Good Government

The test of good government is justice. A government that makes and enforces just laws passes the test. A government that does not does not.
In modern America, the federal government is composed of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch enforces them, and the judicial branch judges their application. In ancient Israel, however, the king embodied all three functions of government. He was legislator, executive, and judge. Because he was invested with such heavy responsibilities, the king had a unique responsibility to act justly.
According to Proverbs 16:10, this unique responsibility begins with his words:
The lips of a king speak as an oracle,
and his mouth should not betray justice.
It is unclear whether the king is legislating or judging in this proverb. Regardless, the main point is that what a king says should always take justice into account. He should not make unjust laws nor render unjust decisions.
His actions should also take justice into account.
Kings detest wrongdoing,
for a throne is established through righteousness (16:12).
Two proverbs use a harvesting image to describe what the king does when he decides cases of law:
When a king sits on his throne to judge,
he winnows out all evil with his eyes (20:8).
A wise king winnows out the wicked;
he drives the threshing wheel over them (20:26).
Once, while touring northwestern China, I saw a farmer winnow his crop. He laid the crop on the road and allowed trucks to drive over it in order to separate the chaff from the grain. Then he threw the crop into the air and let it blow the chaff away. That’s what a king does in his judicial function. He separates the grain of justice from the chaff of injustice.
Of course, a king cannot run a country all by himself. He needs a bureaucracy to oversee the day-to-day functions of government. And that bureaucracy must be governed by justice as well, as two proverbs show:
A king delights in a wise servant,
but a shameful servant incurs his wrath (14:35).
Remove the dross from the silver,
and out comes material for the silversmith;
remove the wicked from the king’s presence,
and his throne will be established through righteousness (25:4-5).
Proverbs 20:28 speaks of the king’s activities in terms of “love and faithfulness”:
Love and faithfulness keep a king safe;
through love his throne is made secure.
These terms are technical legal terms. They refer to a person’s willingness to honor covenants which he has entered into.
Where there is justice, Proverbs tells us, there is also peace:
By justice a king gives a country stability,
but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down (29:4).
When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers,
but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order (28:2).
And peace leads to human flourishing, which reflects well on the government in charge:
A large population is a king’s glory,
but without subjects a prince is ruined (14:28).
In summary, the test of good government in justice, which includes love and faithfulness, and results in peace. May God bless us with such a government!

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