Does Someone Have To Be In Charge? (part 1)

Reading through material with a lot of information is hard work. I had a work out recently!

Kristen, who comments here frequently, has put together two articles on “biblical” authority. (The original articles by Kristen Rosser are at No Longer Qivering.) I want to learn her information well, so I jotted down a simple outline of her study. Please browse the outline, then if your spirit is so led, go over to the full articles to read her extended insights. Posted with permission.

1. The difference between authority and leadership

a. Authority is legal power, or a right to command or to act; power, rule, sway.

b. Leadership is the state of being the one leading or commanding.

c. This article is about authority, not leadership.

2. God is reluctant to establish authority structures in the Old Testament.

“God in the Old Testament seems so reluctant to establish authority structures in Israel, so careful to limit the ones He does establish, and so ready to overturn human assumptions about who should be in authority.”

a. The first mention of authority is in Genesis 1:26-28.

i. God gives mankind -male and female- dominion (authority).

ii. Humans have authority over animals.

b.  The next mention of authority is in Genesis 3:16.

i. Right after the Fall, “God tells Eve then that the man will begin to rule over her, as part of the consequences of the wrong that has come into the world.”

 ii. God does not tell the man to rule his wife. In contrast, God does tell the humans to rule over the animals.

iii. No legality of rule (authority) is established for man to rule woman.

c. The rest of the Pentuetuch is silent about God-given authority.

i. God chooses individuals to prepare a people who will birth His Messiah, but does not give them ruling authority.

ii. Curiously, God  flips the world’s authority stucture on its head. Instead of choosing the firstborn son to continue His covenant, as was the way with ancient tribal society, God  works with younger sons. (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David)

iii. Governing structure is addressed in Genesis 41:31-35, when Joseph advised Pharaoh to establish a “famine agent” with supporting officers. This was not God’s directive, but Joseph’s idea.

iv. Governing structure is also addressed in Exodus 18:23, when Jethro advised Moses to split his load between elders of the tribes. Jethro asks Moses to make sure God is okay with his idea.

d. Israelite government

i. God does establish a heirarchial structure among the priests and Levites. But, their rule (authority) is limited to worship. There is no priestly ruling class in Israelite society.

ii. God is reluctant to establish a monarchy in Dueteronomy 17:14.

iii. In 1 Samuel 8:7, God says Israel’s choice for a king equals a rejection of God’s rule (authority).

iv. God warns the Israelites that a king will oppress them. “God also limits the power of the king by making him subject to the law and forbidding him priestly powers.” 1 Samuel 13:10-14

e.  God restrains human authority so the people will see His sovereignty.

i.  Daniel 4:32 says, “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whosoever he will.” Nebuchadnezzar is humbled.

ii. It is God who decides who gets to be in authority, not human structure.

iii. “In fact, God’s plan seems to be more about raising up individual leaders than setting up structures of authority (please keep in mind the definitions set forth earlier).”

iv.  God denounces those who “have set up kings, but not by Me; they have made princes, and I knew it not.” Hosea 8:4

The next part will be contrasting the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God.

6 thoughts on “Does Someone Have To Be In Charge? (part 1)

  1. The hierarchy was established when Israel moved from judges hearing and settleing offenses, to a monarchy. We see a reference to this in Deut chapter 17 and the actual move to a monarchy in 1 Samuel chapter 8. In Samuel, the desire for a king was rebellion against God for He was ( or should have been) their King. God chose the first two kings (Saul and David) and based on the events surrounding Solomon’s assent to the throne, we might infer He too worked this out Since a monarchy cannot exist without establishing a hierarchy, God did have a connection in the process.


    1. “God also limits the power of the king by making him subject to the law and forbidding him priestly powers.” 1 Samuel 13:10-14. Sure, God had a connection – to limit powers, and remind men that He is still the one who establishes kings, not a line of descent. (Dan 4:32, Hos 8:4)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for adding that explanation Kristen. It clarifies the point of the article better than I did.

    Linda, Its interesting if you do a word study on the words for rule (radah, mashal), what turns up.


  3. Linda, the difference is that these leaders were individuals raised up by God, and acting in God’s authority, not a right to lead based on their place in a hierarchy. God does not appear to have set up hierarchical structures and then put the appropriate persons into the structure– God appears instead to have raised up whatever leaders He wanted from wherever source, regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof in human hierarchies. He almost always chose a younger son over the firstborn, for instance. Gideon called himself ‘the least of my family, and my family is the least in my tribe,’ or words to that effect. Deborah, of course, was a woman. Or authority like Samuel’s would be given to a child born to a woman who had been barren. Their authority did come from God– but it was God’s authority given to an unlikely individual, not a God-instituted hierarchy of human authority. Not until the kings, anyway, who ruled according to a hierarchical structure that God resisted establishing in the first place.

    With regards to the elders in Numbers, my essay shows that the idea of having a set of elders to help Moses was originally his father-in-law Jethro’s idea, as shown earlier in Exodus. Jethro told Moses to make sure God was ok with the plan, and God agreed, so in that sense the elders were instituted by God– but it was not originally God’s idea, but man’s.

    In short, God just cannot be found in the Bible to be setting up a “someone always has to be in charge” system of top-down human hierarchy. Someone, in fact, does not always have to be in charge. Sometimes it works just fine to have no one in charge, or a group of equals in charge. It really depends on the circumstances.

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  4. When you say that “The rest of the Pentuetuch is silent about God-given authority” – address God’s stamp of authority on Moses and the fact that God gave Moses “the right to command” the children of Israel – in the name of the Lord, of course. We see the questioning of Moses’ right to lead by Miriam and Aaron in Numbers 12. Are you thinking that this wasn’t authority as much as leadership? Yet Moses definitely had a “right to command” with God’s stamp of approval and authority.

    Also, the 70 elders that God instituted to help Moses “bear the burden of the people” (Nu. 11:17). Was this not a “right to act or command” the people as well?

    Within the Noahitic covenant, we also see God condemning murder, even going so far as to declare/command that “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by MAN shall his blood be shed.” (Gen. 9:6) He further sets up the “right to act” concerning murder in Numbers 35; here the power seems to be in hands of “the congregation” (vs. 24), but there was a definite judgment made. Is this not authority according to your definition?

    Into the book of Judges, we also see that a judge’s role included meting out “judgment” for the people (Judges 4:5). Do you believe this “power” or “rule” to NOT be sanctioned by God? Yet, the book of Judges shows repeatedly that the people turned away from God upon the death of a God-given judge. Authority structures such as these may not have been God’s first intention (I speak as a fool), but God DOES seem to set them up throughout history to help His people throughout their sin-cursed lives.

    Of course this doesn’t even address the prophets, who had great power and authority among the people – God-given power, I might add. (Just ask King Agag…) Is the difference in definitions only in the word “legal” somehow? Isn’t this a little bit of semantics? I can appreciate the need and biblical instruction to authority figures to be meek and humble – a servant-leader – but it DOES seem the God-given leaders in the Old Testament DID have authority and power to judge the people in righteousness, even going so far as to declaring death as God commanded them to do in Gen. 9:6.

    Looking forward to the 3rd blog, I guess….


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