These words have been used as an excuse throughout all ages. But does God acquit someone who was just following orders? The Bible tells us «no».
God has given us all a free mind, to think and reason. The moment we give away this God-given gift to another man or a system, we are not with it giving our responsibility. Adolf Hitler was guilty of much, but his followers partly gave him that power.
In the Bible, we are taught to respect authority as long as the government does not conflict with God’s will. Paul says: «Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.» (Rom 13:1-5)
This instruction is given because the government help protects the citizens against crime and injustice. They work to create a peaceful atmosphere to live in. If we work against this, we work against God.
For God is not the God of chaos, and He wants criminals to be punished and removed from having the ability to harm others. In this way the government serves God. But this instruction is tied to its purpose to do good. Paul himself who wrote this spent his last years in prison because he would not obey rules that conflicted with God’s will. And so when God’s instruction conflicts with the government, God’s people are to choose faithfulness to Him first.
This is why Christians were hunted down and executed in the Roman era because they would not do the government’s bidding. That is why so many Christians who would not obey the Pope suffered during the middle ages. It had been decided by the government that the Pope was in charge of what was religious right and what was wrong. But the Pope’s rules conflicted with God’s and they chose obedience to God.
We have several examples of people disobeying the instruction of men in power. One of them was Jeremiah that was told not to preach. He still did and was placed in prison. The apostles were also told not to preach. «Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.» (Act 5:28-29)
There are many places in the Bible where we see that God will punish governments that work against Him. After a certain amount of years, any government destroying their own people rather than protecting it will feel the hand of God. Although the government doesn’t always get their punishment straight away. This is because God has to allow them to show their true face and He also gives the citizens the time to do the right thing and deal with the injustice themselves. He wants us to be responsible. In order for people to be responsible, they have to be given responsibility.
Among the many governments God has judged are Sodom, Tyre, Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. Even though these nations were idol worshippers they could not escape the judgment of the God in heaven. He will put them on trial whether they believe in Him or not. The Earth does ultimately belong to God. “for all the earth is mine” (Ex.19,5)
In the Bible, we learn that beasts are a symbol of governmental power and in the book of Revelation we see two beasts working to force people to go by their rules. They will even deny people the right to buy and sell. Later in Revelation, we see Christ punish these powers and throwing them in the lake of fire. Meaning, He destroys these governmental powers and it’s leaders and helpers.
A government does not have rule over God’s people when they conflict with God. If they do, they are in conflict with the heavenly law and will be put to trial in the heavenly court for their actions.
What about those who only follow orders, when the orders are ethically wrong? They are the biggest problem, and we see God showing no sympathy in such cases. Especially if they should have known better.
In the Torah or God’s law, it says that not even the majority is to be followed if they are in conflict with God. That means that democracy has no say for us personally when it’s in conflict with God’s laws. God’s government are not run by votes and elections. Then man would be God and God their servant.
God’s law says: «Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd» (Exo. 23:2)
Israel were immigrants in the land of Egypt for several generations. They were to do their best to not offend their government and the people there, but in no way were they to place the Egyptian government above God’s government. Let us look at an example.
«And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.» (Exo 1:15-20)
So their disobedience to a governmental command brought them God’s blessings.
But the story doesn’t end there. The king now gives the job as executioner to the people: «And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.» (Exo 1:22) The ones following this command were obedient to the government but God would, in the end, hold them all responsible for their acts.
When Israel was about to leave Egypt God sent plagues over the people, one of the plagues was that all the firstborns would die. That means that grown men, as well as young, died that day.
Their acts ended up coming over their own heads, yet God had tried to reason with them over and over again before He took this step. All of the people in Egypt had taken part in the discrimination and the violence, and all of them were punished for it. They were all guilty of the wrongdoing in different ways. “And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.” (Exo_11:5)
We see the same way of rewarding as judging: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.” (Joe 2:28-29) All the way from the free and mighty to the handmaids and maidservants, all are responsible for their actions, rich or poor.
We see another example where the only family who was rescued from the city of Jericho was because of the disobedience of one woman towards her government. She even became an ancestor of King David.
Another disobedient is none other than a governor of the king’s house: «And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly: For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.)» (1Ki 18:3-4)
Imagine if the German soldiers chose this solution at the concentration camps during world war 2. What if they had refused to commit the horrid acts? We all think they should have stood up against the government, but usually, we dare not even correct governmental officials even in small injustices.
Another example is when the king of Israel sent soldiers for Elijah. For those who think that those who just follow orders are innocent will struggle with this story.
«Then the king sent unto him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he sat on the top of an hill. And he spake unto him, Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down. And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. Again also he sent unto him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said unto him, O man of God, thus hath the king said, Come down quickly. And Elijah answered and said unto them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. And he sent again a captain of the third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight.
Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in thy sight. And the angel of the LORD said unto Elijah, Go down with him: be not afraid of him. And he arose, and went down with him unto the king.» (2Ki 1:9-15)
As we can see the story looks grim the first two times. It can seem like the soldiers are innocent and just following orders, but they are not. The last captain with his fifty used his head, and instead of just following orders he tries a different method. He saves all his men. It’s important to understand that the other generals and their soldiers knew very well who Elijah was. Elijah was well known after what happened on Mount Carmel where God had shown Israel who the true God was. They know He was preaching obedience to God before the Israeli state religion of Baal. They even called Elijah «thou man of God» when they called for him. They knew their orders were bad, yet they did them anyway. They rejected their own God-given conscience to follow the conscience of a corrupt leader.
In another biblical story, we see how loyalty to a cruel leader cost the lives of 185 000 soldiers. The Assyrian king Sennacherib laid a siege around Jerusalem after having destroyed several of the Judean cities. He told the Judean King Hezekiah not to trust in God to save him and he then blasphemed God. In order to save the city, God had no other choice but to defeat the entire army and all the soldiers were slain by an angel during the night. These soldiers were only following orders but they should have chosen to not help their king in his cruelty. Sennacherib could do nothing without the help of his soldiers and in this way, they were guilty along with their leader. The cost of their fidelity was their life. God let Sennacherib live, their leader, yet he was killed of his own men when he returned home. (2Ch 32:21; Isa 37:21- 38) Again we see God punish those who carry out the order but let the one who made the order live.
God has given us a mind to use. We are not to oppose the government or disrespect them considering the important work they do to keep men safe and in order. But we are not following their orders or their laws when they are in conflict and rebellion against God.
And this why God’s people have throughout history over and over again suffered imprisonment and even death for standing for the law of God.
Another example of civil disobedience was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego during Nebkadnezzars reign. They had high positions in the kingdom yet they would not hold their position or their respect for the government above God. «There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.» (Dan 3:12) Nebuchadnezzar confronts them and they reply: «Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it is so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.» (Dan 3:16-18)
Nebuchadnezzar gets angry and has them thrown in the fire, but God saves them. God then rewards the three men for choosing obedience to Him before the human government and humiliates the King.
Notice what happens to those who were following the king’s orders. God has no mercy to give them and they are not saved. The men that carried out the death penalty on behalf of the king died themselves from the heat as they were casting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fire.
In Ezekiel chapter 18 we learn that even a son who is under the authority of his father, if he sees what he father does is wrong and doesn’t follow his lead, then he will be acquitted but the father will be punished.
Every human being has been given the right to themselves choose who they want to follow. No matter where we work or where we live, we are to use our head and make the right decision.
We will be held responsible wheater we are the one who is giving the order or the one executing it, for both have aided the other in the wrongdoing.
We are not to give our conscience or decisions to a higher earthly power, or to a majority, and think we will be acquitted in the courts of heaven for the wrongdoing.
Let’s chose to do our best to help the government keep order and peace, but the moment there is a conflict with the law of God, remember to stand on God’s side. For the government will be under condemnation and will be judged by heaven. And if you stand with them, you will face the consequences with them.
About spiritual Babylon, we read: «For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her» (Rev.18:3) Governments have made deals with a corrupt religious organization. This means that these governments will encourage wrongdoing. God’s people have been given a warning. «And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.» (Rev 18:4-5)
Let’s take this warning to heart.