POSTED ON NOVEMBER 30, 2011:
How a humble king modeled a turn towards God
It's rare to find a leader that typifies humility and loyalty. It's even rarer to find a leader like King Jules K Kossigan Samlan.
Samlan is the King of Vogan, a region in the south of Togo, Africa, that includes roughly 40,000 people. Sounds like an interesting gig, right? Here's the catch: Samlan lives in Germany.
In 1996, the royal family of Vogan was forced to escape Togo during political upheaval. This was when the then prince Salman moved to Germany.
Since 2009, he's been governing his tribe, the Mina-Ewe, by telephone at night. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that by day, Samlan works as a kitchen aid at the Schweinsbraeu restaurant in Glonn, Germany.
Restauranteur by day, king by night. Menial, thankless labor during sunlight hours, kingly activity during nighttime hours. No question, this is a rarity.
In the Old Testament book of Jonah, in chapter 3, we find a reluctant prophet relenting to a pursuant God and speaking a foreboding word of caution to a rebellious city and king.
As the story goes, Jonah disobeys the Lord, jumps on a ship headed the opposite route of where he was told to go, gets caught in the middle of a voracious tempest, is thrown overboard, and is swallowed by a large fish. He remains in the belly of this fish for three days and three nights and while there, succumbs to the merciful intervention of God to go to Nineveh.
Now on dry land, the Scriptures say that God came to Jonah a second time. Only this time, God doesn't give him specific instructions on what to say -- he just says, "Call out against it the message that I tell you." In other words, "Jonah, obey me and say whatever I tell you to say." Jonah finally concedes.
When Jonah arrives in Nineveh, he warns them that their city will be overthrown in forty days. He doesn't extend any semblance of hope. He doesn't render a way out. He instead offers a message of doom and gloom. Period. And guess what happened? The Scriptures say that the Ninevites believed God anyway!
The call to turn from their evil ways did not stop only with the citizens of Nineveh -- it made its way up to the city's king. Jonah 3:6 says, "The word reached the king of Nineveh and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes."
In response to Jonah's word, the king makes two subtle but powerfully significant decisions that demonstrated his inward humility and his loyalty to his people.
A Greater King
In biblical history, a king was believed to be a king when he was seated on -- not standing in front of -- a throne. A king positioned on a throne displayed the exercise of his authority in conducting war and executing justice against his enemies.
But in an act of humility, this king rose from his throne. In this simple enactment, the king said, "I recognize that I am not the real king here. There is a king greater than I. There is a ruler and a kingdom greater than this. I now give up my throne to let the true King rule and reign in this situation." Stunning.
The first commandment says that we should have no other gods before the Lord God. This means that there is one rightful place reserved for God and he will not divvy up that spot with anyone or anything else. He will not share his glory.
Think of your heart as a throne in which a king would sit. In our hearts, we are letting something rule and reign. The question to ask ourselves is: is it God or something else?
The way to answer this question is to ask yourself, what gives me a sense of significance? What gives me my identity? What, if I lost it, would cause me to be depressed, discouraged, maybe even suicidal? Follow that pathway and you will find what is sitting on the throne of your heart.
Colossians 3:15 says, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." The only way you get this peace is when you stand up and get out of the throne of your heart and let God sit down.
This is what is happening in Jonah 3. The King of Nineveh is recognizing that he really isn't the king. It may be his title but he is acknowledging there is a greater King than he that needs to rule and reign in his life.
In much the same way that sitting on the throne imparts a king's authority and power, the royal robe displayed his prestige and supremacy. It was a garment that someone who had high social distinction wore. But here, the king takes off his robe and puts on the same thing that the commoners are wearing: the scratchy, uncomfortable sackcloth.
First, the king releases his authority and power by raising up from his throne and now, in an act of putting aside his standing and supremacy, he acknowledges the glory and honor of God by putting on clothing that symbolizes mourning and grief.
What was the king and the city of Nineveh grieving?
2 Corinthians 7 says: "As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting...for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death."
The city of Nineveh was grieving because they were beginning to see that the sin in their hearts was an affront to a holy God. They were truly becoming aware of the ugliness of the evil in their hearts. They were getting real about how dark and deep the rabbit hole went.
They weren't trying to sugar coat their sin. They weren't trying to justify their evil. And maybe most relevant to us, they weren't apathetic about their sin.
The Ninevites had a godly grief that was producing repentance. A repentance that led to salvation. The Ninevites were experiencing real freedom for the first time in their lives. And a humble, loyal king led the way.
One day there would come a king whose humility would lead him all the way to a torture device.
Many years later, Jesus would empty himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the "likeness of men." And being human, he would humble himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cruel cross. His death and resurrection would tackle our primary alienation with God -- our spiritual separation.
King Samlan is a humble and loyal king. The king of Nineveh responded with humility and loyalty to the call from God to repent. But there has been only one whose humility and loyalty transcended human effort and actually saved his chosen people.
Jesus is the true and better King Samlan.
Jesus is the true and better king of Nineveh.
Jesus is the "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."
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