Lesson Four – Theocracy


Lesson Aim:  To show that God’s recovery program for Israel involved physical separation and divine government.


Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.  My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.  Isa. 5:1

The covenants God made with Abraham and his faithful descendants, the Jews, established God’s plan to develop Israel.  The original plan did not include the Law of Moses and the Levitical priesthood.  These were added because the Jews transgressed God’s law of life to develop His children (Gal. 3:19; Gen. 26:5).

If you will, try to visualize the nation of Israel in Canaan, if they had not transgressed.  What kind of nation did God have in mind for faithful Israel?  We know if God had found faithful Israelites in Egypt there would have been no need to add the Law of Moses or change the priesthood.  Israel would have moved into the land of Canaan with only the law of life Abraham obeyed.  The order of the Melchizedek priesthood would have been in operation rather than the Levitical priesthood.  The worship would have been less dramatic, just a simple altar with the offering of sacrifices and tithes rather than the elaborate temple service (Gen. 12:7; 14:20; 22:13).

If God had found faith in Israel He would have counted them righteous people in His sight (Gen. 17:1-5).  How different things would have been for Israel!  God would have reigned as He desired.  He would have ruled as a father over his household (Ex. 4:22).  Surely this is the type of nation God wanted to show off to the world.  God wanted a theocratic type government with the entire nation functioning as a large family.  He foreknew the Israelites would not be faithful; therefore, He always had in mind what He established.  It was a theocratic form of government with the Law of Moses as its civil and spiritual law.  It was administered by the Levitical priesthood and from time to time a local strong man such as we find in the book of Judges.

A certain element in the religious world today appears to be looking for Jesus to establish a kingdom on earth upon His return.  What they have in mind, if they have thought about it at all, may be something like the nation God established in Canaan.  Or perhaps, the one God wanted to establish but could not because of a lack of faith on the part of the people.  In either case, they may be confusing their premillennial doctrine with the history of the man-dimension of God’s kingdom rather than its future.  What happened to physical Israel and God’s kingdom is past history and its purpose has been fulfilled.  The Hebrew people were used by God to give us the Messiah.  We now have Him for He is Jesus Christ.  The question Christian people should ask is; “What possible purpose could there be for another physical kingdom on this earth?”  That would be a giant step backwards of God’s plan for His people.

Today, if people will not respond to God’s kingdom “in Christ” they will be forever doomed (Heb. 12:28, 29).  We now have the best arrangement God has offered mankind on earth since Adam and Eve sinned.  It is not possible to attain the Garden of Eden level of relationship while we dwell in our physical bodies; therefore, heaven is God’s next move for His children in His kingdom.


There was a point in history when God established the man-dimension of His kingdom in a physical nation with Himself as the ruler.  He began to work this out through Abraham and his seed (Gen. 12:2).  During the time of Moses, God had let Abraham’s seed multiply as the “sand of the sea.”  Gen. 22:17.  Over four hundred years had passed since Abraham and millions of Israelites existed; however, at one point God was willing to wipe them out and start over with Moses.  The following conversation took place shortly after Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt.

And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people, now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.’  Ex. 32:9, 10

Moses argued for the Israelites and moved God to change His mind.  His argument was that God’s image would suffer before other nations if He destroyed the faithless Hebrews (Ex. 32:11-14).  Moses’ point suggests a second reason for God establishing a nation with Himself as ruler.  It would show God’s power and righteousness to the godless nations of the world.  In this “low-key” long range evangelism plan, we see God’s love manifested for sinners.  Also, it would separate God’s people from the influence of the idolatrous people (Deut. 12:2, 3).  Probably, a third reason could be added by concluding that the Israelite nation was to produce a family through which the Messiah would be born in the flesh.  However, a nation may not have been necessary to fulfil this promise (Gal. 3:16).

Let us now consider the Israelite nation as a theocracy under the Law of Moses.  A theocracy is a government of a state with direct divine guidance or by officials regarded as divinely guided.  When Joshua took the command over Israel from Moses the following are things that had already happened to prepare the people to become a nation (Deut. 34:9).  The Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat had been prepared.  It represented the presence of God and was used, among other things, as a symbol for the headquarters of the Israelite nation while in the Exodus (Josh. 3:3ff).  The Levitical Priesthood had been established, as well as a system of sacrifice for sin.  They now had a book of laws.  These laws would give the people both religious and civil guidance.  God made the following statement to Joshua.

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Josh. 1:8

The people Joshua led were not the same people who left Egypt; it was their children (Josh. 5:6, 7).  They had witnessed God’s power, love and wrath most of their lives.  They were about to witness the opening of the Jordan River and the falling down of the walls of Jericho (Josh. 3:13-17; 6:20).  They would see the solar system’s movement stop and rocks fall from heaven (Josh. 10:11, 12).  The hornet would help them win battles (Josh. 24:12).  Their captain of the host was sent from God to assist Joshua (Josh. 5:13-15).  Thirty-one kings would be destroyed in Canaan by these children of former slaves in Egypt (Josh. 12:24; 23:10).  Because of the fullness of the Canaanites’ own evil, the hearts of their kings were hardened by God in order to accomplish His purposes (Josh. 11:20; Rom. 9:22, 23).

The foregoing accomplished several other things that aided in the establishment of Israel as a nation.  It destroyed a people God had judged and found evil (Josh. 3:10).  It cleared a land area for God’s nation, and it proved the living God was among them.  Apparently, the children of Israel obeyed God under the leadership of Joshua and immediately thereafter in a better way than at any other time in their history (Jud. 2:6, 7).  Joshua made some serious mistakes that caused the Israelites some trouble at a later time.  He did not ask God’s counsel concerning the Gibeonites; consequently, they fooled him and remained in Canaan among the Jews (Josh. 9:3-15).  Also, he neither destroyed the cities on the mounds nor put away all of their foreign gods (Josh. 11:13; 24:23).

Now let us see how Israel functioned as a theocracy after everything was in place, that is, after the foregoing had happened.  God was the ruler.  There was no central head, parliament or congress (Jud. 8:23; I Sam. 8:7).  There was no standing army except in time of trouble (Josh. 24:28; Jud. 1:1).  They did not need to make laws.  All they had to do was follow what had been written in the books by God  (Josh. 24:26).  However, they did have a strong judicial system to interpret and enforce the laws.  The following is a record of one of their meetings.

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God.  Josh. 24:1

The seventy elders who had shared leadership with Moses had their own officers (Num. 11:16, 17).  Leadership was available on several levels (Ex. 18:21).  Oral prophets and prophetesses worked with the leaders by giving them messages from God (Jud. 4:4; I Sam. 4:1; 8:20).  Local court and sentencing was carried out at the gates of each city (Deut. 17:1-9).

There was a high priest ordained from the bloodline of Aaron (Ex. 29:9).  They took care of the sanctuary and offered sacrifices for the people (Num. 18:1; Heb. 5:1).  The high priest assigned duties to the Levites and commissioned leaders (Num. 4:19; 27:18, 19).  Cities were provided for the priests (Lev. 25:32; Num. 35:2).  They were given the Lord’s gifts for their livelihood (Num. 18:8).

The Levites’ duties were to teach the Law and to take charge of the tabernacle (Deut. 31:11; 33:8, 10; Num. 1:50; 3:6).  Also, they were the servants of the high priest and they sometimes functioned in the role of judges (Deut. 17:8, 9).  The entire annual national budget went for the support of the Levites so they could serve the people.  They were subjected to high taxes for an army and the king’s household after Israel rejected God as their leader (I Sam. 8:10-18).

Most people today would probably reject a theocratic type of government as impractical, just as they do the government of the Lord’s church.  It appears people like to have the power to change rules to fit their desires but God does not give man this choice where He rules.

Israel did become a strong nation (Judges 1:28).  It functioned for approximately three hundred years with God as their king before they ask for a non-divine king.  Four hundred and eighty years passed between Israel’s exodus from Egypt and Solomon’s fourth year as king (I Kings 6:1).  Many of those years were bad for the Israelites because of their own sins (Judges 2:20, 21).  They would turn away from God and He would let oppressors put them in bondage.  When they cried for help, God would appoint a judge to rule over them (Judges 2:16).  God’s desire was that He rule in the manner He had arranged but the people would often forget about His presence.

In spite of all of their problems, this may have been the best arrangement any nation on earth has ever enjoyed.  Which other nation has ever experienced eighty years of uninterrupted peace and at the same time did not need to support a standing army?  According to the following scripture Israel enjoyed this long period of peace.

So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel.  And the land was undisturbed for eighty years.  Judges 3:30 

God’s theocratic government with the Law of Moses as its spiritual and civil laws was successful.  How beautiful would God’s nation have been if He had found a faithful people in Egypt?  We may never know all of the reasons for God wanting a nation.  We can be sure it served His purpose in bringing mankind closer to the Christian period of time – the “last days.”  Acts 2:17.  God worked with the people in the condition in which He found them in order to bring mankind to “an administration suitable to the fullness of times.”  Eph. 1:10.  It is here now.  There will be no more physical kingdoms on earth for God’s people (I Cor. 15:24).  In our next lesson we will take a broad look at God’s kingdom under non-divine kings.  This period lasted for approximately one thousand years.  It will not be a pretty picture.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What kind of nation would God have established if He had found faithful Israelites in Egypt?
  2. Why is it ridiculous to think God would re-establish His kingdom in this world in a physical manner?
  3. List several reasons why God established His kingdom in a physical manner for Israel.
  4. What had already happened that helped to establish Israel as a nation when Joshua became the leader?
  5. What was different about the people over whom Joshua became the leader and those Moses first led?
  6. What were Joshua’s people about to witness as they came into Canaan?
  7. What did the military victories of Israel under Joshua’s command accomplish?
  8. List some mistakes Joshua made.
  9. Explain how Israel functioned as a theocracy.
  10. What was the only expense for maintaining God’s nation in Canaan under His original plan?
  11. How would you rate the performance of Israel as a theocracy in relation to other nations with other forms of government?
  12. When did the last administration of the man-dimension of God’s kingdom begin?

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