Thoughts on Authority

William J. Stewart | Lessons from the Book of Proverbs

From the day we are born, we are subject to a host of authorities. Whether it parental, educational, community, occupational, spiritual—we are expected to give honour and obedience to those who are set over us. All of these will help us to learn respect for God, the source of all authority (Romans 13:1-2). If we will not give the respect due earthly authorities, whom we can see, how will we ever give God, whom we cannot see, the respect due Him? Thus, it is vital that we learn our obligation to authorities.

It is also possible that the day will come when we are in a position of authority, whether it be parental, educational, community, occupational, spiritual or otherwise. It is important that we know how to properly use our authority, so that God is glorified and honoured in us.


Solomon, who was the king of Israel spoke of the need to seek the king’s favour, to not provoke his wrath, but to fear before him. He wrote:

The king’s favor is toward a wise servant, but his wrath is against him who causes shame. (Proverbs 14:35)

Paul wrote the same thing in Romans 13:1-7. We ought to seek the favour of those who are in authority. This is much easier if those in authority are righteous, but good leaders seem to be a rarity (even in Israel & Judah). Solomon is not suggesting that we condone the wicked acts of a wicked king, but that we give the appropriate respect to those who are in authority. One who shows respect is often shown respect. John the Baptist was a very direct man, who did not compromise God’s word. The gospels indicate that Herod had respect for and feared John. Respect and integrity begets respect.

Here are a few other texts about finding favour with the authorities:

In the light of the king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud of latter rain. (Proverbs 16:15)

The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass. (Proverbs 19:12)

The wrath of a king is like the roaring of a lion; whoever provokes him to anger sins against his own life. (Proverbs 20:2)

Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of the great; for it is better that he say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen. (Proverbs 25:6-7)


In 1 Samuel 24, and again in 1 Samuel 26, David had opportunities to forcibly remove Saul, who was a wicked ruler, but he did not. Understand, he had a claim to the throne, since he’d been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16). Hear what David told his men, who urged him to rise up against Saul:

The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeking he is the anointed of the LORD. (1 Samuel 24:6; cf. 26:11)

Whether it was by his father’s example, or by the wisdom God gave him, Solomon also condemned rising up against a ruling power. Notice:

My son, fear the LORD and the king; do not associate with those given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin those two can bring? (Proverbs 24:21-22)

Whether we ask David, Solomon, or Paul, it is wrong for God’s people to participate in the overthrow of our governing authority. Solomon is so blunt as to say that those who do so invite calamity and ruin from both the king and the LORD.


Consider the character Solomon attributes to those who make good citizens:

Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks what is right. (Proverbs 16:13)

He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the king will be his friend. (Proverbs 22:11)

Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before unknown men. (Proverbs 20:2)

By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks a bone. (Proverbs 25:15)

If we have this kind of character, we will affect our land for good and for God.


It has long been said that power corrupts, and sadly, this is often the case. However, if one will follow God’s word and acknowledge the true source of authority, such will not occur. Notice some verses to those who are in authority:

It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for a throne is established by righteousness. (Proverbs 16:12)

Take away the dross from silver, and it will go to the silversmith for jewelry. Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness. (Proverbs 25:4-5)

The king establishes the land by justice, but he who receives bribes overthrows it. (Proverbs 29:4)

A wise king sifts out the wicked, and brings the threshing wheel over them. (Proverbs 20:26)

The king who judges the poor with truth, his throne will be established forever. (Proverbs 29:14)

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. (Proverbs 25:2)

Whether we are in authority or under authority, may we conduct ourselves in accordance with God’s law, that He might be glorified, and that we might preserve our life in this world and prepare it for eternal life in the hereafter.

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