Continuing our plod through the three governments that God instituted, we come now to the state or civil government. We, as a culture, have forgotten that it is God himself, not humans, who instituted civil government to uphold to rule of law and to punish lawbreakers.
The only hope for the future of civil governments is to remember to Biblical origin of civil governments. The state only possesses the authority that God has granted the state. The state is not above the law but beneath it. But, before we can define the Biblical origin of the civil government, it’s crucial that you understand the modern myth our culture has embraced concerning the beginnings of human societies.
DO YOU KNOW ROUSSEAU?
If you took a political science course at university, you would not doubt have been exposed to Jean Jacques Rousseau and his (in)famous Social Contract. If not, here’s the basic idea. Before modern societies and states existed, human beings lived as what he termed “noble savages.” They were “savage” because they were not in society, but they were “noble” because they had complete and total freedom. Rousseau taught that humans, in some pre-historical age, agreed to give up some of their freedoms in order to cooperate for social benefits and protection. Thus, the term social contract. This theory of the origin of human government is not unique to Rousseau. You can find social contract theory in Thomas Hobbes as well as John Locke.
Here’s the problem: it’s all fiction. There never was a “noble savage.” Man has always existed in relationship to his Maker and his Maker’s law. Man has never been totally free. Even Adam, before the Fall, did not possess full autonomy. Civil governments didn’t begin in some pre-historic past but began after recorded history. And, because God, not men instituted civil government, God, not men defines its sphere of authority.
The origins of the civil government are found in the first chapters of Genesis.
5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. (Genesis 6:11)
Between Genesis 3 (the Fall) and Genesis 7:11 (the flood waters of judgment cover the earth) we see that fallen humans have managed to fill the earth, not with ordered governments, but evil. God’s judgment poured out, quite literally, cleanses the earth. Noah’s family, who are saved by God’s mercy, receive the same cultural mandate that Adam and Eve received in the garden.
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth… (Genesis 9:1)
But to that cultural mandate, God adds the command that civil government be established in order to protect human life and restrain evil.
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)
In this single verse, God has given to civil government the power to wield the sword against those who break the law. Criminals are to be held to account. We often refer to the contents of Genesis 9 as the Noahic Covenant. It’s a covenant that God has ratified with the entire earth (not just an ethnic people) and he has ratified it for all of human history (not simply a single generation or civilization.)
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. (Genesis 9:8)
The Noahic Covenant is still in force today and applies to the entire kingdom of creation. God has bound all of creation, every race that would come from the sons of Noah, to obey the dictates of this covenant so that the world would not be full of unchecked evildoers.
In the coming weeks, I plan to publish several articles applying the Noahic Covenant to our civil government. In those articles, we’ll see how much the civil authorities have overstepped their prescribed boundaries and how, in many cases, they are directly opposing God’s covenant commands. But for now, consider this fact: God instituted the civil magistrate. God alone gets to define the role, authority, and purpose of the civil government.
Human beings were not noble savages who made a social contract. Human beings were depraved wretches who filled the earth with violence. Yet, God has called sinful humanity into the Noahic Covenant that evil might be restrained and his redemptive purposes might be realized in the sending of his Son.