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Monday, December 6, 2010

Serving Before the King

Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.--Proverbs 22: 29 NIV
Success in the world these days is not often measured according to skill; rather, it is judged by the amount of money made or the amount of product produced.  You may be the best at what you do, but quite often you will not get the attention you deserve (or crave).  Is there any remedy for this situation?

Well, not always, in this world.  Good marketing and some shameless self-promotion can help, but normally our best efforts never propel us out of obscurity.  Frequently, when they do, our pride over our success takes over and corrupts us (see Proverbs 16:18, 11: 28).  Let me put it this way.  To the untrained eye, it seems that most people, no matter how skilled, only serve before obscure men.

Still, the proverb at the beginning of this post promises something different than what my eyes see.  I don't think it is talking about earthly success or earthly kings.  We who develop the skills God gave us, for His glory, will serve before the King of Kings.  We will never be obscure in His eyes, because He is the one who gives honor to those who serve Him.

I leave you with Jesus' words, which clarify what I'm getting at with this passage:
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14: 7-11 NIV).
Even if you are in an "obscure position" right now in your life (that means most of us), you are serving before the King.  Your labor has been noted, and He will reward you.  Wait for it!

Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay with God, and stay savvy!


Jessie said...

I don't understand where you're getting your interpretation of this proverb. The proverb itself seems pretty straightforward, and does not seem to be talking specifically about serving in front of God (although, of course, we all are always doing just that).

The Book of Proverbs contains snippets of wisdom that are known to be true. I think it is indeed evident in the world that if God has given you talent in a particular area and you put that talent to work skillfully, you will generally achieve success, even as the world defines it. This is even illustrated in the Bible -- God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams and the desire to work hard for his masters. Joseph put those talents to work (savvily!), and achieved huge success. He was in charge of the whole country, second only to Pharaoh!

It seems to me actually quite cynical to say "to the untrained eye, it seems that most people, no matter how skilled, only serve before obscure men." Many Christians achieve well-earned success in many areas every day.

Rachel M. said...

Well, Jessie, I will grant that this post is not my most fleshed out analysis of a passage of scripture, and for that I apologize. I wasn't trying to come off as cynical, but I was making a point that I will try to finish explaining here.

Taken very literally, this passage specifically applies to people like Joseph, who actually served before a king--a human king. I suppose you could also include powerful bosses with kings, as well. Joseph was a special man, whose great skill received recognition and praise from the king himself.

I think we are selling this proverb short if we stop there and don't apply it to other individuals as well. The world, both in Biblical times and now, has always contained many men and women who were skilled in what they did, yet they never received special recognition or praise for their skill. They lived, they did their jobs, and they earned a wage that kept them from poverty. This is what I think you mean by "generally achiev[ing] success, even as the world defines it." However, they all died in obscurity. Their names were not written down or remembered among men. Were they really obscure, though?

I was addressing such "obscure" people in this post, not people like Joseph. They are often called 9-5 shift workers or the like, and they make up the majority of the Christian population in most countries. Though they make a wage, they may never "make their mark." Even Christians deal with this feeling, especially when they are passed over for a raise, turned down for a job, etc. Will they ever receive recognition for their hard work? I believe they will, and that it will be from God, even if it never comes from men. Is that cynical? Well, I never thought so. I always believed it gave hope, not despair, to think that God rewards skill, even if mankind manages to overlook it.

You said that we are always serving "in front of God," and I agree. Nothing any human being does is done outside of His view. However, when that verse says "serve before kings," it isn't talking about what the king sees (what is "in front of" him). Serving before God, the King, is serving in His court, just as it is in the courts of human kings. Those who know God are ushered into His courts, and there they have a position of higher honor than they seem to have on earth. They can take heart in knowing that, although they didn't get that raise, God will reward their labor anyway.

What I was getting at, in the end, is that Christians should not get discouraged about being "unknown" or spend their energy chasing after renown. Human reward is good, but reward from God, the highest King, is a greater honor to be sought.

Jessie said...

Rachel, you are absolutely right -- being rewarded by God is better than any honor another human could confer. However, that doesn't change the fact that you took a straight-forward passage of Scripture, and are essentially telling us that it doesn't say what it says. If you could provide some commentary or analysis that suggests that the verse is speaking of God and not human kings, then I could understand why you are saying this. But from the post, it looks as though you are citing this verse, and then saying that in your experience what it says isn't true, but that that's okay.

I don't mean to be belligerent. Your message here is good and encouraging -- it just doesn't really follow from this particular verse.

Rachel M. said...

Jessie, some scriptural passages have multiple levels of meaning, particularly prophetic/symbolic passages, as this Proverb is generally assumed to be. I will quote some scholars’ commentary on this, but first I wanted to explain what I mean by “multiple levels of meaning.” (this comment will have to be done in installments).

In such a case, prophetic/symbolic passages have an immediate or literal reading, which applied directly to people or events that were known at that time. You don’t have to have a background in prophecy to understand this literal meaning. In addition to that, there is frequently an underlying symbolic or prophetic meaning, which became apparent to scholars in the future when they compared it to other events or teachings in the Bible, as revealed to them by the guidance of the Holy Spirit (see, for instance, Paul’s comment in Ephesians 2: 3-6). This was fulfilled more completely in Christ’s life and example, and in the work of the Christian church and the body of the saints who follow Christ. Much of Paul’s letters to the churches, for instance, are his scholarly commentary on the prophetic reading of Old Testament Scripture.

Prophecy is a delicate subject which I generally avoid because my training is much more basic than Paul’s, or even many modern Bible scholars. I delved into this one because it was a safer example than most. We have to be careful not to “discover” prophetic meanings that aren’t there and cannot be corroborated with other passages of scripture. I just want to say that I commend and respect your zeal in making sure this is not being done here. I agree with you that it is unacceptable to twist Scriptural meanings for our own purposes, and I would never do that on purpose. I have delved into this to check up on myself because I don’t want to lead anyone into error.


Rachel M. said...

Now, I looked online and in my own library, and have found several commentaries on this passage that corroborate my interpretation that literally, we are talking about a man standing before human kings, but symbolically/prophetically, this passage references Christians standing in the court of the King of Kings, that is, the Lord.
From my own library:
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (not the abridged version available online): “though now he stands before mean men, is employed by them and attends upon them, yet he will rise, and is likely enough to stand before kings, as an ambassador to foreign kings or prime-minister of state to his own. Seest thou a man diligent in the business of religion? He is likely to excel in virtue, and shall stand before the King of Kings.”

I looked online as well (

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: “This may be spiritually applied. Every good man has a work or business to do in a religious way; some in a higher sphere, as officers of churches, ministers and deacons; the work of the one lies in reading, study, meditation, and prayer, in the ministration of the word and ordinances, and other duties of their once; and the business of the others in taking care of the poor, and the secular affairs of the churches; others in a lower way, and common to all Christians, which lies in the exercise of grace, and performance of all good works, relative to themselves, their families, and the church of God. Now ministers that are diligent in teaching and ruling; and deacons that do their office well; and private Christians, who are steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; are ready to every good work, heartily engaged in it, and constantly at it; shall not be company for the sons of darkness, unregenerate men, who are in the dark, and darkness itself; what communion has light with darkness, with works of darkness, they should be not workers of? or have any fellowship with the prince of darkness, from whose power they are delivered; but shall have society with the saints, who are made kings and priests unto God; shall be admitted into the presence of the King of kings now, and have communion with him; and shall stand before him at the great day with confidence, and not be ashamed; shall stand at his right hand, and shall be for ever with him.”

So Gill here seems to completely abandon the literal reading and focus on the spiritual rendering of this passage.
Now, in my searching, I found in the back of my Concordance that the word translated “obscure” or “mean” in familiar NIV and KJV versions, literally means “dark” (Heb. chosek), and is symbolic of the obscurity of night, of criminal activity, or of ignorance, not so much of a lack of fame. Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible goes so far as to say “dark or obscure persons; men of no repute.” If this is so, this passage has a much more spiritual meaning than it has a literal one, because the Bible is full of talented men who served before kings—Joseph and Pharaoh, David and Saul, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, Mordechi and Xerxes, Nehemiah and Artaxerxes, and so forth, but these kings did not have stellar records. They were not men of good report, nor were they lacking in ignorance of the truths of God. They were criminal, disobedient kings.

Rachel M. said...

Now, the rendering of “king,” or noble person, (Heb. melek) carries with it the symbolic imagery of a king seated on a high platform, ie. a visible place and office. Such symbolism is again supportive of a spiritual reading that this is the throne of God, the high platform on which He reigns in Heaven over the whole earth. God is the only king of genuine good report, and He is the opposite of darkness; no darkness is found in Him, and darkness flees from His presence (Zecharaiah 14: 6-7; Revelation 22: 5). In that case, the first Man to fulfill this passage on the prophetic level is Christ, who diligently worked and died among criminals and finally was ushered into the throne room of God as a reward for His obedience (Hebrews 8: 1-2). Now that He has gone before us, we who are covered by His sacrifice can also boldly enter into God’s throne room (Hebrews 10: 19-24).

This is both a present admission to God's presence, and a future one, which will be fulfilled when we join God in Heaven. It supports my position that although we may not get recognition for our skills among men ("dark" men), we have a God in Heaven who approves and has seen us and will honor us. Let me underscore once again that Christ's blood gives us entrance, not our skillful labor, even though our labor is recognized there.

Jessie said...

Thanks for taking the time to look deeper into this. That's an interesting point about the word "obscure" meaning "dark" in Hebrew. Although since all the English translations I checked want to translate it as "obscure", "lowly", "of low rank", etc, I'm not so sure it means "evil" or "spiritually dark" here. In fact, the 2010 edition of the NIV actually says "officials of low rank". (Just an interesting factoid.)

So anyway... I must confess that I remain unconvinced, but that's okay! Your point is certainly true, and praise God that His people can search and study His word themselves, discuss it, and still fellowship even if they disagree!