The midterm elections were this week, the results are in, and now the politicians can get back to the business of governing. That is good news for us, not least of which because the political road signs are coming down. Postcards from candidates probably stopped arriving daily in the mail. The TV ads are finally done. In this day and age, that means the ads on YouTube, Hulu, and other online sources, are also done. I even got text messages from campaigns. How did they get my number??? But those, too, have ceased.
How many of you get sick of all the money and attention given to our government elections? Yeah, me too. It’s pretty common to complain about elections, politicians and government. In fact, I heard someone say this week that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, so they voted, because they still wanted to be able to complain!
I suppose people will complain no matter if they voted or not. Why do we complain? We complain because we’re not just sick of the election, we’re sick of government in general. We point to all the ways government is messed up. Have you heard the quote, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”? It reminds us that there is so much bad government, even in systems, like democracy, which intend to be good. It leaves us wondering if there is such a thing as good government.
As we continue studying Deuteronomy, we arrive at a section in chapters 16 and 17 describing God’s government structure for Israel. In this series of posts, we’re going to try to learn God’s heart for government. Is there anything we Christians can learn from this? Let’s find out. Turn to Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and 17:8-20.
First, God mentions local judges in Deuteronomy 16:18-20.
For the last 40 years Israel had been together in close proximity as they traveled through the wilderness. But now, entering the Promised Land of Canaan, they were going to spread out and occupy towns across the whole land. Israel is the size of the state of New Jersey. The people were not going to be close together anymore, so their governance had to change a bit.
As we see in verse 18, God is first giving them instructions about the local level of government. He tells them to appoint judges and officials in each of the twelves tribes and in their towns. That word “towns” is actually the Hebrew word “gates” referring the town gates, and it was customary in that culture for the elders of the towns to hold court at its city gates.
But how would they know who to appoint as judges? Israel already had some experience with picking local leaders. 40 years earlier when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit, he watched Moses, the top leader of the entire nation, spending all day, every day deciding all the law cases for everyone (Exodus 18). Jethro said to Moses, “This is insane. Before you burn yourself out, appoint judges to help you.” He further advised that these local judges were to be “capable, from all the people,” meaning that not just one tribe, but all tribes should be represented. Additionally, the judges were to be, “men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.” This came up also in Deuteronomy 1:13 when we learn the judges were to be “wise, understanding and respected men.”
What we see in all these passages is that God shows a heart for his people to have wise, godly local government, and for the common person to have representation. There were also national-level government leaders in Israel, as we will see in future posts in this series. But here in Deut. 16:18-20 we see the importance of having good local government.
This principle is very much mirrored in our American federal, state and local governance structure. We have a governor for the whole state, but we also have local senators. Same way for the federal government. We have two senators for the whole state, and the House of Representatives for much smaller groups of population, and of course we have the president leading the whole country. Finally we elect leaders in our counties and towns, such as mayors, commissioners and judges.
When you elect those those leaders, how do you choose to vote? On the eve of the conflict 2016 general election, I preached and blogged about choosing leaders. You can read that here. What we see in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 (and Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1:9-18) is clear: God’s desires local leaders who are known for their wisdom, trustworthiness and character, people who will represent all people. Do you use those traits when you consider who to vote for? If you are a leader, elected or otherwise, how will you demonstrate and grow in these traits?
God has a heart that all would represented, and that they would be represented fairly. In our next post, we’ll dig deeper into what that fair representation should look like.