Here is a verse that was greatly misused by kings and rulers throughout the middle or dark ages. They would slightly misquote this passage and state that they had what is called, "the divine right of kings." This they then used to rule over people in a way that was totally contrary to what Scripture stated. Let's look at this issue - but also look at a balanced view of rulers and how God uses them in a nation to accomplish His purposes.
The misquote here was due to how the King James version rendered this verse. The KJV reads, "A divine sentence is in the lips of the king; his mouth transgresseth not in judgment." This was taken as meaning that the king cannot make an error in judgment - and that since a divine decision was in his mouth - he could not make mistakes. This bad doctrinal view was then used to state that no matter how wicked or ungodly a king was - his was a divine rite from God. The king was not to be questioned in any decision he made therefore, because it was God's decision when he said it. One can see how this bad exigesis led to horrific abuses by leaders. One can also see why so much resentment brewed toward the Roman Catholic Church because they supported this view. Part of their reasoning behind this was because if the king's decisions were divine, then that gave them the right to say that the church then would have to approve every king - and could depose them if excommunicated. Oh the power that was enjoyed unscripturally by so many who purported to be God's messenger. It was not until the reformation that this began to be corrected - and the divine rite of kings was reigned in by the proper understanding of this verse - as well as the whole counsel of the Word of God.
In order to understand this verse, we first need to grasp that Solomon is writing to kings here. The Word of God clearly states that no authority exists except that which is from God. Yet, this does not guarantee that all rulers will be godly or Christian. If that were the case we would have to wonder why God couldn't even get that to happen in Israel and Judah. God is not interested in an earthly kingdom (Jesus said as much in the gospels) but in saving a people for Himself - and for His coming kingdom in heaven. Thus the natural flow of sin and rebellion will even affect the social institutions of this world and the governments that rule over the affairs of men.
When Israel rejected God from being king over them - and cried out for a king, "like all the other nations," God warned them what this would bring. He warned them of the excesses and the danger of having one "man" over them. As a man, this king was just as affected by sin as anyone else. This is why God also instructed the king to write out a copy of the Law by hand - so that he would be reminded to obey the Lord and do according to everything that was written in God's Law. We read about all this in 1 Samuel 8 and Deuteronomy 17. The reason this is important for us to understand is that God knew they would ask for a king - and therefore he gave command before it ever happened how the king was to live - what was allowed and what was forbidden. When you read through Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, you see clearly where the kings veered off God's course and subsequently turned evil. At this point the king was still in authority - but his actions were clearly outside of God's will. Thus for someone to quote this proverb and say that a king could never err in judgment or in what he says is patently outside the scope of Scripture.
What is actually said here is that a divine decision is in the lips of the king and that he SHOULD NOT ERR in judgment. Solomon knew that great power came with the title of king. That power had tremendous consequences for individuals - but much more than that - for the future of an entire nation.
He may have remembered the case of the two harlots who came before him. They argued over which of their babies had died, and which was alive. God gave Solomon great wisdom as he commanded that the living baby should be cut in half and a half given to each women. One agreed, while the other who was the real mother, had compassion on her child and said to give it to the other woman rather than killing it. Solomon, filled with the wisdom of God, knew that the compassion of the one woman showed that it was her child. He then gave the command to give it to her - for it was her child. Everyone was amazed at this decision and knew God's wisdom was in him. In many ways this strengthened his power and authority among the people. They knew God was with him - and that he ruled with great caution to make the right decisions.
But Solomon also knew of his sins - how his heart was drawn away by foreign women. God commanded that His people not do this - because these women would turn them away from God to their false gods. Solomon ignored this command and did his own thing. He erred in judgment. The end of this was the eventual destruction of Israel. The more they turned from God the greater the judgment fell upon the nation. Truly as king he should not have erred in judgment.
Every leader on this earth should have this verse etched into his psyche. We have those today who say that there should be a separation of church and state. I agree with them if they mean that Congress should not establish a national denomination - or a national church run according to the dictates of the government. But what they have done is enforce the establishment clause of the first ammendment, but have completely ignored the fact that there is also a protection clause. They are never to prohibit the free exercise of religion - and our founders meant the Christian religion in particular. They said that a man was not fit to run for office if he was not a Christian. Our founders said that this nation was predicated on our ability to obey the 10 commandments. They knew that if God's Law reigned in our hearts (realizing it needed to rein in our hearts) that a plethora of human laws would not be necessary. We've rejected such things - and as a result - our leaders have rejected God's ways and Word. It really should be no great shock to us that the nation has and is declining. The worst aspect of this is that our president and Congress no longer look to God's Word for leadership. They think that they know what to do from their own thoughts and ways. This can lead no where except to disaster in the end.
Our President and Congress need to recapture what is said in this proverb. They have great power - and God tells His people to honor the power of their governing officials. But that power is not absolute. They are under the same Word of God as we are. They should not err in judgment as they rule over the people. When they do, they need to realize that their power is NOT absolute. God, who said we should obey them, is also the One who said that He raises up kings and overthrows them as well. In his divine providence He has seen nations rise up - and others destroyed and humbled. In the end we all will answer to Him. For some He may not do it as quickly as they want, but the fact remains that He ultimately rules over all the affairs of men. If only our current rulers would recognize this - our nation would turn around to a place of blessing under their leadership. But as long as they think they cannot err in their own judgment - we are probably not going anywhere good in our future as a nation.