Yesterday I gave a sermon entitled “Preparing to Vote: Christians and the Election” on 1Samuel 10:17-27. It will soon be available to download online, but given how many people commented afterwards how helpful they had found it, I thought I’d give a summary of the key points here.
My purpose is to consider how we should vote, not broader questions such as why we should vote. I therefore assume:
- Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established and the authorities are God's servants.
- Voting is part of our worship and stewardship of creation, an act of loving service to God and our neighbour.
For instance, see Romans 13 and 1Timothy 2:1-6, which makes an explicit link between a prayerful concern for civil authority and our evangelism – the Bible makes no distinction between our outreach and social action: both are valid and complementary expressions of our mission and witness to the world.
A Context for Voting
1Samuel 10:17-27 occurs at the centre of a more extended passage about Saul becoming King that runs from the start of chapter 9 to the end of chapter 12 and although we have not had time to read all four chapters, we will refer to other verses in this broader section.
1. God is King over all the nations
17 Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the LORD at Mizpah 18 and said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.' 19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, 'No, set a king over us.'
Israel had been delivered by God from slavery in Egypt and yet they rejected God. Perhaps we see a modern parallel in Churchill, who led Britain through the war, defeated Hitler, but as soon as the war was over, was rejected by the people in the polls.
In calling for Samuel to set a king over them, Israel had forgotten that God is King over all the nations. cf. Psalm 47: “God is the King of all the earth…reigns over the nations.” We have even greater insight, knowing that when the end comes “[Christ will] hand over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power…When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1Corinthians 15:24,28)
2. Choosing our leaders is a responsibility to be taken seriously
Twice Samuel chooses a king for Israel, first here in chapter 10, and later in chapter 16, when David is chosen as Saul’s successor. Each time he enquires repeatedly of the LORD:
19 "So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans." 20 When Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri's clan was chosen. Finally Saul son of Kish was chosen. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the LORD, "Has the man come here yet?"
After all the sleaze, spin, and apparent self-gain of many politicians in recent years, it might be tempting to say, “A plague on all their houses” but this is not a biblical response: cf. Jesus’ rebuke of James and John when they offered in Luke 9 “to call fire down from heaven to destroy” the Samaritans who did not welcome Jesus. Paul and the apostles were constantly engaging with the rulers of their day, as was Jesus before them and the Old Testament prophets before him, who declared the counsel of God to kings in Israel and beyond.
Thus, choosing our leaders is a responsibility to be taken seriously. For, as Romans 13 makes clear, there is no authority except that which God has established and the authorities are God's servants. If nothing else, we should heed the words of Plato: “The penalty that good men pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by men worse than themselves.” If we disengage from the political process, we will only have ourselves to blame when things don't go as we might hope.
3. The exercise of power is not to be taken lightly but we have confidence that God equips rulers for his purposes
22 So they inquired further of the LORD, "Has the man come here yet?"
And the LORD said, "Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage."
This appears to be a bizarre episode. Why would Saul have hidden himself among the baggage? Humanly speaking, I can think of just four possible reasons: Fear of the burden of responsibility soon to fall upon his shoulders; apprehension of what people will think of him; shame that he and Samuel share a secret that he has not even shared with his closest family; and humility in recognition that he is not, in and of himself, up to the task. On the basis that we are told in 10:9 that “God changed Saul’s heart,” I do not believe the reason can be a negative one, so conclude it was down to genuine humility and a recognition that he would be wholly dependent upon God if he was to lead the nation.
Looking to see what others have said on this verse, I see Spurgeon suggested “You and I have avoided many a crown which we might have worn, and have hidden ourselves among the stuff, to escape from many a privilege which might have been both our enrichment and honour.” In a free democracy like ours, voting is surely one of those privileges.
Thus, the exercise of power is not to be taken lightly ... but we have confidence that God equips rulers for his purposes: For whoever is elected will be empowered by God to be his servant: Just as 10:9 says “God changed Saul's heart”, so too in 16:13 we learn that after David was chosen as King, “from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” Cf. Daniel 4:17: “The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.”