Broadly speaking, two basic kinds of government show up in the Bible: those who knew they were under God and those who thought they were God or were equal to God. The first kind protected God’s people. The second kind attacked them. The first knew they were servants (Rom. 13). The second didn’t and so acted like divine impostors and beasts (Ps. 2; Rev. 13, 17:1–6).
King Nebuchadnezzar offered an example of the first, at least after the Lord humbled him. This pagan king declared that God’s “dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.” He then provided what might be one of my favorite lines about God in the Bible: “None can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ ” (Dan. 4:34–35, ESV throughout). It was whenever Nebuchadnezzar was humbled that he stopped questioning God and made a space for God’s people.
The kings of Egypt and Assyria offered pictures of beastly imposters. They attacked and destroyed God’s people. Pharaoh responded to his first encounter with Moses, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” (Ex. 5:2). The Assyrian king’s field commander, likewise, taunted the people of Israel, “Beware lest [your king] mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isa. 36:18). They saw themselves as equal to or greater than God, and so their rule was both against God’s people and outside of God’s guidelines.
No governments are all good or all bad. Even the worst help the traffic lights to work, and the best spend money they shouldn’t. God, furthermore, employs the best and the worst for his sovereign purposes. Think of the death of Christ at the hands of Pilate. Still, beastly governments ordinarily make the work of God’s people much harder, and sometimes impossible. Just as we need to learn to read before we can read the Bible, so we need good governments providing peace and safety before the church can do its work. You cannot get to church if you’re bludgeoned by bandits on the way. But morally speaking, God intends for governments to build platforms of justice, peace, order, and flourishing for all their citizens so that the people of God can get on with their work.
Think about the purpose of government like guardrails on a mountain highway. The immediate purpose is to keep cars on the road. The larger purpose is to help cars get from City A to City B. Likewise, the immediate purpose of government is peace, justice, and order. Everyone should benefit. The larger purpose is to help the church’s redemptive purposes. It builds a stage for the story of redemption.
Taken from How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman. Copyright © 2018 by Jonathan Leeman. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com