Algernon Sidney, an English politician and member of the middle part of the Long Parliament in the late 1600’s posed the question,
“The Apostle farther explaining himself, and shewing who may be accounted a magistrate, and what the duty of such a one is, informs us when we should fear, and on what account. Rulers, says he, are not a terror to good works, but to the evil: Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. He therefore is only the minister of God, who is not a terror to good works, but to evil; who executes wrath upon those that do evil, and is a praise to those that do well. And he who doth well, ought not to be afraid of the power, for he shall receive praise. Now if our author were alive, tho he was a man of a hard forehead, I would ask him, whether in his conscience he believed, that Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and the rabble of succeeding monsters, were a praise to those who did well, and a terror to those who did ill; and not the contrary, a praise to the worst, and a terror to the best men of the world?” (Discourses Concerning Government, published 1698, pg. 293)
Believers in the Bible, and therefore in Romans chapter 13, know that God is the law giver. If God is the law giver, then we must ask ourselves if any person, other than Christ Jesus, keeps the laws of God perfectly? Clearly the answer is no. We must ask ourselves then, as believers in Romans 13, “what happens when the government breaks the law?”
Studying scriptural examples of what the prophets of God did when the government broke the law or told gospel believers to break the laws of God will help us unravel the confusion we find ourselves in today.
First, lets look at the three Hebrews: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men lived during the time when Israel was under Babylonian rule. In Daniel chapter 3 we read that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, commanded everyone under his rule to,
“fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up” (Dan 3:5 KJV)
The penalty for disobeying this “law” was death via a “fiery furnace” (Dan 3:6 KJV)
According to modern interpretations of Romans 13, it would have been the duty of Gods people to worship the idol created by the King, and that if they failed to do so, they would be in violation of Gods commandment to obey the government. However, these three Hebrews acted differently than, perhaps, everybody else because they were specifically accused of violating the law. (Dan 3:12 KJV). The rebellion of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego so infuriated the king that he commanded the fire to be seven times hotter than was typical. This would ensure their death beyond any reasonable doubt Now, if these men were really in rebellion against God’s law, their death would be justified in the eyes of god. However, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego boldly proclaimed that God would protect them from their rebellion against the government of Nebuchadnezzar.
If modern interpretations of Romans 13 are accurate, these three should be seen as rebels with no legitimate authority to claim Gods protection. However, we see in the Biblical account that an angel was sent to protect them, and while the kings men in charge of executing judgement upon Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were killed, the three Hebrews were left unharmed, protected in their rebellion against the government by the hand of God.
The three Hebrews were protected in their rebellion against the government by the hand of God and left unharmed.
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