Wisdom of the Ancient Kings

Ancient wisdom holds a mystique and allure for many today. Some people seek to explore ancient wisdom and ancient arts in their quest for enlightenment and personal benefit. In view of that fascination I have often thought of compiling a summary of the Wisdom of the Ancient Kings.

If you have any observations or information on this point that might assist me in this project please let me know. I have noted several expressions of ancient wisdom in my own reading and research and I’ll share some of them is posts on ancient wisdom from time to time.

Wisdom and Folly

Neither wisdom nor folly is a new invention. Kings, rulers and potentates have shown great wisdom and great folly at times throughout history. As I review ancient wisdom I will also take note at times of the folly evidenced in the lives of ancient kings. Folly, as an inverse of wisdom, can also be instructive when it is observed as something to be avoided.

So if you are aware of evidences of folly in the leaders from antiquity please also advise me of your observations.

Kings and Kingdoms

History provides us a diverse set of kings and kingdoms to observe. Some have maintained their leadership by ruthless and violent punishments. Ruling by fear was evident in King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign over ancient Babylon. The Romans employed fear and the iron rule in their dominance of the first century world.

Other rulers asserted their divinity as just cause for their leadership. The Pharaohs of Egypt portrayed themselves as deities. The Roman leaders projected the notion of their divine authority. Even the Emperors of Japan asserted that they were divine, until the middle of last century, following Japan’s crushing defeat in World War 2.

Some kingdoms were strong because of wise strategies, such as the commercial aspirations of Tyre which gave them ability to dominate in their day. Genghis Khan and the Chinese Emperors had various strengths and weaknesses in their governments through the centuries.

Entire kingdoms have been wiped out, such as the Incas of South America and the Hittites of the Middle East. We have bare traces of some civilisations and much of what we know is anecdotal or fanciful, rather than factual.

The Hindu Vedas represent writings which carry a mixture of historical reference mingled with mythical aggrandisement of the characters. Greek mythology carries elements of the same phenomenon.

Modern History

Monarchs from the British Empire, the establishment of the American nation and the modern history of nationalisation of former colonies give us up-to-date examples of wisdom and folly in the actions of kings and rulers. While these modern examples will not be the direct interest of this theme, they do provide an interesting reference point, especially where parallels with ancient kings and kingdoms are evident.

An Ancient Fool

I recently read the account of Belshazzar, the last king of Bablyon, who was killed on the night of October 12, 539BC. He was the effective ruler of Babylon on the night it fell to the invading Medes. The city had been under a long siege, but with 20 years supplies stored in the city everyone felt quite capable of resisting indefinitely.

King Nebuchadnezzar had built up a glorious city in Babylon, with its famous hanging gardens. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom had been described as the greatest of kingdoms, with only lesser kingdoms following through human history.

Belshazzar had inherited this glorious heritage and all that had been built up by his predecessors. But he had fallen into self-confidence against the invading army and he also gave himself to an indulgent lifestyle. He had many concubines and he threw lavish parties, even in the face of the siege.

Belshazzar was the king who was shocked by the appearance of fingers which wrote on his palace wall. The man just about fell apart, with his knees knocking in distress.

When Daniel, the old man of God, was called to interpret the divine message written on the wall Belshazzar was advised that he had been weighed in God’s scales and found to be deficient. Thus he would lose his kingdom that very night.

This event gave rise to the saying “the writing is on the wall”, meaning that the outcome is fully predictable. The outcome for Belshazzar was already set and it was written on the wall.

The City Falls

The magnificent city of Babylon had the Euphrates River running right through it, guaranteeing a continuous water supply. But the invading Medes went to the extensive effort of diverting the river flow, into a lake. When the river level dropped, the invading army was able to enter the city under the gates. These events are recorded by two ancient historians, Herodotus and Xenophon.

The Bible account of these events simply states that, “That night Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans was slain. And Darius the Mede took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.” Daniel 5:30,31

Folly after Wisdom

Despite the various expressions of wisdom on the part of Nebuchadnezzar, this descendent, Belshazzar, was a self-indulgent, overly confident, God-mocking ruler. His reward for that folly was that he lost his kingdom overnight.

This sad pattern is oft repeated, where one wise person builds something for the future, but a descendent becomes a fool, maybe buoyed up by the benefits they have been raised with, and loses it all.

The wisdom to draw from this example is to remain humble. In the face of great advantage and all the evidences of security, it is vital that we all remain humble and diligent in our protection of ourselves and our assets.

This wisdom is proving its worth today, in the face of the Crash of 2008. Many people who enjoyed the high life of income, prosperity, assets, security and so on are now facing uncertainty, loss, limitation and insecurity.

God rewards the humble, but pride and a haughty spirit come before a fall. Many today have been weighed in God’s balance and have proven themselves to have nothing to protect them from the collapse of their personal kingdom. Thankfully today’s generation can cry out to God for mercy and grace. I encourage you to humbly do so.

The Bible as a Political Text

The world has many celebrated political texts which illuminate various political perspectives. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a political treatise in story form. His “1984” is similarly charged with political messages. Hitler had his Mein Kampf. Marx relied on Darwin’s Origin of Species. Mao had his Little Red Book. Political texts come from the Greeks and Romans, along with many writings from before and since.

The Political Bible

But have you ever considered the Bible as a Political Text? I had never given the matter any thought until recently. I had unconsciously ascribed the Bible to the “Religion” Category. Many people who oppose the Bible are keen to promote it as nothing more than a book of religious sentiment. Sadly, unthinking Christians (and I include myself in this category) have allowed unbelievers to tell us how we can use the book God gave us.

Consider the Evidence

The Bible is the book from which a whole nation was governed for thousands of years. Did you get that word ‘governed’? The Bible supervised the Jewish nation through the stages of personal sovereignty, communal governance, prophetic leadership, judges, kings, priests and messianic ministry.

The Bible prescribes personal responsibility, communal accountability, leadership jurisdiction, limitations of power, prescribed punishments for crimes, payments of levies, interplay of priest and civic leaders, court procedures and so on.

And not only are these things discussed in practice and theory, they are demonstrated in the accounts of people’s lives.

Living in a Political World

Daniel and his three friends lived under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar and successfully confronted that king’s authority, relying on the principles given in the Bible.

Moses confronted the political power of Pharaoh, doing most of his business with that world ruler in Pharaoh’s own court.

Abraham dealt directly with the Abimelech (Canaanite leader) of his day, and so too did Isaac.

Jesus Christ was tried and crucified in the Roman courts and the Apostle Paul made many appearances before Roman appointed rulers.

The people of the Bible interacted with political powers and relied on the teachings of the Bible to empower them and to determine how they stood before those kings.

Some Amazing Political Statements

Consider this quick pick of hot political statements straight from the pages of the Bible.

“And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.” Jesus Christ, Mark 12:17

“Jesus answered, You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above: therefore he that delivered me to you has the greater sin.” Jesus Christ, John 19:11

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

“Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” 1Peter 2:17

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
Have Another Look

I trust that these few examples are enough to fire up your interest in the Bible as a Political Text. You just might be amazed at the political wisdom and the personal authority you can operate by, once you see what the Bible is really saying.

Logophile of Kings and Monarchs

It’s been a while since I discussed words with you and so I thought I’d bring up another regal topic. This time I want to discuss the idea of being Imperial in an Empire.

Imperial & Empire

While these words appear quite different in English they actually come from the same Latin root. They both come from the Latin concept of ‘command’, in the word ‘imperare’. By Middle Latin the word had morphed into ‘imperium’. In Middle English the word had become ‘emperial’. Both of our English words imperial and empire spring from that original Latin root.

Hence it is true that imperial things belong to the empire. What is done by the monarch’s command is that which is deemed imperial and impacts his empire.

Of Kings and Monarchs

Consider these various meanings for the term ‘imperial’.

1. Pertaining to an empire

2. Pertaining to an emperor or empress

3. Characterizing the rule or authority of a sovereign state over its dependencies

4. Of the nature or rank of an emperor or supreme ruler

Both our words Imperial and Empire are intrinsically linked to Kings and Monarchs. Since much of the world has been under some form of monarchical rule – including all former British colonies, much of Europe, Russia, many Asian nations, African countries and South American cultures – the idea of Imperial things and Empires is relevant to most people on the planet.

Things Imperial

We have an interesting collection of things designated as ‘imperial’ due to their monarchical origins.

There is a coin called an ‘imperial’. It is a Russian Coin used from 1897 – 1917. It is so called because of the same Latin root as our word imperial, which became ‘imperialis’, meaning a coin, as something authorised by the monarch. A Roman coin bearing the monarch’s image, then, was in imperialis. The coin which was shown to Jesus Christ, with Caesar’s image on it, was an imperialis – an imperial coin.

Imperial Measures are those measures that were used in Britain and British colonies. In most nations the imperial measures have been replaced by metric measures. Imperial measures were ‘imperial’ because they were the ones approved by the monarch. Standardisation enabled the authorities to regulate against false measurements and fraudulent dealings. As the monarchs determined the set weights and measures their officers could then enforce accuracy and punish those who used unjust methods.

Imperial Law is that body of law which comes down to us as law enacted through the centuries by various monarchs. In their imperial capacity monarchs are able to impose law and regulations which all in their empire must follow. What is particularly significant about Imperial Law is that much of the freedom which western societies take for granted have come to us by rulings of various monarchs down through the past 1,000 years.

Imperial Law

Not all laws enacted by monarchs were so enacted with the enthusiastic support of the monarch. The Magna Carta, for example, is a law that was forced on King John. Yet, by his action of ratifying that law it comes to us as ‘imperial law’.

In Australia the original national constitution is built upon the pre-existing Imperial Law. Subsequently the various states of the Commonwealth have enacted legislation ratifying that pre-existing Imperial Law as continuing its validity for the benefit of Australian citizens.

So Imperial Law is not as out of date or irrelevant as the idea might suggest to our modern minds. We are indebted to imperial laws for many of the freedoms we have taken for granted all our lives.