The Lord Governs the Nations
Psalm 67:4 Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, And govern the nations on earth.
On this inauguration day it is good for us to be reminded of the scripture’s instruction on leadership and our responsibility as citizens and Christians. The Bible has much to say on this topic and as we go through these passages keep in mind that many of them were written during the time when the governing authorities were very hostile toward Christianity. The Lord has given us instructions and He will honor those who honor His word.
Power belongs to God
The first principle to understand on this topic is that power belongs to God alone. Mankind thinks that he is the one who plans his own destiny but the Bible says that even though we may plan our own way, our steps are directed by the Lord (Proverbs 16:9). We also must realize that leaders and those in authority do not govern outside of God’s will and they have no power to take our nation where God is not going. There are two important passages that explain this. First look at Proverbs 21:1
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
God has the power to turn leaders in the direction He chooses. Look at the plans of the leaders who crucified Jesus. The Jewish governors decided not to arrest Jesus during the feast day because they feared a riot and the Roman governor, Pilot wanted to let Jesus go with just a scourging. It was God’s will that prevailed for the redemption of Jesus was to be accomplished on the feast of Passover for it was the fulfillment of what the Passover represented. In the end, the foreordained plan of God was established and man’s plans were thwarted. During the time of judgment foretold in Revelation, this principle is also made clear. Look at Revelation 17:
17 "For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.
The Bible says that God puts it in the hearts of the world’s leaders to fulfill the purposes of God and the word God has spoken. It is not man who picks his leaders, but God who raises up leaders and orchestrates the events that raises them to power. Look also at Daniel 2:20-21
20 Daniel answered and said: "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. 21 And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.
This was spoken to King Nebuchadnezzar who was the world leader of the nation of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was called the servant of God by scripture and even though he was a pagan king, he was a tool in the hand of God. God raised him up to judge God’s people who had departed from the Lord and had abandoned His word. God also foretold that the king would be lifted up with pride and then would be taken down for seven years to show that God was the one who has all power. After seven years of insanity, Nebuchadnezzar was restored and he testifies of God’s power in Daniel 4:34-35
34 And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?"
The king of Babylon began by looking over his kingdom and saying, “Look what I have done”, but in the end he acknowledged that he was only a tool in the hand of the Lord and that it was God alone that raises men to power. The Lord raises up kings and rulers and the Lord brings them down. Psalm 62:11 says that power belongs to God. When Jesus stood before Pilot during His trial, the governor said, “Don’t you know that I have the power to crucify or release You?” Jesus made it clear that Pilot would have no power over Him unless it was given to him from above. God raises up good leaders to bless a godly nation and God raises up ungodly leaders to judge His people who have turned from Him.
The Bible also reveals that even when a leader may be godly, the Lord can still use them to judge the nation. In 2 Samuel 24 the Bible says that God was angry at the sins of Israel and he moved King David to make a foolish decision in order to judge the nation. Think about this the next time our leaders seem to make such foolish decisions. God does not bless a nation because they have the right leaders in office, but rather God blesses a nation if His people are walking in godliness. Look at Proverbs 14:
34 Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people.
Political leaders cannot exalt a nation nor can they bring down a nation. God has the power to turn their hearts, overthrow their plans or bless their efforts. When you really dig down and look at the personal lives of our political leaders during the greatest times of our nation’s glory, you find things that show human nature and not divine inspiration. God is not limited by our leader’s religious views. Even when we had ungodly leaders and men of questionable character, the Lord still blessed the nation. It is not the leaders but the church that determines whether a nation is blessed. Let’s look at a passage that is often quoted but rarely obeyed. Read 2 Chronicles 7:
14 "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
God does not say that he exalts the nation because they elect evangelical Christians into office, but rather if His people (the church) humble themselves before Him, repent by turning from their own ways, and seek His face. Only then will God answer this prayer and heal the land. God’s promises are not determined by who are leaders are, but by the holiness of His people. It is the responsibility of every Christian to keep their lives from being so crowded that they cannot find time to seek the Lord and to remove the things from their lives that have an ungodly influence.
Submission to Authority is Commanded
Authority is appointed by God and there is no authority that God has not appointed. Look at this passage from Romans 13:1-2
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
The scriptures make it clear that authority is from God and those who resist are not resisting the man in to position but they are resisting God. The Bible does not allow for us to choose whether or not to submit to the authority God has put in place. Submission is not conditional based upon the godliness of the leader. Anyone who resists brings the judgment of God upon themselves. We do not have to like what is done nor do we have to approve of someone’s beliefs; however, we do have to submit to the leadership God has ordained. Look at how Jesus explained this in Matthew 23:1-5
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 "But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.
The Pharisees were the governors of the people and were very ungodly. Jesus had the authority to challenge them since He is King of Kings and Lord of lords but that role is not given to us. The Pharisees were religious but very ungodly. The Bible says that the Pharisees were children of the devil and makes it clear that they were not going to heaven and were hindering others from finding the Kingdom of God. Even so, Jesus made it clear that submission to their authority was not optional. He instructed the people to obey their authority but not to follow their ways. This message is confirmed throughout scripture. Look at 1 Peter 2:13-17
13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men -- 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Your submission to authority puts you within the will of God and it becomes a testimony to those around you. This passage goes on to explain that this rule does not only apply to those who are righteous, but we are to submit to ungodly authority out of a good conscience toward God. Let’s continue on this passage by reading 1 Peter 2:18-23
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19 For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 "Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;
Though we do not live in a culture that puts people in servitude, the principles in this passage still apply. Everyone is commanded to submit to authority whether the individual is good or bad for we are not submitting to the person, but to the Lord through the position of the authority that He has put in place. We are foretold that sometimes we will have to suffer, but we still must take it patiently. This was demonstrated in the trial of the Apostle Paul. At the end of the book of Acts, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem for his faith in Christ and in Acts 23 he is called to stand before a council. When he began to speak, someone told the person beside him to strike him in the mouth. Paul reacted negatively by calling him a whitewashed wall because of the hypocrisy that he was supposedly being judged by the Jewish law, but they commanded him to be struck contrary to the law.
The term ‘whitewashed wall’ was an insult for this is similar to the statement Jesus made to illustrate the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The comparison is a wall that is filled with graves and dead men’s bones, but outwardly it looks beautiful because it has been painted white. The white was just a covering to hide the corruption within. After making this statement, someone criticized him for speaking against the High Priest that way. When Paul found out he was the High Priest, he apologized and said that it is written in the scriptures that we should not speak evil of the ruler of our people. Even though the High Priest was standing against God and dishonoring the law, this does not justify rebellion against authority.
So we see that the scripture gives us encouragement of being blessed and commended by God if we walk in obedience and also warns us that to reject the authority He has ordained puts us under God’s judgment. Our role as Christians is to lift up our leaders and show submission that they may fulfill their role with joy and not grief. Look at Hebrews 13:
17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
All leaders will one day give an account for their leadership. Our role is not to execute God’s judgment but to submit to God’s authority. Leadership is held accountable for watching out for the souls of those under them. If leadership is wicked, let God raise up wicked men to overthrow it, but do not put yourself under condemnation. Many will sin and be held in account by God. A wicked ruler will still fulfill God’s plan, but will also be held in account for their actions – good or bad. We are to submit to the Lord and the Lord will deal with how those in authority conduct themselves. The only excuse for disobedience is if we are commanded to disobey God. There is a time when we may have to resist, but even during our resistance to the sinful command we must remain submissive to the authority. When the leaders of Israel told the apostles that they were not permitted to preach Jesus, they were forced to disobey, yet they did not rail against them or rebel. Look at Acts 4:19-20
19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."
The apostles did not rebel against authority even when they made it clear that they could not obey. In fact, you will never see the apostles rebelling against any authority even though they were imprisoned and persecuted by those in authority. Throughout the New Testament we are repeatedly instructed to submit to all authority and we are told to look at the example Jesus gave. Though he was reviled, He did not revile again but committed Himself to the Father who judges righteously. The same is true for our resistance. If you can’t resist without submission you are in rebellion. We submit to God through obeying the authority God has put in place, or we submit to God by trusting Him to be the judge when we are condemned by the world. We do not return cursing for cursing for we are also commanded to bless those who persecute. The Bible directly commands us to bless and do not curse (Romans 12:14). These things were written by the very apostles that were being persecuted by two wicked governments.
Pray for leadership
Praying for authorities is a very important part of obeying the scriptures. I saw a news story where a religious leader was calling for people to pray that our new administration would fail. The Bible never permits us to pray against those we feel threatened by, but to pray for them. Rather then asking God to cause failure, perhaps we should pray that God will give wisdom and turn the hearts of our leaders toward the right way. Let us take a moment to look at 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
Our faithfulness to the Lord directly affects the peace we experience in this life. What would happen if we as Christians spent the same effort praying for our leaders as we do venting about them? It is so easy to vocalize displeasure, but it takes discipline and faithfulness to continuously lift up our leaders in prayer. Look at the promise that follows the command. As we effectively pray for our leaders it will impact our ability to live quiet, peaceably and have a culture of godliness. This is not only taught in the New Testament, but the Old Testament reveals this same truth.
When Israel was conquered by Babylon and taken captive, God instructed them to seek the peace of that nation by praying for it. Look at Jeremiah 29:
7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.
This applies to the Christian as well. We live in a world that is not our home; however, if our nation has peace we shall have peace. Just as Israel was required to live in a foreign land but was not to conform to that culture, we are living in the world but are not to become like the world. We are commanded to come out from the world system and be separate, but still to be instruments of peace to the culture around us. The culture affects our lives, but even more importantly, our faith affects the culture around us. The Bible tells us that the prayer of the righteous avails much (James 5:16); therefore, our obedience to the Lord so that we are in His will also puts us in the position of righteousness so that we can pray in God’s will that we may see God working through us and through the church. God’s people working in obedience has a direct influence on the political world around us. Look at Proverbs 28:
2 For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.
The Bible also states that the nation that forgets God will fall. As a culture gives in to sin and ungodliness, there becomes a need for more leaders and more restrictions for a godless people cannot self-govern. However, when the people of God apply themselves to understanding and knowledge the nation is prolonged in its state of peace. Through knowledge (which comes from the word of God) and understanding (which comes from the Spirit of God), we have an influence on our nation that no political leader can ever possess. God blesses the culture for the sake of the faithful and God judges the culture when the church falls short and spirals out of control with the culture. The Bible says that when judgment begins, it starts at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). When judgment fell on Israel, it began at God’s house (Ezekiel 9:6). In the past, the nation of Israel fell because God’s people turned away from the word of God and followed the culture around them. Without the light of righteousness the culture cannot sustain righteousness. The decay of the culture is a direct result of the spiritual decay of God’s people.
Hopefully you can see that God directs our steps and He alone is the ruler of the nations. Our natural reaction is to try to intervene by our own power and efforts, but history has shown that this is unfruitful. What happened to the Moral Majority? What lasting affect do we see from Christian activist groups? Do we see any return to moral virtue through political action? The Christian is to be involved as God provides opportunity; however, your efforts cannot turn a culture to godliness. A godless people cannot self-govern for they have no internal restraint. We as Christians submit ourselves to God in obedience, pray for our nation and then we trust in God to fulfill His promise to heal our land. We cannot be the agents of change, nor can we heal anything. We can only stand in obedience and allow God to work through us and turn the hearts as He sees fit for He alone can bring virtue into our culture. If we are faithful to Him, the Lord will be faithful to keep His word. There is no other way.
Set time aside regularly to lift up your nation, political leaders and spiritual leaders before God. Then trust the Lord to accomplish His will in His way. Pray for your leaders with all thanksgiving for if we honor God’s word He will honor His promises.
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