The global pandemic has exacerbated an ongoing question that always intensifies as we near major elections: Can we trust our rulers? Are they evil or good? Are they competent or incompetent? Useful or useless?
A quote I see all the time on the internet, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, is, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It was a slogan that gave me some help in summarizing the wisdom of the Bible in my book on Proverbs, Solomon Says (Amazon, Kindle). Derivative versions (whether I used them in the book or not) would pop into my head like, “Be the wisdom you want to see in the world,” or, “Be the Christendom you want to see in the world.”
But I didn’t say everything I could have because I didn’t want to get or to seem too overtly “political.”
What do we do about political oppression? That question has become a huge issue in the West. Arguably, revolution in some sense gave birth to the modern world.
Ideas of revolution seem to be constantly spread among the younger people. In fact, they are often spread among youth through the establishment media and educational system. That ought to raise doubts about how much the ideal of revolution is real and if perhaps it is actually being used for social control and to serve the interests of current elites.
Proverbs advises rulers to not get involved in rebelling against authority. "My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who are given to change, for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from both of them?" (Proverbs 24:21–22). Of course, one could assume that King Solomon would be biased against rebellion, but the picture is more complex.
Solomon’s father David spent years as an outlaw fleeing from King Saul. David kept certain rules (like refusing regicide when he had opportunities) but he was officially a rebel. Solomon owed his throne to his rebel leader father.
Furthermore, Proverbs ends (chapter 31) with a queen teaching her son as a king to reject bad women and look for a godly wife. This has to be commentary on how Solomon became foolish at the end of his reign and built pagan temples in Jerusalem to please new pagan wives. The consequence of that folly, according to First Kings 11, was that God raised up Jeroboam as a rebel leader. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel declared independence from Solomon’s dynasty and made Jeroboam their king. Jeroboam was a bad king, but he is not faulted for his role in the tax revolt.
So, revolt against unjust rule is not necessarily wrong. Proverbs warns a tyrant that his reign will not last. “A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days” (Proverbs 28:16 ESV). It also warns kings not to alienate the populace: “In a multitude of people is the glory of a king, but without people a prince is ruined” (Proverbs 14:28 ESV). In general, history moves in revolutions, according to Proverbs, with fools being removed from power and the wise gaining authority.
A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding will find him out (Proverbs 28:11 ESV).
Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart (Proverbs 11:29 ESV).
A rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination. Before destruction a man's heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor (Proverbs 18:11–12 ESV).
So, if change is coming, why does Solomon want you to avoid rebellion?
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that God exists and that, in a certain situation, he wants to end a bad regime and install a better one. Therefore, he looks in the land for a person or a group of people to be the new rulers.
Are people who spend their time hating the government going to be appealing candidates to be given that responsibility? That isn’t the example that we find in Joseph when he was abducted and sold as a slave in Egypt. He was being prepared to rule the world and save his brothers (who had enslaved him).
Is God going to want to make rulers out of those
who haven’t served faithfully?
who aren’t patient in the face of adversity?
who think that the world needs them to be in control because they alone are right?
who can’t tolerate opposition?
who respond to adversaries by lashing out?
who long to destroy all their enemies?
Young people are being raised to think revolution is the road to a better world. But the real revolution we need is a mass movement of young people patiently traveling the path of becoming better adults who are productive and disciplined. If you can’t handle your oppressive circumstances, maybe it is likely you won’t be able to handle power responsibly either. Perhaps your humble circumstances are an opportunity for you to learn how to lead well, if you will use them rightly.
Is “fighting for a better world” necessary for progress, or an excuse to not face your life?
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Proverbs 12:11).
“The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (Proverbs 17:24 ESV).
Be the ruling class you want to see in the world.