The year of 2016 is a big election year. In addition to the local and state government offices, governors, and the national House of Representative and Senate positions, this year we will vote to fill the office of the President of the United States of America. Although the elections are not until November, many of the candidates started even prior to 2015 to posture themselves for the election in hopes of winning this all important office of President. Some would say this position represents the most powerful position of authority in the world.
As we watch the debates, and the candidates’ comments on themselves and the other candidates, the question then becomes “Who do I vote for?” The purpose of this article is not to give a name, but rather to point to the eternal and infallible Word of God for wisdom and instruction on how to vote, rather than who to vote for.
Deuteronomy 17: 14-20 speaks to this very point. By way of background, the children of Israel had been set free from hundreds of years of Egyptian captivity. Moses was appointed by God to lead them not only into freedom, but into the land God had promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses was also appointed by God to act as judge over the people to provide structure and authority in settling their disputes. Other judges such as Joshua would follow Moses, and both would learn to appoint lesser judges to settle smaller disputes and assist in governing the people. In Deuteronomy 17, Moses is looking ahead to a time when judges appointed by God would no longer rule; rather the people would want to have a king rule over them as other nations did.
Moses wrote these seven criteria for the nation of Israel to consider when appointing a king:
- We must seek God, pray, and ask God His choice. “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses.” (Verses 14, 15). God would give the people what they wanted, namely the ability to appoint their king. But when He shifted the responsibility for the appointment to the people, He then made it clear we should ask Him for the wisdom to appoint. His Word is clear He will supply the wisdom. James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” This is the first and most important criteria concerning how to vote.
- Our choice must be a “brother”. Verse 15 goes on to say “He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.” In the Hebrew, brother is the word Ah, and it means brother, cousin, relative, but also fellow countryman, neighbor, companion or colleague. It signifies a person who is similar to another, and is generally a term of affection. To be close enough to be called a brother, a candidate for office would have to be known (as much as possible), probably through previous experience. The candidate should have similar likes and dislikes, and similar interests and causes beginning with love for country (“brother Israelite” or “brother American”). There would of course be other similar interests, some of which are discussed below. The relationship is more like a neighbor or a friend, where both sides feel free to ask the other for help, whether they actually do or not.
- The candidate must trust God more than he does his military. Verse 16 says “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself…” In Moses’ day, horses were a distinct military advantage, used to power chariots of war, move troops rapidly, or move supplies. God wanted the people to consider a king who placed his trust in Him more than he trusted the strength and size of his military troops, and the number of horse drawn chariots. When documenting the enormity of the catastrophe that fell upon the Egyptian army pursuing Moses and the Israelites, Moses wanted history to record that 600 of Pharaoh’s best horse and chariot units were destroyed in the Red Sea. Psalm 20:7 says “Some men trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Pharaoh trusted the power of his military; he had no regard for God or his people. Israel had no use for a king with a similar attitude.
- The candidate for king should have a heart focused solely on the nation and its people. Verse 17 says “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.” The king was not to use his position, power or influence to gain the attention of women. God says in His Word that a man cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). He can only be devoted to one. God wanted that devotion to be directed toward the people, and not toward the lust and flesh needs of the king. Such needs would be too big a distraction.
- The king must place the needs of the people above his own selfish needs for wealth. Verse 17 goes on to say “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.” If wealth becomes the obsession/distraction, the king is once again in the position of serving two masters. Taken together, criteria 3-5 speak of three strong driving temptations that can derail any human, especially a ruler: power, lust or sex, and money. God warns that if one detects these character flaws present in a candidate, we are not to consider that person as a ruler.
- The king must know God and carefully follow His law. He must take a copy of the law, keep it with him, and read it every day of his life “so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees.” (Verse 19). The President of the United States is charged by the Constitution to enforce the laws of the land. To do this, he or she must know the law, and respect it. God places His law above the law of the land, and in the event there is a conflict, advises we choose leaders who will do the same.
- According to verse 20, the king should “not consider himself better than his brother and turn from the law to the right or to the left.” The king is subject to the same law as the people, and cannot turn aside from it or make exceptions for himself or anyone to whom he is indebted. To the extent the borrower is a slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7), the candidate is a slave to anyone to whom he owes a debt of money, gratitude or favor. Again, he or she cannot serve two masters. The good of the people and the nation must be the king’s primary focus, and this focus cannot be compromised even the slightest by repaying a political favor. Bending the rules to the right or to the left does not set a good example before the people. A good leader displays integrity in fact and in appearance.
As I think about these seven criteria or guidelines, I can recall people in my lifetime who held government offices where these problems were eventually revealed. God knew of these problems from the infinite past. He warned Moses so he could warn the people when they wanted a king. He warns us today. I encourage all to keep these criteria handy, and to pray as we watch all the candidates’ debates and campaigns. We must particularly keep these criteria in mind as we pray before we vote. He will give us the wisdom to choose a leader if we ask.