Governors in Bible times generally had military and judicial powers and were responsible to see that the tribute, tax, or revenue to the king or superior ruler was paid by the jurisdictional districts or provinces that the governors ruled. (Lu 2:1, 2) Many of them put a heavy load on the people to supply food for themselves and their large body of attendants.—Ne 5:15-18.
King Solomon appointed governors over the districts of Israel. They are mentioned at 1 Kings 10:15 and may be the same as the 12 deputies of 1 Kings 4:7-19, whose duty it was to provide food for the king and his household, each for one month in the year.
Practically all the major powers of Bible times are spoken of as having rulers of the order of governors, either as local native rulers or as governors controlling occupied territories. (Syrian, 1Ki 20:24; Assyrian, Eze 23:5, 6, 12, 23; Babylonian, Jer 51:57; Persian, Ezr 8:36, Ne 2:7, 9; Arabian, 2Co 11:32; Roman, Lu 3:1) Joseph was a governor in a large sense, over all Egypt, subject only to the king. (Ge 41:40, 41; Ac 7:9, 10) Rabshakeh, an officer of King Sennacherib of Assyria, taunted Hezekiah about Jerusalem’s weakness, saying that it would be unable to turn back even one of Sennacherib’s lesser governors. But Rabshakeh failed to take into account the overwhelming force of Jehovah on Hezekiah’s side.—Isa 36:4, 9; 37:36.
Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah to govern the remaining Israelites left in the land of Judah after carrying many of the people into exile in 607 B.C.E. Gedaliah was assassinated about two months later. (2Ki 25:8-12, 22, 25) As the 70-year period of exile neared its end, King Cyrus of Persia appointed Sheshbazzar (likely Zerubbabel) as governor of the Jews who returned to Jerusalem in 537 B.C.E. (Ezr 5:14; Hag 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21) Under King Artaxerxes of Persia, Nehemiah was made governor when he went back to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, in 455 B.C.E.—Ne 5:14; see TIRSHATHA.
Under Roman rule, Judea was an imperial province; the governors there were directly responsible to the emperor for their actions. Pilate was the fifth of the line of governors of Judea. (Mt 27:2; Lu 3:1) Felix and Festus were Judea’s 11th and 12th governors (if we do not count Publius Petronius and his successor Marsus, who, appointed as governors of Syria, at the same time managed the affairs of the Jews). (Ac 23:24-26; 24:27) These Roman governors had the power to order capital punishment, as we see in the case of Jesus, who was judged by Pilate.—Mt 27:11-14; Joh 19:10.
Governors of the nations in general were referred to by Jesus when he told his followers that they would be brought before such men to give a witness. Christians should not fear such rulers, though powerful, nor be worried about what to say when giving testimony before them. (Mt 10:18-20, 26) All such governors are part of the superior authorities to which Christians owe relative, not total, subjection. (Ro 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 1Pe 2:13, 14; Ac 4:19, 20; 5:29; Mt 22:21) It was with the respect due the office of governor that Paul addressed Festus, before whom he was on trial, saying: “Your Excellency Festus.” (Ac 26:25) However, in contrast with the apostles, who rendered respect and honor first to Jehovah, who governs all, the nation of Israel sank to the point where they accorded earthly governors more respect than they gave Jehovah. This circumstance was used by Jehovah in strong reproof to the nation through his prophet Malachi.—Mal 1:6-8; see SUPERIOR AUTHORITIES.
Matthew, quoting from Micah 5:2, shows that Bethlehem, though very insignificant as far as governing power in Judah was concerned, would become significant by reason of the fact that the greatest of governors would come from this city to shepherd Jehovah’s people Israel. This prophecy finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus the Great Governor under his Father, Jehovah God.—Mt 2:6.