Authority of the People Over Government

King’s Ruling Overturned to Rescue Jonathan

Interactions among Saul, Jonathan, and the people of Israel during pursuit of Philistines illustrate relationships between the authority of the people and government. Disobedience against government displeases God but he honors collective decision of the people against specific government ruling. Thus, he held Jonathan accountable for disobeying and criticizing the king but upheld a decision of the people to overturn an unjust ruling against Jonathan. We draw from a modern-day system of government to understand a collective decision requires due process based on rules and regulations that a society establishes for the purpose.

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We the People – USA Constitution Page 1
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We discuss an example from the bible to illustrate the authority of a people over their government. In the example, a government ruling that threatened injustice to a citizen was overturned by a collective decision of the people. Based on interactions among Saul, Jonathan, and the people of Israel as they pursued the Philistines in battle; the example illustrates the effectiveness of a collective decision of the people against the authority of government but does not explain the process for reaching such decision. We discuss briefly a modern-day example to understand that every society establishes a system of due process for reaching collective decisions.

As we discuss in a previous study under Extending Positive Impact—Jonathan Initiates Victory for Israel, the Israeli army launched a hot pursuit after Jonathan’s initial success caused widespread panic among the Philistines. As they launched the pursuit, king Saul gave an order that nobody should eat anything during the pursuit: “… Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies’” [1 Samuel 14:24]. The people obeyed, but Jonathan was not aware of the king’s order and disobeyed by eating honey. Furthermore, he criticized the king publicly when he was made aware of the order.

Jonathan’s act of disobedience became evident and was adjudicated as the Israelites inquired why God appeared to have turned away from them. Saul had convened a conference of army leaders to conduct the inquiry. Jonathan was identified as the culprit, confessed he ate honey in violation of the king’s order, and submitted himself for punishment. Saul decreed that Jonathan will be put to death: “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan” [1 Samuel 14:44]. However, the army leaders overruled Saul and declared that no harm will come to Jonathan [1 Samuel 14:45]: “But the people said to Saul, ‘Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’” Thus, the army leaders conference overturned Saul’s decree and rescued Jonathan. Saul accepted the overrule and called off the battle.

North portico-white-house wikipedia.org
North portico of the white house
wikipedia.org

We learn two lessons based on the interactions. First, God held Jonathan accountable for disobeying the king’s order and criticizing the king publicly. He turned away from Israel (suspended communication with them) until Jonathan’s disobedience was identified and adjudicated. We learn from this that disobedience against constituted authority displeases God, even regarding an order or ruling that appears inappropriate. Second, the interactions illustrate the authority of the people over government in the event of an inappropriate ruling or order by the government. In this example, the king’s decree against Jonathan was overturned by collective decision of a committee representing the people. The bible is very clear about the decision being collective: “But the people said to Saul…” However, the bible information does not explain explicitly how the collective decision of the people was reached. We draw an example from a modern-day system of government to understand that a collective decision of the people requires due process based on rules and regulations that every society establishes for the purpose.

Respect and Obedience for Constituted Authority

L.B. Johnson signs civil rights act
L.B. Johnson signs civil rights act
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As we discuss in a previous study under Civil Rights and Responsibilities, the apostles Paul in letter to Romans [Romans 13:1–7] and Peter [1 Peter 2:13-18] explain that respect for authority is part of God’s mandate and a key aspect of Christian responsibilities to society. People in authority positions (such as president or prime minister, king or queen, governor, clergy, teacher, supervisor, parents, or any person in a position of leadership) help to preserve and propagate natural order and are God’s channels for protecting the good elements of society from the bad.

Also, under Source of Government Authority in Authority of Government—Israel Asks for King, we noted the source of government authority is implicit in God’s directive to Samuel to appoint for Israel a king with the right and responsibilities to reign over them. Through the directive, God delegated to the king (i.e., government) the function of reigning over the people and the authority to execute the function. The government holds the authority on behalf of the people for the purpose of performing its responsibilities. Therefore, government authority comes from God and belongs to the people. Because God is the source of government authority, respect and obedience to government are part of God’s mandate to his people.

Therefore, God held Jonathan accountable for disobeying the king’s order and criticizing the king publicly. Jonathan was not aware of the king’s order against eating and ate a little honey as they pursued the Philistines. Also, when he was informed that his action violated the king’s order against eating, he criticized the king publicly [1 Samuel 14:29–30]: “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”

God turned away from Israel and, thus, provided them an opportunity to identify and adjudicate Jonathan’s act of disobedience. His turning away became evident that evening because he did not respond to their prayer for permission to resume pursuit of the Philistines. Saul convened a conference of “leaders of the army” to inquire into the apparent loss of connection with God [1 Samuel 14:38–42]. They determined through prayer and lot that Jonathan was the culprit. Jonathan confessed to his disobedience and submitted himself for punishment [1 Samuel 14:43]: “I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die!”

King’s Ruling Overturned
by Collective Decision of the People

Inside United States Supreme Court
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Because the authority of government belongs to the people, government versus people relationships include mechanisms for the people to overturn government rulings as necessary. The bible illustrates such overrule through interactions among Saul, Jonathan, and the people of Israel as they pursued Philistines in a battle.

After Jonathan confessed to his disobedience and submitted himself to punishment, Saul vowed to apply the full effects of the law against Jonathan. He ruled Jonathan must be put to death: “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan” [1 Samuel 14:44]. However, the conference of leaders of the army overruled Saul with emphatic authority [1 Samuel 14:45]: “But the men said to Saul, ‘Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.”

The decision of the conference of army leaders represented a collective decision of the people and was spoken with unmistakable authority. Saul accepted the decision. Thus, a government ruling considered a threat to justice was overturned by a collective decision of the people.

Due Process for Collective Decision

The biblical account does not explain the process that the conference of army leaders followed in reaching a decision to overturn the king’s ruling. However, the bible points to the essence of the process by crediting the decision to the conference instead of any individual: “But the men said to Saul.” We can surmise that the men conferred among themselves, reached a decision, and selected a spokesperson to announce the decision to the king. Their process may have been simple relative to the realities of a modern-day society but included every element necessary to convey the decision as a collective decision backed by the authority of the people.

Washington Constitutional Convention 1787
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Every modern-day society provides a system of due process in terms of rules and regulations to guide the people to a collective decision as needed. For example, in a government based on executive presidency, the system includes the legislature, judiciary, and distributed authority among the executive bureaucracy. First, a decision of the legislature consistent with its own system of due process represents a collective decision of the people. Second, a decision of the judiciary consistent with the judicial due process also represents a collective decision of the people. Third, a category of mechanisms for reaching collective decision of the people resides with the executive bureaucracy; whereby an individual with specific authority is responsible for actions performed under the authority even if such actions have been ordered by a higher authority. The individual exercises his/her authority on behalf of the people based on rules and regulations of the people.

Summary of What We Learned

Interactions among Saul, Jonathan, and the people of Israel during pursuit of Philistines illustrate relationships between the authority of the people and government. Disobedience against government displeases God but he honors collective decision of the people against specific government ruling. Thus, he held Jonathan accountable for disobeying and criticizing the king but upheld a decision of the people to overturn an unjust ruling against Jonathan. We draw from a modern-day system of government to understand a collective decision requires due process based on rules and regulations that a society establishes for the purpose.

More Information

Please watch this bible study on video at VIDEO_LINK , listen to or download the audio at AUDIO_LINK . You can also download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation from PDF_LINK.

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