Monday, February 19, 2018

God's Way to Greatness

There are many paradoxes in the kingdom of God, as I have stated in my article Paradoxes of the Kingdom of God. One of those is God's way to greatness. It's quite contrary to the world's way to greatness. In the world, men step on others in order to put themselves up higher, as they climb the ladder of success. Men make it their aim to be great and aspire to positions of power. They love the praise and recognition of men, and seek after it, rather than the praise that comes from God. They seek to please men rather than God and flatter others to their own advantage. But this is not so in the kingdom.

Let's look at some examples in Scripture of those who followed God's path to greatness. I have chosen to highlight the only seven Hebrews recorded in Scripture who at one time held positions of authority in secular government. I chose these as my examples, rather than those who were kings in Israel, because holding positions of authority in secular government has more relevance to the people of God today, since there is currently no nation on earth with a theocratic government under the one true God, and we essentially all live under secular governments.

We begin with Joseph. Although God showed him through dreams that he would rule over his parents and brothers, they didn't believe it. And since his brothers were jealous, because he was the favorite of his father, they threw him into a pit. But they later changed their minds and sold him to Midianite traders. Then the traders who brought him down to Egypt sold him as a slave to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard.

While he was serving in Potiphar's house, Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him. But because he was a man of integrity and refused to go to bed with her, she lied to her husband and falsely accused Joseph of trying to sleep with her. This got him put in prison. So as you can see, he was not taking steps to become a ruler, he was living for the Lord at any cost, regardless of the consequences.

Then because of his godly character, the prison warden put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners. No matter where Joseph went, he was always promoted by God. This shows us that no matter how the enemy tries to push you down, when you live a godly life for the Lord and walk in integrity, He will always see that you do well. It's the Lord who exalts you, not yourself.

Due to Joseph's gift of interpreting dreams, he eventually interpreted dreams for the baker and the cup bearer for Pharaoh, who had both been put in prison with him. He said that the king would put the baker to death and restore the butler to his position, and he asked the butler to remember him, when all went well. Although the butler did not remember Joseph initially, he did remember Joseph later when the king had a dream and needed someone to interpret it.

Joseph was brought forth from prison to interpret the Pharaoh's dream, which he did correctly. The Lord gave him wisdom to know that the dream meant there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Therefore, he was promoted and became second in command only to Pharaoh, and he was put in charge of the national grain program to stockpile and prepare for the famine. He did so well at it that it not only saved the nation during the famine, which did come as he predicted, but it even helped his own family back in the land of Canaan as well.

During the famine that eventually spread across the whole region, when his father Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent his sons there to buy grain and bring it back to feed their families. When they appeared before Joseph in Egypt, while not recognizing him as their brother, they bowed before him just as God had previously shown him as a young man through dreams that they would one day do so. The brothers who had hated him, thrown him into a pit, and sold him to traders, were now bowing in fear at his feet.

When Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, they were shocked and wondered if he would use his power to take revenge on them for the way they had treated him earlier in life. However, he assured them that his being there was by divine design. He said, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt." (Gen 45:8).

At Pharaoh's command, his whole family was then allowed to move to Egypt and remain there with him, which ultimately saved their lives. Only God could do this. And this shows that it was not something that Joseph actively sought after. Rather it was a fulfillment of God's purpose for Joseph.

Another example is Daniel. He was endowed by God with good looks, wisdom, an aptitude for learning, and a noble birth. He was well-informed and quick to understand. By divine appointment, he was also among the exiles of Israel that were carried off to Babylon. Therefore, when the Babylonian king had the chief of his court officials select men with these qualifications to serve in his palace, Daniel was among those selected.

Yet Daniel did not go along with the program without raising objections. He refused to eat the king's meat and drink the king's wine. Using his tact and wisdom, he negotiated with the chief official to exempt him and the other three Hebrew young men -- Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, from eating the royal food and drinking the king's wine. He got permission to let them eat only vegetables for ten days and drink only water.

At the end of the ten days, they were found to be looking healthier and better nourished than any of the other young men who had eaten the royal food.

"To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus." (Dan 1:17-21).

So all the glory goes to God for their opportunity to serve in the king's court. And later when the king had a dream, he wanted his magicians and wise men not only to interpret it, but to tell him the dream itself. None of them could do that, so the king decided to kill them all. But Daniel and the three other Hebrews fasted and prayed for divine intervention, and God gave Daniel both the dream and its interpretation. As a result, his life and the lives of the three Hebrew young men with him were spared.

"Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court." (Dan 2:28-29).

All the glory goes to God for their promotion to these high positions in the Babylonian government, because they were not seeking these positions. In fact, due to the king's decision to kill all the wise men, they would have been put to death along with the others, if God had not intervened. So it was the Lord who promoted them.

Once Daniel was in his high position as the third highest ruler, he did not compromise his faith. He remained true to the Lord all the way. When King Nebuchadnezzar became proud and had a dream, the Lord gave Daniel the interpretation. Even though the dream meant that the king would have to go through a terribly humiliating experience of being driven from men and living like an animal for seven years, Daniel did not fail to give him the message. He could have sought to protect himself and only tell the king what he wanted to hear. But he spoke the truth and called upon the king to repent.

When King Nebuchadnezzar's son Belshazzar was having a banquet with his chief nobles, getting drunk, and saw a hand writing a message on the wall, Daniel was called upon to interpret the handwriting. It was the king's mother who suggested the king summon Daniel, because she remembered him. Again, Daniel did not hold anything back, but told the king what the Lord had decreed for him, because of his sin. He said:

“But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription." (Dan 5:22-24)

He told the king that God had numbered his days and brought his kingdom to an end. He told him that he had been weighed on the scales and found wanting. He told him that his kingdom had been divided and given to the Medes and Persians. Anyone else who was looking out for themselves would have been afraid to say such things. As a result, Daniel was once again promoted.

"Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom." (Dan 5:29). God kept rewarding Daniel for his faithfulness and obedience. That prophecy came true that night and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.

Daniel was a man of prayer, who prayed to God three times a day on his knees with the window open. When his enemies in government got a law passed that forbade anyone to pray to anyone but the king, they had the king throw Daniel into the lion's den. But Daniel prayed in the lion's den, and God sent His angel to shut the mouths of the hungry lions. As a result, the king was overjoyed and had Daniel's enemies, who had falsely accused him, thrown into the lion's den with their wives and children. Before they reached the floor of the lion's den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. "So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian." (Dan 6:28).

So once again we can see that Daniel refused to compromise with the world, and kept up his godly life of prayer, even when it became illegal to do so and meant being thrown into a lion's den. God was pleased to rescue him and be glorified through Daniel's life. So he prospered during that king's reign, as well as that of Cyrus. None of this was due to any efforts on Daniel's part to become a high ranking government official.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
I have already mentioned Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were known in Babylon as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They initially entered the king's service for the same reasons as Daniel, and not because they were seeking it. Later at Daniel’s request the king appointed them administrators over the province of Babylon.

Afterward they were tested when the king built an idol ninety feet tall and nine feet wide, and set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

"He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials to come to the dedication of the image he had set up. So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it." (Dan 3:2-3).

He ordered everyone there to bow before the idol as soon as they they heard the sound of the musical instruments being played. And the punishment was death for those who did not do so. The herald proclaimed, "Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Dan 3:6).

Of course, they did not bow down to the idol. They did not compromise their faith in God. The Lord commands us in His Word not to have any idols or bow down before them, and they determined to obey God at all costs. This brought attention to them in a negative way, and they were brought before the king. He gave them another chance to bow, but they maintained their position, refusing to do so. He became angry and reminded them that if they did not bow to his idol they would be thrown into the blazing furnace.  Their response was not politically correct, and they did not give in for a moment.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan 3:16-18).

They had faith that the Lord would deliver them from the king's hand, but even if He did not do so, they still refused to bow down to the idol he had set up. So the king had the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commanded his strongest soldiers to bind the three Hebrews and throw them into it. When they did so, the soldiers were killed by the heat, even though they themselves did not go into the furnace. But the three Hebrews remained alive walking around unbound and unharmed inside the furnace. And the king saw an angel inside there with them, whom he described as a fourth man that looked like a son of the gods.

Ultimately the king called them to come out of the furnace and he gave praise and glory to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. God had rescued them and the king acknowledged it. Scripture records:

"So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them."

"Then Nebuchadnezzar said, 'Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.' Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon." (Dan 3:26b-30)

It is obvious from this passage that they were certainly not seeking positions of power or trying to do all the right things in the eyes of the king to get promoted. In other words, they were not trying to be popular or score points with the king. In fact, they defied the king's command, and were willing to die for it rather than worship any god but their own God. Amazingly, as a result of this the king promoted them further. That's a wonderful example of God's way to greatness.

Esther and Mordecai
Another wonderful example is Esther, who was among the Jews living in exile. She was raised by her cousin Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, when her father and mother had died. It happened that the queen wife of King Xerxes there so displeased the king that he banished her from his presence and needed to find another wife. A search was made throughout his kingdom for beautiful young virgins to be gathered into a harem for him to choose from, and Esther was among those selected. She pleased the eunuch in charge of the harem and won his favor, following his advice in all that she did.

After a rigorous, final selection process, she was ultimately chosen by the king to be his wife, for by the grace of God she had a lovely figure and was beautiful. "Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti...But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up." (Esther 2:17,20).

Meanwhile, Mordecai, who used to sit at the king's gate, happened to discover that two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway had become angry with the king and were plotting to assassinate him. Mordecai reported this plot to Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving Mordecai the credit. This ultimately saved the king's life, who had the two guards executed for their treachery. All this was recorded in the annuls in the king's presence.

At the same time, there was in that kingdom a certain evil man named Haman, who was highly favored by the king. The king honored him and gave him a seat of honor higher than all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king's gate bowed down to him when he passed by, since the king had ordered it, except for Esther's adoptive father Mordecai, who was not a royal official and refused to do so. This infuriated Haman, who did not realize Mordecai was related to Esther. When Haman discovered that Mordecai was a Jew, he passed a law with the king's approval to kill all the Jews in the kingdom on a certain day. He did not realize that Queen Esther was a Jew, too.

"When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly." (Esther 4:1). When Esther's eunuchs and female attendants reported this to her, she was in great distress. So she sent one of the king's eunuchs assigned to attend her to go and find out what was bothering Mordecai and why. Mordecai sent word back to her through the eunuch about Haman's evil plot against the Jews, and he asked her to go into the king's presence and beg for mercy for her and her people.

Although she did not want to risk going before the king without being summoned by him, since that was against the law and punishable by death, Mordecai persuaded her to do so, suggesting that this could be the very reason why God had brought her to her position of royalty. He sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:12-14)

Queen Esther then requested that Mordecai and all the Jews in Susa fast and pray for three days for her. She also agreed to fast as they did, before she would seek an audience with the king about the matter. She made up her mind to do so, even if it would cost her life. Her attitude was, "If I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16b). After the three days, she entered the king's presence, and he extended his royal scepter, which meant that she was welcome to approach him. When he asked to know what her request was, she very carefully and wisely invited the king to a banquet that she had prepared for him and Haman, his royal official.

She held the banquet over a period of two days, during which time it just so happened that the king could not sleep, and at his command his attendants read to him from the chronicles. They just so happened to come across the part documenting how Mordecai had uncovered the assassination plot that saved his life. Just as the king discovered that nothing had ever been done to honor Mordecai, Haman was entering his court, but did not know what the king had just been discussing. So the king asked Haman what should be done for the man the king delighted to honor. Haman assumed the king was talking about none other than Haman himself, so he recommended an elaborate ceremony for the man the king delighted to honor. The king then ordered Haman to do for Mordecai the very things he recommended. This humiliated and further infuriated Haman so much that he followed the advice of his wife to build a gallows seventy-five feet high, on which to hang Mordecai.

Meanwhile, by the second day of the banquet that Esther held for the king and Haman, the king was very eager to know what it was that Esther wanted, and he promised in advance to grant it to her, even up to half the kingdom. Esther eventually told the king about Haman's evil plot to destroy her and all her people. This infuriated the king, who left the banquet hall and went out into the garden. Haman knew the king had decided to kill him, so he fell on the couch where Esther was laying, in order to beg for his life. Just then the king returned from the garden to find him in that position, which appeared as if he were attempting to molest the queen. The king was told that Haman had prepared a gallows on which to hang Mordecai, the very man whose intelligence report had once saved his own life from the assassination plot. So the king ordered that Haman be hanged on his own gallows and he was immediately executed. After that the king's fury subsided.

"That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came into the presence of the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her. The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate." (Esther 8:1-2). So the tables were turned, and the destruction that Haman intended for Mordecai and the Jews came upon himself, while the honor, wealth, and authority that had belonged to him was given instead to Esther and Mordecai.

Then when Esther begged the king to do something about Haman's evil plot to destroy all the Jews, he authorized her and Mordecai to issue a decree and seal it with his own signet ring to avert the disaster, which Modecai did. Not only did the edict make it illegal for anyone to kill the Jews, but it authorized the Jews in every city "to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder the property of their enemies." (Esther 8:11, NIV). Thus Esther and Mordecai administered justice, and the Jews were spared from annihilation.

"When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration." (Esther 8:15, NIV).  God was truly glorified by this whole turn of events, including Mordecai's rise to power as second in rank to the king.

The account of Esther and Mordecai ends with these words: "King Xerxes imposed tribute throughout the empire, to its distant shores. And all his acts of power and might, together with a full account of the greatness of Mordecai, whom the king had promoted, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews." (Esther 10:1-3)

Only God, who has lifted up the humble, could do this. And this shows that it was not something that either Esther or Mordecai actively sought after in any way. Rather it was God's fulfillment of His purposes for them.

Putting it All Together
Therefore, in the accounts of all seven of these godly Hebrews, who held very high positions of authority in secular government, we see a common theme. They were not seeking to be great or to hold government positions. Rather they were seeking to live godly lives, refusing to compromise, walking with integrity, in obedience to God's commands, and the Lord is the one who exalted them in due time. He did so in each case for a specific purpose that brought glory to His name and saved many lives.

Joseph went from the pit to Potiphar's house, and from the prison to the palace. Daniel went from being an exile to administering justice as the third highest ruler in the kingdom. He was a man of prayer, in whom no fault could be found, whose faith shut the mouths of lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego also went from being exiles to being administrators in the province of Babylon. They refused to compromise or bow down to an idol, and God brought them out of the blazing furnace. Their faith quenched the fury of the flames.

Esther went from being an orphaned exile to a queen. Mordecai went from being a persecuted minority to second in rank to the king. They were both humble people of prayer, who loved God and loved their neighbors as themselves, who risked their lives for the sake of others. They were both godly people, whom God elevated to positions of greatness in a secular government, where they were able to use their authority to save many lives. They worked for the good of their people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews. Indeed it was for such a time as this that they we brought into the kingdom.

None of these people I have just highlighted set out to become rulers, but God had a plan for their lives to exalt them. The way He did so was something only He could do, and not something they could have manufactured or ever imagined. The same is still true for us today. The God of Joseph is the same today as He was then. If it is God's will for you to hold a top position of power in secular government, then He will bring it to pass in His timing, and it's not going to depend on your efforts. That should not be something you set your heart on. In fact, He may need to bring you through many afflictions beforehand, so don't be discouraged or dismayed if you find yourself in a pit, a prison, a fiery furnace, or amidst persecution.

The same goes for anyone who serves the Lord, because God has an amazing plan for your life, no matter who you are. It doesn't matter if you are destined to become a ruler or a lowly servant. Your part is to please the Father by seeking to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, being a man, woman or child of prayer, having faith in God and His Son Jesus Christ, obeying His commandments, and refusing to compromise. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time." (1 Pe 5:6, NIV). This is God's way to greatness.

Attribution notice: Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible NIV.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like reading Faithful in the Little ThingsParadoxes of the Kingdom of GodGod's Amazing Plan for Your Life, What is That in Your Hand?God Chooses the Weak ThingsSuccess in God's EyesThe Day of Small Things, Multiplying Your TalentsThe Beauty of BrokennessWhat is That in Your Hand?, Persecuted or Popular?, Walking in the Perfect Will of GodThe Ebb and Flow of Ministry for the Lord, Whatever You Do, Do All Like ThisThe Kingdom of God is Like This, and Having a Servant's Heart. For more articles like this one, please see the Home Page of this blog. You can also find my complete collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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