Not only is God behind the forms of government we have, but he is also responsible for the incumbents, the ones occupying the offices at any particular time. That may be a startling thought for some of us, but that is what this verse says. Listen to the way the New English Bible translates the last half of Verse 1:
There is no authority but by act of God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him. (Romans 13:1b NEB)
The Lord not only brings the forms of government, but he also puts the very people who occupy the offices there. So if you thank God for George W. Bush and say that God gave us a godly born-again President, remember that he also gave us Barrack Obama, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and all the others that we have had some trouble with. They came from God too. You see, the Lord is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He is not a Socialist, or a Marxist, or even an American! The biblical picture is that God will at times not only sends us good men, by his grace, to lead us and heal us, but he also sends us bad men at times, to punish us—and we deserve them.
Oh, I hear you complaining about that. I have heard it said that God does not cause evil or calamity to befall people, that Satan does that because God is only a God of love. Another standard doctrine is that when it comes to God’s redeemed (like you and me) that His only punishment ever might be to simply allow natural catastrophes to happen to us that He might have supernaturally blocked if we weren’t being disciplined.
Well here is one thought . . . it really doesn’t matter, does it? The results are all same. If you disobey, curses come, if you obey, as Paul wrote, you reign in life.
But here’s something to consider . . . the Song of Moses, which is found in Deuteronmy 32, is just one of many places in the Scriptures that the Lord makes it clear that He will cause calamity to happen to those who rebel against Him—worshipper and non-worshipper alike. Of course in the Song of Moses you get a listing of just what the Lord will cause to happen and it’s even equated to the Lord using up all of His war arrows against Israel. Oh, I know that some will argue that the Hebrew word used here means that He “allowed” it to happen, but no Hebrew scholar I have investigated agrees. When asked about this, Rabbi Mark Kinzer wrote back:
“The ‘causative’ form of the verb root (the hiphil) only expresses the meaning of the verbal form in relation to the basic form of the verb root. For instance, zachar means “he remembered.” The causative form, hizkir, means “he reminded” (i.e., caused someone else to remember). Thus, the causative form does not tell us anything about the contextual meaning of the verb in a particular verse (e.g., the fact that the hiphil form, “he reminded,” is used does not tell us whether the person did so directly or indirectly, deliberately and explicitly or as a second thought). The contextual meaning depends, as you would think, on the literary, historical, and theological context, and not on the particular verbal conjugation employed.
When the Lord said that he would “use up all of His war arrows” against Israel, it is important to remember that you don’t shoot an arrow accidently: “Oops, there goes another arrow!” Nope. When the Scripture talks about the Lord “shooting an arrow,” it isn’t referring to a naturally occurring disaster; it is done in anger and meant to harm. God means quite seriously to harm His people when they fall away from Him to the degree and manner that Israel did.
He says He will visit horrible famines, deadly plagues, and that Israel’s former Promised Land will be overrun with dangerous and poisonous creatures. Also, their enemies will attack them and the terror of it all will be so great that everyone, infants, young people, unmarried girls and the elderly will literally die of fright and anxiety. We do not have time to go there right now, but check out the middle chapters of Revelation as the Beast does His dirty work and then as God pours out His wrath in the 21 judgments (7 seal, 7 bowl, and 7 trumpet judgments) and we get exactly this same picture using nearly identical words.
This is an example of the downside to God’s justice system. In the Song of Moses, you see the curses of the Law playing out; the same as in Revelation where we also see the curses of the Law at play. Justice is not justice if there is no right and no wrong. If there is no reward for the righteous and no destruction of the wicked, then there is no justice. If there is only mercy and never punishment, where’s the justice? Don’t ever think that God’s justice system has given way to a grandfatherly wink and nod at sin and rebellion whether for Believer or pagan.
However, at verse 26 we begin to see the other side of the justice coin; the side that is opposite of wrath:
I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance
of them to cease from among men: Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the LORD hath not done all this —Deuteronomy 32:26-27
Oh, I know, this is the side of God we wish was the only side of Him: mercy and love. We read that God considered wiping Israel out entirely but decided not to because he was concerned that the enemy He sends after Israel will give themselves the credit for victory. In other words, while mercy and love is being displayed, it happens more as a natural result of the Lord salvaging His reputation. For example, I Samuel 12 says, “. . . for the sake of His great name (reputation), He will never abandon His people . . .”
The point being that the Lord has a dual purpose in visiting His wrath on Israel. First, to punish His people, Israel, for their unfaithfulness to Him (with the hope that the dicipline will cause them to return to righteousness. Secondly, to demonstrate His power and omnipotence to the other nations of the earth; if He allowed the attacking nation to take the credit then the other nations would not see that Israel’s demise was Yehoveh’s doing. Thus the nations would think He was weak and unable to defend Israel (as their God) rather than powerful and almighty and able to wield His power over all nations and all things. God’s name and His holiness supersede everything.
If you are wondering what that has to do with what Paul wrote, I want you to remember that when the Hitlers, Stalins, and other ruthless individuals come to the throne of power, God has put them there because that is what that people needed at that particular time in history. This is the biblical position with regard to government, and it is rather startling. Yet, it is the clear statement of this passage.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome