Piecing Together a Biblical View of the State, Part 2

I ended my previous post by saying: “Christians cannot simply point to the system God set up for Israel and conclude that because God permitted something for them that the same accommodation is God’s divine decree for all people and all times.” The examples I used were divorce (which Jesus made clear was only allowed due to men’s sinful hardness of heart) and slavery. In this post I’ll explain how that method can help Christians think about the state and whether it is an institution of God’s making or of man’s.

In my experience, those who tend to regard the state as a man-made institution often point to I Samuel 8. There we read:

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. . . . Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

The anti-statists, then, would seem to have at least some support for their conclusion that the state is not of God’s making. Scripture is clear that Israel’s demand for a king was a rejection of God. In choosing a king, Samuel would be obeying the voice of the Israelites.

The retort made by supporters of the state, however, often seems to point to Deuteronomy 17 in which God gives instructions regarding what an Israelite king should or should not do. This, they claim, shows that the anti-statists make too much of I Samuel 8 and Israel’s request for a king. According to this line of reasoning, the establishment of a nation-state structured like the idolatrous surrounding nations is not really bad after all because God knew that Israel would make the request and, in fact, he planned in advance for just such a contingency.

God made provision for Israel to have a king, yes, but we should not make more of that provision of the law than it is. Like divorce and slavery it seems clear to me that this too was an accommodation to the sinfulness of the Israelites. Their demand for a king like the nations around them was an unequivocal rejection of God’s system of government. Whatever else we make of I Samuel 8, I think that conclusion is utterly inescapable.

The fact that God had outlined beforehand what kings should and should not do, does not change the fact that the only system of government that he initiated did not include a king, but rather judges whom he personally directed. God instituted a theocracy but the Israelites begged him for a monarchy. The fact that God accommodated their sinful rejection of his righteous rule doesn’t transform the state into God’s institution.

Did Israel thwart God’s plan by sinfully rejecting God and demanding a human king? Of course not. However, we know that often what men intend for evil, God still uses for good. Thus, when Joseph’s brothers attacked him and sold him into slavery they intended evil and were guilty of sin. That God used their sinful actions to accomplish his purposes does not change their sin into righteousness.

Similarly, despite God’s overall plan, we can confidently conclude, based on clear Scripture, that Israel’s rejection of God and demand for a king were sinful. The fact that God knew that the Israelites would harden their hearts and planned for them to have a nation-state that looked much (though not exactly) like the sinful nations surrounding them simply does not prove that the state is an institution of God’s making.

Therefore, coupling what I’ve written above with the reasons given in the other articles to which I linked in the previous post, when Christians think about how to relate to the state, there is strong support for the conclusion that the state is, ultimately, a man-made institution. God created the family and he created the church, but if the state is an institution that owes its existence to man’s sinfulness it must be treated as such.

Originally published at providencenotfate.wordpress.com on June 17, 2015.