Daily Archives: November 27, 2010

A Tale Of Two Kings or Heeding The Writing On The Wall

Early in our marriage, I endured a two-year period plagued by multiple jobs, persistent unemployment, and poverty. Any extra income was directed toward diapers for our newborn daughter and medical expenses for her persistent ear infections. In fact, Anna’s ear problems required two sets of tubes and two ear drum surgeries. In order to pay for the expenses, I cashed out what little retirement we had, paying severe penalties to the government.

I count myself among the many who have stood at the edge of the downward spiral and looked down. Without a supportive extended family system, we would have fallen in. It was frightening.

During that time, I opened my Bible looking for solace and read about King Saul’s many troubles. It seemed like God was against him. I was incensed. God, why were you so deadset against Saul? I asked.

Then I opened the book of Job and read about the righteous man’s many sufferings. My anger against God grew into a raging fire. We’re toast! I yelled at God. You can do whatever you want and you have no one to answer to. You don’t even care. I felt like God was dangling me over the fire and enjoying himself as he watched me burn.

At the end of the two year period, I enrolled at Fuller Seminary a thousand miles away in Pasadena, California. Looking back, I laugh at the fact that I chose to study theology while I was intensely angry at God.

Then December 1, 1991 (almost 19 years ago to the day of this post), I read a tale of two kings: Nebuchadnezzar and his son Belshazzar.

One day King Nebuchadnezzar was admiring his kingdom and taking credit for his exploits when God drove him into the wilderness where he lived like a wild animal. God told the king he would remain until “until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes (Daniel 4:32).”

After spending seven years in the wilderness, after being humiliated before his fellow Babylonians, here’s what Nebuchadnezzar announced to his people:

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Daniel 4:37

Rather than voice his bitterness toward God, the king exalted God and commented that “everything he does is right and all his ways are just.”

In the next chapter, Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar is sitting on the throne. He’s wining and dining his guests, reveling in his glory when a finger begins writing on the wall. Four words appeared in an indiscernible language. Belshazzar was terrified by the experience, and worse yet, he couldn’t decipher what the words meant. Daniel was brought in who interpreted the words, which were written in Hebrew.

Daniel began by reminding Belshazzar about his father King Nebuchadnezzar. God sent him into the fields, Daniel explained, because his heart had become hardened with pride.

“You, O king, haven’t learned from your father,” the prophet confessed. Then he interpreted the four words on the wall: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin. Literally, the words meant, “numbered, numbered, weighed, divided.” Daniel told him, “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:26-28).

That night, Belshazzar’s life came to a violent end.

As I compared the two kings’ stories, I had a life-changing realization:

First, God hates pride. Nothing strikes deeper at the heart of God than when we take credit for what he has done.

Second, God may allow pain to come into our lives in order to weed out pride’s insidious tentacles. It isn’t an act of punishment, it’s an act of mercy. He does this because he loves us and desires an unhindered relationship with us.

Third, only God has the right to define what is just. This last point hit me particularly hard. In his mercy, God had sought to weed out my pride and independence. But instead of turning to God, I had turned away from him, assuming he was unjust. But what right did I have to define justice? Justice is defined by God’s actions, not my opinions. In my arrogance, I had defined justice. Any time I define the meaning of justice, I miss the mark entirely. Yet Nebuchadnezzar said, “Everything he does is right and all his ways are just” (Daniel 4:37). God cannot act unjustly.

Instantly, my anger melted away and I asked God to forgive me of my arrogance. Pride still rears its ugly head in my life and I still encounter hardships and struggles, but this I know: God is good. God is just. And because of this, I can trust him.

And you can too.

TODAY’S READING

Daniel 4:1-5:31
2 Peter 1:1-2:22
Psalm 119:97-128
Proverbs 28:17-20

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Peter 1:1-2:22. Peter wrote his second epistle in order to address false teaching in the church. He likely wrote this letter shortly before he was martyred. This is one of my favorite passages in Scripture:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires
2 Peter 1:3–4

God has already given you everything you need to live and enjoy the life he has called you to. Because Christ lives in you, you can participate in the divine nature. You’re not God, but God can live through you!

Psalm 119:97-128. Verses 98-100 tell us that simply knowing God’s word makes us wiser than our enemies, wiser than our teachers, and wiser than our elders. Our reading below in Proverbs offers us a great example of this.

While reading Psalm 119 the thought occurred to me that the word of God does a great job of warning us about potholes that lie in our way. Verse 105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” God’s word makes us aware of sin so we can avoid becoming enslaved by it’s addictive grip. It also helps us free ourselves from it, although doing so requires so much more work than avoiding sin before it takes root.

Proverbs 28:17-20. Promises of financial independence roam freely on Saturday morning television. Years ago I chased some of those dreams only to discover the reality of Proverbs 28:19-20: “He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty. A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.”

I once attended an online marketing seminar that sold business opportunities for $5,000 apiece. After the presentation, probably 50 people crowded around the cashier to give their money away. My dad, who accompanied me, asked the presenter what percent of the people in line would actually make a profit on the business venture. “Oh, one or two,” he replied. Yep! Proverbs is right.

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CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Do you struggle believing God is good and just? Why or why not?
  3. Who defines what is just in your life?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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