Drawing on the example of Saul’s murderous rage against the priests at Nob, Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) elucidates a qualification to what many argue is the plain teaching of Romans 13:1-7. Thus, while obedience to rulers is the general expectation of believers, when the rulers disobey the word of God, then their commands to act against God should be disobeyed.
Commentary on 1 Samuel 22
Here an unalterable rule applies: “We should obey God rather than men.” For this reason, if an authority commands us to act against God, we should not obey, but should act like the three men in Babylon who refused to worship the idols or countenance idolatry, even though King Nebuchadnezzar had proclaimed a frightful command regarding it. As the worthy soldiers connected with the tyranny of Saul would not murder the innocent priest Ahimelech, the other priests, and their pious wives and children, even though Saul had commanded them to do it, so are we to act now. If the great lords command us to keep untrue doctrine and idolatry, we should not obey such commands. We should not assist in the murdering of the innocent or of Christians on account of their confession of the gospel, as many of the learned do by remaining silent because of fear. Such murder, along with such hypocrisy, will receive the terrible punishment of which Christ speaks in Matthew 23:35, “That on you may come all the righteous bloodshed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel on . . .”, for the Son of God will judge, and will hurl all the godless into eternal punishment.
1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles, ed. Derek Cooper and Martin J. Lohrmann, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT vol. 5, p. 106.
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