Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning– Ecclesiastes 4:13 NIV
The book of Daniel begins with what appears to be nothing more than a bit of context:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace- Daniel 1:1-3
Daniel 1:1-3 is more than simply the prelude to the story. The intro to the book of Daniel is actually the grim fulfillment of a prophecy given to King Hezekiah more than a hundred years before:
The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 2nd Kings 20:17-18
Hezekiah did not respond to the prophet’s words the way one would expect, i.e. with sorrow, alarm and a panicky appeal to reverse the predicted outcome. Instead, Hezekiah made light of the prophet’s disturbing forecast. Hezekiah’s apparently laisser-faire demeaner strongly indicates he was more than willing to trade the destruction of his nation and the future enslavement of his own flesh and blood for peace and prosperity in his time (2nd Kings 20:19).
Here’s the thing:
Hezekiah was not an awful person nor was he a negligent leader. To the contrary, Hezekiah is described as a uniquely good leader and stand-up guy. He destroyed the places of pagan worship scattered throughout Judah and removed all traces of idolatry from the Temple (2nd Kings 18:1-7). When faced with certain defeat from a bordering nation he prayed and literally begged God to save the nation and against all odds Judah remained at peace during Hezekiah’s reign (2nd Kings 18:9-19:37, Proverbs 3:3-5). Hezekiah was not a marginal leader or human being. Up until that moment Hezekiah appeared to be a good, God-fearing man driven by love for God and a desire to see his people living righteously.
What happened? How did such a good guy go so terribly wrong? Well. I believe the answer is buried between the lines of a couple verses in 2nd Kings:
Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine olive oil—his armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them- 2nd Kings 20:13
When asked about the visit he responded with:
They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”- 2nd Kings 20:14
I do not believe God was angry with Hezekiah for showing the Babylonians the treasures of Judah. It was certainly not the wisest strategic or political move. However, it wasn’t the problem, his focus was.
Hezekiah’s focus went from being entirely on God and the welfare of his people to be entirely Hezekiah-focused. In just a few short sentences the king uses personal pronouns a total of six times. He talks about” his” palace, “his” storehouses, “his” gold, “his” armory and “my treasures. His, his, and mine, mine, not so much as a word was uttered concerning God’s provision or God’s goodness or God’s glory.
It was all Hezekiah all the time.
Hezekiah experienced a change in attitude that can take place in anyone—even those who sincerely love God and are called to His purposes. The change of heart he experienced was subtle at first. It took place gradually. As a result, Hezekiah did not even see that he was focused on entirely on himself and motivated by his own success and comfort rather than on what was best for his people and glorifying to the God he served. The end result of his self-focus was the eventual destruction of the nation he loved, seventy years of Babylonian captivity and the enslavement of the man who very well could have been his own grandson (Daniel).
This passage ought to serve as a cautionary tale to all of us because we just so happen to live in an age of self-focus, self-love, self-worship and self-centeredness and dwell in a society that values self above others. Every. Single. Time.
God despises self-focus (Romans 2:8, Philippians2:3). He knows that even good, godly people who permit themselves to become self-focused stop caring how their present actions will affect future generations. Even the best people start valuing convenience over righteousness anytime self-worship becomes a part of their operating system (2nd Chronicles 28:3, Jeremiah 19:5, Ezekiel 20:31). Self-focus is spiritually blinding. It causes even believers to reject obvious truth.
Self-focus that’s left to fester always ends in moral decay and some sort of captivity (2nd Timothy 2:26, Colossians 2:8, Acts 8:23, 1st Timothy 3:1-3).
Just like it did with Hezekiah.
Breaking the power of our self-focus is a tough but necessary thing if we want to be like Jesus and bless others (Philippians 2:1-16).
Here’s the thing though:
It’s almost impossible to see our own self-focus in a culture where self-promotion, self-worship and self-centeredness is all regarded as virtue. Getting free of the curse of self-focus requires a willingness to take a hard look at our lives. It requires a ruthlessness in evaluating our attitudes and mindsets. If we want to free ourselves from the curse of thinking about ourselves we have to be willing to humble ourselves and flat-out ask God to show us the stuff in us we really don’t want to see or deal with.
When we ask God to give us freedom the curse of self-focus God frees us from captivity and releases us to be a blessing.