For generations we have held this truth to be self-evident: Our rights are granted by God, not by kings or parliaments, presidents or congresses, or even by constitutions or laws. No less certain is this: The same God who gave us those rights intended for us to be self-governing.
Self-governing is what the people of God were before they rebelled against Him and demanded a monarchy. Self-governing is what the American people most fully became after rejecting the British crown’s heavy hand.
Make no mistake, human beings are created to be self-governing. Just like a car comes with windows, self-governance is built into us. Yes, you can remove the glass from that car – but the essence and function of the window remains; you can still see out. People can have the drive for self-governance indoctrinated and inculturated out of them, but the framework remains; it is who we were created to be. Yet, unhinged from its moral moorings, even the blessing of self-governance can go awry.
These thoughts occurred to me as I knelt in the dirt recently at the ancient city of Dan, at the northernmost tip of Israel. This is one of the two places where Jeroboam erected a golden calf to be worshiped by the people of Israel after the reign of King Solomon. Understanding how Jeroboam came to power is an important, if cautionary, tale.
Despite his reputation for wisdom, Solomon had made a mess of things. This was not unexpected. When the Israelites demanded the God-ordained system of self-governance under His law be replaced with a human king, they were specifically warned that nothing good would result.
The rotten reign of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, lasted about 30 seconds. Before his father died, Rehoboam asked a council of men how to be a good king, and they told him: “be a servant to this people.” You can almost hear Rehoboam laugh; instead, Solomon was barely in his tomb before Rehoboam proclaimed new burdens on the people. He wanted to be served.
So the people, who had clamored for a king and all that entailed, simply decided they had no “portion” in the House of David – Rehoboam’s grandfather. The people of God rightly abandoned the self-serving king Rehoboam. Yet because they refused to embrace self-governance grounded in God’s law, they walked right into the arms of another king, Jeroboam, and his own self-serving ideology.
While a car without glass still has windows, replacing the glass with plywood makes the vehicle impossible to drive.
An unvirtuous cycle had been firmly established: the people rejected God and asked for a king. They briefly had a king who honored God, but whose descendants then honored themselves. The people ended up rejecting one bad king in favor of another bad king.
So, what about us? For how long do we expect to enjoy the practical benefits of being a self-governing people when we regularly look for “strong leaders” to deliver us from the sin into which we have mired ourselves? The ruins at Dan are a grim reminder of where it can all lead. We should have no part in that.
Rather than seek corporately after kings, we must instead seek earnestly for personal righteousness. Instead of looking for leaders, we should learn again to govern ourselves.