Jehovah Rules—Through Theocracy
“Jehovah will be king to time indefinite.”—PSALM 146:10.
1, 2. (a) Why have man’s efforts at rulership failed? (b) What has been the only truly successful form of government?
SINCE the time of Nimrod, men have tried different ways to govern human society. There have been dictatorships, monarchies, oligarchies, and various forms of democracy. Jehovah has permitted all of them. Indeed, since God is the ultimate Source of all authority, in a sense he placed the different rulers in their relative positions. (Romans 13:1) Nevertheless, all of man’s efforts at government have failed. No human ruler has produced a long-lasting, stable, just society. All too frequently, “man has dominated man to his injury.”—Ecclesiastes 8:9.
2 Should this surprise us? Of course not! Imperfect man was not made to rule himself. “To earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) That is why, throughout all human history, only one form of government has been truly successful. Which one? Theocracy under Jehovah God. In Biblical Greek, “theocracy” means a rule [kraʹtos] by God [the·osʹ]. What better government could there be than that of Jehovah God himself?—Psalm 146:10.
3. What were some early examples of theocracy existing on earth?
3 Theocracy ruled for a short time in Eden, until Adam and Eve rebelled against Jehovah. (Genesis 3:1-6, 23) In Abraham’s time, a theocracy appears to have existed in the city of Salem, with Melchizedek as king-priest. (Genesis 14:18-20; Hebrews 7:1-3) However, the first national theocracy under Jehovah God was established in the wilderness of Sinai in the 16th century B.C.E. How did that come about? And how did that theocratic government work?
A Theocracy Is Born
4. How did Jehovah set up the theocratic nation of Israel?
4 In 1513 B.C.E., Jehovah rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and destroyed the pursuing armies of Pharaoh in the Red Sea. Then He led the Israelites to Mount Sinai. When they were encamped at the foot of the mountain, God told them through Moses: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, that I might carry you on wings of eagles and bring you to myself. And now if you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples.” The Israelites responded: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.” (Exodus 19:4, 5, 8) A covenant was made, and the theocratic nation of Israel was born.—Deuteronomy 26:18, 19.
5. How could it be said that Jehovah ruled in Israel?
5 How, though, was Israel ruled by Jehovah, who is invisible to human eyes? (Exodus 33:20) In that the laws and the priesthood of the nation were given by Jehovah. Those who obeyed the laws and worshiped according to the divinely mandated arrangements served the Great Theocrat, Jehovah. Additionally, the high priest had the Urim and the Thummim, by which Jehovah God gave guidance in times of emergency. (Exodus 28:29, 30) Further, qualified older men were Jehovah’s representatives in the theocracy and saw to the application of God’s Law. If we consider the record of some of these men, we will better understand how humans should submit to God’s rule.
Authority Under Theocracy
6. Why was it a challenge for humans to hold authority in a theocracy, and what kind of men were needed for this responsibility?
6 Those in positions of authority in Israel had a great privilege, but it was a challenge for them to keep their balance. They had to be careful that their own ego never became more important than the sanctification of Jehovah’s name. The inspired statement that “it does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step” was as true of the Israelites as it was of the rest of mankind. Israel flourished only when the older men remembered that Israel was a theocracy and that they should do Jehovah’s will, not their own. Soon after the founding of Israel, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, well described what kind of men they should be, that is, “capable men, fearing God, trustworthy men, hating unjust profit.”—Exodus 18:21.
7. In what ways was Moses a fine example of one who held authority under Jehovah God?
7 The first to exercise high authority in Israel was Moses. He was a fine example of a theocratic authority figure. True, on one occasion human weakness showed through. However, Moses always relied on Jehovah. When questions arose that had not already been resolved, he sought Jehovah’s guidance. (Compare Numbers 15:32-36.) How did Moses resist the temptation to use his high position for his own glory? Well, although he led a nation of millions, he was “by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.” (Numbers 12:3) He had no personal ambitions but was concerned about God’s glory. (Exodus 32:7-14) And Moses had strong faith. Speaking of him before he became a national leader, the apostle Paul said: “He continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:27) Clearly, Moses never forgot that Jehovah was the real Ruler of the nation. (Psalm 90:1, 2) What a fine example for us today!
8. What command did Jehovah give Joshua, and why is this noteworthy?
8 When the oversight of Israel proved too much for Moses alone, Jehovah put his spirit upon 70 older men who would support him in judging the nation. (Numbers 11:16-25) In later years each city would have its older men. (Compare Deuteronomy 19:12; 22:15-18; 25:7-9.) After Moses died, Jehovah made Joshua leader of the nation. We can imagine that with this privilege, Joshua had much to do. Nevertheless, Jehovah told him that there was one thing he should never omit: “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it.” (Joshua 1:8) Notice that although Joshua had more than 40 years of service behind him, he needed to keep reading the Law. We too need to study the Bible and refresh our minds as to Jehovah’s laws and principles—no matter how long our record of service is or how many privileges we have.—Psalm 119:111, 112.
9. What happened in Israel during the time of the judges?
9 Joshua was followed by a series of judges. Unhappily, during their time the Israelites frequently “fell to doing what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah.” (Judges 2:11) Concerning the period of the judges, the record says: “In those days there was no king in Israel. What was right in his own eyes was what each one was accustomed to do.” (Judges 21:25) Each one made his own decisions about conduct and worship, and history shows that many Israelites made bad decisions. They fell away to idol worship and sometimes committed horrible crimes. (Judges 19:25-30) Some, though, displayed exemplary faith.—Hebrews 11:32-38.
10. How did government in Israel change radically during the time of Samuel, and what led to this?
10 During the lifetime of the last judge, Samuel, Israel went through a crisis as to government. Influenced by the surrounding enemy nations, all ruled by kings, the Israelites reasoned that they too needed a king. They forgot that they already had a King, that their government was a theocracy. Jehovah told Samuel: “It is not you whom they have rejected, but it is I whom they have rejected from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7) Their example reminds us how easy it is to lose our spiritual view and be influenced by the world around us.—Compare 1 Corinthians 2:14-16.
11. (a) Despite the change in government, how can it be said that Israel continued to be a theocracy under the kings? (b) What command did Jehovah give to Israel’s kings, and with what purpose?
11 Nevertheless, Jehovah consented to the Israelites’ request and chose their first two kings, Saul and David. Israel continued to be a theocracy, ruled by Jehovah. So that her kings would remember this, each one of them was obliged to make his own copy of the Law and read it daily, “in order that he may learn to fear Jehovah his God so as to keep all the words of this law and these regulations by doing them; that his heart may not exalt itself above his brothers.” (Deuteronomy 17:19, 20) Yes, Jehovah desired that those with authority in his theocracy should not exalt themselves and that their actions should reflect his Law.
12. What record of faithfulness did King David make?
12 King David had outstanding faith in Jehovah, and God covenanted that he would be father of a line of kings that would last forever. (2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Kings 9:5; Psalm 89:29) David’s humble submission to Jehovah was worthy of imitation. He said: “O Jehovah, in your strength the king rejoices; and in your salvation how very joyful he wants to be!” (Psalm 21:1) Although David sometimes fell short because of fleshly weakness, as a rule he relied on Jehovah’s strength, not on his own.
Untheocratic Deeds and Attitudes
13, 14. What were some of the untheocratic actions taken by David’s successors?
13 Not all Israelite leaders were like Moses and David. Many showed gross disrespect for the theocratic arrangement, allowing false worship in Israel. Even some of the faithful rulers acted untheocratically on occasion. Very tragic was the case of Solomon, who was granted great wisdom and prosperity. (1 Kings 4:25, 29) Yet, in disregard of Jehovah’s law, he married many wives and permitted idol worship in Israel. Evidently, Solomon’s rule was oppressive in his later years.—Deuteronomy 17:14-17; 1 Kings 11:1-8; 12:4.
14 Solomon’s son Rehoboam faced a demand that he lighten his subjects’ load. Instead of handling the situation mildly, he belligerently asserted his authority—and lost 10 of the 12 tribes. (2 Chronicles 10:4-17) The first king of the breakaway ten-tribe kingdom was Jeroboam. In an effort to ensure that his kingdom should never rejoin its sister nation, he set up calf worship. This may have seemed to be a clever move politically, but it showed blatant disregard for theocracy. (1 Kings 12:26-30) Later, at the end of a long life of faithful service, King Asa allowed pride to blemish his record. He mistreated the prophet who came to him with counsel from Jehovah. (2 Chronicles 16:7-11) Yes, even old-timers sometimes need counsel.
The End of a Theocracy
15. When Jesus was on the earth, how did the Jewish leaders fail as authority figures in a theocracy?
15 When Jesus Christ was on the earth, Israel was still a theocracy. Sadly, though, many of her responsible older men were not spiritually minded. They certainly failed to cultivate the meekness that Moses displayed. Jesus pointed to their spiritual corruption when he said: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the seat of Moses. Therefore all the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but do not perform.”—Matthew 23:2, 3.
16. How did first-century Jewish leaders show that they had no respect for theocracy?
16 After handing Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders showed how far they had strayed from theocratic submission. Pilate examined Jesus and concluded that he was an innocent man. Bringing Jesus out before the Jews, Pilate said: “See! Your king!” When the Jews clamored for Jesus’ death, Pilate asked: “Shall I impale your king?” The chief priests answered: “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:14, 15) They acknowledged Caesar as king, not Jesus, ‘who came in Jehovah’s name’!—Matthew 21:9.
17. Why did fleshly Israel cease to be a theocratic nation?
17 In rejecting Jesus, the Jews rejected theocracy, for he was to be the main figure in future theocratic arrangements. Jesus was the royal son of David who would reign forever. (Isaiah 9:6, 7; Luke 1:33; 3:23, 31) Thus, fleshly Israel ceased to be God’s chosen nation.—Romans 9:31-33.
A New Theocracy
18. What new theocracy was born in the first century? Explain.
18 God’s rejection of fleshly Israel was not the end of theocracy on earth, however. Through Jesus Christ, Jehovah established a new theocracy. This was the anointed Christian congregation, which was actually a new nation. (1 Peter 2:9) The apostle Paul called it “the Israel of God,” and eventually its members came “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Galatians 6:16; Revelation 5:9, 10) While subject to the human governments under which they lived, members of this new theocracy were indeed ruled by God. (1 Peter 2:13, 14, 17) Soon after the birth of the new theocracy, the rulers of fleshly Israel tried to force some disciples to cease obeying a command that Jesus had given them. The response? “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Truly, a theocratic viewpoint!
19. How could the first-century Christian congregation be called a theocracy?
19 How, though, did the new theocracy function? Well, there was a King, Jesus Christ, representing the Great Theocrat, Jehovah God. (Colossians 1:13) Although the King was invisible in the heavens, his rule was real to his subjects, and his words governed their lives. As for visible oversight, spiritually qualified older men were appointed. In Jerusalem a group of such men functioned as a governing body. Representing that body were traveling elders, such as Paul, Timothy, and Titus. And each congregation was cared for by a body of older men, or elders. (Titus 1:5) When a difficult problem arose, the elders consulted the governing body or one of its representatives, such as Paul. (Compare Acts 15:2; 1 Corinthians 7:1; 8:1; 12:1.) Further, each member of the congregation played a part in upholding the theocracy. Each one was responsible before Jehovah to apply Scriptural principles in his life.—Romans 14:4, 12.
20. What can be said about theocracy in post-apostolic times?
20 Paul warned that after the death of the apostles, apostasy would develop, which is exactly what happened. (2 Thessalonians 2:3) As time went by, the number of those claiming to be Christians rose to the millions and then to the hundreds of millions. They developed different kinds of church government, such as hierarchical, presbyterian, and congregational. However, neither the conduct nor the beliefs of these churches reflected the rulership of Jehovah. They were not theocracies!
21, 22. (a) How has Jehovah restored theocracy during the time of the end? (b) What questions about theocracy will be answered next?
21 During the time of the end of this system of things, there was to be a separating of true Christians from false Christians. (Matthew 13:37-43) This happened in 1919, a pivotal year in the history of theocracy. At that time the glorious prophecy of Isaiah 66:8 was fulfilled: “Who has seen things like these? Will a land be brought forth with labor pains in one day? Or will a nation be born at one time?” The answer to those questions was a resounding yes! In 1919 the Christian congregation once again existed as a separate “nation.” A theocratic “land” was indeed born as in one day! As the time of the end progressed, the organization of this new nation was adjusted to bring it as close as possible to what existed in the first century. (Isaiah 60:17) But it was always a theocracy. In conduct and belief, it always reflected the divinely inspired laws and principles in the Scriptures. And it was always subject to the enthroned King, Jesus Christ.—Psalm 45:17; 72:1, 2.
22 Are you associated with this theocracy? Do you have a position of authority in it? If so, do you know what it means to act theocratically? Do you know what snares to avoid? The last two questions will be discussed in the following article.
Can You Explain?
□ What is a theocracy?
□ In what way was Israel a theocracy?
□ What arrangement did Jehovah make to remind the kings that Israel was a theocracy?
□ In what way was the Christian congregation a theocracy, and how was it organized?
□ What theocratic organization has been established in our time?
[Picture on page 12]
Before Pontius Pilate, the Jewish rulers acknowledged Caesar rather than Jehovah’s theocratically appointed King