Footsteps of the Founders, Part 1

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Tuesday, January 10, 2017 0 comments

by Bill Fortenberry

“The single most important influence that shaped the founding of the United States comes from John Locke, a 17th century Englishman who redefined the nature of government … According to Locke, a ruler gains authority through the consent of the governed.”

This quote comes from, a website that receives more than 3 million visits per month. They, like many others, claim that our nation was founded on new ideas that were developed during the Enlightenment. However, as we learned in the previous article, Locke flatly denied this claim. He said that his ideas came from an ancient source of wisdom that could never be proven wrong. So what was this ancient source of Locke’s theory of government by the consent of the governed? Let’s find out.

If you were to search the internet for the history of the concept of rule by the consent of the governed, you would undoubtedly come across a few statements like this one from the website “The first significant historical examples of rule by consent of the governed were the city-state of Athens in the fifth century BC and the Roman Republic from the fifth to first centuries BC.”

This is the view taken by most professional historians. They realize that they cannot defend the claim that Locke’s ideas originated in the Enlightenment, so they back up about 2000 years and identify a different secular source for Locke’s ideas in the nations of Athens and Rome. There is, however, a more ancient source of this concept than Athens and Rome.

The earliest record we have of a government that was established by the consent of the governed is actually found within the pages of the Old Testament. More than a thousand years before the Roman republic, God Himself established a nation for His people, and He gave them a government that ruled at the consent of the governed.

This philosophy of government by the consent of the governed can be found throughout the Old Testament. From the judges to the decision to have a king, from Rehoboam to Athaliah, and even into the New Testament with the Jews rejecting their Messiah, the Bible is filled with examples of the Children of Israel changing rulers when those rulers failed to govern at the consent of the people. And in every case, God always sanctioned the decision of the people in choosing their own rulers. He may not have always approved of their decision, but He always submitted Himself to it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself in my excitement. Let’s go back to the very foundation of Israel’s government. Most people assume that God simply dictated His Law to the Children of Israel and commanded that they obey it whether they wanted to or not, but look at what the Bible actually says in Exodus 19:5: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.”

This passage is the preamble to what is known as the Mosaic Covenant. The full covenant is recorded in chapters 19-24, and it contains the famous Ten Commandments as well as several other foundational laws of the nation of Israel. These five chapters of the book of Exodus can be viewed as being equivalent in nature to the Constitution of America. They form the foundation upon which all the other laws of the nation were established, and that foundation begins not with a commandment but with a proposition.

God did not simply tell the Israelites that they would be a holy nation unto Him. Instead, He presented them with an “if … then” proposition and left it up to the people themselves to decide whether or not to become the kind of nation that He wanted them to be. The response of the people to this proposition is found in verse 8 where we read that they gave unanimous consent to do everything that the Lord commanded them to do. From this, it is plainly obvious that government of the nation of Israel was established on the concept of rule by the consent of the governed. The people were granted the sovereignty to either accept or reject God’s offer, and they willingly chose to accept it.

But God didn’t stop there. Keep in mind that at this point, the Children of Israel had only heard the preamble to the Mosaic Covenant. They weren’t aware of the actual details of the covenant yet, and it was possible that after hearing those details they might decide that they didn’t want God’s form of government after all. This is why God gave the people two additional opportunities to either accept or reject the form of government that He had offered them.

In Exodus 24:3-7, we read: “And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do. And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD … And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient.”

Here, we see that after God delivered all of the terms of the covenant to Moses, Moses came and told the people what the Lord had said, and all the people gave unanimous assent to the terms. Moses then committed the entire covenant to writing and read what he had written. Then the people voiced unanimous consent a second time to confirm that they were agreeing to the covenant exactly as it had been written.

There are, therefore, two different recognitions of government by the consent of the governed in the Mosaic Covenant. The first is found in the “if…then” proposition of the preamble. And the second is seen in the process of ratifying the covenant through a unanimous vote of the people. These facts demonstrate that the idea of government by the consent of the governed preceded the government of Rome by more than 1,500 years and the writings of John Locke by more than 3,000 years.

The idea that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed” is a much more ancient idea than most historians are willing to admit. It predates Locke, Rome, and Athens. It is, in fact, the foundation of the only earthly government ever established by the direct hand of God. The idea of government by the consent of the governed came to our founders through the pages of Scripture.

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