The Kings You Have Set Over Us
Today is Independence Day, and I would really like to talk about the founding of the nation and the biblical principles the founders believed in. I’d love to talk about God’s historical blessing on our nation and how Christian principles have led to prosperity, freedom, and power. I’d like to encourage patriotism and loyalty to a great nation. It would be nice to do a little flag waving on the 4th of July.
But it’s hard to wave the flag over a nation that has strayed so far from its founding principles, and it seems like we are moving farther from them all the time. John Adams famously stated that our constitution is suitable only for “a religious and moral people.” Almost every indicator available today shows that the US is less and less a religious and moral people. And that’s part of the reason that our nation is experiencing the distress that it is currently under.
The other day in my private Bible reading, the words of Nehemiah 9:37 stood out starkly to me. The verse mentions, in part, “the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins… have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle… and we are in great distress.” The biblical writer ascribes the distress he and his people were experiencing to the tyrannical rulers that God had set over them as a consequence of their sin.
Israel as a nation had endured seventy years of exile and abuse because of its sin—primarily idolatry. God had graciously allowed the nation to return to Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple and the walls of the city. But the returned exiles almost immediately repeated the pattern of sinful living that incurred God’s wrath previously, and godly leaders led the people in confessing their sin. They admitted that the terrible situation they were in was caused by their sin. Even the fact of their slavery in their own land was a result of their previous sins. They admit that they deserved to suffer under the foot of an abusive government because of their sins.
I know that America is not Israel, Judah, or Jerusalem. God’s relationship with our nation is not the same as His relationship to the Jews. But I wonder if the same general principle applies to us (and to any nation).
Pr 14:34 Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin [is] a reproach to any people.
As a general rule, any nation will prosper when the people of that nation determine to live righteously. And as a general rule, any nation will suffer distress when the people of that nation determine to live in sin. Much of the greatness of America is due to the fact that our founders established the nation on biblical foundations, and for many years the US as a whole respected biblical morality. As Tocqueville supposedly said, “America is great because America is good...”
Pr 29:2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.
Like the people of Judah 2500 years ago, we are mourning under the distress caused by the fact that the wicked are bearing rule. We long for a time when the righteous will be in authority. Frankly, I’m not sure that a righteous person could be elected into high office these days.
This morning I want to consider several principles from Neh 9:37 that we should keep in mind as we experience “great distress” because of our leaders.