An Unfavorable Government: Lessons from Daniel

By Joshua Jeon

The morning of November 9th will be an important one for the nation. Of course, November 8th is election day: the culmination of months of speeches, debates, caucuses, primaries, and conventions; an end to a bitterly long and grueling election cycle; and the final choice by American voters on the next POTUS. All that aside, however, I think that November 9th, too, carries special significance as it marks the beginning of how the American people come to terms with their to-be-president. Although inauguration is months away, the day-after marks the beginning of the nation’s response to its decision. It is the beginning of a people’s relationship with a new president, a new government. How the people respond in these “first impression” stages is vitally important to the next four years.

Given the great unfavorability of this election’s presidential candidates, it will be of no surprise — to much dismay, if there is considerably strong reaction amongst those who disapprove of the decision, amongst those who voted for the losing candidate, and even amongst those who did not vote but are greatly concerned. For these Americans the results of the election will be difficult to swallow. They may express sorrow, be full of angst and uncertainty, or exhibit bitterness and anger. They may eventually accept the new government but may become apathetic and abandon participation in the democratic process. Some of them may respond with marked antagonism. They may try to arbitrarily obstruct the process of the new government. They may attempt to create further division and evoke distrust through conspiracy and slander. They may scoff when things go bad.

Given these concerns about the fate of American civic life in the aftermath of election day, the appropriate question is “How should one behave under an unfavorable government?” How should one conduct himself under a government that he did not choose and may even hate? I believe that the Bible provides insight into this question. Specifically, the biblical figure Daniel demonstrates that Christians should be good citizens despite “bad” government because trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God.

Daniel provides perhaps the best example on how to live under unfavorable government. Daniel lived during the Babylonian Captivity, a period of Jewish exile following the conquering of Jerusalem in 597 BC by the Babylonians. As a member of the nobility, Daniel was deported to Babylon, taught the language and literature of the Babylonians and trained to serve the King. In many ways the situation is an imperfect comparison because the Babylonian government is much worse than anything that can result from this election. Yet even so, Daniel’s attitude and behavior merits our attention.

Daniel, despite the unfavorability of his situation, faithfully fulfills his duties with regard to his government. He serves the King, Nebuchadnezzer, and then Darius the Mede, with excellence. In Daniel 6, his qualities are further embellished. Daniel “so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities”; there could be found no “grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs”; “He was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”[1] Thusly, Daniel is entrusted with positions of power and rises to prominence within the government.

But how was Daniel able to conduct himself in such a manner? He was taken from his home and subjected to the rule of a foreign government that did not respect his culture or his people. Daniel could have rebelled as did the kings of Judah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, yet he served the King. Daniel was able to conduct himself in a manner of good citizenship because of the profound trust he had in sovereignty and goodness of God.

When Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,”[2] he recognized the authority of Caesar, the Roman government. Particularly, in response to the question he was asked, Jesus affirmed its authority to collect taxes. In the second part of his response, though, Jesus also affirms the authority of God that far surpasses that of Caesar.

As Jesus points to the denarius, whose likeness and subscription is that of Caesar’s, noting it’s ownership, and uses it to explain Caesar’s right, he draws the parallel to creation. Since God created all things; his signature is all over creation; his image is in every human being; he is the owner of all things and deserves and has the right to all things. All authority is his. All obedience is to him. He is ruler over all. Therefore, any obedience and conduct toward Caesar or any other early power should be done with such wondrous sovereignty in mind. Similarly 1 Peter reads, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him.”[3] In the context of this verse, obedience to governmental rule comes from the recognition that the human institution of government is allowed and vested power by God. Furthermore, the believer is to properly fulfill his role as a citizen “for the Lord’s sake” by exercising the freedoms he has in the Gospel to be a good example, to love his fellow citizens, and to honor and glorify God. As such, the believer’s whole relationship to government is governed by his relation to God’s governance.

The sovereignty of God provides good reason for good citizenship. Because God is the ruler of all things, has ordained the institution of government, and has commanded good conduct, the believer ought to demonstrate good citizenship. However, mere knowledge of the sovereignty of God will lead to joyless conduct. Yes, the believer may display proper conduct but under an unfavorable government he is bound to witness great injustice when evil is left unpunished, people are oppressed, and when wrongs are said to be right. Under these conditions, would he not be led to despair and hopelessness? Hence, it is important to know of and trust in God’s goodness in addition to his sovereignty. Because God is good and sovereign, his allowance of such government is not arbitrary but has purpose. Because God is good and sovereign, he can change government for good; he can deliver and rescue his people. And because God is good and sovereign, he will one day judge those who commit injustice and ultimately bring his justice. It is in this God the believer trusts and is able to conduct himself righteously. Knowing that he is a citizen of a higher Kingdom, he is then able to be a good citizen.

Given his trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God, Daniel was able to conduct himself in a worthy manner. Daniel was able to be a good servant to the King but since he knew that he was subject before God first, he sometimes disobeyed the King. Daniel rejected King Nebuchadnezzer’s food that would defile him before God and became vegetarian.[4] He disobeyed King Darius’ decree prohibiting prayer to anyone besides the King and continued to pray to God. He was then famously thrown in the lion’s den. In these situations, God protected Daniel and following these situations, God used Daniel for greater purposes. Through Daniel and his obedience to Him, God brought about change.[5] Daniel’s story shows that it is not by earthly might or means (our strength) that government will change but by the power of God.[6] It is God who induces Nebuchadnezzer’s insanity. It is God who strikes down his son Belshazzar. And it is God who crushes kingdoms and puts them to an end. Whether kings or kingdoms, God has ultimate authority.

Therefore, in following Daniel’s example, those who know God are to be good citizens. To be good citizens has double meaning. Believers ought to be faithful citizens to the Kingdom of Heaven and good citizens of whatever earthly government they are under. Practically, this may entail, to name a few, obeying laws, paying taxes, and voting.

It is my hope that whatever the outcome of this election may be, whatever new president and administration is in power, whatever government that comes about, no matter how unfavorable it may be, that people would demonstrate good behavior for it is God who has ultimate authority and “in God we trust.”

“His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”[7]

[1] Daniel 6:3,4 (ESV)
[2] Matthew 22:21 (KJV)
[3] 1 Peter 2:13-14 (ESV)
[4] Daniel 1:8
[5] One example: Following Daniel’s obedience to not defile himself, God increases his knowledge and understanding, and gives him the ability to interpret dreams. God uses Daniel and his ability to interpret dreams to humble Nebuchadnezzar. See Daniel 2 & 4. In fact, Daniel is used to humble various kings, to strike down their pride, and to teach them to fear God. Also, God uses Daniel to give hope of a coming time when God will establish his Kingdom which will reign forever and ever. See Daniel’s various visions.
[6] While trusting God, the person should do everything within his means to positively affect government. If you advise the king as Daniel did, give him wise advice. If you are a voter in a democracy, vote thoughtfully… etc.
[7]Daniel 4:34-35 (ESV)

Taken from Claritas, Cornell University’s Journal of Christian Thought, part of a “student-led movement of Christian journals on college campuses” called the Augustine Collective

Click here to read more from Claritas.

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