Praying for the Civil Authorities – Exploring the Passages

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What does Proverbs 16:12 (printed below) teach us about the way in which a ruler should conduct himself?

It is detestable for kings to commit wickedness, because the throne is established by righteousness. (Proverbs 16:12)

All practice of wickedness in the land is evil, but when it is done and tolerated by those whom God has appointed to be His ministers in civil government, it is detestable. It is so devastating when civil authorities become lawbreakers because the throne (i.e., the government as the guardian and director of the nation) is established by righteousness; conversely, it collapses when its rulers and people pursue wickedness. Consider Daniel’s counsel to king Nebuchadnezzar: “O king, be pleased to accept my counsel. Renounce your sins by doing what is right; and your iniquities, by showing mercy to the poor. By so doing, you may possibly continue in your honorable state.” (Daniel 4:27)

2. What does Proverbs 29:4 (printed below) teach us about the significance of justice?

By justice a king gives stability to a country, but he who extorts bribes overthrows it. (Proverbs 29:4)

Justice is the key to a stable, durable society, because justice makes a nation resemble the kingdom of God: “Jehovah reigns… (2)…righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (Psalm 97:1-2) What is justice? As defined by the Word of God, it includes equal treatment before the law; the application of the moral standard without favoritism or partiality (note Leviticus 19:15).

3. What does Proverbs 20:28 (printed below) teach us about the role of kindness, or mercy, in a ruler’s administration?

Kindness and truth preserve the king; indeed, his throne is upheld by kindness. (Proverbs 20:28)

Note that mercy is not set in opposition to truth and justice so as to nullify those attributes of godly government. Leviticus 19:15 warns against such an abuse of mercy at the expense of justice. But a spirit of kindness and mercy may move a civil magistrate to administer justice or promote justice for those to whom it has been denied; as Proverbs 29:14 testifies, “The king who judges the poor with equity—his throne shall be established forever.” At times a spirit of mercy and kindness may temper the administration of justice, preventing justice from being overly harsh and insensitive.

4. What does Proverbs 28:16a (printed below) teach us about the importance of understanding, or competence, in a ruler’s administration?

The ruler who lacks understanding is also a great oppressor… (Proverbs 28:16a)

This proverb is teaching that in order to govern effectively, a civil magistrate must be competent; he must possess skill in administration and leadership. Note the counsel given to Moses in Exodus 18:21, “select capable men from among the people—men who fear God, men of integrity, men who hate dishonest gain.” A true competence for the office of civil magistrate involves more than administrative skills. It includes an understanding of the true role of government; namely, that its role is to administer justice and guard the peace as a servant accountable to God (Romans 13:4). It also includes a true understanding of human nature, that human nature is sinful and in need of restraint from evil doing. But also that man is made in the image of God, and is therefore not “raw material” for government projects designed to create a godless utopia on earth.

5. According to Proverbs 29:12 (printed below), what will happen if a ruler lacks the ability or the desire to distinguish truth from falsehood?

If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials will become wicked. (Proverbs 29:12)

If a ruler demonstrates that he has no regard for truth or integrity, or no ability to discern truth, then wickedness (both in the form of corruption as well as folly) will prevail throughout his administration. What this proverb is teaching is that the character and discernment of the ruler will set the tone for the whole administration.