My thought model sort of worked. It allowed me to see the driving principles that ran through Israel’s treatment of immigrants while yielding some information about how those principles might be applied today; but it kept catching one snag. Our problem isn’t immigration—it’s illegal immigration.
Because of that, I had to reflect on human laws, authority and a Christian’s responsibility.
I noted how God held people accountable for other people. In Gen 9:6 (and earlier), mankind had to punish killers. In Gen. 41:25-57, Pharaoh was informed by God about what was going to happen in the land so that Joseph could care for the people and Egypt would prosper—Pharaoh was essentially a vehicle for God’s care of the people. This makes sense, since God (much later) depicted Nebuchadnezzar (his King and servant Dan. 2:37, 38 and Jer. 27:6) as a glorious tree that provided shade, fruit and shelter (Dan 4:9-17). Pharaoh 2.0 was made king by God specifically for the purpose of reflecting God’s power (Exo 6; Rom 9). Saul (a doofus of a man) is the people’s choice award winner, yet he was appointed by God and is called anointed (1 Sam. 9:15-17; 10:1). David, an adulterer and a murderer whose sins sometimes affects the entire nation, is also God’s anointed (1 Sam. 16:1, 7, 13; 2 Sam. 7:13-16; Psa. 89:19-37; Acts 13:22) and is called the Son of God (Psalm 2).Paul, who had suffered at the hands of ruling authorities, would have the cheek to tell us that rulers are actually ministers and servants of God (Rom 13:1,4,6). The Old Testament is pretty open in viewing God as appointing Kings (1 Kin. 14:14; 16:1-4; 1 Chr. 28:4, 5; 29:25; Psa. 22:28; Prov. 8:15, 16; Dan. 2:20, 21, 37; 5:20-24) and the New Testament follows suit (Rom 13).
People also have to obey the ruling authorities—even the evil ones—because disobeying authorities would be to disobey God. Compare the two incidents in Numbers (Num. 12, 16) where God’s authority was challenged by attacking God’s chosen vessels of authority. Ecclesiastes 8 illuminates wisdom as a man keeps the king’s command. Our Lord tells us to pay our taxes (Matt 22:17-21; Luke 20:25) in obedience. The author to the Hebrews says that the believers are to obey those who rule over them (Heb 13:17). Paul would tell believers to pray for their rulers, and submit to them, so that they can have a quiet and tranquil life (1 Tim 2:1-2; Titus 3:1). His example is fairly evident when he retracts his condemnation of the then ruling High Priest on the grounds that he didn’t know he was High Priest (Acts 23:1-5) but then fairly confusing when he throws the whole proceeding into chaos. Peter says to submit to human authorities as a testimony to unbelievers (1 Peter 2:13-15) and then actually goes so far to say that a mark of haters of God is that they are despisers of authority (2 Pet. 2:10)!
And yet, even in the necessity for civil obedience, Scripture makes it clear that there are principles that override a ruler’s authority. A direct command from the Lord can override obedience to civil rule as these rich migrants who visited the Lord discovered (Mat 2:8, 12). Fear for God seems to be a factor as in the case of the Jewish Mid-wives, when told to slaughter the Jewish male babies, feared God more than they feared Pharaoh: their decision (with subsequent disobedience and lie) was viewed favorably by God (Exo 1:15-21). Refusing to break God’s as Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah refused to follow the political decision to bow down to an image; God justified them before the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 3).
Christ often broke the commands of the ruling authorities (Mat 15, 16, 21, and plenty more in the Gospels) for the express purpose of showing their callousness, hypocrisy, and their façade of holiness—but I’m not sure that is a calling for believers. And yet, when filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen refuses to shut up when the authorities were angry at him (Acts 7). Indeed, Peter and John go so far to say, in the face of their ruling authorities, that they must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29—a case which some might chalk up to having a heavenly command beforehand).
But civil disobedience seems to be used in other surprising cases as well. Paul, after being beaten publically, then privately released, refuses to leave the prison until the magistrates publically exonerate him (Acts 16:37). His legal rights were violated and he made sure to make a fuss about it but in so doing he protested by sitting in prison. In another situation, civil disobedience was used to derail the injustice of a secret murder where Paul escapes from prison by means of basket (2 Co 11:32-33).
Well, all of this is fairly complex.
The initial principles that I can draw from it all is that God is in charge, that authorities are placed there for a reason that is ultimately for our good, that these authorities are held accountable for their decisions, and sometimes their actions put the people of God in direct opposition.
And yet this overview really doesn’t yield the complete basis for disobeying the civil authority. It would be easy if it were only when commanded; but Scripture is rife with examples of disobedience without commands. I mean, Daniel 1-6 is pretty much example by example of civil disobedience without command and exemplified in different forms—on what grounds does someone react as Daniel 1 or Daniel 6? On what grounds does someone like Paul submit himself to a beating and bring up his rights; or submit to a beating and prison and then enforce his rights?
The evidence here needs further examination. I have to look at the driving influence for civil obedience and disobedience.