Every five years, as national elections draw near, discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of the various political parties abound. People around the country—Christians included—criticise each other’s choices and formulate their own opinions on which is the “correct” party to vote for, based on their assessment of the crucial issues at play. Wherever your particular political allegiance lies, there is a general feeling that, for things to improve in the country, change is necessary. “You can’t keep voting for the same political party and expect things to change. A twenty-plus year legacy speaks for itself.” Our hope for change, we might be tempted to think, lies in the election of a better ruling party.
Of course, this tendency is not unique to South Africans. Perhaps the most widely publicised elections in the world are those in the United States. During the 2016 campaign, many public figures vowed to move to Canada if Donald Trump won the election. Democratic campaigns warn solemnly of the absolute necessity of “defeating” Donald Trump in the 2020 elections, while Republican campaigns warn of the equal necessity of “defeating” Joe Biden. There seems to be no hope for the country if your favoured political party does not emerge victorious.
The mistake of trusting in political power is as old as human government itself and has always been a temptation that has plagued God’s people. In Psalm 33, the psalmist warns God’s people against this mindset. He urges them to remember that “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” (v. 10). Rather than being blessed because of a powerful political leader, nations are blessed in proportion to their allegiance to Yahweh (v. 12).
As today, ancient political power was displayed by wise diplomacy, military power, and gross national income. The temptation—then, as now—was to place confidence in those things. That is precisely why God warned the kings of Israel to not multiply wives, horses, or silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:16–17). Procuring foreign wives was a means of securing foreign alliances. Horses and chariots were symbols of military might. Silver and gold were forms of financial security. If God’s people found their security in those things, they would quickly forget the Lord who had delivered and who sustained them. Consequently, the psalmist reminded his readers, “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation and by its great might it cannot rescue” (vv. 16–17).
If the war horse is a false hope, what is a true hope for salvation and rescue? “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (vv. 18–22).
We live in a time in which we can be tempted to despair—and that was before the pandemic struck! We should absolutely hold government accountable for good governance. We should pray for an end to corruption and violent crime. We should allow our vote to reflect our allegiance in this regard. But even as we long for greater political stability, which we trust will result in greater economic stability, let us remember that our hope cannot lie in human rulers. If our hope lies in the war horse—the symbol of political strength—we will find that it is a false hope, which cannot rescue.
The psalmist reminds us that God is not only generally sovereign over creation but particularly sovereign nations and cultures. Even when instability is the result of poor or corrupt governance, we must remember that the solution is not ultimately a “better” political party. Our hope is in the Lord. Only a nation whose hope is in the Lord will be blessed (v. 12). As Christians, we have the key to true hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, let’s remember where true hope is found and do what we can to see that our friends and neighbours and family see hope in us that can only be explained by the gospel.