Government

In our earlier exposition on Nationhood and Nation-building, we have defined a state as “a legal and political organization with the power to require obedience and loyalty from its citizens” (Seton-Watson 1997: 1), and to claim “the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within [its] territory” (Weber 1991: 78). And though, strictly speaking, the State corresponds to all the citizens, the term is often used to refer to just the sub-group that exercises this power, the Government. Our focus here is on the nature and scope of that power.

We have already seen that God’s will for a nation is to have a constitutional government with three independent branches: the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. The power of the government is thus constitutional, that is, it is circumscribed by the constitution. Thus the government has no power to act beyond what is permitted in the constitution. Given fallen human nature, this form of government is most consistent with a covenant community.

Power, according to the most widely accepted definition by Max Weber, “is the ability to control the behaviour of others, even in the absence of their consent” (Rao 1997: 141). And power can be broadly divided into three types: charisma, coercion and authority.

Charisma is the power to influence the behavior of others due to the clout of one’s personality, reputation or even qualifications. A leader with charisma has this additional, though not necessary, source of power to lead. Since charisma can be independent of one’s character, it can be, and is in fact often, abused to achieve personal and selfish agenda.

Coercion is the use of force to control the behavior of others against their will. A totalitarian government is an extreme example of a regime that governs through coercion, that is, illegitimate force. Such a use of force is no different from a criminal subduing its victim. But, as we shall see, coercion may be legitimate, as in the case of the police subduing the criminal.

Of particular interest to us here is authority, the power vested on a person because of the office he holds, as in the power vested on a policeman in uniform to stop traffic. This power, being vested, is removed when the person no longer holds the office, and is re-vested on the next person who holds that office. By definition, authority is power consented to by the people; otherwise it is coercion. This means this power is circumscribed in such a way that it upholds justice.

Constitutional power is thus a form of authority. The exercise of authority may involve coercion, as in the case of the police subduing the criminal. This is legitimate power because it upholds justice in the spirit of the constitution, which has the consent of the people.

What then is the scope of the power of the government in relation to the other spheres of the nation? The power of the government over the nation enables it to ensure that no sphere violates the constitution. In other words, it plays the role of upholding intra- and inter-sphere justice, that is, justice within and between spheres. When there is child abuse (within the sphere of the family), the government needs to act to uphold intra-sphere justice. When a newspaper (media) slanders a company (economy and business) causing it to lose money, the victim can appeal to the government to uphold inter-sphere justice.

The power of the government also enables it to uphold extra-sphere justice, that is, justice beyond all the spheres, such as defending the nation from internal and external threats as well as providing other essential services that could not be provided by any of the other spheres. There are also essential services that are the extra-sphere responsibilities of the government but could be provided by businesses and non-government agencies. The question is whether they should be, to what extent, and by whom. One such service is health-care. Whichever is the case, to uphold justice in the nation, the government must ensure that, in one way or another, everyone has access to adequate health-care.

The Noahic Covenant, which is binding on all nations, requires humanity to build a civilization that is consistent with God’s will. This means, beyond upholding the constitution, each of the seven influential spheres of a nation must also be consistent with God’s will in ways specific to each of them. Nation-building then involves building (or rebuilding) each of these spheres accordingly.

This requires all the spheres of a nation to be free from the interference of the government to become what they are supposed to be. Recall that it was through the Noahic Covenant that “the principle of formal government was introduced” (Elazar 1995a: 111). And this means, when God first instituted government to uphold justice in a nation, He also had in mind that every other sphere of the nation would fulfill His will in ways specific to each of them.

This further explains why the power of the government is circumscribed—so that its sovereignty over the nation does not violate the freedom due each of the other spheres. This idea is depicted in Figure 3 in that each of the spheres answers directly to the constitution, and not to the government. In other words, each of the spheres has a sovereignty of its own, which the government must recognize and respect.

We have just introduced a concept known as “sphere sovereignty,” a phrase coined by Abraham Kuyper (1998: 467-68), a Dutch pastor-theologian, journalist and statesman who served one term as the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Though he did not derive this concept from the Mosaic Covenant as an application of the Creation Mandate, he came to virtually the same conclusion concerning the different spheres of a nation and how they relate to the Government (he uses the term State):

The cogwheels of all these spheres engage each other, and precisely through that interaction emerges the rich, multifaceted multiformity of human life. Hence also rises the danger that one sphere in life may encroach on its neighbor like a sticky wheel that shears off one cog after another until the whole operation is disrupted. Hence also the raison d'etre for the special sphere of authority that emerged in the State. It must provide for sound mutual interaction among the various spheres, insofar as they are externally manifest, and keep them within just limits. Furthermore, since personal life can be suppressed by the group in which one lives, the state [sic] must protect the individual from the tyranny of his own circle. ... Thus the sovereignty of the State, as the power that protects the individual and defines the mutual relationships among the visible spheres, rises high above them by its right to command and compel. But within these spheres that does not obtain. There another authority rules, an authority that descends directly from God apart from the State. This authority the State does not confer but acknowledges. Even in defining laws for the mutual relationships among the spheres, the State may not set its own will as the standard but is bound by the choice of a Higher will, as expressed in the nature and purpose of these spheres. The State must see that the wheels operate as intended.

If the government holds all the other spheres accountable to the constitution, who then holds the government accountable to the constitution? And who ensures that the government recognizes and respects the respective sovereignty of the other spheres? The answer is obviously the modern counterpart to the prophets in ancient Israel—the media.

Media

We have identified the media as the modern counterpart to the ancient prophets because the work of journalists and their editors by nature amounts to holding the government accountable to good governance. And the best governance is one that observes the Golden Rule, which should be embodied in the constitution of a nation. When the media thus holds the government accountable to the constitution, like the prophets, it is holding the government accountable to God. For we have shown that not only the Golden Rule, but also the very idea of a constitution, have divine origin and sanction.

Furthermore the media is uniquely empowered to accomplish what Walter Brueggemann (2001: 3) calls “the task of prophetic ministry,” which is, “to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” In other words, the media has the power to shape or reshape people’s consciousness and perception for the better (or for the worse, for that matter). What then is the media and why does it have such power?

The prophets fulfilled their ministry mainly through preaching. The shaping or reshaping of people’s consciousness and perception is thus accomplished through communication. The prophets were God’s (human) mediums of communication. The prophets also fulfilled their ministry by putting their preaching into writing, which became the Prophetic Books. And writing is the earliest form of communication technology. So the task of prophetic ministry can also be accomplished through technological mediums of communication. Even preachers today would use modern communication technologies, such as the microphone, to communicate.

A technology is a human invention that can be used to extend or enhance human ability, including the ability to communicate. So writing is a human invention that extends the human ability to communicate by recording a person’s words so that he can communicate with a distant and even a future audience. And the microphone enhances the ability to speak in that the speaker can address a large audience. The telephone, another technological medium of communication, extends this ability in terms of speaking to a distant audience.

The word “media” (Latin plural for “medium”) basically means mediums of communication. But unless qualified it refers to the mass media, that is, the print and electronic media such as newspapers and the television. Thus it refers to technological mediums of communication that can greatly enhance and extend the human ability to communicate in that they reach a very large and wide audience. This enables media like newspapers and the television to shape or reshape the consciousness and perception of the masses.

Since communication technologies only enhance or extend, no matter how greatly, and not replace the human ability to communicate, by themselves they are powerless without the people who use them as mediums of communication. So the term “media” refers also to the people behind the contents communicated through these mediums. Hence it is still human beings who are behind the power of the media. So it makes sense to talk about the media being held accountable to the constitution as well as the media holding the government accountable to the constitution.

However by itself the media cannot effectively hold the government accountable. In a modern democratic nation it is the citizens who hold in their hands the ultimate (non-violent) means of holding the government accountable—free and fair elections. But their consciousness and perception must first be consistent with reality on the ground. So they must first be adequately informed by the media about the true state of the nation and of the government. Therefore a free and responsible media, accountable to no one except the constitution, is equally crucial. So like the prophets, the media need to fear God so that in communicating the truth they do not fear even the government.

The “democratic” role of the people in holding the government accountable was found even in ancient Israel, supposedly a “theocracy.” For the people did play a role in supporting and endorsing a newly appointed king. Even David, who was already appointed king by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel, had to be supported and endorsed by the people, with the input of the prophet.

After Saul died David did not immediately become king of Israel. He ruled over the tribe of Judah at Hebron for seven years and a half before becoming king over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:5). 1 Chronicles 11-12 records (not in chronological order) the process of David gaining support from the people even before Saul’s death. 1 Chronicles 11:1-3 records that all Israel came to David at Hebron to request him to be their king, which led to the elders anointing David as king of Israel (cf. 2 Samuel 5:1-3). The fighting men from each of the tribes had come to Hebron “with undivided heart to make David king over all Israel” (12:38a, summarizing 12:23-37); and likewise “all the rest of Israel” (12:38b). The oft-quoted verse concerning the sons of Issachar “who understood the times” is found in this context (12:32); they had “knowledge of what Israel should do,” that is, to support and endorse David. And the prophet Samuel played a key role in the whole process. For the elders anointed David “according to the word of the LORD through Samuel” (11:3). And the fighting men from the various tribes came to Hebron “to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the LORD” (11:23). Also the heads of David’s own fighting men supported him “according to the word of the LORD concerning Israel” (11:10).

And when David passed the throne to Solomon, he had to win the approval of the people by convincing them that Solomon was God’s choice to replace him (1 Chronicles 28:1-8).

An interesting contrast was Rehoboam, the successor of Solomon. Because he refused to lighten the oppressive demands of his father Solomon, the northern ten tribes, led by Jeroboam, broke away and the kingdom was divided (1 Kings 12). So the ten tribes did not accept and endorse Rehoboam because he refused to do what was just. And the prophet Ahijah was involved—he told Jeroboam about God's intention to split the kingdom of David and give the ten tribes to him (1 Kings 11:29-37). So again we see the people working hand in hand with the prophet in holding the king accountable to God.

Just as the prophet Samuel could not make David king without the people, and the prophet Ahijah could not split the kingdom without the people, the media cannot effectively hold the government accountable to the constitution without the citizens. Hence we see that even though there were no elections in ancient Israel, the people did play an equivalent democratic role in partnership with the prophets.

Therefore the democratic idea of the people holding the government accountable is also taught in the Bible. This makes sense because God’s will for a nation—a covenant community—is not only one where the people consent to who rules over them, but is also one where the people are obligated to uphold the Golden Rule by ensuring that whoever rules over them upholds the constitution. And if the constitution does not already embody adequately the Golden Rule or the elections are not free and fair they need to respond accordingly. Since the people depend on the media to guide them, this further shows how important it is for the media to be free and responsible.

We have mentioned earlier that a nation that consents to adopt a constitution to form a covenant community might still lack the culture needed to uphold the constitution by interpreting and implementing it in the spirit of the Golden Rule. In this case the power of the media to shape or reshape the people’s consciousness and perception is needed to create the necessary culture. For this purpose, the media need to draw on the power of the arts to shape imagination and emotion. In other words, the arts, which are culture shapers, have to play an active role in this regard. And their power can be enhanced and extended through the media.

The government holds the media accountable to the constitution. But who holds the media accountable to fulfill its unenviable calling to hold the government accountable to the constitution? The ancient prophets were individually called by God and were thus accountable directly and only to Him. Today, in order for God’s will for the media to be done we need an adequate number of media professionals who are truly God-fearing, who strongly feel called to this profession, and who are adequately educated to fulfill their calling.

Although the concept of calling is promoted also by people who do not believe in God, it assumes the existence of God. For when someone feels called to a profession, who called him? This explains why a person with a deep sense of calling feels that it is not up to him to decide whether to give up what he feels called to do. So when a person’s fear of God and sense of calling are deep enough he has what it takes to fulfill his calling even under the most trying circumstances.

Such God-fearing media professionals can still fulfill their calling even when the mainstream media—newspapers and television—are neither free nor responsible. For the alternative media available through the Internet, which merges and democratizes the powers of both newspapers and the television, has been reaching more and more people.

Where then do such God-fearing media professionals come from? For that matter, where do similar professionals in the spheres of government, economy and business, arts and entertainment, education and even religion come from? The need for God-fearing business owners who see business as their calling to serve humanity must be highlighted here. For even professionals in the arts and the media mostly work for business owners. Also, political parties often receive funds from them. This brings us back to the sphere of the family.

The sphere of (secular) education plays the role of educating people to fulfill their calling. As for (intentionally) raising up an adequate number of them who are truly God-fearing, we need to look to God-fearing families. We have seen in our exposition on the sphere of religion that not only the fear of God, but also active belief in God, is natural to the human mind. And also that human experience is designed to point people to God. This means there will always be God-fearing families, and raising up God-fearing children is actually doing what is natural to human experience. It seems un-natural in modern civilization only because modernity incarnates the idea that there is no God, with the result that God no longer seems or feels real.

God’s instructions given through Moses on how the Israelites should raise their children are then all the more needed today. We will look at Deuteronomy 6, an important passage on this subject.

First of all, the parents themselves must “love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and strength” and the commandments of God must be “upon your hearts” (verses 5-6). As a result of such a wholehearted commitment to God and His commandments they would be able to speak from first-hand experience that the commandments are “for our good always and for our survival” (verse 24).

They are then able to teach God’s commandments to their children with credibility and conviction. They are to talk about the commandments “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (verse 7). As Craigie (1976: 170) put it, “the commandments were to be the subject of conversation both inside and outside the home, from the beginning of the day to end of the day. In summary, the commandments were to permeate every sphere of the life of man.”

Hence parents must allow the commandments to permeate their thinking, feeling as well as acting in every aspect of their own life, and thus influence their children to do the same. This means parents need to have an adequate understanding of how the commandments are to be applied in every aspect of their life. This is one reason our exposition of the Mosaic Covenant has been paying special attention to applying the Ten Commandments to every aspect of modern life.

God also instructed them to “tie the commandments as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (verse 8). Based on parallels elsewhere (Exodus 13:9,16 and Proverbs 3:3,22) this is to be understood figuratively. It means the commandments must shape their reflection and guide their action, basically saying the same thing as the above, but in a more vivid way.

The text goes on to say that they were also to “write the commandments on the door frames of your houses and on your (city) gates” (verse 9). This means the commandments must not only permeate what goes on in the home but also what happens in the city. In other words, children are to be raised in a context in which the commandments that are taught and practiced in the home are also recognized as normative in the community at large.

In a premodern town it is not unusual to find the last six of the Ten Commandments—from honoring parents to dishonoring covetousness—assumed as normative in the community at large. So meeting this last requirement would not be that difficult. But in a modern city this is usually not the case. In fact, in a consumer economy covetousness is tacitly accepted as good. What then can be done?

The spirit of this last requirement can be met as long as the children can see that the commandments taught and practiced in their own families are also taught and practiced in some other families. The bottom-line is that the children are aware that their families are not alone in embracing the commandments, and that they are part of a community, no matter how small, that values these commandments.

The task of nation-building begins with parenting.

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