To understand what the Founders knew, we must look at what the entire Bible teaches on civil government. Where did this idea of government come from? What type of government is best? What are some of the responsibilities of governmental rulers?
When you study scripture, you find that God himself established civil government to bring multiple benefits to society. We find in God’s Word that the primary role of government is to “punish evil and encourage good”.
The first incidence of civil government instituted by God is in Genesis. It was just after the flood, when Noah and his family came off the ark. A brand new start was given to man. One of the first things God says to Noah is that he will require a “payment” for the crime of murder. This was not just an instruction to Noah or his family, but an instruction to all mankind.
And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.” Genesis 9:5-6
Here God explains that the crime of murder (shedding of innocent blood), would be repaid by the forfeiture of the offender’s own life. By speaking this to Noah, God establishes the obligation to carry out the most severe punishment of an individual in retribution for a crime.
Also, isn’t it interesting that the first law had to do with LIFE? I truly believe this shows us how important LIFE is to our creator. The first law that God gave to man concerned the sanctity of life.
Another significant thing to note about this is that when God gave this law it was given to man, long before the nation of Israel was established. This command was given to Noah at the beginning of the reestablishment of human society after the flood. This principle, the sanctity of life, has relevance for the whole of human race, for all time!
Governments should execute justice and defend the weak
Another way to describe the role of government (punishing evil and rewarding good) is to speak of “enforcing justice”
Justice is defined as “Ruling according to the just standards of God’s laws”
If a lawmaker executes justice, he brings punishment against those who have done wrong and protects and rewards those that have done right.
Psalms 82:2-4 shows God speaking to earthly rulers and lawmakers:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
This psalm tells us that rulers and lawmakers should judge with fairness and righteousness, and not “show partiality” but judge according to the law and the facts of the case. The psalm also explains that they should pay special attention to defending “the weak and the fatherless” and by implication others that have little power to defend themselves.
Rulers law vs. Peoples law
Samuel warned of “Rulers Law”
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. -1.Sam 8:11-17
This use of government power for self enrichment of the leader and his family or friends betrays the fundamental purpose of government to serve the people. It is repeatedly condemned in the Old Testament.
The founders studied the record of the ancient Israelites and they found that Israel also operated under a system of laws remarkably similar to those of the Anglo-Saxons.
The Reverend Thomas Hooker wrote the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” based on the principles recorded by Moses in the first chapter of Deuteronomy. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut is considered to be the first written Constitution in the Western world, and many of its principles are seen in our U.S. Constitution. Perhaps the most important point in the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut is the first governing document which described the method for electing the officials of the Colony, and the duties of these officials.
The first [of two yearly assemblies] shall be called the Court of Election, wherein shall be yearly chosen from time to time, so many Magistrates and other public Officers as shall be found requisite: Whereof one to be chosen Governor, which being chosen and sworn according to an Oath recorded for that purpose, shall have the power to administer justice according to the laws here established, and for want thereof, according to the Rule of the Word of God.
This section is important because it describes a means of electing officials that is still used today. Its ideas were used in the United States Constitution over one hundred years later. The Fundamental Orders speaks of “the Rule of the Word of God,” which shows that the very earliest founders believed true justice could only be found in the Bible, and used it as a standard for crafting laws and statutes. This was operated so successfully that it was adopted by Rhode Island. These were the only two states that had constitutions at the time of the revolution, and were so well written and implemented that they were easily adapted to the new order of self government. All other states had to write new constitutions.
Moses’ Council of Seventy
Looking back at the earliest recorded structure of government in the Bible shows us that the people of Israel were organized into small manageable groups where the representative of each family had a voice and a vote.
The founders used this same framework of government in molding the structure of our United States Republic. (Read Exodus 18:13-26 to see Israel’s framework of governing.)
Moses received the Law as direct instruction from God, but Moses was struggling under the burden of leading the people all by himself. Jethro, his father-in-law suggested that he appoint leaders over the people to lessen some of the administrative burden. However, it was the spiritual aspect of leadership that was the main problem, and it was this that God was offering as remedy. Moses had become desperate, almost suicidal, before God and longed for help in leadership from a group that would walk in God’s ways.
“I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:14
“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him, and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.” Numbers 11:25
Moses’ council of seventy consisted of 70 respected elders out of the people of Israel. It was a council to aid Moses with their advice and assistance in the administration of the national affairs. God gave 70 elders of Israel a taste of His Spirit. He did this by instructing Moses to bring them into the tent of meeting. These are assumed to be the same seventy who in Exodus 24:9-11 had gone up to Mount Sinai where they had seen God and ate and drank with him. God said to Moses that he would pour out His Spirit on them.
The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting that they may stand there with you. Numbers 11:16
God gave Moses aid in the form of 70 elders to assist him in governing the people. They were not popularly elected, they were not chosen by their peers. They were nominated by Moses for their reputation, track record, and good standing among the people. The original nomination of our modern day “senators” were molded directly from Moses’ “council of seventy” and one of the translations of the Hebrew word “elder” is translated as “Senator”.
“Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.” Numbers11:17.
Are the problems we face today as a nation policy related, or are they spiritual in nature? Just like the ancient Israelites of old, the pressing issues our nation faces today are very much spiritual in nature. Our prayer should be that God would supernaturally intercede on our behalf and that His spirit would fall on believers in positions of government to judge with fairness and righteousness, and to not “show partiality” by governing according to the just standards of God’s laws.
Will that be your prayer today?