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- Citizens’ Duties to Authorities
- Authorities’ Duties to Citizens (I): General
- Authorities’ Duties to Citizens (II): Justice
- Servants and Masters
In addition to relationships with family members, the Bible looks at other relationships which have a marked effect on our lives. In doing so, it gives wise and challenging teaching regarding relationships between citizens and governing authorities, and between employees and employers.
As with the command “to be submissive”, the command “to be obedient” is also given in regard to “rulers and authorities”.
Deut 17:9-11 And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. 10Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. 11According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. ▤
1Chr 29:23-24 Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king in place of David his father. And he prospered, and all Israel obeyed him. 24All the leaders and the mighty men, and also all the sons of King David, pledged their allegiance to King Solomon. ▤
This is probably not referring specifically to commands from governing authorities, but would be inclusive of them.
The phrase “the law” is probably referring primarily to God’s law, but obviously the reference to keeping the law is also applicable to keeping the civil law, in obedience to governing authorities.
David’s actions exemplified his submission to Saul as King.
The clause “sit on Moses’ seat” refers to the Pharisees’ position in interpreting and advocating the Mosaic laws.
Matt 22:17-21 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.a 20And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” ▤
a A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer
Rom 13:1-6 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. ▤
1Pet 2:13-14 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,b whether it be to the emperorc as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. ▤
b Or every institution ordained for people
c Or king; also verse 17
In saying one should be subject “for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13), quite possibly Peter has in view that God is the one who has instituted the authorities and also that submitting as such to civil authority reflects honorably on the Lord. It also avoids needless opposition to Christians.
d Hebrew lacks say
e Or because of your oath to God
“God’s oath to him” is probably an oath of loyalty made in God’s name to the king (cf. text note), as was often taken on a king’s coronation.
Ex 1:15-17 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16“When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. ▤
Dan 3:4-6, 16-18, 28 And the herald proclaimed aloud, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, 5that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. 6And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” ▤ … 16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.f 18But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” ▤ … 28Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set asideg the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. ▤
f Or If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, he will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and out of your hand, O king.
g Aramaic and changed
Dan 6:5-10 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.” 6Then these presidents and satraps came by agreementh to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction. 10When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. ▤
h Or came thronging; also verses 11, 15
Acts 4:18-20 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” ▤
The command in v. 18 was given by the Jewish authorities – the Jewish rulers, elders and teachers of the law (v. 5). It is a similar group involved in the following passages from Acts 5, it consisting of the high priest, his associates and the Sanhedrin, the full assembly of the elders of Israel (5:21).
Acts 5:27-29 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. ▤
Acts 5:40, 42 … and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. ▤ … 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. ▤
The context shows that Paul had governing authorities primarily in view here (cf. vv. 1-6).
Cursing authorities – as with insulting and speaking evil of them (cf. Acts 23:2-5 ↓) – is doing the opposite of honoring them, and is prohibited in Scripture.
Acts 23:2-5 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” 5And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” ▤
Although what Paul said in v. 3 was true enough, he effectively withdrew it on learning that he was speaking to the high priest, not wanting to speak “evil” of and so dishonor the leading authority amongst his people.
1Tim 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. ▤
Note that this is actually from the decree of King Darius for the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. Here he expresses the hope that one outcome of its rebuilding would be prayer for him and his sons – a hope that is in harmony with biblical teaching.
Parts of this prayer are not eminently applicable to governing authorities in general – in fact the prayer has been seen as messianic. Nevertheless these verses illustrate the concept of praying for authorities. The same applies to 72:15 below, with Psalm 72 also considered to be messianic.
Ps 72:1-2, 15 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! 2May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! ▤ … 15Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him! May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day! ▤
Psalm 72 is not only an example of prayer for the king; it also includes a request or hope that other people pray for him (v. 15).
This blessing was in effect a prayer.
- In exile the Jews were to pray for the city of their captors:
Governing authorities should act according to God’s law and ways, both in how they conduct themselves and in their rule over their people.
Deut 17:16-20 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. 18“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved byi the Levitical priests. 19And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. ▤
i Hebrew from before
Note that the prohibition in v. 16a may have in view military might leading to self-reliance rather than reliance on God.
Josh 1:6-8 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good successj wherever you go. 8This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. ▤
j Or may act wisely
These instructions are given to Joshua, leader of Israel (v. 6).
1Ki 2:1-3 When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, 2“I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, 3and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, … ▤
This is speaking of Hezekiah, as king of Judah.
2Ki 23:24 Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. ▤
2Chr 19:8 Moreover, in Jerusalem Jehoshaphat appointed certain Levites and priests and heads of families of Israel, to give judgment for the Lord and to decide disputed cases. They had their seat at Jerusalem. ▤
- King Josiah led the people to follow God:
2Chr 34:33 And Josiah took away all the abominations from all the territory that belonged to the people of Israel and made all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord, the God of their fathers. ▤
Note that 19:4 says that Jehoshaphat likewise influenced his people to follow God – “… he went out again among the people, from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim, and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers.”
- [Required characteristics of church leaders:] Willingness to serve
Rom 13:3-4 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. ▤
2Chr 9:8 Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the Lord your God! Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness. ▤
Israel’s kings were to rule on God’s behalf, as implied by the reference to being placed “on his throne” as king “for” God. This points to the fact that they were to rule as God’s servants (cf. Rom 13:4 ↑).
- Authorities should also rule as servants of their people:
1Ki 12:6-7 Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” 7And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” ▤
2Chr 11:23 And he dealt wisely and distributed some of his sons through all the districts of Judah and Benjamin, in all the fortified cities, and he gave them abundant provisions and procured wives for them.k ▤
k Hebrew and sought a multitude of wives
l Most Hebrew manuscripts; many Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint govern the earth
The speaker is Wisdom personified (cf. v. 12). Authorities should rule by wisdom.
The reference to “knowledge and understanding” speaks of how the “shepherds” (i.e. leaders) should “feed” (i.e. rule or care for) the people.
Acts 24:2 And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, … ▤
1Ki 3:22-28 But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king. 23Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 26Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” 27Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” 28And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice. ▤
Ex 18:21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. ▤
1Ki 3:7-12 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” 10It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. ▤
m Septuagint, Syriac, Jerome instruct
This is speaking of Joseph teaching other Egyptian authorities to be wise.
These verses appear to point to the wisdom that rulers should have – in searching out matters (v. 2) – including those in which they are required to make a ruling – and in having hearts or minds superior to that of the general populace (v. 3; cf. CEV, GNT).
The reference to “a man of understanding and knowledge” speaks of a ruler.
- Bemoaning of foolish and unqualified authorities:
Eccl 10:5-7, 16-17 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: 6folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. 7I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves. ▤ … 16Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning! 17Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility, and your princes feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness! ▤
In v. 6 the rich are spoken of as “gifted people” (NCV™) who have proven their capability (cf. NLT). The writer bemoans them being given positions of relatively little influence, while fools are given high positions. In v. 7 the writer appears to speak of unqualified people having positions of influence – as in v. 16a – at the expense of more qualified and suitable people.
“Steadfast love and faithfulness” (cf. Isa 16:5 ↓) probably are used here as qualities that should characterize a king’s rule – qualities which keep him safe as well as benefit his subjects. But note that they could instead, or additionally, refer to God’s love and faithfulness (cf. Isa 16:5 ↓).
This speaks of the ideal king – the Messiah. The reference to love and perhaps also the reference to faithfulness may refer to God’s love and faithfulness in establishing the Messiah’s reign. However they have also been interpreted as referring to characteristics of the Messiah in his ideal reign (cf. GNT, NIrV) – particularly the reference to faithfulness (cf. CEV, NCV, NLT). As such the verse would be pertinent to the theme of this subsection.
Josh 1:6, 9 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. ▤ … 9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. ▤
n Or gives aid
This verse is referring to leadership in the church. But it is very relevant to all authorities, who ought to lead with zeal.
Ps 101:4-8 [David:] A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil. 5Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure. 6I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. 7No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. 8Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord. ▤
David is speaking here, as king.
Prov 16:10, 12-13 An oracle is on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment. ▤ … 12It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness. 13Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right. ▤
o Or who taxes heavily
Dan 6:4 Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. ▤
Daniel was at this point one of the senior authorities of the Persian kingdom.
1Pet 2:13-14 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,p whether it be to the emperorq as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. ▤
p Or every institution ordained for people
q Or king; also verse 17
- A righteous ruler is a great blessing:
2Sam 23:3-4 The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, 4he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain
r that makes grass to sprout from the earth. ▤
r Hebrew from rain
Ps 72:4, 12-14 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! ▤ … 12For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. 13He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. ▤
Psalm 72 is largely a prayer for a Davidic king. As noted earlier, it was seen as messianic. Extracts such as this one reflect how a king should ideally rule.
s Hebrew are sons of passing away
These instructions are from an oracle taught to a King Lemuel by his mother (cf. v. 1; vv. 4-5 ⇓).
Jer 22:2-3, 15-16 … and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. 3Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. ▤ … 15Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. 16He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord. ▤
Note that in conjunction with defending the needy, v. 3b points out that authorities should “do no wrong or violence” to them.
Dan 4:27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity. ▤
Est 10:3 For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people. ▤
As aliens in exile, Jewish people were often needy. For as foreigners they were vulnerable and often faced injustice.
- Authorities should “shepherd” their people:
2Sam 5:2 In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.’ ▤
Rulers should shepherd their people (cf. Ps 78:72 ⇑; Ezek 34:2-4) taking care of them, notably the needy.
Deut 1:17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it. ▤
t Or mighty lords (by revocalization; Hebrew in silence)
As reflected in the text note, “you gods” (v. 1) is a reference to rulers, as those who have authority over their peoples.
The first clause suggests that rulers are also in view in the second clause.
Prov 31:4-5 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, 5lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. ▤
Luke 3:12-14 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” ▤
Neh 5:15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily rationu forty shekelsv of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. ▤
u Compare Vulgate; Hebrew took from them with food and wine afterward
v A shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams
In some of their actions at least, the earlier governors had been unfair if not unjust.
Isa 10:1-3 Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, 2to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! 3What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth? ▤
Verse 3 speaks ominously of God’s judgment – as does the use of “Woe” (v. 1; Jer 22:13 ↓).
Ezek 34:2-4, 9-10 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. ▤ … 9therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. ▤
The Hebrew translated here as “Ah” is sometimes translated as “Woe” (AMP, NASB, NIV, NKJV). It points with a sense of alarm to coming grave trouble and misery. Here it signals the judgment that awaits the rulers in view. In v. 10, “I will require my sheep at their hand” speaks of God holding the shepherds accountable for the state of the sheep and their treatment of them.
Mic 3:9-12 Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, 10who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. 11Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” 12Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height. ▤
Mic 7:3-4 Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well; the prince and the judge ask for a bribe, and the great man utters the evil desire of his soul; thus they weave it together. 4The best of them is like a brier, the most upright of them a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen, of your punishment, has come; now their confusion is at hand. ▤
“The day of your watchmen” (v. 4) refers to the day that the prophets warned them about – “the day God visits you” (NIV®) with his judgment.
Prov 28:15-16 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. 16A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. ▤
Verse 15 illustrates the viciousness and destructiveness of a wicked ruler.
If a ruler listens to falsehood – particularly if he does so knowingly – then wickedness and corruption will be encouraged and thrive.
Eccl 5:8 If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. ▤
This appears to be speaking of oppression often being aggravated by corrupt officials higher up the chain of command than the one directly in charge of a particular district suffering oppression.
A number of verses in this section refer to slaves rather than servants. Generally the teaching regarding one of them is also very much applicable to the other. Also note that some of the verses speak of relationships between servants or slaves and governing authorities, particularly kings. As such they speak of relationships between citizens and authorities, and so are also pertinent to the preceding sections.
Eph 6:5-6 Slaves,w obey your earthly mastersx with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servantsy of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, … ▤
w Or servants; Greek bondservants; similarly verse 8
x Or your masters according to the flesh
y Or slaves; Greek bondservants
The reference to “fear and trembling” (v. 5) does not entail terror, but presumably would involve mindfulness of the consequences of disobedience and negligence. Such “fear and trembling” mirrors that which believers have for the Lord as “servants of Christ” (v. 6). The reference to doing God’s will (v. 6b) has in this context obeying earthly masters primarily in view.
z Or Servants; Greek Bondservants
a Or your masters according to the flesh
b Greek bondservant
As soldiers obey their commanders, so servants should obey their masters.
c Or servants; Greek bondservants
1Pet 2:18-21 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. ▤
The phrase “mindful of God” (v. 19) refers to being mindful of such things his will (cf. GNT), his witness and his repayment.
1Tim 6:1-2 Let all who are under a yoke as slavesd regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. 2Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. ▤
d Greek bondservants
Mal 1:6 A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ ▤
God’s people, his servants, had failed to show him due respect as their master. Implicit in this verse is the requirement for servants to honor and respect their masters.
- Servants should pray about their work and for their masters:
Titus 2:9-10 Slavese are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. ▤
e Or servants; Greek bondservants
Paul speaks here as a servant of Christ but in v. 2 he makes a statement that is very much pertinent to all servants or stewards: they should be trustworthy – and so “faithful” (AMP, CEV, GNT, NIV, NKJV, NLT) – in what they have been entrusted with (cf. Matt 25:20-21 ↓). The following passages from Matthew likewise are speaking primarily of servants of Christ, but again they are very much pertinent to all servants.
Matt 24:45-46 Who then is the faithful and wise servant,f whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. ▤
f Greek bondservant; also verses 46, 48, 50
Matt 25:20-21 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.g You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ ▤
g Greek bondservant; also verses 23, 26, 30
David appears to be saying that only the faithful and blameless would accompany and minister to him – or serve him (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NIrV, NKJV, NLT). Note that rather than accompanying him or being in his close company (cf. CEV, GNT), “dwell with me” could be referring simply to living in his land (cf. AMP, NCV).
The faithfulness of Abraham’s servant is illustrated by him insisting on putting his work for his master ahead of his own needs – i.e. insisting on carrying out Abraham’s instructions before allowing himself to eat. Note that this and the following verses contain examples of servants acting faithfully.
Gen 39:4, 6a So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. ▤ … 6So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. ▤
Joseph was trusted with taking care of all his master owned – which he faithfully did.
h Septuagint Do all that your mind inclines to
2Ki 5:2-3 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” ▤
The young servant girl showed her faithfulness in making a suggestion in her master’s best interests, doing so in spite of the fact that she had been taken captive from her homeland by her master’s army.
- The complete devotion of the “three mighty men” to David:
1Chr 11:17-19 And David said longingly, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” 18Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and took it and brought it to David. But David would not drink it. He poured it out to the Lord 19and said, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men. ▤
The “three mighty men” were totally devoted to David, their master. They risked their lives for him, which David acknowledges by not drinking the water, correlating it with their lifeblood (v. 19a), and making it an offering to God (v. 18b).
Good service is often rewarded by earthly masters – by promotion (cf. 1Ki 1:28 ↓), material reward (cf. Prov 17:2 ↓) or honor (cf. Prov 27:18 ↓). All good service will be rewarded by Jesus Christ (cf. Col 3:23-24 ↓; Matt 25:20-21 ⇑).
As well as illustrating that good service is often rewarded by masters, one can infer from this that employees should do their work as well as they can (cf. Col 3:23 ↓).
The first part of the verse illustrates the truth of the second part.
As service to earthly masters is doing God’s will (cf. Eph 6:6), such service is ultimately to God or Christ (vv. 23-24).
- Servants should be humble, not expecting reward:
Luke 17:7-10 “Will any one of you who has a servant
i plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, j and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; k we have only done what was our duty.’” ▤
i Greek bondservant; also verse 9
j Greek gird yourself
k Greek bondservants
As with servants of Christ, all servants should be humble and meek, not carrying out their duties in the hope of reward.
l Greek Lord
The command to “do the same to them” appears to refer to acting towards slaves/servants in ways consistent with God’s will (cf. v. 6). It may also possibly allude to Christian masters themselves being slaves of the Lord (cf. v. 7; Col 4:1 ↓) – and acting in a way consistent with this.
m Or servants; Greek bondservants
Deut 5:14 … but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. ▤
It can be inferred from this that masters have a duty to provide their servants with adequate rest – and to allow them to fulfill their obligations to God.
Job 31:13-15 If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant, when they brought a complaint against me, 14what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? 15Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb? ▤
Verse 15 points to the equality in God’s sight of both masters and servants. Following vv. 13-14 it reinforces the concept of accountability for unjust treatment of servants.
Isa 58:3-4 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,n and oppress all your workers. 4Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. ▤
n Or pursue your own business
Exploiting one’s workers (v. 3b) seriously affects one’s relationship with God (vv. 3a, 4).
Matt 20:1-4, 8-9 For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for a denariuso a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4and and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ ▤ … 8And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. ▤
o A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer
Masters should pay their servants a fair wage – “whatever is right” (v. 4).
Here Jesus makes reference to laborers on the occasion of sending out seventy two of his followers to further God’s kingdom. The fact that laborers deserve their wages (cf. Rom 4:4 ↓) highlights that masters should pay servants their due wages.
Mal 3:5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. ▤
James 5:4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. ▤
The Bible speaks more of how God’s people should act in their relationships within the institution of slavery than it does of condemning it. However, the Bible does stipulate protections for slaves (as illustrated below) and condemns slave trading (cf. 1Tim 1:9-10 ↓; Rev 18:10-13 ↓). Also bear in mind that under the Roman system, a “slave” or a “bondservant” (translations of the Greek word doulos) was much better off than what we typically think of as a slave. As well as being treated with a level of dignity akin to that of the child who was the family heir (cf. Gal 4:1 ↓), they were usually paid and could buy their freedom.
p Hebrew slaves
Slaves escaping from foreign countries seeking refuge in Israel are probably in view here (cf. CEV; v. 16).
Jer 34:13-17 Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I myself made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, saying, 14‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.’ But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me. 15You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, 16but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves. 17“Therefore, thus says the Lord: You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. ▤
Verse 14 tells of an important limitation put on slavery by the OT law. By not keeping this law and, worse still, breaking the covenant they had made to do so (vv. 15-16), the people evoked God’s judgment (v. 17).
1Cor 7:21-23 Were you a slaveq when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. ▤
q Greek bondservant; also twice in verse 22 and once in verse 23 (plural)
Note that v. 22 is saying that slaves should not be troubled by their lack of freedom (v. 21) because as Christians they are free in a more significant sense – free from sin and Satan’s bondage; by the same token, those who are free, like all believers, are slaves of Christ.
1Tim 1:9-10 … understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers,r liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sounds doctrine, … ▤
r That is, those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery
s Or healthy
The condemnatory general descriptions of the ungodly in v. 9 apply to all of the subsequent particular types of sinners, including “enslavers” (v. 10a). Along with all the other sins listed, slave trading (cf. text note) is contrary to sound Christian doctrine (v. 10b).
Rev 18:10-13 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” 11And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.t ▤
t Or and slaves, and human lives
- In NT society, a slave had rights akin to the family heir:
u Greek bondservant; also verse 7