Governmental Authority

Although God established government by man, He did not do so at the beginning of man’s history. Prior to the flood, God did not establish government of any kind in the world. As a result, He had to observe that the earth was filled with violence and corruption, and He destroyed it by a flood. In order to preserve some order in the world of sinful man, God placed government into the hands of man after the flood when He said to Noah and his sons, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:66Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. (Genesis 9:6)). This command continues to this day, although no government in the hands of sinful man can ever be an adequate display of God’s righteousness. By becoming drunken, Noah failed almost immediately in his responsibility, and later Israel, into whose hands God committed governmental responsibility, failed because of their rebelliousness against Him. After bearing with them for hundreds of years, God allowed them to be taken into captivity in Babylon, and He committed governmental authority and power to the Gentiles. Thus in Nebuchadnezzar began the times of the Gentiles. The church period forms a parenthesis in all this, for it is a display of God’s grace in calling souls to heavenly glory. Nevertheless, the times of the Gentiles continue to this day, and government in the world is generally in their hands. In the millennium, and only then, will righteous government be seen in the earth and be again in the hands of Abraham’s seed, when the Lord Jesus Christ will have His rightful place and His authority will be recognized everywhere in this world.
Usurping God’s Authority
Although Nebuchadnezzar had learned from Daniel that the God of heaven had given him his universal kingdom, yet he used his absolute power to have a god of his own. He attempted to assert his own will over his subjects and thus to usurp for himself the place and authority that belonged to God alone. He used the power that God gave him to deny God and to put himself in the place of God. He made a magnificent image that was to serve as the deity for all that were subject to his authority.
The command to bow before the images was simple and the penalty was plain. Not much was required, according to human thoughts. However, it was the intrusion of man’s will into God’s domain. Obedience to the powers that be is a God-given duty, but obedience to these powers must be rendered within the circle of their own lawful authority. In this we find that the responsibilities of believers today coalesce with those of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. If the powers that be step out of this circle of responsibility, our first responsibility is to God. When the rulers in Jerusalem commanded the apostles not to teach or to preach in the name of Jesus, Peter and John answered, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:2929Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)). Absolute monarch though he was, Nebuchadnezzar stepped outside of his own domain and claimed for himself what was due to God alone.
As far as we know, only Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to comply with the king’s decree. They were brought before the king, and morally it was a most impressive scene. On the one hand was Nebuchadnezzar, one of the mightiest monarchs the world had ever seen, surrounded with all the pomp of his court and realm, and on the other hand, three men of a despised and conquered race. The question to be answered was this: Who is supreme, God or man? Among other things that he said, Nebuchadnezzar issued a challenge: “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:1515Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? (Daniel 3:15)). In so doing, he engaged in battle, not with men, but with God Himself.
The answer of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, quiet and subdued in tone, is sublime in its expression of their confidence in God and His power. They counted on God’s power, which they knew could deliver them, should Nebuchadnezzar carry out his threat to throw them into the furnace. On the other hand, their determination was fixed not to yield to the king’s command. If it were the Lord’s will, they were ready to die as martyrs for His sake. Their faith and obedience were as absolute as the will of the king.
The Christian Attitude
The attitude of these defines the true position of the believer to the powers that be today. Everywhere in the New Testament, submission to these is commanded, and such should be the path of the Christian in the middle of political agitations and confusions. Various scriptures could be quoted, but Romans 13:1212The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:12) is sufficient: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
The believer is neither to raise questions nor to examine the lawfulness of constituted authorities. It is enough for him that they are in power, and he pursues his way in peace as he renders the required obedience. But if these authorities travel outside their own province and seek to substitute their will for the Word of God and to impose that will on their subjects, they effectively put themselves in the place of God. In such a case, faithfulness to God, as with the three children of the Jewish captivity, demands that God be obeyed rather than man. The limit of obedience to government is obedience to God in obeying them. If called upon to disobey God by yielding to a government’s demands, the believer must retain a good conscience toward God, even at the cost of his life. Such was the ground taken by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Submission Even Unto Death
Again, we know the end of the story. These three men were thrown into the furnace, but God came in and silently exhibited His power before the furious king. The fire had no effect on them except to burn the bonds that held them, and more than this, the Lord Himself walked with them in the fire. On the other hand, we need to remember that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not know with certainty that they would receive such a wonderful deliverance. They were ready to die rather than deny their God, and Hebrews 11:3638 speaks of others who were tortured, imprisoned, exiled and killed for their faithfulness. So it must be today. Some are delivered in a marvelous way, while others honor the Lord by suffering and even dying for Him.
In conclusion, we may say clearly that the believer is to obey the powers that be, for God has set them up. As long as sin is in the world, government is necessary, for the awful tendencies of man’s sinful nature must be restrained. But the believer, as part of a heavenly company, is not to be involved in the government of this world. His turn to govern will come when he lives and reigns with Christ a thousand years (Rev. 20:66Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)), but to attempt to do so now is to seek to reign before God’s time. The Corinthians wanted to do this and Paul had to tell them, “Ye have reigned as kings without us” (1 Cor. 4:8). According to Daniel 4:1717This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. (Daniel 4:17), government may sometimes be in the hands of “the basest of men,” but since God has set them up, we are to be in subjection to them.
E. Dennett, adapted from Daniel the Prophet