The American public is polarized into essentially two views of government, those who favor small limited government and those who favor big government. Often the polarized view emerges from emotion, a gut sense, or what has been learned or propagandized by the media, politicians, or the educational system, rather than thoughtful investigation and contemplation. The differences are actually quite simple but nevertheless profound and life-changing.
Before comparing small government and big government views, first, consider the Old Testament precedent well known to the American Founders. The Israelites were ruled directly by God for over 400 years from the time of Moses until the time Saul was anointed king by the prophet Samuel. A series of judges resolved disputes among the people. When Samuel grew old, the people demanded a king “…to lead us such as all the other nations have.” [I Samuel 8:5 NIV] During prayer, the “Lord told him (Samuel): ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected as their king, but me. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.’” [I Samuel 8:7-9 NIV] Samuel told the Israelites:
This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day. [I Samuel 8:11-18 NIV]
The people refused to listen to Samuel who again took their demands to the Lord. Then, “The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” God had effectively said, “Be careful what you ask for.” What was the result? With the exceptions of several periods of captivity, the Israelites were ruled for the next one thousand years by kings. Following the disobedience of King Solomon, Israel split into two nations, the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. Readers of the Old Testament commonly and somewhat loosely refer to the “good kings” and the “bad kings” of the period. The good kings, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” The bad kings, “did what was right in their own eyes.” The so-called bad kings dominated the more rebellious Israel. Judah experienced a mix of good kings and bad kings. Clearly, replacing God as the ultimate loving King with a long series of self-serving, self-indulgent men as kings had devastating consequences for the Israelites.
The nature and hearts of people have not changed. From the time of ancient Israel until the present most nations have been headed by kings or king-like dictators. But something changed. In modern times there was a tectonic shift in at least a portion of western civilization. Many groups migrated to the shores of North America seeking to exercise the freedom given by God to worship Him in the manner they chose. They were fleeing king-worship and king subjugation. As the Revolutionary War approached, a common rallying cry, passed up and down the eastern seaboard by the Committees of Correspondence, was, “No King but King Jesus.”1 The colonies and later the United States were blessed by God in extraordinary ways ultimately producing the world’s highest standard-of-living and the best quality-of-life.