The Greeks were not the first to establish a republic. Before the 6th century BC Athenian democracy, ancient Israel was a republic for a millennium or maybe longer. To call Biblical Israel a theocracy is a misnomer. They were only as much a theocracy as the nation of Israel chose to follow God. As Israel’s history reveals, they did not always choose to follow the God of Abraham and God’s Law given to Moses. The same is true today for whether a nation chooses to follow God or man today.
Ancient Israel was a republic established upon justice by a judicial theonomy. Only in justice is there freedom. This nation of Jacob received its constitution, law, and rights all wrapped up in the God-given Law of Moses (Ex. 20, 24:7-8, Deut. 5). This Law commanded such noble concepts that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) and “you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother” to which no secular nation has risen (Deut. 15:7, cf. Lev. 19:33-34, Deut. 10:17-19). Israel’s God-given government was more focused on justice than on legislation. Israel’s freedom relied upon the dedication of its people to God, who provided them a just system where real liberty came through moral judges. Imagine a government where evil men feared judgment. There is no greater civil preventer of evil than the fear of justice, and no greater civil liberator than that justice.
A people free to govern themselves would be wise and blessed to allow the freedom of faith and conscience as embedded in Jesus’ teachings, and from here apply justice from the practicality of God’s wisdom within His civil government given to Israel. The Law of Moses foreshadowed the spiritual Law of Christ (Heb. 10:1), and its imperfections can be easily filtered through Jesus’ teachings leaving us their civil form of government much like just forms of government found today.
Israel’s senate emerged under the oppression of slavery in Egypt (Exo. 3:16-18). The word “senate” comes from the Latin senatus meaning “council of elders” and senex meaning “elder” (“senate.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 07 Sep. 2012. <Dictionary.com>.). The senate consisted of elders from each tribe of Israel. This Senate was accountable for the people representing the people before God (Lev. 4:13-15, Deut. 29:10, 31:28, Josh. 8:30-35, 24:1, Ezra 10:14). The elders also acted as the high court for a balance of power with the judges. Israel’s senate were 70 elected men (Exo. 24:1, 9; Num. 11:16-18, cf. Sanhedrin). These elders were men elected from a hierarchy from those expected to serve in militia (Exo. 18:21, Num. 1:2-4, 26:2). God commanded the tribes to elect wise and experienced men to be leaders from the bottom up. This was a grassroots government and so was its military. Leaders were first elected from among 10 men. From these elected, there was selected a leader to be over their 50-100 men, and from those over the 100s, a leader was elected over 1000. From the captains of these thousands, elders were elected to represent their tribe in this republic (Deut. 1:13-17, Ex. 18:21, cf. Deut. 29:10).
Israel’s freedom came by their just judges (Deut. 16:18-20). God commanded the “children of Israel”, the people, to appoint judges and officers (Deut. 16:18, cf. Num. 11:16). As the title implied, judges brought about civil justice and oversaw the enforcement of the law by their officers (Deut. 16:18-20, cf. Num. 35:30). The judges consisted of city elders, who made their judgments together at the city gates (cf. Deut. 22:13ff, Exo. 21:6, 22; 22:8-9). Fair trials were secured by establishing cities of refuge for protection of the accused (Num. 35:9-15, 22-28, Deut. 19:1-14, Josh. 20; cf. Deut. 17:8-12, 19:15-21).
Israel had a balance of power between their senate and their judicial branch. No judge or senator was excluded from justice (Deut. 1:16-17, cf. Deut. 25:1ff). Charges could be brought from anyone, and those who unjustly brought charges were also tried for the same punishment of the accused. This was a society where the greatest ruler could be brought to judgment by the lowest person upon the simplicity of the standard of evidence. All countries can have this same liberation if their courts were open and free and the people are not bound by regulations and costs. Ancient Israel’s government was an elected republic that was regulated by the people in the courts. The people were accountable to all in their courts for the protection of their lives, trade, and liberty.
These judges had a standard of evidence for their courts established by the Law of Moses. This standard is found in Art. 3 Sec. 3 of the U.S. Constitution today and throughout history from the English Commonwealth back unto the Roman Corpus of Law. That universal standard of evidence is still a legal maxim. The standard of evidence required two or three witnesses where one account was verified by another (Deut. 19:15ff, cf. “Source Evidence within the Bible“). These witnesses consisted of eyewitnesses, but these witnesses did not have to be people by definition, but witnesses included all primary sources such as writings (Deut. 31:26), songs (Deut. 19), and monuments (Josh. 4, 22). By this simple evidence, these judges made diligent inquiry, followed laws for punishment, and punished false witnesses (Deut. 17:4-7, 19:15-21, 25:1-3). Diligent inquiries would find the truth by comparing the accounts of the witnessing sources by recognizing either 2 or 3 points of consistency affirming truth or 2 or 3 points of contradiction revealing false witness. In this system, slander could be brought to the courts. Judges were held accountable by other judges, and ultimately to the Senate, whose senators were held accountable to the judges. Partiality was not to be shown to the rich or the poor (Deut. 1:16-17), and false witnesses were punished according to their false accusations (Exo. 23:1-3, 6-9, Lev. 19:15-18).
Israel’s senate consisted of those, who decided that Israel needed a king to fight for them and judge them. Though against God’s will, God permitted Israel’s republic to have a king with warning (1 Sam. 8:4). God chose the king and gave laws for the selection of a king before this event (Deut. 17:14-20). The king was not to be a foreigner, was not to multiply horses for invasion, or multiply wives or money for himself. The king was to have a copy of the law, learn it, and obey it (Deut. 17:18-20). He was not to make laws (Deut. 4:1-2). He was not to be outside of justice. Israel’s senators would unite Israel under the king when they also anointed King David (2 Sam. 3:17-21, 5:3). Yet, Israel’s senate was not perfect, because they also joined with Absalom against David (2 Sam. 17:4). National unity was not certain either, because the nation divided again when King Rehoboam rejected the counsel of the Senate and northern tribes of Israel set another king, Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:6-8, 13). Having a king did not end the republic.
David sets an example for Christians today. Before David was king, he respected King Saul as God’s anointed and did not oppose him or try to kill him even when Saul did evil (1 Sam. 24, 26, 2 Sam. 1). Despite the government, the Christian scriptures instruct believers to submit to the governing authorities, who are appointed by God to be His ministers and bring justice (Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Pet. 2:13-17, cf. John 19:11, Prov. 8:14-16). Christians are instructed to pray for all in authority for God wants all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Even if there is injustice against God’s people among governments, God’s just wrath will come upon those governments, who will destroy each other in their own corruption (Rev. 16:12-21, 19:11-21, 20:7-9). God has brought justice and vengeance against such rulers providentially in the past (Deut. 28:49, Amos 6:14, Daniel 2:21, 4:17, etc.). Christians are to give place to wrath for God’s vengeance (Rom. 12:17-21).
God’s civil government for Israel reveals divine wisdom for what we need for our life, liberty, and pursuit of true happiness. Our courts must be just for us to have freedom. Our people must elect righteous people. Our balance of power must be restored. Ancient Israel’s republic and form of government did not make the nation righteous. The people made the nation righteous. “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). Only Christ has brought such a light into the world where His spiritual nation is among the nations of the world influencing for all good. Let all the rulers of the world recognize Christ. For Psalm 2:10-12 states,
“Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.”