Previously, we looked at some scriptures that dealt with the subject of sovereignty in the Bible and where it springs from. Many more could be chosen, and others will be discussed in later parts of this larger discussion, but perhaps the most succinct of such examples can be found here in Deuteronomy 30:11-20, which says: ““For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.””
We see from this passage, and from the body of verses that we examined previously, that biblical sovereignty has multiple facets to it that require us to examine and ponder. We will examine each of these in more detail, but it is worthwhile to introduce three elements to start out with. First, sovereignty springs from God Himself. We have seen previously that all authorities are either allowed or determined by God Himself and all are (whether they realize it or not) servants of God and accountable to Him. There is therefore a top-down aspect of government where people are subject to authority in various spheres of their lives, or may be authorities in various spheres of life, but are ultimately accountable to God and never autonomous from Him. Second, the standard by which authorities are to govern and that people are to obey is itself plain and easy enough to understand, and that standard is the commandments, statues, and judgments of God. This standard is not mysterious or exotic, but is plainly described and defined over the course of scripture. Third, this sovereignty depended on popular consent. God does not rule a tyrant, but rather gives those whom He calls an opportunity to consent to His authority and to subject themselves to Him under clearly defined terms, standards that apply to God and are an expression of His eternal character and are also subject to those human leaders in institutions under God’s authority. No one is above the law, but all act according to it in the divine economy.
What we see from all this is that God is ultimately the source of all authority. He ordains and allows various institutions like civil government, the authority of the priesthood or temple or church, family, or various private institutions, which are all regulated under a unified code of law that consists of various categories. There are commandments that express very broad principles, statutes that fill these principles in with various more narrowly defined areas within these larger principles, and then judgments that consist of how these commandments and statutes are applied by authorities that are themselves subject to these laws and are accountable to God and who draw their legitimacy from God’s word. What we tend to see, therefore, is that there are multiple levels of accountability and legitimacy here when it comes to matters of sovereignty. God is the source of all authority, but in practice much of that authority is to be found in subsidiary authorities that serve God in church, state, family, and so on. These authorities are both subject directly to God, frequently in tension with each other about the proper boundaries of their purview, and given jurisdiction over the people under them. That said, those who are under jurisdiction are made aware by the Bible of the proper boundaries of authority and are given the remit of reminding authorities that cross the line that they do so against the very body of divine law that gives their offices the honor and respect that those authorities most crave and desire, even if at some risk to their own lives and freedom.
A great many of our problems concerning sovereignty would be greatly lessened if we understood and applied God’s view of authority as a total package. A great deal of the evil that we have to deal with when it comes authority comes from it being adopted in a piecemeal and incomplete fashion rather than as a whole system. People like the idea that they must consent to God’s authority but do not always like having to respect the judgments of those authorities they are in the jurisdiction of, even if they may like holding those leaders accountable for their violations of the law while also seeking to use it as justification not to follow it themselves. Similarly, authorities like the idea that their authority is viewed as legitimate by God and that others are commanded to honor and obey them but do not always like being held accountable to the limitations of their authority that are contained in the law by those they are in authority over, nor do they always appreciate being put in a position of permanent subordination to divine authority and control. But when we view God’s view of sovereignty as a whole, we recognize that it offers what is best for everyone involved when it comes to achieving God’s plans and developing godly character for everyone involved. All are accountable to the same body of law, and thus all develop the character that comes from obedience. Similarly, all are subject ultimately to God, so all are able to avoid the destructive cultivation of tyranny and rebellion that account for the violence we find within families, churches, societies, and other institutions where conflict in the contemporary era is rife. This is avoided in God’s view of sovereignty because everyone has to answer to someone for their deeds and thus everyone’s behavior is circumscribed accordingly within proper limits. It is only as we live within the boundaries of God’s ways–regardless of what title or position we have–that we develop the godly character that allows our nature to be transformed into His own as we live obedient to the law through love for God and others.