When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn.
This is a black and white statement. Some would see history in terms of pure ethical relativism where there are no really bad guys and no good guys. But this is not the way the Bible looks at it. Throughout the Old Testament, there were good kings and bad kings, and then there were some very bad kings. God takes sides in history, and so should we. For example, a cursory reading of the writings and actions of two historical leaders, John Winthrop and Nero, would reveal that Winthrop was a good ruler and Nero was not. The difference between good rulers and bad ones is delineated by the righteous standards of God’s law. A righteous man fears God and lives in accord with the laws of God (Rom. 7:12, Gal. 5:21–24). He says with the Psalmist, “Oh how I love your law!” Wicked leaders steal and kill, usually under the guise of seeking a “higher good.” But the righteous oppose these machinations.
According to this verse, wicked rulers will make life unpleasant for their people. Of course, these rulers will make grand promises and always present themselves in the best light when they run for office in a “democratic society.” But they will make the people mourn. Granted, even this is under the sovereign dictate of God. If a nation is due for God’s judgment, He will raise up rulers who hate His laws in order that they may tyrannize the people.
It is God’s blessing on a nation when men of outstanding character rise to the top of the political machines. This may not happen very often in this sin-drenched world where immoral people love to elect tyrants. But there are a few places and times in history where righteous men have prevailed—and they usually bring unprecedented freedoms with them. This is the legacy of Oliver Cromwell in England, who fought hard for religious freedom at a time when the state controlled the church.
For many years, America has retained a position among the most free and prosperous nations in the world. This is because America’s foundations were strong at the beginning. Many of the early leaders were committed Christians of the Protestant faith, descendants of the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled the land in the 17th century. The above-mentioned John Winthrop was the first of their leaders in the colonies. Writing in his own diary, he testified to his faith in God: “I will always walk humbly before my God, and meekly, mildly, and gently towards all men… to give myself, my life, my wits, my health, my wealth to the service of my God and Saviour.” For the first five years of the Massachusetts colony, he dipped into his own pockets to fund the government. He paid for shipments of food from England with his own money, saving many from starvation during the first terrible winter in New England. Then, he voluntarily gave up his political rights to the governorship, allowing for America’s first free elections to take place. What a stark contrast with the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin who said, “You know, they are fooling us, there is no God… all this talk about God is sheer nonsense.” This man was responsible for killing at least thirty million of his own citizens (estimates run from eight million to sixty million dead). “When the wicked bear rule, the people mourn.”
For related commentary, reference Proverbs 28:12, 28.
1. How does the Bible describe good leaders and bad leaders? How can we describe any leader as righteous when men still sin as King David did?
2. Based on the criteria of righteous leaders, name some good and bad leaders in history.