Law enforcement is not just a public trust but a sacred duty. The fundamental responsibilities of law officers are to protect lives and property and to ensure that laws are enforced. In carrying out their charge, the public expects them to be impartial, fair and responsible. This of course requires adherence to the guarantees enshrined in the constitution by way of exercising restraint, fairness and compassion in wielding law enforcement powers, and showing example in regard to obeying the law in the fear of God.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, officers of the law are required to “enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities”, “not allowing personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendship to influence a decision” never using excessive force or violence; not intimidating citizens or suspects, and carrying out their duties with “compassion and fairness”
How well these codes are observed depend on who is on the driving seat. There could be a thousand and one reasons to act arbitrarily in spite of clear provisions to the contrary. Scripture says: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” (Proverbs 29:2) History is replete with examples of how those in leadership positions tend to exercise their powers with brazen disregard for the principles of justice, fairness. Such instances are also in the Holy Bible.
Abuse of Power
The Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” was so heartless that he decreed that all males born to the Israelites should be killed at birth. But God used the Hebrew midwives to circumvent such an inhuman law – and were blessed for their godly disposition. – Exodus 1:15-22
The Herod at the time our Saviour was born (“Herod the Great”), seeing “he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men”. (Matthew 2:16-18) According to historians, Herod Antipas it was who gave the order for John the Baptist to be executed. He knew it was a monstrous and scandalous thing to do but he still commanded that the execution be carried out in order to avoid the shame of not living up to his promise. (Matthew 14:3-11) No leader, politician, religious leader or company executive should do things to please men. We should obey God rather than men. – Acts 5: 29; John 12:43.
There are examples in the Bible, of soldiers who detained accused persons, even servants of God, merely to satisfy immediate exigencies. Such detainees were placed under harsh conditions, ostensibly having been counted as guilty even before being heard. The Chief Captain or Tribune, who commanded the garrison or military post in Jerusalem, on hearing of the tumult over the preaching of St. Paul and of the determination of the mob to lynch him, took soldiers and centurions to the scene to restore order. Since he could not ascertain what St. Paul’s fault was, he “commanded him to be bound with two chains”. (Acts 21:30-40) The unruly had crowd laid false charges against St. Paul in order to instigate the Roman authorities against him. – Acts 21:28.
Herod the king (Herod Antipas) killed James the brother of John merely to please the Jews. To gain more popularity, even if for an unrighteous cause, he arrested St. Peter and put him in prison, “and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him”, intending to kill him after the Passover. Bible Students know that an angel delivered St. Peter even as he “was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison”. The point however, is, what was St. Peter’s offence to warrant his being kept under maximum security watch? Just abuse of naked power to please certain interests. – See Acts 12:1-10.
Paul and Silas
There have been other cases of arbitrary use of power. For instance, when Paul cast a demon out of a young girl, her masters, seeing that “the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers”. The charge was that Paul and his associates were troubling the city “And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans”. Without even finding out the veracity of the allegations, the magistrates gave order for them to be flogged “And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely”. (Acts 16:18-30) However, when God Almighty manifested His power, the jailor and his household became converts. (Acts 16:18-30) He quickly reversed himself “the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; … brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house”!
Paul and Silas were later freed by the magistrates and were asked to go. But knowing that his rights had been violated, Paul said unto them, “They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.” When the serjeants relayed this message to the the magistrates “they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city…” – Acts 16:33-40
It could be seen that the rights of St. Paul were infringed upon by the law officers, in that he should not have been subjected to degrading treatment reserved for non-citizens. He had been flogged and detained based on trumped charges by a mob. When he asserted his rights, the officials involved had to beg to avoid sanctions.
Those who are in authority and in the armed forces should avoid arrogance and disrespect to God and His word. When Ahaziah the king of Israel fell down from his upper chamber, he sent messengers to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron to find out if he would recover from his injuries. This was idolatry, and was contrary to the law of God. (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 18:10-12) Two captains leading two separate bands of fifty soldiers each, who were directed by the king to arrest Elijah, spoke roughly and arrogantly to the prophet, for which reason, he commanded fire to come down from heaven and destroy them and their men. However, the third commander used discretion by presenting the message with humility and respect to God and His servant and was spared. (2 Kings 1:3-6) The story shows the benefits of humbling oneself before God and of being courteous and discrete, even if one is following orders. – Colossians 4:6.
Nobility of spirit
In the course of his ministry, John the Baptist charged those in the armed forces, to resist the temptation to use force to grab material benefits from people. He told them: “…Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages”. (Luke 3:14) The law of God says: “Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.” – Exodus 23:7.
To ensure that Israelite soldiers when they went to war abstained from acts of cruelty, God Almighty directed Moses to wit: “When the host goeth forth against thine enemies, then keep thee from every wicked thing”. (Deuteronomy 23:9) Examples there are in the Bible of officers of the law who did their duty and safeguarded the health and life of people. Reference had earlier been made of the Chief Captain who, “fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle”. (Acts 23:10) The point is that they acted fast to safeguard St. Paul from being killed without trial, hence they took him into protective custody. There was a time forty Jews conspired and “banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul”. When the chief captain heard this “… he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night; The soldiers, following orders given them, brought Paul by night to Governor Felix at Caesarea. – Acts 23:12, 13, 23, 33.
Moreover, but for the nobility of spirit shown by the centurion taking St. Paul and other prisoners to Rome, several prisoners would have been killed when they suffered shipwreck, “And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land”. – Acts 27:42, 43.
The case of the centurion in the time of our Lord Jesus Christ who came begging for Christ to cure his servant who was sick of the palsy also bears recalling. This officer showed an unusually high regard for his servant. He also had unusual faith in the power of Christ to heal him, even from a distance. Instead of his military background being a stumbling block to his faith in God, it only strengthened his confidence in the power of God. He reasoned that if human beings could give orders to one another, then the Saviour has greater authority to give the order for diseases or sicknesses to be cured – even from a distance. “When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” – Matthew 8:10.
All would give account
Knowing that we shall ultimately give account to God for our actions, those charged with enforcing the law should carry out their duties with the fear of God, whether in or out of uniform. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. See also Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10.
Brother Benedict Hart is an Executive Minister and Publicity Secretary of God’s Kingdom Society (GKS) the Church of the Living God