Scripture offers us clear principles to help us understand evil rulers:
In terms of politics, conservatives such as myself can understand why various secular left rulers seek power and get into office: they have an activist agenda to transform the West into their own radical image. They are pursuing leftist – often Marxist – ideology and they want to thoroughly remake nations into that which fits the hardcore left playbook.
So that much we understand. But as a Christian, I know that there is more than just politics and ideology going on here. There are also spiritual realities – often behind the scenes – happening as well. So when we get evil rulers and dangerous leaders coming into power – whether elected by the masses or otherwise – we know that there is a bigger picture that we must be aware of.
One commonly heard saying that has appeared a lot lately, especially on the social media, is this: “When God wants to judge a nation he sends them evil rulers.” John Calvin is often the one cited in this regard, so some years ago I spent a bit of time trying to track down the actual quote. What I came up with can be found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2016/02/27/calvin-on-wicked-rulers-and-gods-judgment/
In general I believe there is much truth in that saying, and we have biblical warrant for running with it. God is, after all, lord of the nations and he is working out his purposes not just through individuals but through nations as well. We see that illustrated throughout Scripture.
God can raise up and take down individuals, rulers and nations. He is in charge after all. But that is just part of the story. People can make choices and they are morally responsible for the choices they make. Thus God can use an evil ruler or an evil nation, but still hold them accountable for the wrong that they do.
With all that in mind, what I came upon in my morning reading certainly fits in with all of this. In the stories of how ancient Israel entered and subdued Canaan, we see both fully at work: God’s sovereign purposes and man’s moral choices. I have spoken to this often. See this piece for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/02/28/cooperating-with-god/
The section of Scripture I just read today offers more of the same. It is found in Judges 2:16-23:
Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
Here – as elsewhere – the obedience or disobedience of Israel determines what happens in regards to the foreign nations. As verse 21 clearly states, God will no longer drive out before Israel any of the nations that Joshua left when he died because of their disobedience. And we further read about how they become a snare and a scourge to Israel.
Now I realise that taking a specific situation concerning Israel of old and trying to apply it to contemporary geopolitics and international relations is always a bit risky. We cannot take all the details of what happened back then and use it as some sort of foolproof template for what happens today.
This is mainly because Israel was in a special covenant relationship with Yahweh that modern Germany or New Zealand today are not in. Sure, all individuals and nations today are under the lordship of Christ whether they know it or not, or like it or not. But this special and unique covenant relationship with Israel is rather different.
Having said that, the general principles still apply. God can and does judge a nation based on the sins of the people. And since judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17), often it is the condition of the churches in a land that may determine how God acts. In other words, we cannot just blame those godless pagans for God’s judgments. We believers have plenty to answer for as well.
So why do we still have a Dan Andrews in Victoria, Australia, or a Justin Trudeau in Canada or other godless and wicked rulers? Well, in good measure it could be because of God’s people. Until we get our act together, we may see these evil rulers around for quite some time.
Plenty of good commentary on this passage from Judges is available. Let me utilise just one – that of Kenneth Way in the Teach the Text series. He says this:
The downward spiral expounded in this chapter is Israel’s own making. That is, Israel’s experience of oppression and testing is the consequence of disobeying God’s commands (2:2-3, 20-22). At the same time, the narrator clearly reveals that God is the one who has given/sold them into the hand of plunderers/enemies (2:14). This is not a contradiction of terms but rather an explanation of how covenant blessings (such as enjoying the land that God gave them) are contingent on obedience. In the same way, the Lord himself will later send his people into exile because of their disobedience (1 Kings 9:6-9; 2 Kings 17:7-23; 21:10-15; Jer. 29:4, 7, 14, 20), but the Lord will also restore them to the land because of his gracious plan (Jer. 29:10-14), which is analogous to how he graciously has “raised up judges” who would deliver Israel from its enemies (Judg. 2:16, 18).
This passage explicitly presents the fundamentals of the theology of the book of Judges. The story of this period is summarized in terms of Israel’s intractable unfaithfulness to God and God’s unmerited faithfulness to Israel. Judges 2:18-19 says it all: the Lord would deliver them by raising up a “judge” and by providing his presence out of compassion (v. 18), while Israel would relapse and go deeper into its stubborn apostasy (v. 19). But here we also learn that God is not only the “superhero” who always rescues his distressed people; he is also the consummate parent of Israel who disciplines his children through tough love. Such discipline consists of temporarily giving them over to oppressors (2:14-15) in order to test their faithfulness to the covenant (2:22; 3:4).
He goes on to offer six detailed and scripturally rich applications for us today:
In addition to these macrothemes, we learn many lessons about the nature of trials, sin, and faithfulness. The following teachings from 2:6-3:6 are developed later as they resurface in chapters 3-21: (1) Sometimes God’s people may go through hard times as a consequence of unfaithfulness to God (2:2-3, 11-15, 20-21),2 and this principle is not just limited to Old Testament saints (cf. John 5:14; 1 Cor. 11:29-32). (2) Sometimes God may will that his people go through hard times for a period of probationary testing (Judg. 2:22; 3:1-2, 4). The Lord disciplines those he loves (Deut. 8:5; Prov. 3:12; Rev. 3:19), and such experiences are “for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10; cf. Rom. 5:3-5; 1 Cor. 11:32; James 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). (3) People are inclined to forget what God has done in the past (Judg. 2:7, 10; 3:7; 8:34; 18:30). Remembrance is, however, essential for growing in the faith (2 Pet. 1:9, 12-15).(4) People are prone to rebel against God (Judg. 2:2, 20; 3:5) and to worship “other gods” (2:11-13, 17, 19; 3:6). This runs directly against the first commandment, which demands exclusive allegiance to Yahweh (Exod. 20:1-3; Deut. 5:6-7). While Christians today may not be tempted to worship Baal or Astarte, they may face the spiritual equivalent by expressing allegiance to creation (through materialism or selfishness) rather than to the Creator (Rom. 1:23, 25).12 (5) The cycle of sin is a downward spiral (Judg. 2:19), and sinful compromises lead to further sinful compromises (3:5-6). It is wise to remember that this pattern of cohabitation-marriage-idolatry is the general rule while the reverse pattern of influence is the exception. Believers must be very careful not to put themselves in potentially compromising situations (relationships, employment contracts, etc.) with the world. (6) Each new generation must learn how to be faithful to God (2:7-10, 12, 17, 19, 20-23; 3:1-2, 4, 6).22 Perhaps Joshua and the elders failed to pass the baton of faith to their successors, or the following generation failed to apply what they were taught by/about their “ancestors.” Either way, the consequences are disastrous for Israel. Likewise, in the church and in the home, Christian leaders carry the huge responsibility of schooling their young people in the way of Christ (cf. Eph. 6:4; 2 Tim. 1:5-6, 13-14; Titus 2:47), and all Christians bear the responsibility to know and apply what is handed down to them (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 3:14-15; Titus 1:9).
Again, caution is needed in seeking to understand all the fine details of political realities today in light of these important Old Testament texts that we find in the book of Judges and elsewhere. And bear in mind that God also sent inspired prophets back then to make clear what God was doing in the world. Today we do not have that same sure word for each of our particular situations that we find ourselves in.
But the basic lessons and principles discussed here will help us as we seek to understand the Macrons and Bidens of this world, and why they are there.