What Kind of Government Works Well? Week 17 from “The Kingdom of God: What is it?” by Dr Dan Fountain

Hard to believe we are not that far from the half-way point in the year! Today is week 17 and as always I recommend purchasing for yourself the book I am using for these posts.

Today’s title on the surface doesn’t seem to have much application to the theme of the kingdom of God. But of course as we deepen our understanding regarding the reach of the Gospel of the Kingdom we will see it encompasses all aspects of our lives. Government included. The text for today is Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1:8-18. The story of the origins of representative government. Moses has led his people out of harms way (at least for the time being) and it appears that the major threats have been squelched. Relative peace has descended on the nation of Israel and it was time to establish some ground rules for the governance of the Jewish nation. Moses had placed himself over all as judge of the quarrels and conflicts that invariable cropped up. When his father-in-law visited Moses and saw how he was going to burn himself out with the system Moses had established he gave the following advice:

Exodus 18: 17 “This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. 18 “You’re going to wear yourself out – and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. 19 Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. 20 Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. 21 But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. 22 They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. 23 If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.”

Great advice and whether or not any other culture at this time used this wise system I do not know. But Moses made a slight modification which goes unnoticed unless you read carefully in Deuteronomy 1:8 – 18. 13 Choose some well-respected men from each tribe who are known for their wisdom and understanding, and I will appoint them as your leaders.” Moses asked the communities to choose their leaders and Moses respected their choices. (or so we are led to believe) This was putting the decisions into the hands of the people more than at any time in their history. Think of the difference that decision has made in the world.

Hierarchical governments (not representative as above, China would be an example) have advantages as pointed out by Dr Fountain:

  1. Decisions can be quickly made
  2. Decisions can usually be carried out quickly and efficiently because the leaders have the authority to force the decision without questions from those effected.

But the disadvantages are numerous:

  1. The people don’t participate (much like what has happened in China the past 20 years) so they don’t have to think for themselves but rely on their leaders to do the thinking for them.
  2. Decisions are imposed on the people.
  3. There is low trust and cooperation because the people have not been part of the decision making process.
  4. Relationships are vertical and not horizontal. This tends to lead to people not needing to listen to each other nor work together.
  5. There is a tendency toward exploitation and corruption.
  6. Much depends on the quality of the leaders at the top. There is no accountability at the top.
  7. Power is invested in a human authority rather than in God.

Representative governments in contrast:

  1. Invites participation of the people in decision-making and implementation.
  2. Encourages communication b/w the people and their leaders.
  3. Leaders are accountable to the people.
  4. Promotes trust, cooperation and a sense of ownership.

The downside can be it is more cumbersome and decisions are made more slowly. (or not at all)

Dr Fountain points out that in all forms of government, communications with God and His truth’s is essential. We must follow Moses instructions to the people: “Choose God-fearing men who are wise, experienced and impartial.” Today in nations where the “Big Man” rules, trust is low, corruption is high, and social and community development rarely occurs.

Questions for thought:

  1. Have you seen or experienced both forms of governance? Does your experience coincide with what today’s devotional says?
  2. How does this thinking apply to the local church?
  3. If you are living in a western context to do you see this form of representative government functioning well or do you think your country/culture is regressing to the “Big Man” form of governance?
  4. What role does the Church have in establishing or maintaining representative governance?
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