They have different responses to God. And He has different responses to them.

Broadly speaking, two basic kinds of government show up in the Bible: those who knew they were under God and those who thought they were God or were equal to God. The first kind protected God’s people. The second kind attacked them. The first knew they were servants (Rom. 13). The second didn’t and so acted like divine impostors and beasts (Ps. 2; Rev. 13, 17:1–6).

King Nebuchadnezzar offered an example of the first, at least after the Lord humbled him. This pagan king declared that God’s “dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.” He then provided what might be one of my favorite lines about God in the Bible: “None can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ ” (Dan. 4:34–35, ESV throughout). It was whenever Nebuchadnezzar was humbled that he stopped questioning God and made a space for God’s people.

The kings of Egypt and Assyria offered pictures of beastly imposters. They attacked and destroyed God’s people. Pharaoh responded to his first encounter with Moses, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” (Ex. 5:2). The Assyrian king’s field commander, likewise, taunted the people of Israel, “Beware lest [your king] mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isa. 36:18). They saw themselves as equal to or greater than God, and so their rule was both against God’s people and outside of God’s guidelines.

No governments are all good or all bad. Even the worst help the traffic lights to work, and the best spend money they shouldn’t. …

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