One of the most fascinating things about the Old Testament is the fact that God established a republican government in ancient Israel. Most people today think that Israel had a standard monarchical form of government, but that was not the case. Israel (and Judah) never had a true monarchy. Throughout their history, they were always a republican nation characterized by popular elections of their rulers. (For more on this topic see my free eBook The Bible and the Constitution.)
When God established Israel’s government, He also taught the Jews how to choose the right kind of leaders. Those instructions can be found in Exodus 18:21, Deuteronomy 1:13, and Deuteronomy 17:15-20. The qualifications listed in these and other passages are not difficult. There were thousands of men in Israel who met them. God intentionally set the standard low so that the various offices could be filled. He gave the Jews a list of the barest minimum standards that would allow their government to function with good men in positions of leadership.
"Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:" (Exod. 18:21)
"Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you." (Deut. 1:13)
"Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel."
According to these passages, God commanded the Jews to elect men who were:
We are blessed in America to have a system of government that is based on the republican model found in the Bible, and we have the opportunity to vote for our leaders just as the ancient Jews did. In the next several pages, I’d like you to consider the possibility that God wants Christian voters in America to follow the same instructions for voting that He gave to the Jews.
To begin, let’s first consider what the Bible says about each of the six qualifications as they apply to political leaders. When reading these verses, keep in mind that the kings of Israel were the highest elected officials in the executive branch, and the princes were not the children of the kings but rather the members of Israel’s legislature. This is explained in more detail in The Bible and the Constitution.
1. Wise and understanding
3. Fearing God
4. Hating covetousness
One of the primary things that stands out to me about these verses is that they are universal in their scope and not just limited to the nation of Israel or to the Old Testament. For example:
It is universally true that a nation will suffer if its leader is immature (Eccl. 10:16-17).
It is universally true that righteous leaders produce rejoicing while wicked leaders produce mourning (Prov. 29:2).
It is universally true that a leader who accepts bribes has overthrown justice (Prov. 29:4).
It is universally true that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6).
It is universally true that lies are unbecoming of political leaders (Prov. 17:7).
These truths are not limited to those under the Old Testament Law of Moses. They are general truths that apply to all nations at all times. It is not possible to study the Bible and come to the conclusion that God wants us to vote for men who are foolish, wicked, without any fear of God, greedy, proud, and liars.
It would be beyond ridiculous to claim that God actually wants us to choose such men to be our leaders, but it would be equally ridiculous to claim that God doesn’t care who we vote for. If the righteous increase when wicked rulers are removed from the scene, then it should be obvious that the God who wants all men to be righteous (II Pet. 3:9, I Tim. 2:4) does not want wicked men to be in places of leadership. And if that’s the case, then He certainly cares about how we vote as Christians.
Given the fact that God commanded the Jews to vote for men who met certain requirements and given the fact that God does not want any nation to be governed by men who fail to meet those requirements, it is only reasonable to conclude that God wants Christians in America to vote for men who meet the same requirements that He commanded of Jewish leaders. But we don’t have to rely on our own powers of reasoning to arrive at this conclusion. The Bible repeatedly tells believers not to endorse evil men.
Paul wrote to the believers at Ephesus that they were to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11). Earlier in the chapter, he instructed believers not to be partakers with the wicked but, in contrast, to walk as children of the light (Eph. 5:7-8). If instead of reproving those who do wickedness we promote them as examples of greatness and vote for them to be our leaders, are we not in violation of God’s command to have no fellowship with them?
David taught in Psalm 26 that a man who has integrity will not congregate with men who are vain, dishonest, or wicked. He prayed that God would keep him away from men of mischief and from men who offer bribes.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he warned believers to avoid certain men including those who were greedy, proud, unholy, or liars. He warned us to stay away from all those who love pleasure more than they love God. And he said that we should avoid these men even if they claimed to be godly (II Tim 3:1-7).
Paul’s goes even further in his first letter to the believers in Corinth. There he wrote that if a man claims to be a Christian even though he is immoral or greedy or reviles others, then other believers should shun him and have nothing at all to do with him (I Cor 5:9-11).
Is it reasonable to conclude that God would want us to vote for someone that He has already commanded us to have no fellowship with, to avoid congregating with, to stay away from even if they claim to be godly, and to shun and have absolutely nothing to do with? No, that is not reasonable. God tells us over and over and over again that we are not to have anything to do with men who reject His Word especially if they claim to be believers. And God even tells us the reason for this command in Paul’s second letter to the believers in Thessalonica.
"And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." (2 Thess. 3:14)
The whole point of avoiding those who refuse to obey the Bible is to make them suffer shame because of their stubborn persistence in sin. The goal is for their shame and embarrassment to cause them to turn to God. Our prayer for wicked politicians should be the same as David’s prayer in Psalm 83. "Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD." (Ps. 83:16)
If, for example, a wicked and greedy man were to receive an overwhelming percentage of the Evangelical vote, he would be emboldened in his sin rather than ashamed of it. But if that same man were to be rejected by Evangelicals because he failed to meet God’s minimum standards for political leaders, his shame and embarrassment would both convict him of his own sin and convince others that such sins should be avoided.
But that is not how the majority of American Christians think about their vote. The average Christian in America doesn’t enter the voting booth with the idea of helping wicked candidates repent and turn back to God. No, they usually vote with an entirely different goal in mind. The average Christian voter chooses which candidate to vote for based on the fear of what some other candidate might do if he were to win. Christian leaders proudly proclaim that they are not voting for such and such a candidate but rather they are voting against his opponent. Christian laymen convince each other that if so and so were to win, our lives would be miserable. And instead of shaming wicked politicians, they revile and despise those few Christians who attempt to follow God’s guidelines for voting. In short, the average Christian in America casts his vote in a spirit of fear rather than a spirit of power (II Tim. 1:7).
The Bible assures us that "the fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe." (Prov. 29:25) If this is true, then there is no reason for Christians to vote out of fear. The idea that we must vote for whichever candidate we think will do the least amount of harm to us is contrary to the Bible. That type of voting will always lead us into a trap.
Paul asked in his letter to the Romans, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31) There is no politician on earth who can harm the children of God. As we see in Paul’s answer to this question, no matter what evils we may suffer on this earth, we are beyond victorious over those who would harm us.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." (Rom. 8:35-37)
Voting out of fear is the opposite of how Christians are to act. We have nothing to fear in this world. We are commanded to live with boldness as the children of the King of Kings (Eph. 3:12). We are instructed to "boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." (Heb. 13:6) We are to echo the words of the Psalmist that "in God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me." (Ps. 56:11) Voting out of fear should be beneath the Christian. We are better than that. It makes us look like a pride of lions so afraid of their own shadows that they choose to crawl on their bellies with the snakes. It’s ridiculous and pathetic and an embarrassment to the cause of Christ.
God has given us the opportunity to vote for our political leaders. He has instructed us to vote for men who are wise and understanding, men who are just and who fear the Lord, men who hate covetousness, and men who are both honest and humble. He has warned us against voting out of fear, and He has assured us that He will always be with us in power regardless of the circumstances. Why would we even think about voting for someone who fails to meet God’s minimum standards for political leaders? In the words of John Jay, our nation’s first chief justice:
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
And as Jay later explained: “National prosperity can neither be attained nor preserved without the favor of Providence.” If we truly wish for our nation to be prosperous and to be blessed by God, we must vote for the kind of leaders that God has told us we should be voting for.
You can read more of my studies on biblical voting here:
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)