Principle: A Biblical Form of Government (Part I)

I believe God is interested in how we govern. Since He is the Creator of all things, perhaps we ought to pay attention to what He has said about it.

We must start with a defintion. What do we mean by a “form” of government? A form is a manner or system, a stated method or practice, or an appropriate arrangement of parts. What then is a Biblical form? Substitute those words for “form” and we have:

  • A Biblical manner of system of government
  • A Biblical method or practice of government
  • A Biblical arrangement of the distinct parts of the government

Then we can look at the history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament for clues to how God wanted them to be governed. We get our best clues from the account of Moses leading the children of Israel through the desert.

Moses by Michelangelo

Moses by Michelangelo

When Moses tried to rule by himself, he almost wore himself out. His father-in-law, Jethro, advised him to find others to help. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses later explained his procedure for finding these men, when he comments that he had previously told the people:

Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.

He then appointed them to be over “thousands, and of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens, and officers” for the tribes.

Finally, he instructed them to judge righteously within each tribe, but if any case was too hard for the tribal leaders, they could bring it to him.

What was actually set up here was something quite similar to a federal republic. There was representation: the people of the tribes chose their own local leaders. There were different levels of government: most of the governing was accomplished at the tribal level; only those cases too difficult for them were to be taken to the higher level, which at the time was Moses himself.

When they entered into the Promised Land, the people maintained this form of government for quite some time. God apparently sanctioned it. It was a form of government that allowed maximum self-government, and minimized power at the very top. That was reserved for special cases only. Therefore, I conclude that this system is not too different from the original intent of the American Constitution.

What happened to this form of government? Why did it change over time? What were the consequences of this change? More in the next post.