"You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments." (Deuteronomy 5:8-10)Idols come in many shapes, styles, and colors. The idols that Moses was familiar with were most certainly different from our present day idols, yet when we set anything before our eyes to serve and worship as god, it has become to us an idol. In forming a foundation for governance, we must consider how a government might become an idol to itself and to the people under its rule.
The most obvious form of government idolatry is when a ruler, or a class of rulers, sets themselves above the populous. The portray themselves as the "savior" of the nation; the ones to be venerated, followed, trusted, and obeyed without challenge. I had the privilege to travel to the Soviet Union in January of 1978. Communism had ruled in the USSR for more than seventy years and the signs of their idol worship were everywhere. You could hardly go anywhere without seeing a statue or mural of Lenin and/or Marx. While in Moscow we waited in line, in the snow, for over an hour just to pass by Lenin's preserved body lying in state. These men, and in fact the entire communist party, was asserting themselves as "god" for the Soviet Union. They were the saviors of the common man, they were the defenders of the working people, and they were the ones promising "cradle to grave" protection for those who would serve the state. The state was to be feared, the state was to be served, and the state was to be obeyed. In a very real sense, the founders of communism had created for the people an idol, complete with promises of prosperity and peace. In the end, history has shown that men like Lenin and Marx were no gods at all, and the governments they sought to establish were not divine but merely the results of the misguided ideals of mortal men.
Another form of governmental idolatry is seen when a ruler asserts their right to rule as being a divine right. During the seventeenth century, the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings was widely accepted and practiced in Europe. This doctrine held that the king derived their right to rule by divine selection and decree. Often this right was assumed by being born into royalty. Because the king's right to rule was supposedly granted by god, all challenges to the crown were also a challenge to god who had granted authority to the crown. Under this doctrine, the king became accountable to god alone and not to the people. In England, this Divine Right extended not only to political and governmental issues but also to religious as well. In a very real sense, the king became the mediator between god and man. He determined the appropriate modes and methods of worship. He set standards of faith and obedience. And if the people disagreed with him, they were also disagreeing with god.
In both cases, idolatry is born when we fail to realize that it is not the people that are divine but rather the institutions that God has established for the benefit of mankind. Civil government is a divine institution established by God to secure peace and tranquility, that its citizens may live lives of godliness and dignity. However, while the institution are divine, it does not guarantee that those who hold power and authority within those institutions are always divine, noble, and just. In his August 15th, 1988 speech, Ronald Reagen gave voice to this fundamental concept. "You don't become President of the United States. You are given temporary custody of an institution called the Presidency, which belongs to our people. Having temporary custody of this office has been for me a sacred trust and an honor beyond words or measure." Being a ruler does not make you divine nor guarantee that all your decisions and decrees are divine, just, and right. While the institution of government is divine, it is still incumbent upon those entrusted with its execution to rule in a manner that is consistent with the nature and purpose of the one who created the institution. Those entrusted with government must yield themselves in subjection to the one who established government and gave then the authority and position to govern.
We must never allow people, classes of people, or even philosophies to be elevated to the place where they become idols for us to serve and worship. There is only one God and and all governments, and those who occupy positions of government, receive their authority from Him. Those who rule, do so by His pleasure. If they should choose a way contrary to His will and purpose, then it is His prerogative to overthrow them. They are not gods, they are mere men.
"This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men." (Daniel 4:17 NKJV)David Robison
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