The serpent in Genesis brought with him a bag of tricks. The story describes him as crafty. Though the devil is not mentioned, he most certainly used the serpent to introduce the same lie that banished him from heaven. Imagine if this new creature, made in the image of God, believed the lie! They would also fall like lightning, be cast down, and left to rot. The lie was simple: disobey God and you will be like him; you will be able to judge what is right and wrong. Once the couple took from the tree, they were indeed cast out, forced to work in a fallen world that became violent in the trespasses of their sin. But the story carried redemption that the devil never saw before. We know its fulfillment in Jesus. We preach it every Sunday. We also know that the reality of God working in the world, from the care shown the first couple down to our own lives, hasn’t stopped the devil from sharing and spinning the same lie: “You will be like God.”
What Is God’s View Of Authority?
It’s a lie built on misshaped authority, individually and corporately. If the devil can rework a version of right and wrong that is only steps away from the truth (and we know he’s been far more successful than a few steps), then he successfully plants the seed of our sovereignty apart from God. Given the exchange of power going on right now, I wanted to provide several references of God’s view of authority, the struggle we experience, the struggle to want and abuse our own authority and dominion.
God laughs (Ps. 2:1-4)
It’s comforting to start here. While the nations flex their muscles and one-up each other, God laughs. He knows what’s coming. He will install his eternal kingdom in Zion.
God listens (I Samuel 8)
Israel wanted to be like other kingdoms. They didn’t want to wait and trust in a God who needed to be summoned through a prophet. God is clear with Samuel, “they have rejected me” (vs. 7). Further, God says, “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights” (vs. 9). And what did Samuel say? Verses 11-17 is a litany of “he will take, he will take, he will take.” In the end, Samuel warns, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (vs. 18). Though no nation is a theocracy since the installment of Saul on Israel’s throne, the lesson still resonates, that the authority in life needs to be found in God alone. We should not reject him for the sake of earthly kings who govern by taking more and more from us, including the ethics made clear in Scripture.
God judges (2 Samuel 12)
It may seem that the rich and powerful are exempt from following God’s laws, especially since we’ve made these expectations so squishy today. However, the law of God has not changed. The expectation of the powerful is not amended to accommodate the size of their egos or the assurances they think are afforded them by huge bank accounts. If you don’t believe me, ask David. His sin and deception is rooted in the hope that kingship would grant him a pass before God’s throne of judgement. Thankfully David repents, demonstrating for all of us the road to redemption.
God responds (2 Kings 22-23)
The greatest king was the little boy who knew enough to know he didn’t know enough. Eight-year-old Josiah. When rebellion was rampant and the laws of God forgotten or ignored, he found the Book of the Law in the rubble. It broke him. He told the priest, “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us” (vs 13). The Lord spoke and Josiah acted, ripping out all the shrines and temples to foreign gods and slaughtering all the priests. Then, Passover was celebrated once again. God’s judgment still came as He promised it would, but a remnant of faithful people had returned to Him.
God gives and takes away (Hosea 13:9-11)
God reminds us through Hosea that God pulls all the strings. He might allow sin to pervade for a season, but this doesn’t reshape His Truth and his coming judgment. The kings of Israel fail to lead the people into holiness. Instead, “They offer human sacrifices! They kiss calf-idols!” (vs 2). “Therefore,” God says, “they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window” (vs. 3). God knows the plans he has for us, Jeremiah 29:11 says, plans for prosperity and future goodwill. We like to quote it and make art out of those words, but let’s remember God also comes wielding a sword, ready to tear out those who rebel.
God controls (Romans 13:1-7)
We return to this passage, especially in times of unrest. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities,” Paul says, in the context of Rome’s wickedness. Why? Because, “the authorities that exist have been established by God,” he says. I think Paul is urging us to have an eternal perspective. God doesn’t give a pass to the authorities who plot and scheme for their own gains. He doesn’t dismiss violence or close His eyes to oppression. Rather, our confidence must be in Him, for His sovereignty guarantees the authorities will play into His hands every time.
God wants (I Peter 5:2-4)
This is instruction to church leaders. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care,” Peter says, “not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” God wants us to be leaders who understand the stakes and guide people to the Truth, in love and humility. Power can corrupt pastors as much as politicians. It’s all a similar vein. We want to plant our flag in whatever small world we dominate.
God calls all of us to repentance, including earthly authority. We might say, especially earthly authority. Time and again, Israel is judged by the righteousness, or villainy, of its kings. Leaders carry awesome responsibility to use their power virtuously. I don’t think that’s changed with the American experiment of democracy or the other hybrid forms of kingship governing countries today. God’s view of authority here on earth is temporal, weak, and unimpressive. His purpose is to call all people under His banner, into his dominion. That’s our calling, too. Let’s never diminish our Gospel battle cry and get distracted by all the noise in the government and media and coffee shops and… our churches. “Come and see what the Lord has done,” Psalm 46:8-10 says, “the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'”