In Ecclesiastes, the Teacher spends quite a bit of time reflecting on all the ways a government can go wrong. There are times when the people rebel against the current regime. There are other times when the officials are tyrants and oppressors. Sometimes the leaders are young hot shots. Sometimes they are old fools. It seems that there is no such thing as a perfect government.
And three thousand years later, we’re still not there. Shocked? Anybody?
I’m reminded of the scene in The Patriot when Mel Gibson’s character is in the assembly of men discussing whether or not to revolt against England. He stands up and asks the pointed question, “Why should I trade one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away?”
In the “Arab Spring” which began around this time last year, Egypt, Lybia, and various other nations around the Middle East ousted their current dictatorial regimes and elected new leaders…some of whom turned out to be worse than before! Egypt is still reeling from the switch in governments.
In Ecclesiastes 10 he draws our attention to two more ways a government can go all wrong:
There is an evil I have seen under the sun,
the sort of error that arises from a ruler:
Fools are put in many high positions,
while the rich occupy the low ones.
I have seen slaves on horseback,
while princes go on foot like slaves. (10:5-7)
Woe to the land whose king was a servant
and whose princes feast in the morning.
Blessed is the land whose king is of noble birth
and whose princes eat at a proper time—
for strength and not for drunkenness. (10:16-17)
In vv. 5-7 it seems that the whole structure of society has been upended. Fools are given positions of leadership while the rich (read “wise”) are made to be janitors and sanitation engineers. Slaves go on horseback while princes walk.
To which many in today’s society would think, “That’s a good thing! Equal rights for all! The poor should have the right to ride on horseback just like anyone else. And how dare that prince think he’s entitled to ride on horseback while everyone else has to walk!” (Occupy Wall Street, anyone?)
The evil in it, though, is from the complete disregard for authority and order. Without those clear guidelines the whole system dissolves into anarchy.
On the other hand, when kings and princes/governors are in such a position of authority, they should not use that title to their own advantage (i.e. feasting in the morning). The should eat at a proper time for proper reasons – strength to govern and guide the people.
I think the lesson for us all, even if we’re not in a position of authority, is that God has given us a task. We have a purpose on this earth. And I’m pretty sure that purpose is not to serve ourselves. We need to make sure that we’re doing the proper things at the proper times for the proper reasons. God created this world and humanity with a sense of order. When everyone is functioning in their God-given roles, everyone else benefits.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter to us Christians what any leader, king, president, or prime minister does. We are answerable to a higher authority – the one true King. So let’s live like it.