Civil Disobedience; Biblical Examples

When we started our series entitled “Stand or Cower” the intent was to identify those issues that today’s society so readily embraces as acceptable and even normal. We have seen that these include abortion, homosexuality and ungodly civil authority. It is very obvious and easy to understand what God’s view is with regards to the first two but civil disobedience is not quite that simple. We saw that God’s view of civil authority requires us as Christians to obey those in authority over us because he has put them in that position. However, we have also seen that scripture tells us that there are exceptions and that is when those in authority are attempting to require us do something that God commands and instructs us not to do. Last week we looked at the three basic views that we may have concerning this issue with the Biblical view being the one we are to follow. That view basically is that we obey unless it is contradictory to God’s laws.

With today’s post we will take a look at some biblical examples that will give us an insight as to when civil disobedience is acceptable in God’s eyes. As we do so it should serve as a reminder that the day is coming if the Lord tarries that we may very well have to make a decision if we will stand or cower in the face of very similar circumstances.

The first example involves the Hebrew midwives that Pharoah commanded to kill all of the male Jewish babies but did not do so. In Exodus 1 we are told that they feared God, disobeyed the command of Pharoah, and the lied to him as to why they did not kill them. The Bible also said that God was good to them and the people multiplied. We also know that shortly after that was when Moses was born and was hidden in a basket in the Nile river. And we know how God used Moses to lead His people out of Egyptian.

In Joshua chapter 2 we see where Rahab disobeyed the command of the King of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies. We see that she was rescued from the destruction of Jericho because of her previous actions. In 1 Samuel we see where King Saul’s own son Jonathan ate honey for refreshment not knowing that Saul had ordered that no one could eat until he had won the battle. When Saul ordered that Jonathan be put to death the people rose up against the king and Jonathan was spared.

The Bible says that Obadiah “feared the Lord greatly” and hid 100 of God’s prophets while Jezebel was attempting to have them all killed. This was certainly in defiance of the queen’s authority. And the book of Daniel records several acts of civil disobedience. The two most prominent are when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol and subsequently were thrown into the fiery furnace and when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den because he prayed to someone other than the king. In both cases God spared them and in fact Jesus was present with them during their time of trial.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the authorities that were in power at the time. After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail. The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). 

There are certainly other instances that can be found in God’s Word that are considered to be defiance to civil authority. And every one of them is because the rules or the actions of the authority are in direct opposition to God’s commandments and expectations. In each instance it required courage on the individual’s part and God’s presence in their lives. In each of the examples we have seen the individual chose to stand and not cower. May God give us the courage to stand!

As we draw this to a close let’s review the possible conclusions we can come to with regards to the this subject. Below are just a few:

• Christians should resist a government that commands or compels evil and should work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change a government that permits evil.
• Civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands.
• If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless he can flee from the government, he should accept that government’s punishment for his actions.
• Christians are certainly permitted to work to install new government leaders within the laws that have been established.

We should also be reminded that we are to pray for our leaders and for God himself to intervene in His time to change the ungodly path they are pursuing. May we then have the urgency to pray for them and the patience to wait upon the Lord.

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