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A Bible Study of The Scripture

MeWe Bible Study Part 23 - from Lesson 10 God’s (Biblical) Requirements for magistrates

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


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


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


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


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


Then shalt thou 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.


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


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


Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, 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


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.


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.


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

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


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; 


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. 


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.  


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


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:


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.

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


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.


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.

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


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.


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.

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


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.

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


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

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


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

Proverbs 16:12


King James Version


It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by 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 10-

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

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