Humble glory fuels God’s missional kingdom, even when in exile. Humble glory is key to God’s missional movement.*
Here I call to mind Daniel, who was a Jewish exile in Babylon. Daniel was a humble man, whom God elevated to a position of great prominence in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom to advance God’s own kingdom mission. There are several indications of Daniel being humble.
First, Daniel gave glory to God. He focused on what God was doing in his midst rather than take the credit. For example, he gave God the glory for granting him wisdom to know and interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (See Daniel 2:20-23, 30).
Second, Daniel gained strategic positions of honor for his friends (Daniel 2:48-49) and did not pursue his own advantage (Daniel 5:17). Perhaps he realized that those in exile must work together. They could not survive and thrive in exile apart from one another.
Third, Daniel portrayed himself as being in solidarity with Judah in its sin that led to exile. Daniel repented of such sin and pleaded with God for mercy for the people and their homeland (See Daniel 9:3-15).
Daniel served as a striking contrast to King Nebuchadnezzar. Whereas God exalted Daniel to a position of great honor in Babylon for his humble obedience (Daniel 1-2), God humbled Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, for several years because of his pride and disobedience (See Daniel 4). God later humbled Nebuchadnezzar’s son, King Belshazzar (Daniel 5). Unlike his father to whom God restored his kingdom, God took away Belshazzar’s kingdom permanently.
Here’s the account of Daniel interpreting another one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. Unlike the one recorded in chapter 2, this dream came to fulfillment within a year’s time, as recorded in Daniel chapter 4. The dream foretold that God would humble Nebuchadnezzar and make him like a beast in the field for several years on account of his wickedness and pride. Humans were created to rule over the beasts, not to be beasts (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 8:5-8). Man and woman were made to reign over “the beasts of the field” (Psalm 8:7b; ESV) under which the beasts “found shade” (Daniel 4:12, 21; ESV) rather than have their “portion…with the beasts of the field” (Daniel 4:23), whereby “a beast’s mind” was “given to him” (4:16; ESV). No doubt, they needed to live before God with a sense of wonder over God’s amazing mercy in prizing them, when they were so small in comparison to the heavens, the moon and stars, to remain in their place of honor in creation (See Psalm 8:3-4). Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar was amazed with himself and tried to elevate himself to the heavens rather than come to terms with the fact that the Most High God of Heaven alone rules. As a result, God brought him down to the ground–literally:
“This is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Daniel 4:24-27; ESV).
Nebuchadnezzar should have humbled himself before the Most High God after hearing Daniel’s interpretation of the dream. Nebuchadnezzar failed to break off his sins—which no doubt included his idolatry and pride—by practicing righteousness. He failed to show mercy to the downtrodden and oppressed. Instead, he exalted himself. A year passed and nothing happened. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten the dream, Daniel’s interpretation, and his exhortation. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar thought God had forgotten, and he was off the hook. But God did not forget. God humbled Nebuchadnezzar when this mortal king gave credit to himself for Babylon’s splendor, which he had fashioned for his own idolatrous glory:
At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:29-30; ESV)
God’s judgment was immediate:
While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws (Daniel 4:31-33; ESV).
Several years later, Nebuchadnezzar looked to heaven and his reason returned to him. He repented and acknowledged the Most High God, whom Daniel worshiped. As a result, God exalted Nebuchadnezzar again:
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (Daniel 4:34-37; ESV).
Nebuchadnezzar came to the painful realization that the bigger and heavier with pride people are the harder they fall. What a striking contrast not only to Daniel, but even more so to Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels but later crowned with glory and honor (See Psalm 8; Hebrews 2). Unlike Nebuchadnezzar who refused to humble himself and so was made like the beasts, the Lord Jesus humbled himself throughout his life here on earth and so was later crowned as the most glorious of humans. Hebrews 2 quotes from Psalm 8 in promoting Jesus and his humble glory:
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Hebrews 2:5-9; ESV).
So, where does this take us today?
First, we should be humble and examine ourselves. May we exalt God, elevate others, and not ourselves in a beastly dog eat dog world. As in Daniel’s day, humble glory fuels God’s missional kingdom. Many kingdoms come and go. But Jesus’ kingdom will last forever. Those who are subjects in his kingdom must operate in keeping with his kingdom reign, which is characterized by humble glory. Otherwise, we are going against the grain of Jesus’ universal rule. So, exalt God, not ourselves. Promote others, not ourselves. Identify with the sinful condition of the community at large, and repent and plead for mercy for all. If we lift ourselves up, God will bring us down. If we lower ourselves, God will lift us up. This is not a passing point found in one or two isolated passages in the Bible. It resonates with the universal testimony of Scripture:
“One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23; ESV).
“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4; ESV).
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11; ESV).
“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14; ESV).
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10; ESV).
Second, we should be patient under duress. Exile will not last forever for God’s people. God will lift up and restore the holy remnant in due time. Perhaps we feel that the Christian majority is not all that moral, or that Christian values and influence are eroding all around us. Such feelings and convictions should lead us to humble ourselves before God, knowing that while deliverance may not come right away or even in our lifetime, God will restore his people and cause them to participate in the divine glory forever. Daniel likely died in exile, though his people eventually returned to the Holy Land. Jesus and his disciples lived under Roman rule in their homeland. Even now, many people presently fail to acknowledge Jesus as Lord: we “do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Hebrews 2:8). Even so, Jesus’ kingdom will come in its fullness, a point that many Christians believe Daniel made: he prophesied that Jesus’ kingdom will come in power and splendor (See for example Daniel 2 and 7). Be patient under duress. While exiled now, our state of spiritual exile will not last forever.
Third, be committed to righteousness, not proving we are always right, or fixated on rights for ourselves. Humble glory does not place demands on the state to promote Christian privilege and dominance. Rather, it entails calls for righteousness and mercy on behalf of the oppressed. It becomes increasingly difficult to operate in this way when we who are Christians feel our religious liberties and status as the dominant religion in places like the U.S. are under threat. When under threat, we can easily lose our wits, turn on one another–including fellow Christians, and live like beasts in a dog eat dog world. Here we can learn a thing or two from Daniel, whose people lived as a religious minority group in the land of their exile. Though under duress, Daniel looked out for the well-being of others, including all of the wise men of Babylon, not just his Jewish comrades, whom he urged the king not to destroy. While Daniel did ask the king to elevate his Jewish friends (Daniel 2:24, 49), he never pursued personal advancement (Daniel 5:17). He trusted the Lord to accomplish his purposes for him and simply sought to remain faithful, which by the way was no easy task. Daniel’s faithful witness while in exile involved counseling the king to practice righteousness and have mercy on the oppressed so that perhaps the king’s reign would last longer (Daniel 4:27). No matter what position or place we are in—including the state of exile, we would be wise to do the same. That way, we participate in Jesus’ humble, glorious reign even when experiencing spiritual exile here and now.
*This is the fourth post in a series featuring how to be faithful in our witness to God while experiencing the threat and reality of spiritual exile (Refer here, here and here for the previous posts).