Biblical View of Authority

Exodus 22:28

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2017

We are studying Exodus.  We have been studying case law in Exodus 21-22.  Today, I want to look at only one verse.  It is Exodus 22:28.  It deals with God’s view of authority.  Many people do not like authority.  The Bible talks about those who “reject authority” (Jude 1:8).  It talks about those who “despise authority” (II Peter 2:10).

Many disrespect authority.  Many have a hatred of authority in any form.  In the 70s the slogan “Question Authority” was popular. We do not like to be told what to do.  Apparently, authority is a big deal to God.  Let’s look at these sins.

Our text today says, “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people” (NIV). It is a passage that is still very relevant today.  It deals with two sins.  Both are verbal sins.  They are sins of the tongue. It mentions two kinds of authority, although it applies to other kinds as well.

One of these sins has to do with God and one has to do with people.  We are used to thinking that we have free speech.  We can say whatever we want.  It is in our constitution.  God’s constitution overrides man’s constitution.  There are certain things that we should never say.  These were considered very serious sins.  Today, they are looked at very differently.

Paul committed both of these sins.  Before he became a believer, he called himself a blasphemer (I Timothy 1:13).  After he was a believer, he cursed the ruler of his people, although he said that he was unaware who the man was who he cursed (Acts 23:5).  These may be sins we have committed.

Divine Authority

Exodus 22:18 says, “Do not blaspheme God” (NIV). The first sin involves blaspheming God or reviling God as some translate it (ESV, KJV).  Malachi 1:6 says, “”A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ (NIV).

Some deny God.  They are atheists.  The Bible calls them fools.  The fool said in his heart “there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)  Others do not deny God; they blaspheme and curse God.  It is common today.  Some do it so much, it is a habit.  That is why James talks about the need to tame the tongue.

Cursing God is an old sin.  It was done in Moses’ day and is still done today.  Leviticus 24:10-11 says, “Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.)”

This was in a fight situation between a half Jew and a full Jew and the one who cursed God in this situation was the full Jew. It is a great sin.  It is an expression of hatred.  Instead of blessing and worshipping God, people curse Him.  Some people have cursed God and put it on the Internet.  They have by posted a video of their blasphemy online and have encouraged other people to do so.  It is called “The Blasphemy Challenge.”

Hollywood does this.  The entertainment industry and the music industry routinely blasphemes and curses God.  Lady Gaga blasphemes Christ with her 2011 song called “Judas”.  It praises Judas.  She says in the song that she is in love with Judas.  She says in the song that “Judas is the demon I cling to.”

Many people experience terrible things in their life that seem to have no explanation, things that seem to have no good that comes out of them (death of children or a spouse).  It is not wrong to express how you feel to God in prayer.

It is not wrong to pour out your heart in anguish and sorrow and to ask God questions.  The Psalmist does that.  Questioning God is NOT the same thing as cursing God.  Some shake their fist at God and curse Him when bad things happen to them.

Job used to “rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually (1:5).  Then some bad things started happening to Job, really bad things and they all happened in one day.  He lost his kids.  He had seven sons and three daughters.

They all died when a house fell on them.  His servants were killed.  His wealth was lost.  He owned thousands of ox, sheep and camels.  He lost them all.  Then he got very sick.  He got boils all over his body.  They were painful.

Job’s wife said, “Why don’t you curse God and die?” (Job 2:9).  Satan told God if these things happened that Job would curse Him to his face (2:5) but Job never did that.  Job was a godly man.  He is described in the first verse of the book as blameless and upright.  He was a man of complete integrity.  He feared God.

Many people would curse God in this situation.  The Bible says that the mouths of unbelievers is “full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:14).  Revelation 16:10-11 says, “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds” (ESV).

Revelation 16:17-21 says, “The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.  

The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found.  And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe” (ESV)

It is common when bad things happen to us that we blame God and take it out on Him. The good news is that blasphemy is NOT the unpardonable sin.  You can blaspheme God and still be saved.  Jesus said, “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven–except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31 NLT).  God can forgive this sin, as great as it is.  Of course, it requires repentance but it is forgivable.

The Apostle Paul said I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  Of course, in the OT theocracy, you might lose your life. (I Timothy 1:12-13 NIV)

Parental Authority

We are not to curse God.  We are not to curse divine authority.  We are not to curse our parents.  We are not to curse parental authority.  People still do that today.  God views that as a terrible sin.  in fact, in the OT, it was a crime.  Exodus 21:17 says, “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.”

Political Authority

We are not to curse divine authority or political authorities (the ruler of your people). Psalm 24:21 says “Fear the Lord and the king.”  I Peter 2:17 says, “Honor the emperor.” The powers that be are ordained of God.  They are God’s ministers. Exodus 22:28 says, “Do not curse the ruler of your people” (NIV).

The Hebrew word here translated as “leader” (nasi) means “president” in modern Hebrew.  This is very common in our day.  In fact, it is popular in some circles to trash the president.  There are many Trump haters in our day.

They disrespect him.  They mock him.  They insult him.  They slander him. They compare him to Hitler.  Radical feminists do it in their marches. The media does this.  Late night comedians do it.  People in Hollywood do it. Musicians do it every time they get an award.  They always use that occasion for some reason as an opportunity to curse their president.

Ecclesiastes 10:20 says, “Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say. (NIV)  That is interesting.  It sounds like what has happened in our own country.

People say things in private and hackers like Jullian Assange carry what is said all over the world.  This verse says that, not only are we not to curse our leaders with our mouth, we are not even to have those thoughts.That sounds like what Jesus says in the NT.  Don’t commit physical adultery.  Don’t even commit mental adultery.

This is actually not a sin limited to Democrats.  Republicans curse a Democratic President and Democrats cursing a Republican President. Now, it is very easy for Christians to not curse their political leader.  Many of them voted for President Trump.  Our guy is in office. What if your opponent is in office?  What if you do not like the man in office and you did not vote for him? This verse is very relevant to our own day.

Religious Authority

What is interesting to me is that this command does not just apply to God.  It does not just apply to parents.  It does not just apply to political leaders.  It also applies to religious leaders. This verse applies to leaders in church as well as in government.

We are not supposed to curse them either.  How do we know?  The Apostle Paul applied it to religious leaders in Acts 23.  He cursed the high priest.  Acts 23:1-5 says, “And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”  And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!

Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people’” (ESV).

That is interesting.  Paul and Jesus both stood before a high priest.  Jesus stood before Caiaphas.  Paul stood before Ananias.  Ananias was the high priest who presided during the trial of Paul.

Both were mistreated. Both of them were slapped in the face.  In fact, the mistreatment Jesus was even worse.  Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:67-68)

Both made predictions while they were on trial. Jesus said that one day, the Jews will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64).  Ananias was known for being violent and ruthless.  He ordered soldiers to strike him.  Paul said that one day, someone will strike him.  That was a prophecy that came true about ten years later.

Ananias was murdered in 66 AD at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War.[1]  The Zealots set fire to his house and then killed him and his brother.  The difference is that Paul lost his temper and was disrespectful to the high priest.  He admitted it.  Some people never admit when they are wrong.  Paul did. Now this verse in Exodus raises a lot of questions to think about.  What does it mean to curse your leaders?

What This Does NOT Involve

Does cursing your leader mean simply to speak evil of them?  That would be the parallel in the verse with blaspheming God (speaking evil of God and the ruler of your people).  If it means to speak evil of your leaders, does this mean that you cannot speak the truth about them?  Does it mean that we can never criticize or disagree with a sitting president, no what he does?

If a pastor or religious leader in the country goes astray doctrinally, is it wrong to call that person out as a false teacher?  We should always say what God’s Word says.  It is not wrong to call out sin where we see it. The OT prophets always rebuked wicked kings in the OT.

King Ahab said about one prophet “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” (I Kings 22:8).  The prophet Jehu rebuked King Jehoshophat.  He said, “Why do you help wicked people and love those who hate the LORD?  Because of this, the LORD’s wrath is on you.” (II Chronicles 19:2).  The prophet Nathan rebuked King David to his face after he committed adultery and murder.  He said “Thou art the man” (II Samuel 12:7).

Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his day (the teachers of the law and the Pharisees).  He called them hypocrites (Matthew 23:15).  He called them blind guides (Matthew 23:16).  He called them blind fools (Matthew 23:17).  He called them snakes and a brood of vipers (Matthew 23:33).  Jesus called Herod a fox (Luke 13:32)

John the Baptist rebuked King Herod.  He married someone he was not supposed to marry and John the Baptist said, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Matthew 14:4).  He told Herod that what he did was wrong.  He broke God’s law.  He may not have broken man’s law but he broke God’s law. John the Baptist did not care who he was.

He didn’t care if he lost his life over that comment.  He had no fear to speak the truth.  He was not intimidated by anyone.  That took courage.  He lost his head over that comment.  Herod chopped it off but this command.  We are to submit to the authorities but that does not mean that we cannot be a witness for the truth as well, especially in a democracy.

It is not a sin to speak against injustice or corruption.  We are to speak the truth but we must do so always in love and with respect.  There is a huge difference between cursing your leader and condemning sin.  There is a difference between criticizing and cursing a leader.  You can disagree with people without mocking, demeaning or belittling them.  It is one thing to express an opinion.  It is another thing to be disrespectful or hateful.  We are to speak the truth in love.

Biblical Example of Cursing a Ruler

The Bible gives us an example of someone who cursed a leader, so we know exactly what this looks like.  It is found in II Samuel.

As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left.

As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!” (II Samuel 16:5-8 NIV).

What is going on here?  Absalom led a revolt against King David and tried to take over the throne.  David had to flee Jerusalem for his own protection. As he was fleeing, he encountered a man named Shimei (shim-e-eye).  He was a Benjamite.  David took over after Saul.  Shimei did not like him.  He called him a murderer, a scoundrel and threw rocks at him.

He said that God was getting him back for what he did to Saul, which is a joke because David did not kill King Saul. Saul and his sons were killed in battle against the Philistines but we learn here what a curse of a ruler looked like. It was angry.  It was hateful.  It was disrespectful.  He attacked David like he would a dog. It was slanderous.  He said some things that were not true.  It was violent.  He actually threw things at David.  David did not kill him but his son Solomon eventually did (I Kings 2:9).

Is This Command Absolute?

Is it is always wrong to curse one’s ruler?  What if your ruler happens to be Adolf Hitler?  Our leaders are not always good or godly.  They are not always Christians.  In fact, they rarely are.  It is interesting that this verse has no qualification.  Exodus 22:28 does NOT say, “Don’t curse the ruler of your people, unless he is really bad and then it is okay.”  Blaspheming God is ALWAYS wrong and cursing your leader is ALWAYS wrong.

How can you honor them if they are not honorable?  We need to keep two things in mind.  First, we can respect the office without respecting the individual. You can honor the office, even if you cannot honor the person.  That is what David did.

David honored King Saul, even though he did not like King Saul.  King Saul was his enemy.  He tried to kill him three times.  David had a chance to kill King Saul, not once but twice, and didn’t do it (I Samuel 24:1-11).  Why?  He had respect for the office, even if he did not have respect for the person. He called him “the Lord’s anointed” (I Samuel 24:6).

Even Jesus, who blasted the Pharisees, said about them, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:2-3 NIV)

We should have respect for the office as well.  Paul said that those in government are “God’s servants” (Romans 13:4).  He said that the powers that be are ordained of God (Romans 13:1).  Police offers are God’s servants.  Judges are God’s servants.  If we really believed that, we would show respect for these institutions.

It is wrong for us to curse our leaders (which does no good anyway) but it is not wrong for us to bring before God our concerns about people in charge over us.  That is exactly what God wants us to do.  He wants us to cast all of our cares and worries before Him.

Second, just because we are not to curse our rulers does not mean that they cannot be removed from office.  A president can be removed from office.  He can be impeached.  Judges can be removed from office at the federal and state level.  Authorities in the church can also be removed.  Charges can be brought against elders.  Paul talks about that in I Timothy.  When leaders violate their God-given authority, they can often be removed.

[1]He served as high priest from AD 47 to 52 AD.  Josephus called him “Ananias ben Nebedeus” (Antiquites xx. 5. 2)

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