NEVER speak ‘EVIL’ about PEOPLE in AUTHORITY! And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him (Paul) on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?" And those who stood by said, "Do you revile God's high priest?" Then Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'” (Acts 23:2-5)
When Apostle Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin, in order to substantiate his innocence, he prefaced his remarks with a statement that throughout his life he had lived with a good conscience before God. Sitting among the members of the Sanhedrin was the High Priest Ananias; a brutal and violent man, greedy, open to bribes and was a collaborator with the Roman echelon. He was infuriated by Paul’s statement as he looked on Paul as an apostate from the Jewish religion. How could one who had turned from Judaism to Christianity claim such innocence?
So, Ananias ordered that the prisoner be slapped on the mouth (which also had happened to Jesus: see John 18:20–23); an extremely unjust order since Paul’s trial had only just started. According to Jewish law, Paul had to be tried and found guilty before being punished. Thus, Ananias’s command violated Jewish law, which required judgment to be executed with fairness and justice (see Deut. 25:1, 2).
In his defense, Paul said that nothing he had done was contrary to the will of God revealed in the Old Testament. Specifically, his Christian beliefs and conduct did not compromise his Jewish heritage. Paul however reacted indignantly and uttered a prophecy of Ananias’s judgment that God would strike him for being such a whitewashed wall (Matt. 23:27, 28). Outwardly the High Priest seemed righteous and just; but inwardly he was corrupt. Professing to judge others according to the law, here he commanded Paul to be struck contrary to the law. History reveals that Ananias was later assassinated by a Jewish mob in A.D. 66 for his pro-Roman activities!
For any number of reasons, Paul may not have known that the person who commanded the soldier to strike him was the High Priest. The Sanhedrin had been assembled on short notice and perhaps Ananias was not wearing his official robes. It may even be that he was not occupying the seat customarily assigned to the High Priest. Whatever the reason, Paul had not intentionally spoken evil of the duly constituted ruler. It was Ananias who was out of line when he had Paul slapped; but Paul showed respect for the office that God had installed.
However, those who heard Paul were shocked by his scathing rebuke. Did he not know that he was speaking to the high priest? However, Paul did not defend his behavior, but rather repented of it. When told that he had unknowingly insulted the High Priest, he quickly apologized for his words, quoting Exodus 22:28: “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” This shows that Paul subjected himself to God’s revealed will…he had nothing to hide and his conscience was clear!
This brings us to the lesson for today: we should never speak evil about people in authority. In our day and time, we may have civic leaders (like Presidents, Governors, Senators, Legislators, Judges, state/city officials, etc.), or, religious leaders (like Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers, etc.) who are ungodly and corrupt. Since all authority flows down from God, and they are appointed by God for a reason, we should neither resist nor speak evil against the authority figures appointed over us. Rather, we should earnestly pray for them that God would guide them to take the right decisions and that God would use them as effective instruments to implement His will upon the earth!