In Matthew 20:25-28 we see our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ giving a clear contrast between two approaches to government, the ways of this world (and Satan) and the way of Jesus Christ. Matthew 20:25-28 reads as follows: “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know how the rules of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
If we aspire to lead in a godly fashion, we must be carefully able to distinguish between these two approaches to leadership and to reject the ways of this world and to model the ways of God in our behavior. Since all of us here aspire to be leaders of ourselves, leaders of families, and leaders within our communities and institutions, I therefore thought it worthwhile for us to see biblical examples of these two approaches to government so that we might be able to see and tell the differences between the two, and so that we might be able to reject the ways of Satan and to choose the ways of God, however difficult they may be to practice and however rare they might be in our experience. Today I would like to talk about the behavior of the rulers of the heathen, and in my next message I would like to provide positive examples of the government of God from scripture.
They Don’t Really Care About Us
Do most of the rulers of the heathen really care about the people? Not really. Certainly many of them want to be thought of as generous benefactors of the people, but when push comes to shove, and when their own insecurities are threatened, many rulers respond in fear and anger against the people that they should serve rather than responding with love. Whatever generosity many rulers will try to show in staged rituals of reconciliation is lacking in their hearts, as they imprison and kill those who speak truths that they cannot handle, and they steal from the people even while they desire to be thought of as generous benefactors to the people. Let us look at three examples that demonstrate the lack of concern that the many of rulers of the heathen have for their people.
Let us first briefly look at the warning given to ancient Israel when they wanted a king, when Samuel the prophet warned the people of Israel about the way their king would behave in 1 Samuel 8:10-18. 1 Samuel 8:10-18 reads: “So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants and your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his works. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”
Here we see that God did not want Israel to be ruled by a king like those of the heathen nations around them. As we will see in the second part of this message, God is not hostile to kings, but a godly king can only be a constitutional monarch with very limited powers held accountable by his citizens to the supreme law of the land. Any leader that does not accept being subject to the same law as everyone else cannot be a godly leader. Samuel warned the people of Israel, even though they did not listen, that the ruler that they chose would exploit them. Their rulers would tax the people of Israel, take the best of their lands (maybe as coerced “gifts” to the crown), and take the best of their servants and animals, all for their own selfish benefit. And yet even though they would have their own private and personal business, their own massive armies that serve their own interests and do not protect the common people, they would want to be seen as loving and generous rulers who have the best interests of the people at heart.
We see that the rulers of the heathen rule by fear because they themselves are afraid of the truth and of people bold enough to tell the truth to their supposedly immature and incompetent common folk. Let us see one example of this when we look at what Herod Antipas did with John the Baptist. Let us turn to Luke 3:19-20. Luke 3:19-20 reads: “But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him [John the Baptist] concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.” One of the ways we can recognize an evil ruler is the way they handle unpleasant truths and accept the authority of God’s law over their actions. A godly leader will accept rebuke when they are wrong, but an ungodly ruler will try to silence those who speak the truth and try to hold them as criminals, especially by throwing them into prison for offending the majesty and honor of the ruler. Where truth is not a defense against accusations of libel and lese majeste, one knows one is dealing with the rulers of the heathen and not godly rulers. Rulers who are afraid of the people act by throwing others in prison for speaking out against their sins and moral corruption.
But it is not only the property of the common people or the freedoms of loud-mouthed prophets that the rulers of the heathen do not respect, though, but even the privacy and dignity of their own wives. Respecting and honoring people means giving them the honor as it is felt by them, and not only how we ourselves would define respect. This is an area I know I struggle with myself. But a ruler of the heathen does not even attempt to show consideration and respect for the feelings of the others because of their own selfishness. We see this, for example, in the treatment by the Persian emperor Ahasuerus of his wife Vashti in Esther 1:10-18. Esther 1:10-18 reads: “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him. Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king’s presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom): “What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahaseurus brought to her by the eunuchs?” And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahaseurus. For the queen’s behavior will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahaseurus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.’ This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king’s officials that they have heard of the behavior of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath.”
Let us understand exactly how disrespectful King Ahaseurus treated Queen Vashti so that we understand how it is that heathen rulers are often governed by their own selfish lusts and not by any sense of decency and honor. After seven days of partying, when King Ahaseurus was drunk, he demanded that his wife come and show off her body, probably dressed only in her crown, to the officials and the ordinary people so that they could praise the king for his good taste in women. He had no concern at all for the privacy or dignity of his wife, only in his own pride and arrogance. Nowadays such a wicked ruler would show off his wife nearly naked at the birthday party for his French poodle or something like that. When the Queen refused the drunken request of the king, the King and his advisers, instead of accepting the rebuke and recognizing the honor and respect for privacy that was due to his wife as Queen, thought that this single act of disobedience would lead women all over the Persian empire to disrespect and dishonor their husbands. Although God providentially used this incident to make Esther the Queen of Persia, we cannot condone the wicked behavior of this king. After all, let us not forget how hypocritical it is for a king with a large harem of wives and concubines, and who felt no obligation to honor and cherish his chief wife, to demand his wife to be at his beck and call without any respect for her wishes. Let us be sure to show more respect ourselves as godly leaders for the wishes and privacy of others, even if it is sometimes difficult for us to do so.
Three Ways To Be Like The King Of Babylon
Having examined three ways that the rulers of the heathen do not treat others with respect, let us now turn our attention to three qualities that the rulers of the heathen greatly resemble the king of Babylon whose system they follow. Let us look at the anger, pride, and corruption of the rulers of the heathen, and see how such behaviors demonstrate that those rulers are following after the ways of Satan and not the ways of God. To the extent that we are in leadership positions, we must be very diligent to avoid these behaviors ourselves as leaders, and to encourage others to warn us when we appear to be indulging in any of these improper ways of leadership.
Let us first look at the problem of anger. The impatience and the expectations of immediate obedience often lead the tyrannical leaders of the heathen to act in rage rather than to properly measure their response in a rational way. Let us look at one example of this in Daniel 3:8-23. Daniel 3:8-23 reads: “Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews. They spoke and said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the gold image; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.” Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will delivery you from my hands?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.”
It is common for the rulers of the heathen to demand others to bow down to their images and to demand that others respect them as more than a man. The rulers of the heathen often give themselves grand and fancy titles that refer to their wisdom, to their enlightenment, to their special status as the Son of Heaven, and demand that others treat them and even their images with idolatrous regard so that people even bow to their pictures. And it is the common behavior of the rulers of the heathen to act with extreme anger when their every wish is not immediately obeyed, even if it is immoral or impossible for others to obey those wishes. While a godly ruler is willing to wait to gather the facts before making a decision, the rulers of the heathen are impatient and cruel, demanding full and instant obedience without mercy or consideration of anything else except for their own wishes. As a result, many people end up suffering because of the misplaced rage of the rulers of the heathen, who are unfit to govern others because they cannot control their own tempers. Only God knows the extent that we all have to struggle with our tempers, but at the same time those who do not even try to control their anger are unfit for positions of authority.
In addition to anger, another common problem with the heathen leaders of this world is pride. In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar was given a divine warning in a dream that he would be removed from power for seven years and was given the advice by Daniel to stop his sins, behave righteously, and to show mercy to the poor. Let us see how Nebuchadnezzar responded in Daniel 4:28-37. Daniel 4:28-37 reads as follows: “All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His Kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one of can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles restored to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.”
There are two lessons I would like to draw from this passage. First, let us note that Nebuchadnezzar brought judgment on himself by forgetting that all of his glory and majesty was a gift from God. He did not merit it; he did not earn it; he did not deserve it. Because he was selfishly concerned with his own honor and glory and forgot to give credit and gratitude to God, God took away his power, his wealth, his position, and even his reason and intellect for seven years until he learned to appreciate what God had given him. And the second lesson is that God gives power and positions to whomever He chooses. Ultimately, it does not matter if we are born into titles and power, or if we are elected into offices by the support of the people. Ultimately it is God who chooses leaders of nations and institutions by the covenants and constitutions that we agree upon with each other and with Him. Some leaders are raised up for our good, some for our evil, but it is not our place to insult or mock those whom God has placed in power, as hard as it may be to respect those we disagree with or even hate. And if we are chosen for positions of power and responsibility, it is not for our own glory or to fulfill our own personal ambitions, but to fulfill the purposes and plans of God, to whom we are all accountable.
Finally, let us examine a third quality of the rulers of Babylon and of the rulers of the heathen in general: their moral corruption and their lack of seriousness about their responsibilities. Daniel 5 tells the story of Belshazzar’s feast, where the crown prince of Babylon threw a party and profaned the holy things of God while his city was under siege, showing his unfitness for rule. Let us look at Daniel 5:1-7 and 25-31. First, let us look at Daniel 5:1-7, which reads: “Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone. In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other. The king cried aloud to bring his astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Let us now drop down to verses 25-31, which read: “And this was the inscription that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. This is the interpretation of each word. Mene: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; Tekel: You have been weighted in the balance, and found wanting; Peres: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and the Persians.” Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.”
Technically speaking, Belshazzar was not the King of Babylon, only the regent acting on behalf of his father. While his father was on a long religious pilgrimage in Tema in Arabia to worship the moon goddess, and while his sister was the chief priestess in Ur, setting up a museum to honor the artifacts of ancient Babylonian history, Belshazzar was made regent over Babylon. And instead of defending his realm and setting an example of godly moral conduct, he was a frivolous partier who had no respect or honor for the vessels of the temple of Solomon taken several decades previously by his ancestor Nebuchadnezzar. Instead of being a godly and serious king, he only wanted to drink and party and carouse with his wives and concubines, and as a result his kingdom was taken from him. This is a common failing of the rulers of the heathen, fiddling while Rome burns, having elegant masquerades and drunken parties in their palaces while their people suffer sullenly. Godly leaders are to set an example to their people of outgoing concern for others, rather than a selfish interest only in their own amusement. Let us make sure that we do not model any of these Babylonian behaviors of anger, pride, or immorality as leaders ourselves.
Today we have looked at six qualities of the rulers of the heathen that we are to avoid as leaders. Let us briefly review these qualities as we close today. First, the rulers of the heathen take the best of what the people have for their own private purposes instead of giving of their wealth and resources to the common people. Second, the rulers of the heathen attempt to silence those who speak unpleasant truths, often by throwing them into prison, instead of accepting the rebuke of the godly. Third, the rulers of the heathen do not respect the privacy of others, but only care about their own selfish lusts. Fourth, the rulers of the heathen often make rash decisions in anger because they lack consideration for others. Fifth, the rulers of the heathen are full of pride, taking credit for what was given to them by God as if they deserved and earned their power and wealth. Sixth, the rulers of the heathen do not take their responsibilities seriously, but rather seek after their own immoral amusement. These six qualities of the rulers of the heathen, whom we are commanded not to be like by the mouth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself, are qualities that we all must fight against within ourselves. In condemning these qualities, I do not wish to point the fingers at others with a feeling of smug superiority, for I know that I struggle myself with many of these problems on a daily basis. But rather, let us point out the standard that we are to avoid so that we might recognize and fight against those tendencies when we find them within ourselves. When we continue next time, we will focus on the positive models of Christ-like leadership that we are to model our own behavior after, to give us a vision of what kind of leaders we ought to be. Thank you for your time.