Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (I Sam.8:18-20).
Israel had been blinded by her sin, and had no idea what would befall her, years into this religious and political experiment with a human king. God did not say Israel would cry out to Him; it would simply cry out in frustration and grief at the painful outcomes from her poor choices.
The Bible describes this aspect of human nature:
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan (Prov.29:2).
Not all cries are to God, and a godless people will not cry to Him for deliverance. Groan? Yes, but cry to God? No. He would let them stew in their own juice for a time, so they figured out that there was a connection between what had befallen them, and their evil state and choices, dating from many years earlier.
Later, God promised Jeremiah,
Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jer.33:3).
There is always hope for a people that will cry out to God, but Israel was in no state to do that. Yes, they were God’s covenant people, but they were now in breach of the covenant, and were living like practical atheists.
God promised to forsake them if they abandoned true worship for the sake of idols. If they abandoned Him, He would abandon them. Their abandonment would be spiritual. His abandonment would be cultural. He would leave them to the not-so-tender mercies of the political representatives of their false gods. The result of Israel’s apostasy, every time, was slavery to foreigners, either inside the land or outside. The worship of foreign gods brought the tyranny of foreign rulers. This was the story of Israel from the time of the judges until the exile.
When individuals, families, churches or nations or indeed civilisations have been in some form of rebellion against God, and they want to re-establish a proper foundation for a relationship with God, there is a Biblical word that enables this to take place: repentance. The fact is, people need to repent of their sin, if they want to be in right relationship with God. If people have dug themselves into a hole, the solution is to quit digging and begin repenting-turning their whole ship around in obedience to God.
God explained this to Israel, in Isaiah’s era:
For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” But you were not willing… (Isa.30:15).
Solzhenitsyn put this well, forty years ago:
Repentance is the first bit of firm ground underfoot, the only one from which we can go forward not to fresh hatreds but to concord. Repentance is the only starting point for spiritual growth. For each and every individual. And every trend of social thought.
At all times, God requires repentance of people when they realise they have been sinning against Him. It’s either repentance, or continue to fight with God, and self-destruct.
What has this got to do with getting it right with government?
Let’s put it this way. The church’s views of government have been seriously flawed for many generations. In fact, it could be argued that our views of government have rarely been Biblical since the first century, and this has gotten us into all manner of scrapes, throughout the ensuing two millennia.
What must the church do?
Repent of all of its foolish views concerning government, ask God to forgive us for them, and through prayer and the painstaking examination of scripture, determine what God requires government to be like, and begin to preach and promote this.
This will not come about today, without there being more pain from government. There is little desire for repentance concerning false ideas of government in our time, so it will get worse before it gets better; God will see to that.