Look around you. This world is full of disasters, injustice and suffering. Many people never receive real relief, vindication or peace. This misery exists in spite of—and often because of—the governments that are supposed to protect and enhance the lives of human beings.
As God’s Word puts it, mankind has not known “the way of peace” (Isaiah 59:8; Romans 3:17).
Nearly 6,000 years of human history attest to man’s failure to form upright governments. Beginning with ancient Babylon, we have seen one example after another of corruption, tyranny and outright preying on human beings committed by human governments. Throughout this history, mankind has tried virtually every form of governance possible: monarchy, autocracy, oligarchy and combinations of these. Nations like China and Russia have embraced communism. Others have turned to fascism. Northern European nations are famous for various forms of modern socialism. None has brought lasting peace or happiness. Following World War ii, the leading nations set up the United Nations to lead the way toward international government. It too is an utter failure.
What is the alternative to these governments except chaos and anarchy?
About 250 years ago, the Founding Fathers of the United States were in a unique position in history: They had the opportunity to begin a government afresh. Protected and enriched by favorable geography, and informed by centuries of history, they could build this new form of government on some of the world’s highest principles to protect their citizens from some of the world’s lowest vices.
The American Declaration of Independence states that “governments are instituted among men” to secure human beings’ inalienable rights, including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But the founders knew human nature! They recognized that they were trying to escape an unjust government and avoid establishing an unjust government of their own. They questioned whether it was even possible for human beings to rightly govern human beings. Nevertheless, they gave it their noblest effort.
Arguing for the Constitution, James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 51: “It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
The Declaration of Independence references God four times. Some historians assert that these references point to Him as the Founder, Legislator, Judge and Executive.
That categorization is reflected in the manifold separations of powers—the checks and balances of the Constitution of the United States. In this new form of government, the American founders were saying, No human being should possess all or even most of the powers of government.
In fact, only God with His perfect love and wisdom can properly wield such powers!
America, however, did not have the government of God, so its founders tried to establish what they conceived to be the next best thing. It appointed sovereignty to the people and not to the government. The goal was to thereby preserve individuals’ God-given rights.
Less than 250 years later, this most hopeful of experiments in human governments is melting down; it largely rejects its own founding.
Given human history, the American founders were right to speculate whether righteous human government is even possible. And although they drew on the example we are about to examine, they should have drawn on it more deeply—because this is a perfect government. It is a national government not of men or angels, but of God Himself!
A Covenant and a Government
The government of God has existed on this Earth! In fact, it still exists!
Nearly 3,500 years ago, God led the slave people of Israel on an exodus from Egypt. Soon after their liberation, they arrived at Mount Sinai. Something special and unprecedented was about to happen at this mountain in the wilderness (Exodus 19:1-2).
First, Moses climbed Mount Sinai alone. God, the ultimate authority and governor of mankind, spoke directly to him: “Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (verses 3-6).
God was introducing a covenant and a government unlike any other in the world. According to its terms, He Himself would govern this physical nation. If the Israelite people would accept and uphold the covenant, they would become His treasured physical kingdom. Israel would become God’s nation. It would be an exemplary nation to every other around the world.
When Moses presented God’s terms to Israel, “all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (verse 8). Moses conveyed Israel’s reply to God. The form of government was agreed upon.
Now came the epic inauguration! After God had given Israel three days to prepare for this incredible event, God Himself descended. “And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly” (verse 18).
This was no ordinary founding! This was a mountain roaring with flames, billowing black smoke, and quaking like an erupting volcano because God was coming to Earth to establish a government—His government!
The Foundation of Government
This government was utterly unique on Earth and in history. The head of state was God Himself: He actively and directly served as the legislative, judicial and executive power.
For eternity, God’s way of life has been the only way that works—and it works beautifully. His way of life is the way of love. God spelled out that way of life in His law. God legislated this as the foundational law of His nation, beginning in Exodus 20 with the Ten Commandments. All subsequent legislation traced back to these 10 points that define God’s love in action.
The Governor of Israel did not force His subjects to obey. But those who chose to subject themselves to His covenant and His law received abundant blessings, including miraculous protection, abundant food, plentiful wealth, healing from disease, incredible victory and deep purpose.
Although God based this government on His law of love, it was not a government of weakness or compromise. From the beginning, God spelled out certain laws that, if broken, would carry the heaviest punishment: the death penalty. These were part of the civil laws established for this physical nation. They were essentially criminal justice laws.
Exodus 21:12-17 record some of these laws. “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death. And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death. And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.”
This was not the first time God instituted an administration of death. He had done so immediately after the Flood (Genesis 9:6). Prior to that time, there was no death penalty for perpetrators. For instance, although Cain killed his brother Abel, God did not execute him. However, after the Flood, God legislated that those who commit murder should be put to death. This law was reaffirmed under the Old Covenant.
After receiving the civil law (Exodus 21-23), the people of Israel agreed to their part of the covenant. “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words” (Exodus 24:4-8).
This is how Israel entered into a binding, legal agreement with God. Not only was God now governing Israel, the nation was now officially married to Him! (Jeremiah 3:14).
Administration of the Old Covenant
It is critical to notice that God also established a ministry, or administration, that went along with the Old Covenant. “And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons” (Exodus 28:1). The administration of Aaron and his sons became known as the Levitical priesthood since they were descendants of Levi.
These priests were clothed beautifully (verse 4). The high priest, in this case Aaron, was dressed in the finest attire. “And thou shalt put the mitre upon his head, and put the holy crown upon the mitre. Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him. And thou shalt bring his sons, and put coats upon them. And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest’s office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons” (Exodus 29:6-9). Aaron’s miter, or turban, signified his office. The office of high priest was passed on to each succeeding generation.
Exodus records that after God gave the laws of the covenant, Moses climbed Mount Sinai once again (Exodus 34:27-28). God reiterated the covenant and the promises to Moses: “Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the Lord: for it is a terrible [or astonishing] thing that I will do with thee” (verse 10).
This time, while fasting on the mountain for 40 days, Moses, in full communication with God, wrote out the entire covenant. “And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist [knew] not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him” (verse 29).
Moses’s face was so bright that Aaron and the people were afraid to come close to him. Moses told them to come closer so he could tell them what God had given him on the mountain, but he had to place a veil over his face so it wasn’t so bright! This brilliant, beautiful miracle was part of the glorious establishment of the Old Covenant.
This covenant was the greatest form of government ever created. Established by the Creator Himself, it was perfect.
A Glorious Covenant
In fact, the Apostle Paul called God’s government and law in the Old Testament “glorious”! Many who call themselves Christians think of the Old Testament administration as harsh, unloving, even evil. We need to learn to view it the way Paul did.
Paul wrote about this to the saints in Corinth: “[T]he ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away” (2 Corinthians 3:7). Many people think the stones mentioned in this verse are the same as the tables of stone in verse 3, which contained the Ten Commandments. However, that is not true. Verse 7 refers to the script engraved upon another set of stones, which contained the civil law of Israel (Deuteronomy 27:1‑8). This civil law contained physical laws and punishments, many of which ended in death.
God founded that civil law on the principles of the Ten Commandments. And the administration of death was contained within the civil laws of Moses. Murder, kidnapping and adultery, for example, were all punishable by death. The administration of death was the civil execution of the punishment for such violations.
In 2 Corinthians 3:7, Paul extols that civil law as glorious. We must realize, however, that this law was not what God had in mind from the beginning. God established it only for a temporary purpose—just as Moses’s face shone for only a little while.
If this administration was only temporary, and it resulted in death, why did Paul describe it as “glorious”? Here are a few reasons:
It was based on the glorious principles of the Ten Commandments.
It showed the need for God’s Holy Spirit. A human being’s power, will and strength are pathetically weak and always unsuccessful without the Holy Spirit!
It meted out appropriate punishments to lawbreakers. The punishment was necessary in the carnal society of Israel and prevented a lot of lawlessness and crime.
The civil law recorded on those stones served its purpose for the carnal nation of Israel. Had the Israelites kept it, the nation would have been glorious (Deuteronomy 4:8). More of God’s purpose would have been accomplished.
But did the civil law bring lasting repentance, change of heart, or conversion? Not at all! That was not its purpose.
God upheld this government perfectly. Israel did not. Before God had even finished giving the nation this spectacular gift, the people had already fallen into debauchery and began worshiping a golden calf. This was a disappointing sign of what was to come in the generations and the centuries that would follow.
That covenant was glorious, but something was completely missing from it. That element would be part of a different, future covenant—a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6).
Jeremiah Prophesies of the New Covenant
God revealed to the Prophet Jeremiah that He has much more in His plan beyond the glory of the Old Covenant. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
The nation of Israel had promised to obey God. However, in breaking that law, it broke its marriage agreement with God. So God prophesied through Jeremiah that He would institute a new marriage covenant. The new covenant would be an agreement based on the same law, except that it would be written not on tables of stone, but in the hearts and minds of men!
Unlike the world’s version of Christianity, the New Covenant is not based on doing away with God’s law, but on magnifying that very same law!
It was based on the same Ten Commandments, the same way of love and outgoing concern—the way of love toward God and love toward neighbor. It was to be a new covenant because the administration of that law was new; the law itself was not new.
Evidence of this new covenant cannot be found on tables of physical stone. It is found inside the minds of God’s people. It is evident in the way we act and think. The law is a principle that covers virtually every possible human circumstance and situation. It governs everything from worshiping God and interacting with your family, all the way down to smaller details such as choosing to mow your grass, for example. Most people wouldn’t think God’s law says anything about grass-cutting, but it does. If you have a neighbor who doesn’t mow his lawn, you will start thinking about that. God’s law covers everything because it is a matter of outgoing, loving concern for God and for everyone else.
Administration of Spirit More Glorious
“How shall not the ministration of the spirit be further [more] glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory” (2 Corinthians 3:8-9). It was obvious to Paul that the new administration Jesus Christ introduced would be far more glorious than the old. Both administered the same law. Under the old administration, however, human judges could not impart eternal life; they could only administer death. But now, this new administration, led by Jesus Christ, imparts eternal life! Jesus Christ works through His New Covenant ministry to help His people learn how to repent and how to stop sinning—how to use the Holy Spirit and to exercise the love of God—which eventually leads to being born into God’s Family! This is far moreglorious than anything the Old Covenant could ever offer!
“Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ” (verses 12-14). Do you see what a miracle the New Covenant is? Understand the magnitude of what God is doing! God’s ministers can plainly speak the truth out of God’s Word, and God’s people can understand. Both the speaking and the hearing are inspired by the power of God’s Spirit.
This is completely different from how it was in ancient Israel when Moses’s face had to be covered. This is why most people’s minds are still blinded today. They may read the truth in the Bible, but they do not have the mind to understand it. Only the Holy Spirit can give that ability.
“Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (verses 15-17; Revised Standard Version). Far from being blinded, God’s people experience freedom because of the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
God’s true ministers endeavor to bring God’s Spirit into their judgments, their counseling and their preaching. As they do, wonderful things happen: lives change, marriages change, families change, congregations change. Eventually the whole world will change because of this administration of the Spirit.
“But we all, with open [unveiled] face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed …” (verse 18). Those of us without a veil over our faces are being changed! Into what? “[I]nto the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” This administration leads to people developing the very same character God has!
Yes, the old administration had a certain glory, but next to the New Covenant, it pales by comparison.
God planned to replace the administration of death with a new administration: the administration of the Spirit. God’s ministers today have been made able ministers of the New Covenant. They teach people the way to receive God’s awesome gift of eternal life. The administrators of the Old Covenant simply could not do that.
The spiritual changes taking place in the minds of the members are tantamount to massive spiritual earthquakes, thunder and lightning. This is far more awe-inspiring than anything God did in the Old Testament or any miracle He performed on Mount Sinai.