We are currently very aware of politics because we are in an election season, and because our political discourse is currently inflamed. We are very much under the chastisement of God, and it would be wise for us to consider ancient wisdom from the book of Proverbs as we pray about what we are supposed to do.
“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: But when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Prov. 29:2).
Summary of the Text:
We have made this point before, but it always bears repeating. Righteousness at the top matters. Unrighteousness at the top matters. The people rejoice when they are ruled in wisdom by those who know what righteousness is, and who embrace it. When the wicked rule, which they usually want to do, the people suffer and mourn. Politics is therefore the art and science of a people choosing, by means God has appointed, their own happiness or misery.
And make no mistake, misery is something that a people can choose, and often have. It is the same with civic happiness. How is this possible?
The Leadership We Deserve:
While blessings flow to the people from the top, as per our text, it is also the case that God assigns rule that is consistent with the character of the people. A dissolute people at the bottom are not usually going to find sobriety at the top.
Our temptation is to think that we can get what we want from the government, as though that were the end of the story. But it is just part of the story. “Many seek the ruler’s favour; But every man’s judgment cometh from the Lord” (Prov. 29:26). Many turn to the government for handouts, but what actually happens at the end of the day is from the Lord.
Righteousness is a characteristic, or not, of a people, of a nation. The Scriptures use this adjective in describing the people generally. And look what follows after that. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: But sin is a reproach to any people. The king’s favour is toward a wise servant: But his wrath is against him that causeth shame” (Prov. 14:34–35). When righteousness is valued by a people, then the king’s favor is directed toward the wise, and away from the shameless. So we see that when the wise rule, the people rejoice. We also see that when the people are righteous, the nation is exalted, in part because of the kind of rulers this results in.
Further, when the people are given over to transgression, the result is political upheaval. “For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: But by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged” (Prov. 28:2). Political stability and orderly transitions of power are not automatic.
In short, there is an important interplay between the righteousness of the people in the street, and the righteousness of the throne. You cannot have one without the other. This means that we get the kind of leadership we deserve.
Not Whether, But Which:
Government is coercion. The difference between righteous and unrighteous rule is the identity of those who are being coerced, and what the coercion is about. As Vladimir Lenin put it in that pithy way of his, “Who? Whom?”
The only real question is whether the ungodly will coerce the godly, according to their whims, or whether the godly will coerce the ungodly, according to the law of God. When a godly man is on the throne, he disperses the evil just by the way he looks at them. “A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes” (Prov. 20:8).
And he does not do it by accident either. It happens on purpose. “A wise king scattereth the wicked, And bringeth the [threshing] wheel over them” (Prov. 20:26).
Secularism is a Joke:
Righteousness is the foundation of every stable commonwealth, and righteousness requires theological definition. Wisdom says, “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength. By me kings reign, And princes decree justice. By me princes rule, And nobles, even all the judges of the earth” (Prov. 8:14–16). We are not talking about IQ here, or brain power. We are talking about wisdom.
A ruler must be one who hates corruption, who hates a bribe. “The king by judgment establisheth the land: But he that receiveth gifts overthroweth it” (Prov. 29:4). Receiving bribes by means of foundations and PACs doesn’t resolve anything. Notice what happens to the land when bribes are taken—the land is overthrown.
The ruler must also be faithful to the poor, which is not the same thing as pretending to love the poor. As one sixteenth century bishop put it once, “The poor are a gold mine.” Always remember that Judas stood up for the poor, by which he meant to stand up for his continued access to money that was designated for them. But in contrast to this scam artistry . . . “The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, His throne shall be established for ever” (Prov. 29:14).
Again, righteousness is essential, and righteousness is never generic. The Lord Jesus is our righteousness.
“It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: For the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of kings; And they love him that speaketh right. The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: But a wise man will pacify it. In the light of the king’s countenance is life; And his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain” (Prov. 16:12–15).
If a king listens to liars, he is going to get a lot more of what he subsidizes. “If a ruler hearken to lies, All his servants are wicked” (Prov. 29:12). They will start to think, “well, if that’s what it takes to get ahead around here . . .” When lies are told in the corridors of power, those lies will either be rewarded or punished. Which it is will determine what we get more of.
The foundation of all political stability is hesed—faithfulness, love, loyalty, lovingkindness, steadfast love. “Mercy and truth preserve the king: And his throne is upholden by mercy (hesed)” (Prov. 20:28). And remember that if morality is relative, if there is no God in Heaven, if Jesus is not Lord, then there is no such thing as faithfulness, or love, or loyalty.
At the Lord’s Mercy:
When we pray, we must do so knowing that our deliverance is from the Lord. He can deliver us, and He is the only who can deliver us. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:1). What is happening to us is bad, but God has good reasons for it. Make no mistake—if it continues, it is because God wants it to continue. If we want to mind out why He wants it to continue, the fastest way to discover this is through repentance.
What are we to do in the meantime? First, we should not give way to political radicalism. We are reformational, not revolutionary. “My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: for their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?” (Prov. 24:21–22).
Work at your craft. Strive for excellence. “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; He shall not stand before mean men” (Prov. 22:29). Obey God with regard to your desk, or workbench. Whatever is in front of you.
Have children, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. “In the multitude of people is the king’s honour: But in the want of people is the destruction of the prince” (Prov. 14:28). People are not consumers in the first place. Under Christ, people are the ultimate resource. People who have been brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord are producers in the first place.
All of Christ for All of Life:
Our problem is that for many generations we have had far too many people in politics who happened to be Christians. That is like sending people into politics who happen to be stamp collectors. That is their hobby on rainy evenings. What we need are Christians in politics. Moreover, to be in politics means to be a Christian in the polis—in your family, in your school, in your business, and in your artisanship. We are talking about far more than yard signs and petitions.
And this is only possible if we understand that the crucified and risen Christ is at the right hand of God the Father, looking warmly at us, encouraging us to preach it again. Say it again. Tell them again. The world cannot be transformed apart from the Word. Reformation, our desperately needed reformation, is going to have to be spoken. People need to hear it. And how will they hear without a preacher?