenomenon. “From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” Acts 17:26-27. He did this by confusing our then common language at Babel. Genesis 11:1-9. This passage about nations makes no reference, however, to civil government.
Countries and nations are the byproduct of language division. The object was to disperse the people over the face of the earth so they would fulfill the covenant regarding family, land and property. God directed the people to do this earlier in Genesis 9, but they refused. They built a mighty tower for the purpose of all dwelling together in one location and refused to scatter out across the face of the earth. This is critical to understand nations came about to help families facilitate their dominion purpose and to remind people that God was there if we would only reach out to contact Him. Nations are a means unto an end to encourage family purpose and knowledge of God.
So God employed a new means to effect His purposes of scattering the people by familial clans across the globe and slowing down their tendency to advance themselves without Him. The new means he employed was to confuse their language. He did not do this to create nations, per se, but to facilitate his command that the people exercise dominion through their families. Genesis 10:32 sums it up this way: “These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” Babel is simply another part of God’s history of the family. Nations arose from extended families based on a common language.
What does language, family, and migration mean for nations? God established them and nations were the result. God established them to help families do what he first commanded Adam then Noah. God also established nations to impede for the time being, people from rejecting Him, and thus to help people find Him again. A single tower as a testament to man’s greatness would just not do. No word yet, however, about civil government. Why? It is because family government was still intact and more than sufficient, as it was from the beginning. God was still God and He retained all his authority.
Where Did These Kingdom, Pharaohs and Kings Come From?
This is the way family based same language nations came into being. But nations are not civil governments. Nations are not kings. The first actual mention of some type of civil government is found in Genesis 11. Jesus and his Father went down to the plain of Shinar from Heaven to see what was going on. They went down to earth to see the construction of a great city and its high tower with its top reaching toward the heavens. This was the first “kingdom” of mankind ever described in the Bible. It was the first kingdom of men and a man named Nimrod was its master builder. Nimrod was the first man on earth to be described as “a mighty man” and a great hunter. Whatever he was or was doing, it was interesting enough for God and Jesus to visit and inspect.
Recall the fate of that first kingdom of the earth. You remember what happened. God said there is no stopping them from congregating in one place on the earth. God previously told Adam and then Noah to go out into the earth, but instead the people remained all together in one place Nimrod’s city. So as an inducement to obey Him, God confused the language of all the people. It was all babel. They could not understand each other. As a result, the construction of the tower and city ceased. The great unified city of mankind was abandoned. The Kingdom of Nimrod was no more.
What’s the point? The point is that God went to see the kingdom men were building. This seems like odd behavior if God establishes kingdoms. God did not likely establish the kingdom and then forgot about it so He had to go visit it. Instead God caused it to be abandoned and cease its existence. Again this is strange conduct for those maintaining that God establishes the kingdoms of the earth. For Romans 13 fans, was Nimrod and this kingdom one of the “authorities established by God”? No evidence in the text suggests so. The text indicates just the opposite; God put an end to this kingdom.
Fast forward to Genesis 12:15. Here Abram and his wife were in Egypt and Abram feared that his beautiful wife would be taken by the pharaoh who in turn would kill Abram, ostensibly to free her from their marriage bonds so pharaoh could lawfully have her all to himself. Here is how pharaoh and his princes are presented. “And when the princes of pharaoh saw her, they praised her to pharaoh. And the woman was taken into pharaoh’s house.” Since Abram, however, lied and told pharaoh that his wife was his sister, Abram remained alive.
Let us stop here. What do you see happening in chapter 12? We see there was a man called pharaoh and there were others called princes who seemed his subordinate officials. Pharaoh is a title for an Egyptian king. Perhaps the term means the “sun” or “sun-god,” or “the great house.” We know nothing about how this man came to be pharaoh. Was he elected? Was he appointed by the Sun itself? Was he simply the strongest family in the region and declared him in charge? Perhaps he took the kingdom by force, by fraud, by blood or a combination thereof. We do not know. The Bible does not say. Perhaps he controlled land and agriculture and made others dependent on him for food and survival? It would be difficult to migrate away from the Nile area which he controlled and harder still to find land to work and produce food in a desert environment. Perhaps pharaoh controlled regional food production. Recall the reason Abram went to Egypt in the first place. There was a famine in his land. He went to Egypt for its food.
This is all very interesting. We cannot say that God placed pharaoh on the throne. We cannot say that the Egyptians placed pharaoh on the throne. The scripture does not say how he came into this power. We know that pharaoh was the king and he had a reputation for killing the husbands of beautiful women. We know he took women and made them his wives without their consent. We know pharaoh gave orders and others obeyed and that he controlled his borders and deported those whom he desired to deport eventually including Abram and his wife. Genesis 12:20.
We know pharaoh knew something of the law of marriage even if he ignored its formation by mutual consent. We know he took wives by force. Perhaps that is also how he took his kingdom, by force, not consent? Finally, God told pharaoh to give Abram’s wife back or else he would continue to be afflicted with “great plagues.” We know pharaoh listened to God. Infamously pharaoh may have said to God: “I did not have sex with that woman.” Abimelech, King of Gerar said about the same thing. Genesis 20:4. President William Clinton said the same thing many centuries later. Apparently this is a popular line. God did not say to either: “You are no longer pharaoh or king.” God only said you better give her back or else.
This is the glorious introduction to the first pharaoh referenced in Genesis: He was a man inclined to murder; a man who takes what he wants by force; a man who controls land and agriculture, a man who determines who can reside in his kingdom; a man who can order others to do his will; and a man who God punished for defiling the marriage covenant of Abram and Sarai. Here is a man who believes he is the law. This is not a good start for civil government. Is this the pattern for all dictators, kings, prime ministers, and presidents to follow? Is this what God instituted?
Alas let us continue our search. The next mention of kings after a discussion of pharaoh and Abram in the Biblical record comes in Genesis 14. This describes a period between approximately 2,075 to 2,275 years into human history from creation. That is a long time before God bothers to mention kings. In this chapter, four kings from outside of Palestine invade and fight against five Canaanite kings. Ah ha kings by country or nation at last! So is God in the business of setting up these kings in these nations (which nations He created to encourage families and the knowledge of God)? Not so fast. Notice that the text merely describes the existence of these kings. It never says or implies God set any king on any throne for any nation. It never says or implies God set any sword in a king’s hand or commanded submission to a king. These nine kings have no different pedigree than pharaoh, except we are not told if pharaoh went to war.
What is the first contribution of these nine kings to a better society that the Bible notes? Is it to do justice? No. Is it to punish murders? No. Is it education or social welfare? No. Is it the administration of justice or the protection of religious liberty? No. Are the people paying taxes to these kings as a minister of God? God never says that.
The first thing we see about these kings is that they made war. Genesis 14:2. War is the way of kings from the beginning. Remember that when the next war comes around. Nothing new to see here. What acts of Justice did they further? The kings in war “took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.” In other words, they made war, killed their enemy, took booty, and prisoners as slaves. Genesis 14:11. It’s a bad start for kings. Can you claim God is the author of this warmongering arrangement? Perhaps our response to all this is to at least declare in nationalistic prose, we “Support the troops?”
God had previously declared the men of Sodom were wicked and “great sinners against the Lord.” Genesis 13:13. This situation 500 years after the flood is looking like the situation 500 years before the flood. Now, it is wicked sinners. Then, it was wickedness and evil continually. And what is God doing about it? Is He having a déjà vu? Maybe it is time for Abram to be king of the world? Perhaps some of the nine kings went to war to punish Sodom and Gomorrah? But does God need then to do that? Surely He can execute justice against Sodom? Why is it we are always rooting for more human power and can’t wait for God? Yet, we know the story. God eventually judges these cities with fire. He does not need Abram’s help. He does not need warmongering kings to do the job.
Abraham Is No King, But Nations And Kings Shall Come From Him
As for Abram, eventually changed to Abraham, far from establishing an earthy kingdom to judge Sodom, God proposes something infinitely better. He says that “Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” He affirms that “I have chosen him that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Genesis 17:18-19.
Isn’t that interesting? God’s purpose is that Abraham should command his children. God talks to Abraham about his family and his responsibilities. He says nations will come from him, but he is not made a king. He does not say that Abraham should be a king and wage war. He does not say that Abraham should punish murderers. God stays on point with nations and using nations to further his will to encourage families and advance the knowledge of Him. It’s the same theme from the beginning. The fact that these kings arise doesn’t change anything. And when they hinder his plan for Abram, they get cursed.
He does not say to Abraham, “Sodom is evil. I want you to go over there and kill them all there before they kill you here.” Instead, God says He will take care of the situation. God says, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.” You bet God will know. God will go down. This is God’s business. In fact, Abraham says to God: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” See what is happening? God is the judge of all the earth. Sodom is just one city. God is the judge of that too. God retained his authority to judge mankind and put to death the lawless.
Abraham did not have that authority from God. Abraham knew what was right and wrong, but this did not mean he was clothed with the authority to do anything he wanted. He had the authority to take back his nephew and his possessions because of his familial authority. But he did not have the authority to wage a general war against other nations or cities for the “children’s sake” or because it was in his “national interest” or because of “national security.” Such a claim would be seen for what it is an arrogant usurpation of authority not granted. It is the claim of tyrants promising freedom.
Abraham knows his place to fulfill his duties to his own children. Command your children, not the People or kings of Sodom. God is acting the same as before the flood. He will judge when he is good and ready. He does judge the City when his criminal investigation reveals there are not even five righteous persons left. Would God destroy the righteous with the wicked? No. God directed his angels to escort the simpleton Lot and his stiff necked wife and 2 daughters out of the City before its destruction. This was 4 people. When God destroyed the human race the first time at the flood, he preserved 8 people in Noah’s family and destroyed the rest. God has a lot of patience, knows how to save and knows how to judge.
Thus, approximately 2,075 to 2,275 years into human history from Creation, our brief introduction to pharaohs and kings is marked by murder, use of force, defilement of marriage, deportation, enslavement, theft of property and war.
Again we may ask, what does language, family, migration and nations have in common? Each preceded and stands independent by the will of God from any civil government which may arise by the will of human beings. Nations are a means unto an end encourage family and knowledge of God.