5 Political Lessons From Babylon

9033698-politics-magnifying-glass-over-background-with-different-association-terms-vector-illustrationWith the primary election just completed here in Missouri and the general election on the not-too-distant horizon, the political season is in full swing.

(Slumps shoulders. Issues long, melancholy sigh.)

I like politics. I find politics to be really interesting. And I very much believe in the importance of politics. But for a variety of reasons and at multiple levels, I’ve found myself discouraged about the state of our political landscape quite a bit lately.

Which is why I’ve found spending time in the Old Testament book of Daniel over the last few weeks to be really helpful. The book centers around the title character, a Jew from Jerusalem taken into exile by the conquering Babylonian empire. As we’ve discussed its first four chapters in a Sunday morning connections class at The Crossing, I’ve been reminded of several important truths, including:

1. Things may look bad, but God is at work.

The historical situation in which Daniel and his fellow Jews find themselves is anything but enviable. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Jerusalem—their home—and forcibly removed them to his own city. And not only that, but he’d pressed Daniel and his three friends into a training program that would prepare them to be servants of his regime. Things could hardly look more discouraging and hopeless.

And yet as the story unfolds, we see evidence pile up that God is not removed from the situation or caught off guard by the unfolding events. Rather, he is fully and powerfully present with his people and sovereignly at work advancing his good plan.

2. God puts rulers in charge (and he can easily remove them).

Three times in Daniel 4 we’re told in no uncertain terms that “the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” (v. 17, see also vv. 25, 32). I find this both challenging and encouraging all at once. On the one hand, it forces me to acknowledge that even reprehensible rulers are put in place in the service of God’s ultimate purposes, painful though their presence might be for his people at the time.

On the other hand, it means that God can easily humble any person in authority, as he does in ch. 4 with the vain and ruthless Nebuchadnezzar, perhaps the most powerful man in the known world at the time. This is good news for anyone who desires leaders to be humble and just.

3. God’s people are often called to engage with difficult people in a difficult culture.

It’s easy to survey our own political landscape and become discouraged by many things: the many temptations for those involved, an all-too-frequent lack of character, the opposition to a biblical Christian worldview on many fronts, and so on.

And yet our day is in many ways tame compare to what Daniel and his friends would have experienced in their own time. Even so, God called these men to serve and seek the good of the very empire that had brought so much hardship and grief into their own lives (Daniel even shows concern for Nebuchadnezzar; see 4:19, 27). And while their service in these circumstances wasn’t unqualified (see below), it should make us think twice about adopting a hermit’s attitude toward our own culture.

4. God’s people are still called to remain faithful.

Engagement isn’t meant to be synonymous with spiritual compromise. When forced to choose where to place their ultimate allegiance, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to defy the king, even if it meant their deaths (Dan. 3:16-18). And Daniel didn’t shy away from speaking truth to Nebuchadnezzar that challenged his seemingly great glory and power. Not only so, but he encouraged the king to repent of his injustices (see chs. 2 and 4).

5. God always wins in the end.

It’s appropriate to lament political developments that run contrary to God’s kingdom. But we must never lose sight of the fact that God is playing a much longer and more involved game than we can grasp. And in his good timing, he will always win. When all is said and done, only one kingdom will remain standing, a glorious, eternal kingdom not made by human hands (see Dan. 2). That fact should strengthen our allegiance to that kingdom and give us great hope during the inevitable ups and downs of political life in our own day.

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