The Greeks were not the first to establish a republic. Before the Athenian democracy of sixth century BC, ancient Israel was a republic for a millennium. Moses instructed the people of Israel, “Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.’” (Deut 1:13 ESV). To call biblical Israel a theocracy is a misnomer. Israel only as much a theocracy as the people of Israel chose to follow God. As Israel’s history reveals, they did not always choose to follow the God’s Law given through Moses. The same is true today for whether a nation chooses to follow God or man.
The nation of Israel received its constitution, law, and rights all wrapped up in the God-given Law of Moses (Exod 20; 24:7–8; Deut 5). The Law defined the limits of its government and the liberty of the people. God’s Law to Moses 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 15:7–8; cf. Lev 19:33–34; Deut 10:17–19).
The Foundation of Rights
Today, for a people to freely govern themselves, a nation is wise to allow the freedom of faith and conscience in following God’s revelation. Without the Creator, no unalienable rights can exist. The disbelief in God, the Creator of all people, is not permitted within the exercise of government set by God, because such would undermine the inseparable rights and equal treatment for all people. With freedoms of faith in the one Creator, the freedoms of God’s wisdom for Israel’s civil government demonstrate the best way for a nation to be free. The birth of the free republic started with Israel, and the republic was born again when the Bible put in the hands of the common person in the sixteenth century. The biblical republic is the foundation for civil freedom.
Israel’s senate emerged under the oppression of slavery in Egypt (Exod 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>). Israel’s senate consisted of elders from each tribe of Israel. This senate was accountable for the people representing the people before God (Deut 29:10; 31:28; cf. Lev 4:13–15; Josh 8:30–35; 24:1; Ezra 10:14). Israel’s senate consisted of seventy elected men from each tribe (Num 11:16–17; cf. Deut 1:13–17; Exod 24:1, 9; i.e. Sanhedrin). Each tribe elected their own leaders according to the ranks of those enlisted in the selective serve of each tribe’s militia (Deut 1:15; cf. Num 1:2–4; 26:2). Leaders were first elected from among each group of ten, then a leader was elected over the ranks of fifty and a hundred men, and from those leaders over the hundreds. A captain was elected over a thousand. From the captains of these thousands, elders were elected to represent their tribe in this republic (Deut 1:13–17; cf. Exod 18:21). Such elections secured Israel from any dominating influences of the wealthy and influential. Neither businesses, unions, parties, nor any partnership could pre-select those to be elected by the people.
Israel’s freedom truly relied upon having just judges (Deut 16:18–20). God commanded the “children of Israel,” the people, to appoint judges and officers for each tribe to judge at their city gates (Deut 16:18). As the title implied, judges brought about civil justice and oversaw the enforcement of the law directly through their officers consisting of law enforcement and lawyers (Deut 16:18–20). The judges consisted of city elders who made their judgments together at the city gates (cf. Deut 22:13ff; Exod 21:6, 22; 22:8–9). A plurality of judges decided the cases, and the judges were witnesses before the people affirming guilt and sentencing. Fair trials were also 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).
Balance of Power
Israel’s God-given government focused more on justice and governing than on legislation, because God gave the Law. Israel’s senate was to make decisions and judgments by applying God’s Law. Ancient Israel was a republic established upon justice as a judicial theonomy, which is a nation governed by God’s Law that established just courts for all the people. Only in justice is there freedom for a nation where the government does not regulate the people, but the people regulate the government and one another in the courts. Israel’s freedom relied upon the dedication of its people to God who provided them a righteous system where real liberty came through moral judges. The people’s access to judges is a true balance of power. A government where anyone can bring the most corrupt and powerful to justice. No greater civil prevention of evil exists than the fear of justice before open courts, and no greater civil liberator than fair courts.
Israel had a balance of power between their senate and their judicial branch. The law excluded neither judge nor senator from justice (Deut 1:16–17; cf. Deut 25:1ff). Anyone could bring forth charges, and those who unjustly brought charges were also tried for the same punishment of the accused. This was a society where any could bring the greatest ruler to judgment upon the simplicity of the standard of evidence. All countries can have this same liberation if their courts were open and free so that the people are not bound by complex laws, essential counsel, court 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, and this system secured the protection of their lives, property, and liberty.
Standard of Evidence
Israel’s judges had a standard of evidence for their courts established by Israel’s constitution — the Law of Moses. This same standard is found in Art. 3 Sec. 3 of the U.S. Constitution today and back through history from the English Commonwealth and the Roman Corpus of Law. That universal standard of evidence is still a legal maxim. The standard of evidence is the requirement of two or three witnesses where each testimony verified the other (Deut 19:15–21). These witnesses consisted of substantial sources including more than eyewitnesses. By definition, these witnesses included all primary sources such as writings (Deut 31:26) and trace evidence (Exod 22:9–15; Deut 22:13–21). Historical evidence also included standing monuments (Josh 4; 22) and traditional songs (Deut 19).
By the simple standard of evidence, the Law instructed these judges to make diligent inquiry, follow the laws of punishment, and punish false witnesses preventing frivolous cases (Deut 17:4–7; 19:15–21; 25:1–3). The diligent inquiries of judges would build upon the standard of evidence by examining the eyewitness accounts for affirmative agreement upon two or more essential details without two or three explicit contradictions. Judges were to hold other judges accountable, and ultimately, the senate held these judges accountable. Judges held accountable Israel’s elders as senators. Partiality was not to be shown to the rich or the poor (Deut 1:16–17), and the Law punished false witnesses according to their false accusations (Exod 23:1–3, 6–9; Lev 19:15–18).
The Law of Moses permitted Israel to have a king. Israel’s senate eventually decided that Israel needed a king to fight for them and help judge them. God permitted Israel’s republic to have a king with great warning against the tyranny of kings (1 Sam 8:4–18). According to Moses’s Law, God was to choose the king, and He gave laws for Israel’s election of a king before Israel even requested a king (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). The King was not to make laws (Deut 4:1–2). He was not to operate outside of justice. Israel’s senators reunited Israel under the king when they anointed King David (2 Sam 3:17–21; 5:3). However, Israel’s senate was not perfect, because they also joined with Absalom against David (2 Sam 17:4). As the people became corrupt in rejecting God, their government became corrupt. National unity was not certain under a king. Israel divided when King Rehoboam rejected the counsel of the senate, and the northern tribes of Israel set a separate king, Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:6–8, 13). However, having a king did not compromise the republic and yet did not end Israel’s republic.
How can Christians encourage and restore a true and free republic today? Christians can move into positions of influence and teach people to return to God and His Word as the basis of moral living. God instructed Christians to pray for all in authority for God wants to save everyone (1 Tim 2:1–4). Despite government corruption, the Christian Scriptures instruct believers to subordinate to the governing authorities and pay taxes and honor, because God appointed the governing authorities to act as His ministers and bring justice (Rom 13:1–7; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Pet 2:13–17; cf. John 19:11; Prov 8:14–16). However, the Apostles would not stop practicing their faith as they spoke before the Jewish Supreme Court, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27–32; cf. Acts 4:19–21; 7:51–60; Exod 1:12–21). 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 murder God’s priests or sought to murder David (1 Sam 24; 26; 2 Sam 1). Even if there is injustice against God’s people among corrupt government officials, 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 brought justice and vengeance against such rulers providentially in the past and continues to do so (Deut 28:49; Amos 6:14; cf. Dan 2:21, 4:17). Christians are to give place to wrath for God’s vengeance (Rom 12:17–21). Christians form the greatest nation — the church (1 Pet 2:9; cf. Dan 2:44, Col 1:13, Heb 12:28).
God’s civil government for Israel reveals divine wisdom for a civil government that truly protects people’s rights. A nation’s people must hold truths as self-evidence: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (DofI). A nation’s people must elect righteous people. The people should strive for the nation’s balance of power so that the courts are accountable to the representatives and the representatives to the courts. A nation’s courts must remain just for people to retain freedom. A nation’s people must exercise their power to regulate the individuals within government in the courts. Ancient Israel’s republic and form of government did not make the nation righteous. God justified the nation when the people were 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 that His spiritual nation is the greatest among the nations influencing for all good. Let all the rulers of the world serve the Christ. David wrote in Psalm 2:10–12,
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.