From time to time at my church I open the floor for Bible questions, then answer them as they are asked. But recently, due to the Covid-19 induced parking lot/outdoor services we have been having, I put out a note on social media that I would be glad to take and answer questions.

And so for a week I took them, and then answered them on a Wednesday night. One of the questions in particular dealt with the subject of whether or not the Bible commands believers to always obey government. It seemed like this would be a valuable study to post here on my Think Spot blog, so that people can find and use it as the need arises. Here, then, is the way the question was asked, and how I answered it. Many thanks to Kristi Birt Morrow for the excellent question!

“This was actually asked by someone on Facebook today and I can not think of whom asked, but I’ve been stewing over it. In regards to disobeying the leaders in our government today, are there examples anywhere in Scripture that show where God’s people disobeyed or rebelled against local authority in order to change their political situations.

“I thought of Daniel. But need to go back and thoroughly read the story.

Answer: Especially in the Old Testament, they did so with great frequency. And even in the New Testament they often did so. The caveat in that answer, though, is that the word “political” to them never just meant getting rid of a politician or a law that they did not like. It was always much more serious than that.

Let’s go through some of the examples, and then take some time making relevant applications for today.

Let’s start way back with one of the most famous examples of all: the Exodus, and also one pretty important thing that preceded it.

Exodus 1:15 And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: 16 And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. 18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? 19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. 20 Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. 21 And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.

Facts: Pharaoah was the king, the law, the political leader of Egypt. He made a law, directed at two women. Those two women, midwives, were commanded by the “proper authorities” to kill the male Hebrew babies as they were being born.

Was it the law? Yes. Did they obey or did they rebel? They rebelled. Did God judge them for their rebellion or did He bless them for it? He blessed them. This was life, but it was also politics: the king said it, and to disobey was to undermine his authority. And they disobeyed.

Now look at the Exodus itself.

Exodus 5:1 And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness. 2 And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go.

Where were the Israelites living? In Egypt. In fact, they had been placed there by God Himself, and had been there for more than 400 years.

Who was the political leader, the king, of Egypt, the human authority over the Israelites? Pharaoh. Pharaoh made a law; the Israelites were to be slaves, and were never to be free, and he was always to be their king. That was the law.

Along came a man named Moses, and he told the people to get ready to leave, and then he, in God’s power, wrecked both Egypt and Pharaoh to make it happen. The entire Exodus, all of it, was against the law. It was outright rebellion. They had no legal right to do it.

And yet they did it. And God was the power behind it. And it was as political as it was religious. They rebelled against Pharaoh and placed themselves under Moses for the next 40 years. They went from taking orders from Pharaoh to taking orders from Moses who got those orders from God. They broke out from under the law of Egypt and placed themselves under the law that we now know as the Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

They rebelled against the law and the law giver that had them enslaved, and followed a new law and law giver that gave them their freedom.

And by the way, if you think that sounds a lot like America and 1776, you are correct.

There were people in the book of Exodus who did not like it:

Exodus 5:20 And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh: 21 And they said unto them, The LORD look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us.

There were people in America pre-1776 who did not like it. They believed that since Great Britain was in charge, they had to always let it stay that way, or they were disobeying God! But God had his hand in the “rebellion” of Israel, and in the rebellion of 1776.

Let me now, instead of trying to expound all of it, give you the name of an entire book in the Bible that is, from the first page to the last, an account of rebellion after rebellion after rebellion, all of which was political, and all of which had God’s stamp of approval on it.

That book is the book of Judges.

In the first part of Judges chapter three, they were ruled by Chushanrishathaim, king of Mesopotamia. He was the law. God raised up a man named Othniel, who at God’s command helped the Children of Israel to rebel, and break away from their political ruler, and gain their freedom.

In the last half of Judges chapter three, they were ruled by Eglon, king of Moab. He was the law. God raised up a man named Ehud, who at God’s command helped the Children of Israel to rebel, and break away from their political ruler, and gain their freedom.

In Judges chapter four they were ruled by Jabin, king of Canaan. He was the law. In this case, God raised up a very different kind of a rebel leader; a girl, a fireball lady by the name of Deborah, who at God’s command helped the Children of Israel to rebel and break away from their political ruler and gain their freedom.

In Judges chapter six they were ruled by Midian. The king of Midian was the law. God raised up a man named Gideon, who at God’s command helped the Children of Israel to rebel, and break away from their political ruler, and gain their freedom.

In Judges chapter ten they were ruled by Midian and Ammon. The king of Midian and the king of Ammon were the law. God raised up a man named Jephthah, who at God’s command helped the Children of Israel to rebel, and break away from their political ruler, and gain their freedom.

In Judges chapter 13 they were ruled by the Philistines. The lords of the Philistines were the law. God raised up a man named Samson, who was raised up for one purpose, help the people to rebel, and break away from their political ruler, and gain their freedom. That one didn’t work out so well, because Samson was more interested in lusting than leading.

The whole book of Judges is specifically about one instance of rebellion after another from God’s people, all of which was political, and sanctioned by God Himself!

Now let’s look at one episode in a pretty famous case of rebellion. 1 Samuel 11 is where we will begin.

1 Samuel 11:15 And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

Who was the king? Saul. You know most of the rest of that story, don’t you. Saul chose to rebel against God’s ways, and was set aside. David burst onto the scene. Saul rightly guessed that David had been picked by God to be the next king, so he repeatedly tried to kill him. It got so bad that David finally ran for his life.

So now we have a political struggle. Saul still has the crown. He is still the king. He is still the law. But look at this:

1 Samuel 22:1 David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. 2 And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.

Do you know what those 400 men were? Rebels. They were in distress, in debt, and just downright discontented, so they went over to David’s side. It was political rebellion.

Now let’s go look at a really severe case of rebellion, including an assassination.

Here is where it began.

2 Chronicles 22:10 But when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah. 11 But Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king’s sons that were slain, and put him and his nurse in a bedchamber. So Jehoshabeath, the daughter of king Jehoram, the wife of Jehoiada the priest, (for she was the sister of Ahaziah,) hid him from Athaliah, so that she slew him not. 12 And he was with them hid in the house of God six years: and Athaliah reigned over the land.

Athaliah became queen. Yes, she murdered everyone to do it, but she became queen. She “reigned over the land.” Not for a while, for six solid years! She was the law.

Now let’s check out the rebellion.

2 Chronicles 23:1 And in the seventh year Jehoiada strengthened himself, and took the captains of hundreds, Azariah the son of Jeroham, and Ishmael the son of Jehohanan, and Azariah the son of Obed, and Maaseiah the son of Adaiah, and Elishaphat the son of Zichri, into covenant with him. 2 And they went about in Judah, and gathered the Levites out of all the cities of Judah, and the chief of the fathers of Israel, and they came to Jerusalem. 3 And all the congregation made a covenant with the king in the house of God. And he said unto them, Behold, the king’s son shall reign, as the LORD hath said of the sons of David. 4 This is the thing that ye shall do; A third part of you entering on the sabbath, of the priests and of the Levites, shall be porters of the doors; 5 And a third part shall be at the king’s house; and a third part at the gate of the foundation: and all the people shall be in the courts of the house of the LORD. 6 But let none come into the house of the LORD, save the priests, and they that minister of the Levites; they shall go in, for they are holy: but all the people shall keep the watch of the LORD. 7 And the Levites shall compass the king round about, every man with his weapons in his hand; and whosoever else cometh into the house, he shall be put to death: but be ye with the king when he cometh in, and when he goeth out. 8 So the Levites and all Judah did according to all things that Jehoiada the priest had commanded, and took every man his men that were to come in on the sabbath, with them that were to go out on the sabbath: for Jehoiada the priest dismissed not the courses. 9 Moreover Jehoiada the priest delivered to the captains of hundreds spears, and bucklers, and shields, that had been king David’s, which were in the house of God. 10 And he set all the people, every man having his weapon in his hand, from the right side of the temple to the left side of the temple, along by the altar and the temple, by the king round about. 11 Then they brought out the king’s son, and put upon him the crown, and gave him the testimony, and made him king. And Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and said, God save the king. 12 Now when Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she came to the people into the house of the LORD: 13 And she looked, and, behold, the king stood at his pillar at the entering in, and the princes and the trumpets by the king: and all the people of the land rejoiced, and sounded with trumpets, also the singers with instruments of musick, and such as taught to sing praise. Then Athaliah rent her clothes, and said, Treason, Treason. 14 Then Jehoiada the priest brought out the captains of hundreds that were set over the host, and said unto them, Have her forth of the ranges: and whoso followeth her, let him be slain with the sword. For the priest said, Slay her not in the house of the LORD. 15 So they laid hands on her; and when she was come to the entering of the horse gate by the king’s house, they slew her there.

They literally assassinated the queen. They determined that even though she was wearing the crown, she had no right to do so. So they killed her and installed the one they believed to be the rightful king. That was 100% political, 100% the correct choice, and 100% blessed by God.

And let’s not neglect to mention a fantastic heroine named Esther who led a rebellion against a law, signed with the kings ring, and in that rebellion saved her entire nation from extermination.

I could keep going through the Old Testament historical books and give you many more examples. But instead let me actually insert one from the intertestamental period, the 400 years between the books of Malachi and Matthew.

During that time period there were a great number of wicked rulers that arose in nations on either side of Israel, mostly Syria and Egypt. Syria and Egypt spent most of those for centuries at war with each other, and because of that they spent most of those for centuries going back and forth across Israel stomping on it like a mat inside a door.

Of all of those wicked rulers who caused them trouble during that time period, though, there was one who stood out far more than all the rest. His name was Antiochus Epiphanies. Daniel described him in vivid detail more than 200 years before he came to power. This man was the most wicked man to ever cross the pages of history. And he will retain that title until version 2.0 of him shows up, the Antichrist himself.

Antiochus, among other things, desecrated the temple. He sacrificed a large sow on the altar, sprinkled its blood all over the most holy place, and made it absolutely desolate.

But in a little town called Modin, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, there was an old Jewish priest named Matthias, who had five grown sons. Not only would Matthias not bow to this abomination, he killed the ambassador of Antiochus and he and his sons started a rebellion.

But Mathias was an old man, and not fit for a long, raging battle. The war took its toll, and soon it became evident that Mathias was going to die. On his deathbed, he called for his boys, and began to prepare them for what was ahead. It was at that point that he passed over his two oldest sons, and placed the authority of leading the rebellion on the shoulders of his third son, Judas, sometimes called Judah.

That was an excellent choice. Judas was a strong and capable leader, and an expert at guerilla warfare. This was going to be essential, since he was going to be constantly outnumbered.

In war, it doesn’t take great leaders long to earn a nickname. “Stonewall Jackson.” “Unconditional Surrender Grant.” Judas also quickly earned a nickname, “Maccabee,” which means “Hammer.” Judas the Hammer was so great a soldier and leader that he ranks right up there with King David in the hearts and memories of Jews even today!

After a string of improbable wins, Judah assembled his forces, and marched into Jerusalem at the head of his army.

Would you like to hear about an early Christmas gift? On the 25th of 165 BC. of the Jewish month Kislev, which corresponds to our month of December, the Hammer and his forces recaptured, cleansed, and re-dedicated the temple of God. This was one of their greatest moments in history.

And do you know what else it was? Political rebellion.

Now let’s go ahead and jump to where anyone who is reading this and hating all of it is just itching to get to.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

How in the world are we to square all of those verses with the many times and examples in which God Himself moved His people to political rebellion?

To begin with, let’s look at a very important passage.

Acts 5:27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. 29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

We ought to obey God rather than men…

Do you know what those are? Words of rebellion. And the principle that they teach is this: no one except God has the blanket right to be obeyed at all times and in all circumstances. That includes government. As long as we can righteously obey both God and government, we should and we do. But whenever we are forced by government in to a choice on that one, we obey God, every single time.

Do you know who believed that? God Himself! And that is why Jesus lived long enough to make it to the cross.

You see, during the very early days of Jesus’ life, the lawgivers, the authorities, decided that Jesus must die. Herod the Great specifically determined that Jesus should be killed. Look very closely at the unmistakable command that Herod gave the wise men:

Matthew 2:7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

Pay attention to those words, “bring me word again.” This was a command that they come back to Herod and give him the location of Jesus. Now look at what God, who knew Herod’s real intent, did in response to that.

Matthew 2:12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

These men had received a direct command from the government of the country. God told them to rebel and disobey it. And they did.

And it did not stop there. If we are always as believer supposed to obey government, what would God have told Mary and Joseph?

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. Mary and Joseph, do as you are told. Herod has spoken, so let my Son be killed.”

And you know quite well that is not what He told them. He instead gave them a message of rebellion. He told them to leave, when Herod wanted them to stay right there. And this was, for Herod, entirely political. This was all about the fact that Jesus was being called “the one who is born King of the Jews.” You would never have convinced him that the wise men and Mary and Joseph were engaging in anything other than political rebellion.

Romans 13:1-4 lets us know that we are to obey government. Acts 5:29 lets us know that there are exceptions to that. The very first example we used, the Hebrew midwives in the book of Exodus, are a great example of that truth.

Now look at that passage from Romans again, and let’s look at it a bit more carefully.

Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Whenever I hear the “Christians must never rebel” crowd quote this passage, I notice that they always point out the “us” part of it, and never the government part of it.

Paul said that government and governors were “not a terror to good works, but to the evil.”

He said that they were “the minister of God to thee for good.”

He said that they were “a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

In other words, Paul just described a moral government! Not a “Christian” government, there were none of those in his day, but at the very least a moral government. This passage is as much a diretion for government to behave right as it is for us to obey that government!

So does the command that we obey a moral government still apply when we find ourselves under an immoral government?

No, it doesn’t. Before you get uptight about that, let me remind you that if you think this command applies to both a moral and an immoral government, and that we are equally required to obey both, congratulations, you have just placed your stamp of approval on the slaughter of six million Jews under Adolph Hitler.

Please tell me that if there ever is another situation like that you will not be like the sorry majority of so called Christians in Germany who saw what Hitler was doing, and casually flipped over to Romans 13:1-4 and said, “See? We have to obey, we’re not allowed to do anything about it.”

That is the most pathetic excuse for Christianity in the history of mankind. It is cowardice disguised as character, spinelessness masquerading as sanctification, and hellishness dressed up as holiness.

Listen to me very carefully. Without a rightly directed spirit of rebellion, do you know how different our world would be right now?

We would have no knowledge of the crucifixion, for the authorities commanded it never to be spoken of. In fact, we would not even know the name of Jesus, for his name was, according to their own writings, to be “blotted out from memory.”

We would not have a Bible, because the authorities repeatedly declared them forbidden, and commanded them to be destroyed. People rebelled against kings and popes to translate, produce, and circulate the Bible, and many of them went to the stake for that rebellion.

We literally have Bibles and the gospel and the name of Jesus because of the rebellion of God’s people, rebellion that in many cases cost them their lives at the stake. Paul himself, who wrote the words of Romans 13:1-4, was more than once imprisoned for rebelling against governmental authority!

I am not talking about preferences, I am not talking about party, I am talking about principles. God’s people, when they have been right with Him, have always been the best citizens of any land where the government at least acted in a moral manner, and the most rebellious citizens of any land in which the government acted in an immoral manner.