Foundations of Worship

by Antonio Rios

How often do we struggle with the various authority structures in our lives? Whether our parents, employers, government, congregational leadership or police officers, we all wrestle with our God-given authorities. We may not necessarily show our frustration, rebellion, disappointment, anger or disrespect publicly, but to God, it doesn’t matter. The Lord is the one who gives authority, and He is the one who takes it away.

Question: If the authority is failing to walk in the ways of God and the people are being oppressed (in any way), whose fault is it, really? As the old saying goes “The Buck Stops Here”, but just where is “Here?”

The Ancient Oath
Ecclesiastes 8: 2-4 states: I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?”

“…because of the oath before God?” What oath? Did we miss that memo somewhere? Apparently, so. Somewhere in time the people of God made an oath that would last throughout eternity. I would like to know what the oath said, so that I could do my part in upholding my end of the deal.

Testamental Agreement
If there were an ancient oath between the Children of Israel and the Lord, there would have to be Testamental Agreement. Both the Tanach and the B’rit Chadasha would verify Ecclesiastes 8:2-4.

In Romans 13:1-7, Rav Shaul says the following: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God, and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not the cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore, it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this, you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”

This passage agrees with the writer of Ecclesiastes. Specifically, those who resist authority have opposed the ordinance of God. That means we have Testamental Agreement. Did the Lord leave the oath out of Scripture? Is it possible that we could find clues that lead us to what might have been contained therein?

The Law of First Mention
The law of first mention is a critical clue to uncovering/discovering important details about our Father, God. If we want to find out God’s opinion on ruling authority, let’s start at the first mention of a king in scripture.

In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, the Lord speaks to the Children of Israel and declares to them the following regarding a king: “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’ He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.”

Then follow on to Deuteronomy 17 is found in 1st Samuel, when the Children of Israel cry out to the Lord and Samuel for a King. This is the first mention of a king being requested by the Children of Israel in Scripture. When it was time to ordain and crown Saul as King of Israel, Samuel had this to say: When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the LORD your God was your king. Now, therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the LORD has set a king over you. If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you as it was against your fathers. Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great that you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king.”

So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.

Then all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.”

Samuel said to the people: “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things that can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, but I will instruct you in a good and right way. Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away.” (1 Samuel 12:12-25)

The ancient oath! There it is in verses 13-14, 20-21, and 25. You mean to tell me that the woes of the Children of Israel throughout the ages had more to do with the people than the king? How is that possible?

If the Lord is the one who bestows authority and places rulers, then it makes total sense. If the Children of Israel had been careful to obey the voice of the Lord and walk in His commandments, then the Lord would not have had to turn them over to their lust. If the King of Israel had turned from the Lord, but the people had stayed true God’s word, then the Lord would have removed that king and replaced him with one who would walk in His ways. However, we see time and again throughout scripture that the people went their way, and both the nation and the king were ruined. You see, God would have protected the people from harm had they kept their end of the oath. This was a tragedy to learn from and an oath that still affects us today.

The Buck Does Stop “Here.”
Let’s define “Here”. “Here,” is me. It is each one of us. According to the Lord, we have as much, if not more responsibility than our authority in ensuring their and our success. Our success is tied together. What an incredible wake-up call to the all of us.

The Lord has set up various kinds of authority structures in our lives, and each of them depends on our walk before the Lord. Parents, government, employers, congregational leaders and yes, even police officers. We must purpose now, more than ever, to uphold the ancient oath of our forefathers. Firstly in our homes with our parents, secondly in our congregations with our leadership, thirdly in our communities, fourthly with our employers, and finally with our local, state and national governments.

Our mutual success and blessing are found in our walk before the Lord. Instead of resisting authority, opposing the ordinance of God and breaking our oath, let us purpose to walk in righteousness before the Lord and watch how He changes the difficult structures of authority into agents of blessing. It’s not about how we or someone else can do it better; it’s about God, and He always does it better.

Let us as individuals, families and congregations show the world a more excellent way. The ancient way.