Thinking about government in light of 1 Samuel 8
by Matthew Recker
By the last days of the judges, national Israel had grown from a family to a loose confederation of sovereign tribes banded together for mutual worship and protection. 1 Samuel 8 offers us a turning point in the government of the nation where a centralized government would be established that would ultimately take and tax from the people until it divided the nation (1 Kings 12:18).
God tells Samuel to “protest solemnly” to the people of God and “show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:9). Samuel warns the people regarding their political situation, that the manner of king they would choose would “take” their sons, daughters, fields, vineyards and flocks. Samuel warned the people that oppressive government would replace God’s gracious rule.
In this we find some fascinating parallels to what is happening in our own nation. We can observe three spiritual problems that led Israel to choose a king that would lead to oppression instead of the freedom they craved.
The first problem in government is the corruption of man.
Samuel’s greedy sons “walked not in his ways” but sought material gain unjustly by violence. They took bribes and perverted justice in order to line their own pockets (1 Samuel 8:3). The iniquity of Samuel’s sons became an opening for an increase of government.
It is strangely true that the crisis of human injustice is an opportunity for greater government interference. In the name of compassion, the sins and shortcomings of man provide an opportunity for government to grow and thus to take away more freedoms. In our day we see exactly the same kinds of things happening. For example, excessive profits in private industry give government an opportunity to exercise oversight over the covetousness of private industry. Any misstep in the private sector, whether banking, the auto industry, the health industry, or the environmental hazards of the energy sector, gives the government reason to enter in, regulate, tax, and add more controls. More and more government has become the master and caretaker of our lives. Consider the oil industry. There is no company in America that can drill, transport or refine fuel without government permission. Meanwhile, those companies must comply with a mountain of bureaucratic regulation and pay huge taxes at every level of production.
The crisis of the family is an opportunity for the government to take. Parents who do not feed their children give the government opportunity to take one person’s money to feed someone else’s children in school programs. Or, when bloated government agencies do not respond adequately to emergencies, the answer is more government. And with this, the government expands and freedoms shrink. When people do not govern themselves, someone in government quickly steps in and seeks to exercise control.
Throughout history, the greatest human threat to liberty is an all powerful, centralized government. Today, we are seeing the rapid expansion of our federal government, and with this, the incremental loss of freedom. It’s estimated that there are around three million people serving in the federal bureaucracy. They’re not drafted against their will to serve, but your tax money is. We are forced to pay for these unelected individuals who help run the government. A person’s personal income check is a foundation to his political freedoms, so the more of that the government takes, the less freedom a person has. The less he will also have for his personal life, his family or for his church.
Patrick Henry said, “The constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government, lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”
Dwight Eisenhower said, “Every step we take towards making the State the Caretaker of our lives, by that much we move toward making the State our Master.”
A second problem in government is the rejection of God (1 Samuel 8:7, 19-20).
God tells Samuel, “They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). In desiring a king, Israel was rejecting God and looked to a human king to replace God. When spiritual decay sets in, God becomes small in people’s lives, they look for something to replace him. There are many replacements put in the place of God, and, ironically, looking for freedom from control, men turn to the control of such things as big government. In a way, big government is man’s best attempt to substitute for a God who appears distant.
When Israel rejected God, then they wanted to be like the nations around them. Since every other nation surrounding Israel had a king, they wanted one too. The people said, “Nay, but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Until that time all they had was God to govern them. They ignored the reality that in order to fight their battles a king would take heavily from them. They had a naïve view toward a centralized power. They thought their king would give without taking. They blindly believed their king would protect them, when they had God as their King!
In like manner, the God of the Bible has been rejected by our educational, social, political, and even many religious institutions. As we have rejected God in America, we have replaced God with more government programs to care for us from the cradle to the grave. We have rejected the family as He has ordained. We have rejected prayer and Scripture from our educational institutions. We have rejected His moral standards to guide us as a nation. In so doing, we become like other nations that have also rejected Him.
William Penn, the founder of the city of Philadelphia wrote, “If we will not be governed by God, then we will be ruled be tyrants.”
James Madison, the Father of our Constitution, said, “We have staked the whole of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
George Washington said the two pillars that hold our government together are religion and morality.
The Declaration of Independence establishes our nation on a number of Biblical principles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Those who founded our nation recognized the God of the Bible as the Creator and that man was an image bearer of his Creator. There were no evolutionists or atheists who signed the Declaration of Independence.
A third problem in government is unjust confiscation by the leaders from the people
Samuel warns people about the dangers of government. The two key words here are “take” and “best” (1 Sam 8:14, 16). Taking God’s place, Saul would need to build an immense bureaucracy to run the government and military complex to enforce his policies. Is the government ever big enough? No. The Israelites would lose their personal freedom through conscription and taxation of the king.
Saul would draft Israel’s sons to build his army. He would take their daughters and make them government workers (1 Sam 8:13). He would confiscate their land and make it government property (1 Sam8:14). He would tax their private property and use it for the public good.
Do you realize that the average American has to work from January until May to pay all of the local, state, and federal taxes piled upon them? Just check out your itemized mobile phone bill, or a hotel or rental car bill, and you will see taxes slapped all over it. My wife and I drove home from a family trip feeling quite broke, where we stayed in a Motel 6 to save money. At that very moment we heard a report on the radio of our government officials traveling and jetting all over the world at extravagant cost. Our government “servants” stayed in hotels in Paris for $460.00 per night. Then they and their entourages traveled to Italy for eight days costing over $57,000. Meanwhile, staying in a Motel 6 for two days about broke my personal bank account.
In the 1700s, Alexander Fraser Tytler taught history at the University of Edinburgh. He tended to be cynical about democracy in general. The following quote is attributed to him, although its original source is lost in obscurity:
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It only exists until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess (a generous gift) from the public treasury.”
Today we have entitlement programs from the cradle to the grave! From the moment voters discover they can “vote themselves largess,” the majority almost always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury. The result? Ultimately, the democracy collapses. When democracy collapses, it is followed by a dictatorship.
“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:
1) From bondage to spiritual faith.
2) From spiritual faith to great courage.
3) From courage to freedom.
4) From freedom to abundance.
5) From abundance to selfishness.
6) From selfishness to complacency.
7) From complacency to apathy.
8) From apathy to dependence.
9) From dependence back again into bondage.”
Perhaps God is shaking things up in America to shake Christians from their apathy, and to stir in them the heart of righteousness, revival, and praise. We need to realize anew that the hope we have is found in Christ Jesus and His reviving presence. He is the one who has all the answers. Here’s what we know for sure. In spite of perilous times:
- God still answers the prayers of the righteous
- The Holy Spirit will still be active
- God will still inhabit the praises of His people
- There can still be revival
- There will still be room at the cross
- And Jesus will still save the lost.
Problems of a political, social, moral or religious nature can be solved with a true heaven sent revival. What years of legislation and organization fail to accomplish, heaven sent revival can do in mere days.
The problem of oppressive government is a spiritual problem! 1 Samuel 8:8 states, “According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.” Israel’s problem was ultimately a spiritual problem. They had forsaken God for other gods. That is the issue then, and it is the issue now. We need God. We need to turn to Him.
As for government… we know that Jesus will still return to the holy city of Jerusalem to establish perfect government, a theocracy for one thousand years. Isaiah 9:6, 7 says, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government will be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
And it is Jesus and ONLY Jesus that will have the answers and bring peace to this world. He alone is the KING of Kings and LORD of Lords, who gives health, life, and peace. Do not look to government to give what only God can; trust in the Lord with all your heart!
Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.