The Good, the Bad, and the Complacent

Every society includes the good, the bad, and the complacent. Isaiah shows us what to be, and how. 

A small, fractious, religiously dominated country was paying tribute to a rich empire with an advanced military. In a fit of hubris, the oppressed people stopped sending their wagonloads of gold, hoping that a neighboring nation would come to their aid. The empire mobilized its forces and defeated the weak intervening armies of the neighboring nation. It then turned its greedy eyes and vengeful hands on the rebels.

This is a common story, recurring in every age and on every continent. In this case, the rebellious country was Judah, the empire was Assyria, and the intervening nation was Egypt. In 722 BC, the Assyrian king Sargon II invaded Israel, the northern kingdom of the Hebrew people, conquered it, and carried its inhabitants away. He continued south, forcing the remaining Hebrew kingdom, Judah, under King Ahaz, to pay heavy tribute. Ahaz died in 715 BC and his son, Hezekiah, reigned in his stead. In 703 BC, Hezekiah stopped the tribute payments, hoping that Egypt would guarantee Judah’s safety. The new Assyrian king, Sennacherib, invaded Judah, defeated a small Egyptian force, and began reducing the fortress cities of Judah.

Isaiah prophesied in Judah at this time. He warned Hezekiah and the court leaders about the rebellion, but once they had defied Assyria, Isaiah told them the outcome. If they would trust in God, rather than trusting in Egypt, their land would be abased, but Jerusalem and ultimately the nation would be saved (Isaiah 29-31). God Himself would destroy the Assyrians. Nonetheless, faced with the terrifying political situation, and probably a chorus of false prophets promising freedom, safety, and prosperity under Egyptian protection, Hezekiah made the alliance. Isaiah rebuked the leaders, but then turned his wrath against the upper class and even the commoners in Jewish society (Isaiah 32).

The Good

Many commentators have considered Isaiah 32 to be Messianic, describing the future kingdom of God under the direct rule of Jesus Christ. While true, it also illustrates the rule of just kings, just leaders, and the actions of just men wherever they may be found. Isaiah promised good leaders to the Hebrew people, and Hezekiah himself would dramatically improve when he chose to repent and follow God.

Few today are absolute rulers, and not many are presidents, prime ministers, generals, or chief executive officers. Nonetheless this passage applies to us all, because every manager, teacher, coach, pastor, and parent can become a better leader by pondering these words.

The good leader leads with righteousness and justice. The glory and enjoyment of God is his goal, and he intentionally aligns his life to these ends. He believes in the objective existence of right and wrong, and places himself under God’s standards. The good leader then provides justice for each person under his authority.

As a result, those who place themselves under the authority of such a leader find themselves protected from the frosty winds of circumstances. They find shelter from the storms of life, which buffet them with troubles, swamp their lives with confusion and fear, and ultimately sink them into despair and death. Servants of a righteous king will prosper under just rule – intelligence and industry will be fairly rewarded and the rich will not have undue advantage over the poor. Even when hard times do occur, as is inevitable in life, wise and just leadership will scale down the suffering, acting as streams in a dry country and shade in a parched land.

Perceptive people can be blinded by suffering, injustice, or pride. Under a righteous ruler, these people will see. Those who have a special ability to listen to the cries of the poor, the threats of enemies, and voice of God can become deaf from apathy, injury, or anger. Under a righteous ruler, these people will hear.  Citizens with a penetrating mind that solves mysteries, and those with a golden tongue that lightens the heart and sooths the soul, will find themselves fully able to use their gifts for the glory of God and the benefit of Man. Even more, those with weak minds will become stronger and those with stammering tongues will become fluent.

Aside from Jesus Christ, there is no perfect ruler. No man will completely fulfill all of these promises, and every man will fail at times from omission and commission. Nonetheless, Isaiah’s description of just rule is not just the goal but is the standard for every leader. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, we pursue perfection, knowing that in the pursuit we will gain excellence.

The Bad

The Hebrew words that Isaiah uses, “fool” and “rogue”, are closely related and may refer in this passage to the same person.  While the ruling classes of Judah had a few good men, many were evil, giving bad counsel to the king and more concerned with their own success than with the welfare of their nation or the glory of God. They warped words, calling the fool “noble” and the rogue “generous”.

What was true in ancient Judah is no less true today. A philandering president defends himself by asking “what the definition of is is” while a major presidential candidate compromises US national security for the sake of her own political ambition. Legislators force people of different biological sexes to share bathrooms, and “tolerant” colleges cannot tolerate anyone who opposes their neo-Marxist (materialist, collectivist, atheist, and violent) agenda. Advertisers tell us that we “deserve” everything that our heart desires, and philosophers tell us that we as humans are the measure of morality and the judge of all things. Even as the serpent in the Garden, the fool thinks that he is god, and that we are too.

As a result, the fool spends his time arguing rather than working, and protesting instead of serving. He is too busy “fighting for the rights of others” that he has no time to give a piece of bread to the starving, or a moment of comfort to the dying. The fool’s attractive but vapid arguments glorify himself, and yet defraud the poor and oppressed that he claims to love.

The rogue is either the same person as the fool, or someone worse. His weapons are physical, mental, and spiritual, and he uses them for evil. Not satisfied with afflicting the underprivileged passively and by omission, the rogue preys on the unfortunate, actively and by commission. Modern rogues manipulate the stock market, traffic in sex slaves, and swindle the elderly. Then they use unscrupulous lawyers to defend their wicked ways with fine sounding arguments. In the modern USA as in ancient Israel, rogues fear neither God nor man, and will face a bitter reckoning.

The Complacent

The majority of Israelites in Isaiah’s day were neither kings nor rogues; they were average people living day to day, just like most of those in modern America. While Isaiah dedicated only three verses to the fool and the rogue, he dedicated six verses to rebuke these people, because in the pursuit of their interests, they had become “the complacent.” Isaiah specifically addressed his accusations to women, but in Israel some men fit this description and in the West many men do.  Unlike in many other passages, the prophet predicted precisely when this judgment would begin, “within a year and a few days.”

Society as they knew it would be crippled. Crops would fail, and wine production would cease. Thorns and briars would replace grain and other food crops. Joy would flee from houses and villages. The structure of society would collapse, and the governing authorities would be taken away (“palace abandoned”). Disorder would prevail, and no one would remain to make and enforce laws, build and maintain public works, and judge between conflicting parties. Without a functional society, people would scatter, and the population centers would be vacant.  Goats and donkeys would enjoy the ruins of former places built to defend a proud nation. The women of Judah, used to prosperity, beauty, and security, would mourn.

What does this mean for people in 2017? The Western world remains powerful, rich, and complacent. Ruling classes in every other continent are the same. We believe that nothing really bad will ever happen to our societies, and we will continue to pursue personal peace and affluence forever. Meanwhile, we forget the poor, oppress those unlike us, and spit on the face of God. In our self-imposed ignorance and intentional blindness, we neglect those who God supports.

Conclusion

In Isaiah 29-32, the Prophet Isaiah told the Hebrews how to handle the coming national catastrophe.  His people did not listen. The Assyrians under Sennacherib conquered Lachish, the key Israelite fortress city, and reduced most of the rest of the country to ashes. The Egyptian expeditionary force fought an inconclusive battle against Assyria and then withdrew, leaving the Jews to their fate. The Assyrians camped in a stranglehold around Jerusalem. Only after everything else failed did Judah heed his voice. Hezekiah, his court, and the people repented and threw themselves on the mercy and protection of God. Finally, the Lord intervened to destroy Sennacherib’s army, probably by means of an infectious disease like Anthrax. The Assyrians withdrew and Jerusalem was saved.

Isaiah’s words apply to everyone in the modern world. Every society is composed of the Good, the Bad, and especially the Complacent. Every society also faces the judgment of God for oppressing the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Every individual faces the decision of who they want to be – Good, Bad, or Complacent. Those who reject the Source of Light, Love, Beauty, and everything else that is good in the universe will get their wish – living an eternity without light, love, beauty, and everything else that is good in the universe.

Partial Obedience

My oldest daughter Anna hates washing dishes. While she was growing up, whenever my wife or I asked her to rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher, she suddenly remembered homework or some other desperately important thing to do. My wife Nancy would ask again and again until Anna started shouting and Nancy started crying. Eventually I would intervene and Anna would do the dishes. She did a fine job, but the process was exhausting.

“Mack”, an employee of mine from several years ago, never refused to do a task, but did a poor job at it. If I asked him to update a spreadsheet, he might update a column and leave the rest unchanged. This had the unfortunate effect of changing the results in most of the other columns and ruining everything. In the time it took to correct his work, I could have done it, and four other things. “Mack” soon found other opportunities.

Sometimes we identify tasks that we would rather not do and assign them to ourselves. Often someone else, like a parent or a boss, gives us undesired work. Parents have varying amounts of influence with their children, but workers who wish to keep their jobs rarely refuse their bosses. The right way to handle a legitimate command from an authority is right away, all the way, and with a happy heart, but few manage this. Instead, people partially obey, either resisting as long as possible or doing barely adequate work. Both are partial obedience, which is the same as total disobedience. This article will look at the example of King Saul of Israel and discuss four things that people do when they partially obey.

Background

In 1 Samuel 15, God commanded King Saul to destroy the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe that had attempted to crush the Hebrew nation several times before. In the accordance with God’s earlier command to Joshua, every man and beast was to be killed, from the mighty king to the suckling child, and from the stallion to the kitten. Why God gave that command is the topic for another article.

Saul and his men smashed the Amalekites, killing every person except the king, and every animal that they did not want to keep. They kept the Lord’s command only as far as they wanted to. God was displeased; Saul’s partial obedience was really total disobedience. As a result, God rejected Saul from being king, and a short time later, anointed David as ruler of Israel (1 Samuel 16).

We do only as much of the task as we like

Most people are able to find something in any task which they enjoy, or at least tolerate. In the brutal cultures of the ancient near east, and everywhere else on the globe, war was the sport of kings.[1] Saul looked upon the coming surprise attack on the Amalekites as an opportunity for glory and treasure. In a well planned and executed ambush, Israel massacred its enemies, military and civilian. Only King Agag remained alive, probably to demonstrate Saul’s might over his foes.

Saul had destroyed a city, but as a pastoral people, the wealth of Amalek was primarily in livestock, not in gold, silver, precious stones, or merchandise. The king had victory but his troops expected plunder. Since the Hebrews had exterminated the people, they could not take female slaves. The only other booty available was livestock, and that needed to be kept alive to be valuable. Until the modern era, soldiers were often paid through pillage, and Saul probably had no other way to pay his troops. So the king kept the animals, and disobeyed God.

The Lord wanted King Saul to complete the task that He had commanded, but Saul did only the part that he liked. The king could easily justify his actions, but his obedience remained partial. As a result, God rejected Saul from being king. Saul reigned for many more years, but his rule degenerated into weakness, illness, and farce. When we fail to fully follow God’s commands, He rejects us from our positions as well. Whether we are ministers, merchants or managers, disobedience will lead us down the same path as King Saul.

We make monuments to ourselves

Having defeated the Amalekites, secured plunder, and thus satisfied his army, Saul commissioned a monument to himself on Mount Carmel, one of the highest places in the area (1 Samuel 15:12). Such a monument would have practical value; reminding the Hebrews of his great victory, legitimizing his rule and dynasty, providing stability to the nation, and warning to other nations not to challenge Israel. King Saul was not unique; he did what was expected of rulers. Historically, kings have been renowned for fighting (David, Alexander) or for building (Solomon, Herod).

Moderns do the same. Most people remember Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during World War II, a few can name his predecessor, derided for appeasement at Munich, but almost no one can name his successor. Our best remembered presidents are war presidents – Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.  Wealthy men build universities (John Harvard, Elihu Yale) and set up foundations (John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford) to memorialize themselves.

People of lesser means make monuments to themselves by writing books, behaving badly, or being social media celebrities. We even use our children as monuments to ourselves. I coach my youngest daughter’s soccer team, and during the final game of a tournament (from which we had been eliminated), parents and coaches from both sides screamed at each other, shouted profanities, and nearly came to blows. The game was no longer about the children; but about the adults.

God does not need glory; He is infinite in glory already, and you can’t add to infinity. As the Creator and Mover behind all things, He deserves all glory. Furthermore, humans have physical and psychological needs to give Him glory. Implicit in every task that the Lord gives us is the command to give Him glory. To take glory for ourselves, such as by building monuments, is to disobey that part of God’s command.

We deny our partial obedience, and try to justify ourselves with ritual

When King Saul saw the prophet and judge of Israel, Samuel, Saul reported that he had obeyed the Lord. Samuel openly challenged his assessment, and Saul countered that the animals were to be used for a burnt offering to God. Saul’s excuse is hard to believe – the soldiers would have been paid with plunder, and such a mass sacrifice was unnecessary under the Law. Even if the king had planned to sacrifice all of the livestock, he would have been substituting religious ritual for obedience. Samuel replied, as David would write after his most famous sins about 40 years later, that the Lord wanted pure hearts and obedient hands, not the blood of calves and goats.

How many people live shamefully Saturday nights and try to make amends by being active and “holy” on Sunday? How many pastors, rabbis, priests, shamans, and imams visit elderly women in hospitals by day, visit young women in brothels by night, confess, and repeat? Behaving badly and trying to atone for it by ritual is not limited to religious leaders; executives, politicians, athletes, artists, and military officers do the same. People assuage guilty consciences with “noble” thoughts, charity, community service, and religious activity. Poor conduct followed by ritual “cleansing” is not limited by race or sex either. Mothers have murdered their children, wives have slept with their lovers, and then tried to justify their actions with flimsy excuses or make amends with perfunctory apologies.  There is no “master race” or “nobler sex”; indeed “there is none righteous, no, not one.”

Partial obedience is total disobedience. No thought, word, act, or ritual can change this fact. Our efforts to atone for our selfish deeds are as disobedient to God’s command as they are futile. God the Father has provided God the Son, Jesus Christ, and His sacrifice alone can cleanse us from our sin.

We blame others for our disobedience

Saul blamed his soldiers for wanting to keep the livestock and therefore causing him to disobey the Lord’s command (1 Samuel 15:24). With these very words, the king proved himself unworthy of his title. Saul was the absolute ruler of Israel, responsible for every person in his realm but also holding life and death authority over his people. To complain that he was afraid of his soldiers was a stunning admission of incompetence. Napoleon spilled oceans of blood but never feared his soldiers. He was a military genius, knew a large proportion of his troops by name, and endured with them. God had rejected Saul from being king, and Saul’s excuse for his partial obedience proved that God was right.

Few leaders have authority over life and death today, but that is no excuse for blaming others for the leader’s mistakes. A commander in the US Army today would be (or at least should be) instantly relieved of command if he made Saul’s excuse. One of the biggest problems in modern society is that leaders try to keep glory for themselves and shift blame to others. Hillary Clinton failed in her duties; blaming her staff for the tragedy at Benghazi, and claiming incompetence to justify her misuse of classified emails.  She is not the only 21st century leader to have done so.

Ordinary people, likewise, are infected with the “blame others” disease. Society tells us that we are victims of circumstances, whether biological, chemical, social, or parental, and we readily believe it. We pursue power but we eschew responsibility because with it comes guilt.  We tell favored groups that they are the victims of unfavored groups, and that therefore they bear no responsibility for their actions. Oppression certainly exists and must be remedied, but every man and woman will stand before God, accountable for their own wickedness.

Since Adam blamed Eve for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, people have blamed others for their wicked deeds. Excuses notwithstanding, the Lord of the Universe demands blood for every sin (Ezekiel 18:20). The only question is whose blood, the sinner or the Lamb?

Conclusion

King Saul partly obeyed God, and God rejected him as ruler of Israel. We partly obey God, thereby totally disobeying Him. If we persist, He eventually rejects us from our place of service as well.  If we understand and complete each task, give the glory to God, reject excuses, and avoid blaming others, we have fully obeyed. The Lord will keep us in the work that He has assigned, and bless us in it. Only then have we truly loved (John 14:15), and truly experienced abundant life (John 10:10).

 

[1] http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2013/04/26/war-the-sport-of-kings-the-bane-of-democracies-and-obamas-dilemma-in-syria/

Why Don’t Wise Men Seek Him?

During the Christmas season, Christians across the world think of the Nativity, with its Holy Family, angels, shepherds, manger, and Wise Men. Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and the shepherds were Jews; unimportant and even unnoticed in their society. The Wise Men were probably Gentiles from the land of Parthia, formerly Persia, in the East. Most likely they were sent on an official diplomatic mission by the Parthian government to find this long promised ruler. Their caravan was probably large, rich, and well-guarded. The Wise Men were among the wealthiest, most educated and most respected men in their society, and they sought Jesus.

Christians understand that Jesus was a Man. He is also God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Jesus Christ gave everything to His followers, and He demands everything from them in return. Christianity has long been a religion of the poor and the outcast. Paul wrote that not many believers in Corinth were considered the wise, mighty or noble of their society (1 Corinthians 1:25-27). Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-25). Nonetheless, these wise, rich and noble men from Persia sought Jesus. Why?

There is a plethora of cards, bumper stickers and mugs in the modern world that say “Wise men still seek Him”. While it is true that those with genuine wisdom, as revealed in Proverbs 4, still seek Him, many people considered wise, noble or rich in modern society do not seek Him. Why not?

We cannot conclusively know why the ancient Wise Men sought Jesus because we know so little about them. They may have been Jews from Sheba, modern Yemen. We don’t even know how many there were. However, Matthew’s account provides some useful hints about why these ancient Magi sought Jesus, and modern wise men do not.

Seeking a Man

First, the Wise Men sought a Man. The Parthian leadership was weak, and these magi were on an important mission. Thus they spared neither expense nor hardship in their quest. Parthia needed a mighty king to inspire her people, to structure the nation, and to protect them from enemies. They knew that no man would be perfect, yet only a man could do what needed to be done.

However, leaders can be problematic in modern democratic society. The great man makes us wonder why we are not great. He expects people to be their better selves, something that most of us don’t seriously want to do. His very existence calls into question our belief that all men are essentially equal. Our pride makes it hateful to us to submit to any man. Like the Christian recording artist Randy Stonehill sings in The Dying Breed, we “cheer while we hope that he will fall.” Leaders are demanding. The greater they are, the more they give to and require from their followers. As the greatest man in history, Jesus is the most demanding of all.

Developing men is difficult. Education often fails to make people change their behavior, even when such behavior change is in their long term best interest. Virtuous character is even harder to build. It takes mentoring, self-sacrifice and years of life to raise a few children to maturity, and even then a few may depart from their upbringing. The only real way to develop a person is one on one, as families do and as apprenticeships did long ago. Twenty-first century man has little patience for such a process.

In the modern world, we seek methods more than men. We develop machines, processes and procedures to handle every possible contingency and expect people to use and follow them. We design jobs and pick people to fill them. Workers are pieces in a puzzle rather than team members creatively accomplishing a shared mission. Since people sometimes crash cars, we develop cars that drive themselves. As machines did in the Industrial Revolution and Frederick Taylor did with Scientific Management, we handle organizations as machines and men as parts.

Governments try to engineer risk and hardship out of the lives of citizens with layer upon layer of restrictions and regulations. They attempt to guarantee not only equal opportunity but equal outcomes for people, irrespective of individual desire, capability, effort, or character. Personal freedom, which is harder to measure, is sacrificed on the altar of equality and efficiency, which is easier to measure. Making sugary drinks illegal, regardless of individual preference or use, is a classic example. Having given up trying to make individuals better, we use the law to limit their freedom.

Though there are advantages to such “process thinking”, it often results in a “process focus”. The process, the efficiency of the system, or the eventual profits become the focus, instead of the people affected by the process. Thus factories are judged by the number of items produced and profit gained rather than by the well-being of workers, customers, and society. Hospitals rate themselves on how many patients they treat rather than how well their patients live.

Clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) are a good example of how process thinking can devolve into process focus. CPGs provide steps and algorithms to guide clinicians on how to care for a patient with a certain complaint, such a chronic low back pain. They are written by experts in their field who have systematically examined the latest medical evidence. As such CPGs can reliably guide how a busy primary care provider handles an uncomplicated patient.

However, CPGs are geared to the “average” person with a given complaint and therefore cannot take into account variations and needs in individual patients. As long as these guidelines remain guidelines, allowing each physician to modify the care he or she gives to suit the person, CPGs are good. When insurers refuse to pay for services outside those recommended by the CPG, when lawyers sue clinicians because they departed from the CPG, and when the government refuses to permit deviation from the CPG, these “guidelines” become rules. Health care providers lose the freedom to tailor treatment to their patients and families. People suffer.

Christians cannot make this mistake. No matter how hard it is to develop men and women, we must do it. Processes and machines can and should get better, but not at the expense of people. Men, not nations, live forever. It is in men, not things, that we must put our resources. The Savior made no inventions and wrote no procedures. Instead He spent three years with twelve men and about 100 other followers.

The Wise Men of the Bible sought Jesus because they needed a man, not a policy or a procedure, to solve their problems. Modern wise men do not seek Jesus because they seek a machine or a process to solve their problems.

Seeking the Creator behind the creation

Second, the Wise Men looked to nature to find evidence of Him. They did not ignore the natural world and were not anti-intellectual. Rather they were experts in the arts of astronomy, history and prophecy. In their time, they were second to none in admiration of the world around them. As much as they learned from and enjoyed nature, however, they did not end their inquiries with the natural world. The Magi scoured creation for evidence of the Creator. As is the case today, there were as many world views as people in the ancient world. Nevertheless most people included some idea of God in how they understood reality. Even into the 18th century, great men of science like Isaac Newton sought to know the Creator through His creation.

How differently do we do things in the 21st century? Not only do we ignore God in our inquiries, but we define science so as to intentionally exclude God. The natural world thus becomes an end in itself. Only the material world exists; there is no spiritual world. Nature does not reflect the glory of “something beyond” because in this mindset there is nothing beyond. The idea that the universe is entirely material is an assumption made on philosophical grounds. There is no scientific proof, nor can there ever be, because science is limited to the material.

Believers in the Lord must reject this assumption. The fact that the universe is bound by time (it had a beginning and will have an end) is proof that something exists outside the universe. That something is God. No matter how many Nobel Laureates and university philosophy chairs say that there is no God, they cannot prove that statement. Though skeptics refuse to see it, the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1).

Paul Brand (1914-2003) was a Christian missionary, orthopedic surgeon, and pioneer in leprosy research in India. Having retired to Seattle, in 1996 he spoke to family medicine residents at the Madigan Army Medical Center. Though 82 at the time, Dr. Brand described his work with a lilt in his voice, a spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye. A few months earlier he had been walking along an uneven sidewalk, caught his foot on a crack and toppled over. As he fell he felt his opposite leg stiffen and his body rotate in the normal reflexive attempt to stay standing. Dr. Brand hit the ground, but could not help marveling at the beauty and complexity of the human body. Though in some pain, this elderly servant of Christ saw his Lord through the glory of what He had made. He loved the creation, and even more loved the Creator that he saw behind it.

The Wise Men of the Bible sought Jesus because they wanted to find the Creator behind His creation. Modern wise men do not seek Jesus because they refuse to believe that there is anything behind nature,

Seeking for the good of others and the glory of God

Third, the Wise Men sought Jesus to save their nation. Parthia was in turmoil, with a weak and aging king. Civil war was a real possibility. The Magi wanted to find the Child, worship Him, and possibly bring Him to their people. Meanwhile Herod wanted to find the child in order to murder Him. They had the interests of their nation at heart while he pursued his own interests. The Wise Men hoped to ensure the well-being of their countrymen, while Herod hoped to ensure the rule of his dynasty. The Magi sought peace while Herod wanted bloodshed.

Moderns, perhaps even more than our forebears, want peace, but we want it on our own terms. Peace that allows me to do my own thing in my own way is good, while peace that requires hardship is not. E-contributing money to a cause is as much as many will do. Most of us would not travel hundreds of miles over several months in a dusty and dangerous caravan, as the Wise Men did, to find peace. Many of us don’t trouble ourselves for others’ peace at all, even when people across the world or in our neighborhoods are sick, hungry, or being persecuted. Few of us are in a position to initiate slaughter as Herod was, and few of us would admit to being willing to do it if we had the chance. The good of others, much less the glory of God, barely appears on our radar screen.

Followers of Christ live for Him and for others; not for ourselves. Instead we consider others more important than ourselves and put their needs first (Philippians 2:3-5). We have been crucified with Christ, have His mind, and live in Him (Galatians 2:20).

Truly wise men and women have always sought Jesus for the glory of God and the good of their people. Wise men and women today do not seek Jesus because they are interested in their own glory and perceived good.

Conclusion

While men who are truly wise will seek Jesus, most men and women who are considered wise in modern society will not. Part of this is human nature; if you can “make it” on your own, why rely on someone else (Proverbs 30:7-9)? Yet another part of this is our modern culture. Despite the oft-heard lamentation of a lack of leadership in the world, moderns fear and despise strong leaders such as Jesus. We want machines and methods, not men, and certainly not a God-man, to make our lives better. We reject the Creator behind the creation for fear that He will judge our actions and make us do something that we don’t like. Finally, we do not seek Jesus because we want our own perceived good and glory, not the good of others and the glory of God. That is why “wise men” today don’t seek Him.

In fairness, “wise men” of the past did many of the same things, which makes the Magi of Matthew that much more remarkable. Enabled by the Holy Spirit, Christians can and must do better.

How Much Do Leaders Care?

It is true that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care

 

1.    A husband and father earns the right to lead his family by caring for his wife and children.

2.    A minister earns the right to preach by caring for his congregation.

3.    A physician earns the right to teach medical students and residents by caring for them, and the right to influence and even direct his patients by caring for them.

4.    A commander earns the right to command by caring for his soldiers.

5.    A manager earns the right to lead by caring for his employees.

6.    A teacher earns the right to teach by caring for his students.

7.    A king earns the right to rule and a prime minister or president earns the right to preside (exercise authority or control) by caring for his citizens.

 

Caring is not merely feeling benevolent emotions.  Actually, since emotions are merely a side effect of thoughts and actions, benevolent emotions are an outgrowth, not a cause or a definition, or caring.  Leaders who care do the following for those who follow them:

 

1.    Learn about them

2.    Pray for them

3.    Encourage them

4.    Talk to them

5.    Listen to them

6.    Rebuke them

7.    Mentor them

8.    Teach them

9.    Be accountable to them

Hezekiah – an Example of Crisis Leadership

After the golden age of Israel, during the reigns of David and his son Solomon, Israel split apart.  The tribes of Judah and Benjamin kept Rehoboam, grandson of David as their king, but the northern ten tribes chose Jeroboam, an Ephraimite.  The subsequent history of Israel is a sad tale of uniformly evil rulers, people unfaithful to the Lord, and near extermination by the Assyrians two hundred years later (721 BC).  The history of Judah is little better, with a few good kings, including Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Uzziah and Jotham interspersed with many evil ones.  Judah lasted 135 years longer than Israel but became progressively more wicked and was finally overwhelmed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.

Hezekiah is described in 2 Kings 18:3 as “doing right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done”.   He was an unlikely saint, because although his grandfather Jotham was a good king, his father Ahaz was one of Judah’s worst.  Hezekiah reigned during troubled times in Judah.  He began to rule shortly before the physically stronger Northern Kingdom had been wiped out by the Middle Eastern superpower, Assyria.  Ahaz had emptied his treasury to enlist their aid against Aram, and so Judah became dominated by Assyrian power (2 Kings 16:7-9).  Not long after Hezekiah came to power, he rebelled against Shalmaneser, king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:7).  It took Assyria a little time to respond and by the time they did, Sennacherib was the Assyrian ruler.  Hezekiah got a bit wobbly and relented (2 Kings 18:14) but Sennacherib had had enough and was intent on punishing Judah.  Situated as he was between one bad king and another, Hezekiah’s reign was crisis-filled.  With Sennacherib’s desire for revenge, one of Hezekiah’s greatest crises began.

Sennacherib had rampaged through the Judean fortress cities and finally took the greatest and strongest, Lachish (Isaiah 36:1).  Then, ignoring Hezekiah’s pleas for peace, he marched on Jerusalem.  The Assyrian army was one of the strongest military forces in antiquity.  They had perfected the use of combined arms including infantry, chariots, and siege machinery.  Assyria achieved logistic excellence which gave their army a long range capability not much surpassed until the advent of the internal combustion engine over two millennia later.  They made effective use of iron deposits in eastern Anatolia, equipping their soldiers in a way no army in Palestine could match.   Further, Assyria was ruthless, perfecting the use of terror as a weapon of war.   Militarily speaking, Hezekiah had no hope of defeating Assyria.  Once Sennacherib had refused to accept his apology and his tribute, Hezekiah had to play his cards right.

Sennacherib sent a messenger, Rabshekah, to stand before the walls of Jerusalem and speak to Hezekiah and the people.  His speech, recorded in Isaiah 36:4-20, is a masterpiece of political terror, intended to undermine the courage of the Jewish defenders.  Rabshekah spoke Judean and was very familiar with the culture and religion of his Judean prey.  Note that the Assyrians never offered conditions of peace; they simply wanted Jerusalem to fall without a fight.  As befits a good crisis leader, Hezekiah avoided escalating the situation while he figured out what was really going on (Isaiah 36:21).

Rabshekah’s speech enabled his companions to observe the state of the defenses and bought time to bring up the army.  It also gave Hezekiah a chance to learn more about the situation and figure out what to do.  Seeing the hopelessness of his plight, at least from the standpoint of man, Hezekiah passionately sought the Lord.  This is a remarkable contrast with his father Ahaz’ response in a similar situation (Isaiah 7:1-20).

Hezekiah’s next move was to lay his request, with complete honesty, before the Lord.  He was not posturing or pretending.  He never said “Thy will be done” when he really wanted salvation from the Assyrian sword.  He laid himself on the line before his God (Isaiah 37:1).  Some would argue that prayer is not a course of action.  Actually, though, prayer is the best course of action until God clarifies what His leader should do.  Standing in the temple, Hezekiah prayed to the Lord.  He also sent other leaders, in mourning, to the prophet of God, Isaiah.  Other kings sought advice from false prophets and paid the price (1 Kings 22:5-40), but Hezekiah knew the Lord’s faithful servants.

Sometimes the hardest thing about praying is to know when you have an answer, and to do whatever God commands, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.  Isaiah told Hezekiah through his messengers to wait for the Lord’s deliverance.  With all of the hopes, dreams and fears of his people on his shoulders, Hezekiah did the hard thing and waited.  In Isaiah 37:36, God provided miraculous deliverance.

A different time in his life, Hezekiah faced another crisis, and this one more personal.  He developed a boil, an abscess, which was growing rapidly and probably spreading bacteria into his blood.  Hezekiah would soon have died (Isaiah 38:1, 21).  After a lifetime of faithfulness, he knew what to do…petition his Lord.  Hezekiah did so and the Lord had Isaiah treat him, healing the infection.  Any Christian can see that Hezekiah made the right choice in this crisis, just as he had done a few years before.  As a doctor, I know that certain fruits and other foods grow mold that produces antibiotics such as penicillin.  Perhaps the healing of Hezekiah, something Isaiah and his contemporaries would have considered a miracle, we would consider commonplace.

Towards the end of his life Hezekiah encountered another crisis, and this time it was one that he did not even recognize as a crisis.  Babylon was a rising power in the Middle East and sent a diplomatic mission to Judah.   They may have been seeking allies for a revolt against Assyria or looking for targets for their own armies.  Regardless, Hezekiah foolishly showed them everything, from his treasures to his defenses.  Isaiah prophesied that though Hezekiah would have peace in his day, every treasure would soon belong to the Babylonians.

Hezekiah was a fine, godly leader.  He led well in crisis, and God blessed him for it.  Hezekiah had a solid relationship with the Lord long before crisis struck and was faithful in the small issues of day to day life.  In the words of the Psalmist, he hid the word of God in his heart, finding the wisdom that the Lord places there.  Finally, he sought good counsel from the right people and followed the counsel he received.  With few exceptions, modern day leaders would do well to emulate his performance when facing crises.