2018 began with leaders of two powerful nations referring to the power of the button. Their speeches exuded dominance, control and supremacy. Claims of a bigger, more powerful button reflect the confidence of self- sufficiency, pride and superiority.
For me 2018 began by reading the stories of three powerful leaders in history recorded in the Bible: Pharaoh, King Nebuchadnezzar and King Cyrus.
I was struck by what God says about these three, the most powerful men on Earth at that time.
‘I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.’ (Exodus 14:4)
‘I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.’ (Jeremiah 27:6)
“Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please.’” (Isaiah 44:28)
The Glory of the King
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the shortest route through the Philistine country. Instead, he led them toward the Red Sea. Yet when Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, the Lord drove the sea into dry land. The waters were divided. Even the Egyptians who pursued the Israelites cried out, ‘the Lord is fighting for them’. Pharaoh had great glory on the throne in Egypt. But when the Egyptians faced the power of the Almighty God, Pharaoh’s glory dissipated into nothingness.
The glory of God not only instils a holy fear, it also demonstrates God’s unfailing love and redemptive power for the whole world. God has not forsaken or forgotten Egypt. According to God’s promise, one day Egypt will become a blessing to the world along with Israel.
‘So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and keep them… In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.’
(Isaiah 19: 21-24)
Egypt along with other nations and peoples will worship God, glorifying and fearing him. God does not forget even the most oppressive nation. God gains glory for himself through some of the most unexpected political powers of the world, and he will do it whenever he pleases according to his purpose.
A Servant Humbled
Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king. God gave him sovereignty and greatness, glory and splendour. Because of this high position nations and people of every language dreaded and feared him. He put to death, spared, promoted, and humbled as he saw fit. Nebuchadnezzar had absolute power and he was ruthless and unpredictable.
It seems unfathomable that God would use such an unpredictable king to carry out his judgement against his servant Israel. But for his own righteousness, God did the impossible.
“Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations…This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”
God called Nebuchadnezzar to carry out His purpose. Israel was humbled by God’s judgement for her disobedience.
Not only did God humble Israel, but in the end Nebuchadnezzar was put to judgement as well. When Nebuchadnezzar spoke with arrogance, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built…by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’ (Daniel 4:30), he was driven away by God from the people and lived with the wild animals. Only when he acknowledged God’s sovereign dominion was his sanity restored.
In Revelation, Babylon is referred to as the ‘Great and Mighty’ city five times. Yet each time there is also the solemn picture of fallen Babylon. The last mention of Babylon and her fall ends with an exclamation of God’s victory.
“After this, I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.”
All nations or peoples who are proud, though mighty and powerful, will be humbled. God will fulfil his purpose through whomever he chooses.
A Shepherd Leading Us Home
Throughout the Scriptures, God is concerned about those in captivity. God hears their cries, sees their misery, their pain and suffering. He comes down to rescue from the oppressors. In his sovereignty he raised up Cyrus from the powerful kingdom of Persia to set the captives free.
‘I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free.’
God, who is the Shepherd of his people, granted Cyrus a shepherd’s heart to fulfil his promise.
Not only did God move the heart of King Cyrus, he also moved the heart of priests and Levites to lead the people home.
‘Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.’
The world is desperately in need of leaders who can lead the people ‘home’, to places of safety and security. Yet ultimate safety and security is only possible as we look to the sovereign Lord of the heaven and the earth, the good Shepherd who has laid down his life for his sheep. We cry out to him, ‘Wherever he leads, I will follow. I shall not fear.’
Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus were powerful and fearful leaders. Yet, under God’s sovereign rule, they came under God’s judgement, became God’s servants and deliverers.
The world is fearful of mighty men who control the big button. Yet, how much more should we fear the One who is far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come?