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A Bible Study of The Scripture

Lesson 10: God’s (Biblical) Requirements for magistrates

Requirements for Civil Magistrate

Will we use God’s Word or worldly wisdom [sic] to exercise our right to vote in the selection of our magistrates and judges?

2 Tim. 3:16-17


King James Version

English Standard Version (ESV)


All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,


That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work

The goal of a  Christian is to glorify God and obey His Word in all that he thinks and does. This desire extends to his actions as a Christian citizen. Perhaps one of his more important actions as a citizen is that of voting for the men who will serve as magistrates (and judges) over him. So as each election draws near we seek to determine which candidate we should endorse with our vote.

Throughout the process of deciding we receive much advice, such as: vote Republican; vote for the conservative; vote for the one who is pro-life; vote for the one who stands closest to you on the issues; vote for “x” even though he is less than desirable because if he doesn’t win, then we will have “y” who is even worse; and so on. But the Truth is that these worldly ways of selecting our officials is not working.

However helpful this kind of advice may be, a Christian who believes that the Word of God is able to instruct him in righteousness and equip for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17  ), including the work of voting, should turn to the Scripture for guidance. The Bible contains explicit instructions concerning the qualifications for civil officers, and to these Christians should look as we determine who we will support with our time, money, and vote. There are several Bible passages that set forth the standards for choosing civil magistrates. We will study each of these.

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, advises Moses

Exodus 18:20-21  

In Exodus 18  , Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, advises Moses to appoint men to help him in governing and judging the nation, lest he wear out both himself and the people (18:17-19  ). An important aspect of Jethro’s counsel to Moses is in regard to the kind of men that he should appoint as rulers. The character of the men chosen must be according to the following standards:


King James version

New International Version


And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.

Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.


Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:

But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

Men who are able

Civil leaders must be men of strength. The strength that is required here is not primarily physical, but moral and spiritual. It refers to men of valor and of virtue; men of courage and of character. A man who is a coward will not fulfill his duty to uphold God’s law if doing so would be unpopular with the people. A man who is of an evil character cannot govern justly. Only those who have proven that they have the ability, courage, and integrity necessary to lead should be chosen as civil rulers.

Men who fear God

Magistrates should be men who honor and reverence God and His Word. This qualification indicates that only those who are believers, i.e., stand in covenant with God through faith, should be considered for the office of magistrate. If a people are to have wise and understanding leaders, they must choose those who fear God, for the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7  ). Men who do not fear God are, according to Scripture, “fools” who hate true wisdom.

Proverbs 1:7


King James Version

English Standard Version (ESV)


The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Men committed to truth

Civil rulers need to be men who stand firmly and faithfully for the truth. Men of truth are men who do not lie, but speak the truth even to their own hurt. They love the truth and hate all that is false. It is absolutely essential that civil leaders be men who can be trusted to speak the truth. Liars and lovers of falsehood are a scourge to those they lead.

Men who hate covetousness

A man who is raised to the position of civil magistrate must be one who seeks no unjust gain from his position. He must “hate” (not simply dislike, but hate) the thought of using his office to enrich himself or others through violence, fraud, bribes, etc. A coveteous magistrate will use the power of his office to unjustly seize for himself or others the wealth of those he governs. A magistrate must also hate covetousness in others, and not allow any citizen to use the power of civil government to seize the wealth of his neighbor through unjust legislation or confiscatory taxation.

Deuteronomy 1:13-15  


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.

Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.”


And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do.

You answered me, “What you propose to do is good.”


So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.

So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials.

Note (We will cover the structure referenced in Question 4, concerning our Colonial).

In Deuteronomy chapter one, Moses recounts the events that took place forty years earlier at Mount Sinai. One of these events was the appointment of rulers to serve with him in governing the nation in accord with the advice of Jethro. In speaking of the appointment of rulers he does not mention Jethro, for Moses knew that God was using Jethro to direct him in that circumstance. The account of the appointing of rulers to assist Moses in judging the people given here provides further insight on the biblical standards for the choosing of rulers.

First, Moses indicates that although he did the appointing, it was the people who actually chose their own rulers. Moses charges the people to “take you wise men....” The word “take” means to provide or choose, while the word “you” means for yourselves. Therefore, Moses gives the people the responsibility of selecting their own leaders. Moses then appointed (installed into office) those chosen by the people.

Second, Moses provided the people with specific standards for determining which men were qualified for the office of civil judge and ruler. The citizens have the responsibility of choosing their own rulers, but they are not free to choose whomsoever they will. Rather, they are charged by Moses to choose only those who meet certain qualifications. Moses states:

“Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.”

These qualifications summarize those stated previously in Exodus 18:21   and provide additional commentary on the standards God has established for choosing rulers.

Is there a Biblical requirement that magistrates be Men?

The Hebrew word translated “men” in this text refers to males as opposed to females. The generic term for mankind, which would include women, is not used here, but rather, the gender specific word for men. If the choice of words means anything, then it is necessary to conclude that God intended that only men be chosen for the office of civil ruler. In Exodus 18:21  the same Hebrew word is used; in fact, in every other passage dealing with the civil magistrate, his duties, and his qualifications, men are in view (cf. Deuteronomy 17:14-20,   2 Samuel 23:3   ; Nehemiah 7:2   ; Proverbs 16:10   ; Proverbs 20:8, Proverbs 29:14   ; Proverbs 31:4-5   ; Romans. 13:1). The order of male headship established at creation applies to each of the three “institutions” established by God: the family, the church, and the state. [1]

For an example of the clear usage of this word: Genesis 17:27  H582

 27 H582 And all the men H1004 of his house H3211 , born H1004 in the house H4736 , and bought H3701 with money H1121 of the stranger H5236   H4135 , were circumcised [H8738]   with him.

Men who are wise

The Hebrew word for “wise” means to be skillful, prudent, intelligent, or able. It denotes both natural ability and wisdom attained through experience. But wisdom in the biblical sense is never just prudence and skill gained through experience. According to Scripture, wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and proceeds to a knowledge of God and His precepts. True wisdom comes from God as a man searches for it in the Word of God as he would search for hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-9 ). Such a man will come to “understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity, and every good path” (Proverbs 2:9). Thus, a magistrate should be a man of ability and intelligence who is skilled in judgment because of his fear of the Lord and his knowledge of God’s Word.


King James Version

English Standard Version (ESV)


My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,


So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;

making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;


Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;

yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,


If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;

if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,


Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God


For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;


He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.

he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity


He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints.

guarding the paths of justice     and watching over the way of his saints.


Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path

Then you will understand righteousness and justice  and equity, every good path;

Example: 2 Samuel 14:20 H2450

20 H5668 To H5437 fetch about [H8763]   H6440 this form H1697 of speech H5650 hath thy servant H3097 Joab H6213 done [H8804]   H1697 this thing H113 : and my lord H2450 is wise H2451 , according to the wisdom H4397 of an angel H430 of God H3045 , to know [H8800]   H776 all things that are in the earth.

Men who are understanding

To be “understanding” is to be discerning, to have the ability to make a proper judgment. It refers primarily to moral insight and ethical discernment. A man of “understanding” is able to discern the right course of action based on the moral law of God. In terms of civil law, a man of understanding knows what is just and is able to judge righteously in disputes or criminal cases because he understands God’s law.

Example Joseph

Genesis 41:33  H995

33 H6547 Now therefore let Pharaoh H7200 look out [H8799]   H376 a man H995 discreet [H8737]   H2450 and wise H7896 , and set [H8799]   H776 him over the land H4714 of Egypt.

Men who are known

These are men who have proven themselves to be wise and understanding. Their character, ability, and wisdom have been demonstrated by their service in other spheres. A man who would be a ruler must first prove himself in family life, business, community service, church service, etc.

Example: Jacob:

Genesis 30:26  H3045

  26 H5414 Give [H8798]   H802 me my wives H3206 and my children H2004 , for H5647 whom I have served [H8804]   H3212 thee, and let me go [H8799]   H3045 : for thou knowest [H8804]   H5656 my service H5647 which I have done [H8804]   thee.


The biblical standards for magistrates given in Exodus and Deuteronomy give citizens a sure guide for determining which men among them are truly fit to serve as their civil rulers. The qualifications given in these texts indicate three areas of concern:

Natural Ability

The demands of being a magistrate require men who are intelligent and have the skills necessary to lead others.

Personal Integrity

Magistrates must be men of the highest personal character. They must be men of truth and virtue. Their lives should be an example of righteous living. As those charged with enforcing God’s law in the civil sphere, they should keep all aspects of God’s moral law. They must be men who are there to serve God and man, and are not there to enrich or promote themselves.

Spiritual Maturity

Magistrates, as ministers of God, should be men of spiritual attainment (a knowledge and fear of God) and biblical wisdom. It is vital that a ruler knows that he is accountable to God and has a healthy fear of the day that he will give account to God. A ruler must also be knowledgeable of God’s law as it is revealed in Scripture so that he can carry out his duty of establishing justice in the gates (i.e., in the courts and legislatures of the land).

Deuteronomy 16:18-20  


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.

Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly.


Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.

Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.


That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.

After Israel has taken possession of the land it will be their duty under God’s law to select judges and officers to carry out judgment in the gates. These rulers are charged to “judge the people with just judgment.” Hence, it follows that the people should choose “wise” and “understanding” men who will be able to do just that. It is right to assume that the standards Moses taught them in Deuteronomy 1:13   should be applied to the choosing of local magistrates since no new or different standards are given here.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20 


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


14When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; 

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,”


15Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. 

15 be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.


16But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.  

The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”


17Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.

He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.


18And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: 

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.


And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:

It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days 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


That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.

and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

This text addresses the circumstance of Israel seeking a king to rule over them. It further establishes the responsibility of the people to choose their rulers, in this case, their king. However, they are not at liberty to choose whomsoever they will, but only the man approved and chosen by God. Furthermore, the man they choose must be a “brother,” i.e., a man who stands in covenant with God through faith; he must not be an unbeliever, but one who fears God as stated in Exodus 18:17.

•             “multiply horses to himself (KJV) means that he will look to the Lord, not brute military force. Note that king David brought judgment upon Israel for mobilizing (doing a numbering) during peacetime without asking the Lord.

•             “neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. “ must not unduly use position for personal gain.

•             “and he shall read therein all the days of his life” must study the Scripture daily. “, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them” must follow the Scripture in all things.

•             “That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren” is a servant of the people, must not be arrogant.

2 Samuel 23:3-4  


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.

The God of Israel spoke,     the Rock of Israel said to me:  ‘When one rules over men in righteousness,    when he rules in the fear of God,


And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.

he is like the light of morning at sunrise     on a cloudless morning,  like the brightness after rain     that brings the grass from the earth.’

In this text it is plainly stated that “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” Righteous men who govern according to God’s law as God’s ministers is always the biblical standard.

2 Chronicles 19:6-7


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment.

He told them, “Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict.


Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.

Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.”

These verses contain the instructions of King Jehoshaphat for the judges that he appointed in the land, city by city:

Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you: take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.

The charge given by the king reflects the standards for choosing magistrates given in the law of Moses. Only men who “fear God,” who are “able,” “wise,” “understanding,” and “hate covetousness” could possibly fulfill the duties spoken of by Jehoshaphat.

Nehemiah 7:2


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many.

I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.

After the walls had been rebuilt and the Levites appointed to serve in the Temple, Nehemiah continued to restore the integrity of Jerusalem by establishing Hanani and Hananiah as civil rulers in the city. Nehemiah specifically stated that he chose Hananiah because “he was a faithful man who feared God above many.” Nehemiah followed the standards of the law of God in appointing the leaders of Jerusalem. As a “faithful” man, Hananiah is firm in his stand for truth; he is a man who is known for his faithfulness to truth; thus, he meets the qualification “men of truth.” Hananiah is also a man who fears God “among many.” He has proven himself as a man of spiritual maturity who is qualified to lead others.

Proverbs 29:2 


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.

When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice;
   when the wicked rule, the people groan

The biblical standards for choosing magistrates instruct citizens to select righteous men. This verse emphasizes the great importance of selecting righteous men by stating: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” This proverb teaches that it is great folly to elevate wicked men to civil leadership, but great wisdom to follow God’s law and elect only men who fear God and obey His Word.

Proverbs 16:10


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


A divine sentence is in the lips of the king: his mouth transgresseth not in judgment.

The lips of a king speak as an oracle,    and his mouth should not betray justice.

Proverbs 16:12


King James Version

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)


It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness.

Kings detest wrongdoing,  for a throne is established through righteousness.

Romans 13:1-6   

The nature and purpose of the magistrate’s role is defined by Paul in this classic text on civil government. Paul explains that the authority of the civil ruler comes from God, and that the ruler serves as God’s minister to exercise God’s vengeance against evildoers. This description of the nature and purpose of the office of civil ruler applies to all rulers in all nations at all times; no exceptions are given by Paul. Thus, the same role that was assigned to magistrates in the Old Testament is assigned to magistrates in the New Testament (cf. Deut. 1:16-17  ; 16:18-20  ; 2 Chron. 19:6-7  ; Prov. 16:10, 12  ; 31:8-9  ). If the role is the same, then it must be that the qualifications are the same.



Next week we will look at Romans 13:1-7 in detail.




Next: Lesson 11-

Lesson 10: Another Look at Romans 13:1-7

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