Every nation has laws and is ruled by a government. Laws and governments differ from nation to nation, and sometimes even oppose each other, yet laws and governments are necessary and indispensable.
Imagine a country in the throes of violent revolution, as rebels and rioters abandon laws and force the government to collapse, violating the constitution and attempting to assassinate the rulers. Is it possible for any nation and its people to survive when neither its laws nor its government are respected? What kind of existence would this be? What about liberty, dignity, respect for human rights, protection of life, and all the conditions necessary for a peaceful society? Without well-functioning governmental institutions, anarchy and chaos lead to unimaginable horrors. Therefore, governments are necessary so that the people can “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” 1 Timothy 2:2. It has been asserted that “a corrupt government is better than no government at all”; but the holy Scriptures say, “The powers … are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1), which is the same as what Jesus said to the governor: “You could have no power at all … unless it had been given you from above.” John 19:11, New King James Version.
From one country to another, large organizations of courts, lawyers, and judges deal with old and new laws that are published in large volumes occupying a lot of shelf space. Beyond that, thousands of norms regulate every aspect of human life, and every year parliaments enact new laws and regulations.
In the midst of all these laws, rules, and regulations live billions of people, including the people of God. Traditions, habits, governments, and laws differ from country to country; and often, even in the same country, modern laws are different from older ones. How should Christians live and behave as they are scattered in countries across the globe? The divine principles include the following: “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” 1 Peter 2:12-17.
“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” Philippians 4:8, 9.
But what does the Christian do when human laws oppose the eternal law of God, as is frequently the case in these last days of human history? The mentality of the world frequently influences governments and enacts laws that are incompatible with God’s principles. For example, think of the laws that require one to work on the holy Sabbath day, that impose military service with arms in time of war, or that readily grant divorce, thus ending a marriage covenant in a quick, “easy” way. Laws that allow abortion, euthanasia, and marriage of people of the same gender all directly violate the principles of life and divine law.
In every case, the inspired answer is that God’s people distinguish between His law and human law and between their commitment to God and their duty to the government, as we read in the following verses: “Render … to all their dues.” “Render … unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Romans 13:7; Matthew 22:21.
The same principle is stated in the Spirit of prophecy: “… It is our duty in every case to obey the laws of our land, unless they conflict with the higher law which God spoke with an audible voice from Sinai, and afterward engraved on stone with His own finger. ‘I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.’ He who has God’s law written in the heart will obey God rather than men, and will sooner disobey all men than deviate in the least from the commandment of God. God’s people, taught by the inspiration of truth, and led by a good conscience to live by every word of God, will take His law, written in their hearts, as the only authority which they can acknowledge or consent to obey. The wisdom and authority of the divine law are supreme.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 361.
Dear brothers and sisters, these lessons have been prepared in view of the difficult situations confronting God’s people around the world now and that will become more intense and complex in the days ahead. They include examples from Scripture in which the Lord interposed in the lives of His children and worked miracles for those who loved Him and were resolute in remaining faithful to Him and His law, regardless of the consequences. God’s people gained the victory even when it appeared humanly impossible. May the Lord help us, as we look at these experiences again, to learn from the lessons that He gave His people in the past and that He will give them today to prepare for the upcoming tests and victories.
–Brothers and sisters of the General Conference
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Result of Accepting Wise Counsel
Lesson 1 | Sabbath, 6 January 2018
“… Let it be remembered that to the obedient alone will the promises of blessing, support, and guidance be fulfilled.” –Signs of the Times, December 22, 1881.
“Christ’s followers are required to come out from the world, and be separate, and touch not the unclean, and they have the promise of being the sons and daughters of the Most High, members of the royal family. But if the conditions are not complied with on their part, they will not, cannot, realize the fulfillment of the promise. A profession of Christianity is nothing in the sight of God; but true, humble, willing obedience to His requirements designates the children of His adoption, the recipients of His grace, the partakers of His great salvation.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 441.
A king’s dreams
1. What dreams did the Lord give to the Egyptian Pharaoh? What impression did they make on him?
Genesis 41:1-8 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river.2And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. 3And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 4And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.5And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. 6And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them. 7And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. 8And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh.
“The king of Egypt had in one night two dreams, apparently pointing to the same event and seeming to foreshadow some great calamity. He could not determine their significance, yet they continued to trouble his mind. The magicians and wise men of his realm could give no interpretation. The king’s perplexity and distress increased, and terror spread throughout his palace.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 219.
Interpretation of the dreams
2. To whom did the Lord give light concerning the sovereign’s dreams? What was the meaning?
Genesis 41:25-32 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath showed Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. 27And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. 28This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he showeth unto Pharaoh. 29Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: 30And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land;31And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. 32And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.
“The general agitation recalled to the chief butler’s mind the circumstances of his own dream; with it came the memory of Joseph, and a pang of remorse for his forgetfulness and ingratitude. He at once informed the king how his own dream and that of the chief baker had been interpreted by a Hebrew captive, and how the predictions had been fulfilled.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 219.
3. In view of the coming years of abundant harvests that were to be followed by famine, what counsel did Joseph give the king?
Genesis 41:33-36 Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. 35And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. 36And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.
“The interpretation was so reasonable and consistent, and the policy which it recommended was so sound and shrewd, that its correctness could not be doubted. But who was to be entrusted with the execution of the plan? Upon the wisdom of this choice depended the nation’s preservation. The king was troubled. For some time the matter of the appointment was under consideration. Through the chief butler the monarch had learned of the wisdom and prudence displayed by Joseph in the management of the prison; it was evident that he possessed administrative ability in a preeminent degree…. Further inquiry by the king proved the correctness of his report. In all the realm Joseph was the only man gifted with wisdom to point out the danger that threatened the kingdom and the preparation necessary to meet it;…” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 221.
4. Were Joseph’s suggestions logical? Whom did Pharaoh propose and then appoint to carry out the plan?
Genesis 41:37-44 And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. 38And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? 39And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath showed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: 40Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. 42And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; 43And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.44And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.
“… The king was convinced that he was the one best qualified to execute the plans which he had proposed. It was evident that a divine power was with him, and that there were none among the king’s officers of state so well qualified to conduct the affairs of the nation at this crisis. The fact that he was a Hebrew and a slave was of little moment when weighed against his evident wisdom and sound judgment….
“From the dungeon Joseph was exalted to be ruler over all the land of Egypt. It was a position of high honor, yet it was beset with difficulty and peril. One cannot stand upon a lofty height without danger. As the tempest leaves unharmed the lowly flower of the valley, while it uproots the stately tree upon the mountaintop, so those who have maintained their integrity in humble life may be dragged down to the pit by the temptations that assail worldly success and honor. But Joseph’s character bore the test alike of adversity and prosperity…. Through Joseph the attention of the king and great men of Egypt was directed to the true God; and though they adhered to their idolatry, they learned to respect the principles revealed in the life and character of the worshiper of Jehovah.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 221, 222.
Preparation for the crisis
5. What was done during the seven years of plenty? What measures were taken to store the necessary provisions for the coming famine?
Genesis 41:47-49 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls. 48And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. 49And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.
“At the very opening of the fruitful years began the preparation for the approaching famine. Under the direction of Joseph, immense storehouses were erected in all the principal places throughout the land of Egypt, and ample arrangements were made for preserving the surplus of the expected harvest. The same policy was continued during the seven years of plenty, until the amount of grain laid in store was beyond computation.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 224.
6. What happens in a country that suffers famine for not just one or two years, but uninterruptedly for seven years?
Genesis 41:54-57 And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do. 56And the famine was over all the face of the earth: And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians; and the famine waxed sore in the land of Egypt. 57And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn; because that the famine was so sore in all lands.
7. At this point, how did Joseph view his prior experiences? What were the wonderful results for many people through the Egyptians’ accepting the good advice?
Genesis 45:7, 8 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
“Joseph regarded his being sold into Egypt as the greatest calamity that could have befallen him; but he saw the necessity of trusting in God as he had never done when protected by his father’s love. Joseph brought God with him into Egypt, and the fact was made apparent by his cheerful demeanor amid his sorrow. As the ark of God brought rest and prosperity to Israel, so did this God-loving, God-fearing youth bring a blessing to Egypt….
“It was God’s design that through Joseph, Bible religion should be introduced among the Egyptians. This faithful witness was to represent Christ in the court of kings. Through dreams, God communicated with Joseph in his youth, giving him an intimation of the high position he would be called to fill. The brothers of Joseph, to prevent the fulfillment of his dreams, sold him as a slave, but their cruel act resulted in bringing about the very thing the dreams had foretold.” –(The Youth’s Instructor, March 11, 1897) Ye Shall Receive Power, p. 256.
Promises to those who heed God’s counsel
8. How unusual is it for a king to accept the suggestions of a young foreign slave? What promises does the Lord give to all who act on His counsel, as did the Pharaoh in Joseph’s day?
Proverbs 19:20 Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.
Jeremiah 23:18 For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord, and hath perceived and heard his word? who hath marked his word, and heard it?
Psalm 73:23, 24 Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. 24Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
“Those who seek to turn aside the purpose of God, and oppose His will, may appear for a time to prosper; but God is at work to fulfill His own purposes, and He will make manifest who is the ruler of the heavens and the earth.” –(The Youth’s Instructor, March 11, 1897) Ye Shall Receive Power, p. 256.
“Here are the promises, plain and definite, rich and full; but they are all upon conditions. If you comply with the conditions, can you not trust the Lord to fulfill His word? Let these blessed promises, set in the framework of faith, be placed in memory’s halls. Not one of them will fail. All that God hath spoken He will do. ‘He is faithful that promised.’ ” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 630.
For additional study
“How was Joseph enabled to make such a record of firmness of character, uprightness, and wisdom? In his early years he had consulted duty rather than inclination; and the integrity, the simple trust, the noble nature, of the youth bore fruit in the deeds of the man. A pure and simple life had favored the vigorous development of both physical and intellectual powers. Communion with God through His works and the contemplation of the grand truths entrusted to the inheritors of faith had elevated and ennobled his spiritual nature, broadening and strengthening the mind as no other study could do. Faithful attention to duty in every station, from the lowliest to the most exalted, had been training every power for its highest service. He who lives in accordance with the Creator’s will is securing to himself the truest and noblest development of character. ‘The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’ Job 28:28.
“There are few who realize the influence of the little things of life upon the development of character. Nothing with which we have to do is really small. The varied circumstances that we meet day by day are designed to test our faithfulness and to qualify us for greater trusts….
“The most precious gifts are of no value unless they are improved. The formation of a noble character is the work of a lifetime and must be the result of diligent and persevering effort. God gives opportunities; success depends upon the use made of them.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 222, 223.