The old saw makes an all-too-true point: How can you tell when a politician is lying? Are his lips moving? Americans have become increasingly cynical about their leaders.

“Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes.”
(2 Chronicles 19:7) We want to trust them, and we hope they’ll tell us the truth and keep their word. But it seems that, when push comes to shove, politicians are only interested in their own agendas.

Campaign promises go out the window in the heat of political debate, and everyone seems to care only about scoring points and enlarging their base of power. Compromise and spin become the order of the day as politicians fear nothing so much as the latest polls and work hardest at making their decisions palatable to their constituents.

Do we have a right to expect more of our political leaders? Should legislators, executives, and judges be held to a higher standard than mere pragmatism? Almost every officer-holder in the land embarks upon his service by swearing to serve the people, “So help me, God.” We should not allow them to take this invocation of the Lord’s name in a frivolous manner. If they’re going to use it, we should hold them to it.

What God requires of rulers

The Scriptures are abundantly clear on this matter. Those who take up the responsibility of governing a people in the name of the Lord must be prepared to adhere to His requirements. These are spelled out in Deuteronomy 16:18-20, where God says to those who accept the calling to rule, “They shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe...Justice and only justice, you shall follow...”

But what does this involve? What do we have a right to expect of those who agree to govern us, calling upon the help of the Lord?

When King Jehoshaphat of Judah took up the responsibility of appointing judges and rulers in the cities of the nation, he charged them solemnly with this mandate. From his words in 2 Chronicles 19:4-7, we can discern precisely what it means for rulers to govern in the help of the Lord.

Govern as unto the Lord

Jehoshaphat’s first injunction to rulers establishes the framework within which we must expect them to govern: “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD” (v. 6). When public officials engage their duties with the words, “So help me, God,” we must presume that they mean what they say. We have a right to expect that legislators, executives, and judges will weigh their actions before the Lord, looking to him in prayer, seeking the advice of wise and God-fearing counselors, and considering the teaching of Scripture and the precedents of God-fearing forebears.

How then can we reconcile this invocation with the resolute effort of public officials to keep “religion” out of the public square? Do they really want to govern as unto the Lord and not unto men? Are they merely submitting to some custom or tradition when they declare this invocation, silently agreeing with all who see them that it is but a trivial procedure and means nothing? If we would help our politicians to make their words matter, then we must remind them of their invocation and encourage them to practice their trust in the Lord daily, and not to give in to the pressures of lobbyists, special interest groups, or their own selfish ambition when it comes to the prosecution of that with which they have been entrusted.

Walk with the Lord

Jehoshaphat’s second admonition follows from this: “He is with you in giving judgment.” We must remind our rulers that God is concerned about every aspect of their work and their lives. He is with them to aid them in ruling the nation, and He forms the kind of person they will be as rulers in the day-to-day details of their lives.