When the ancient Israelites clamored for a king “to judge us like all the nations”, the prophet Samuel went to God in prayer, seeking counsel. God’s reply included a phrase full of far more portent than many cursory readers of the Bible realize: “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (I Samuel 8:7)
What perhaps most of the Israelites themselves failed to see was that they did not merely wish a different form of government: They desired a different religion. They wanted a different god. God made this evident when He specified that Israel had rejected, not Samuel, the representative of the theocratic government under which the Hebrews had lived to date, but the one true God, “that I should not reign over them”. The greatest thing that had set Israel apart from the other nations was their exclusive rule by God. Now they wanted a king like the heathen nations around them. They wanted rule by Man, and not by God.
Various cultures have deified their rulers. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt claimed deity as the kin of the sun god. Ancient Rome deified its Caesars. Chinese emperors were considered deities up until the early 20th century, and Japan has traditionally hailed its emperors as gods for millennia.
However, identification of a ruler or government as god does not restrict itself to the people explicitly hailing their ruler or government as divine. Remember, worship is expressed through submission and obedience, not mere lip service. Consider this truth in light of another: No human government can exist without the submission, obedience, and resources of the people it rules. More bluntly, any human government needs worshipers in order to exist. Without submission and obedience (worship) from the people the government could not so much as issue its first edict, let alone climb to eminence in a society. All that is needed to institute a human government is faith and obedience from the people. Likewise, all that is needed to overthrow this same government is for the people to cease to fear and obey the State. Force of arms is a weak tool in either situation. The critical factor is the hearts and minds of the populace.
For example, if I and a group of people in my town tried to establish a new system of town government and passed legislation aimed at the citizens, it would be an utter failure unless we somehow managed to obtain, if not the love and support, the fear and submission of the people. In fact, we would probably very quickly find ourselves in prison.
In light of this, examine every human governmental system that has ever existed. Without exception, the State has depended on either the people’s faith in its ability to provide and protect, or the people’s fear of consequences should they fail to submit. This fact in itself also disproves the myth that a government which draws its power from the people is immune to tyranny. No matter whether the government is a totalitarian dictatorship, a monarchy, or a representative republic, it relies on recognition and submission from the people in order to exist. Once that rug is yanked out from under it, that system will collapse.
Conversely, the government of God, the Kingdom of Christ, does not rely on submission and obedience for its existence. It exists simply because it has been declared and established (Matthew 28:18). Whether the people recognize it or not, whether they obey or rebel, the Kingdom of Heaven remains in force. It is far more real than any institution of man because it does not collapse when people reject it, nor does it draw its strength from the submission and taxes of the people. The reason for this is that this God is genuine, and His system draws its strength from above, rather than from below.
The governments of men are false gods and thus require the strength of its subjects to exist, while the government of God exists outside the existence of men. Human government relies on the resources and strength drawn from it subjects because it has no power of its own. God can rule, protect, and provide through His own divine power, deriving His strength from no one but Himself. If an entire society were to suddenly withdraw their allegiance and fear from any human government, that government would instantly cease to exist. However, whether any society recognizes, fears, and obeys the Kingdom of Heaven or not, that Kingdom continues to exist without pause. We know this to be true because the curses of Deuteronomy 28 rain down on America more heavily the further we stray from God and his Law. The false kingdoms of men exist and bring hardship on us, not because God’s kingdom has failed, but because He, in His sovereignty, allowed them to exist in order to turn us back from our waywardness. Such was the case of Babylon (Habakkuk 1), and such continues to be the case with the tyrannical forces of our own time.
They are His cane of chastisement.