Can we achieve success “without” God? Many have believed so. But God expects us to eventually recognize and acknowledge His role in our achievements, or we may find ourselves in jeopardy of losing all.
Two Biblical writers foretell the ultimate demise of two mighty maritime trading nations. The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel describes the coming fall of ancient Tyre and the apostle John predicts the future downfall of “Babylon the Great” in the New Testament book of Revelation.
The island fortress of Tyre fell two hundred years after Ezekiel’s writing, but John’s prophecy about Babylon has yet to be fulfilled almost two thousand years later.
What was the reason for the Lord’s judgment against these two merchant nations? Among other reasons, it seems to be accumulating their great wealth and power without ever acknowledging the blessing of the true God who made it all possible.
The leaders of both of these nations were arrogant and proud, having gained their abundant wealth through a global trade network which also enriched their trading partners. These giants possessed all the luxuries of the world at their fingertips yet failed to acknowledge the God who made it all possible, and even worked in opposition to Him.
Tyre was arrogant enough from their success to believe that they were not only humans, but gods. This was a serious problem in their perspective. As Ezekiel wrote:
1 The word of the Lord came again to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘The Lord God says this:
“Because your heart is haughty
And you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of gods
In the heart of the seas’;
Yet you are a mortal and not God,
Although you make your heart like the heart of God—
5 By your great wisdom, by your trade
You have increased your riches,
And your heart is haughty because of your riches—
6 Therefore this is what the Lord God says:
‘Because you have made your heart
Like the heart of God,
7 Therefore, behold, I am going to bring strangers against you,
The most ruthless of the nations.
And they will draw their swords
Against the beauty of your wisdom
And profane your splendor. Ezekiel 28:1-2,5-7 (NASB)
Ezekiel describes the lamentations of the merchants who watched Tyre’s destruction, and would no longer be able to enrich themselves from their trading partnership.
29 All who handle the oar,
The seamen and all the sailors of the sea
Will come down from their ships;
They will stand on the land,
30 And they will make their voice heard over you
And cry out bitterly.
They will throw dust on their heads,
They will wallow in ashes.
31 Also they will shave themselves bald for you
And put on sackcloth;
And they will weep for you in bitterness of soul
With bitter mourning.
32 Moreover, in their wailing they will take up a song of mourning for you
And sing a song of mourning over you:
‘Who is like Tyre,
Like her who is silent in the midst of the sea?
33 When your merchandise went out from the seas,
You satisfied many peoples;
With the abundance of your wealth and your merchandise
You enriched the kings of the earth.
34 Now that you are broken by the seas
In the depths of the waters,
Your merchandise and all your company
Have fallen in the midst of you.
35 All the inhabitants of the coastlands
Are appalled at you,
And their kings are horribly afraid;
They have a troubled look.
36 The merchants among the peoples hiss at you;
You have become terrified
And you will cease to be forever. Ezekiel 27:29-36 (NASB)
In the book of Revelation, the apostle John gives a similar vision of future lamentations for world merchant Babylon the Great by its grieving trading partners.
11 “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargo any more— 12 cargo of gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet; every kind of citron wood, every article of ivory, and every article made from very valuable wood, bronze, iron, and marble; 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, perfume, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, and cargo of horses, carriages, slaves, and human lives. 14 The fruit you long for has left you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and people will no longer find them. 15 The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, 16 saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls; 17 for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and all who make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, 18 and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ 19 And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich from her prosperity, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’ 20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” Revelation 18:11-20 (NASB)
What are the lessons for us from these two divine judgements? One is that it is vitally important for us to acknowledge the protection, care, and favor of our Creator, no matter our level of success.
It is common for those who achieve great material success to take full credit for their good fortune. After all, much hard work, sweat, and toil has gone into it. Often long hours of sacrifice, perseverance and study have been required to begin to achieve and maintain some measure of success. More hardships are endured to build up a business or a nation of businesses to obtain ever-increasing wealth and riches. Why not be proud of all the work that went into these endeavors, especially when the results are bountiful enough to create an overflow of wealth that is shared with one’s merchant partners around the globe?
The important ingredient that is often missing is humility. Being humble rather than proud means acknowledging the contributions of God in our lives as well as our own. We are easily tempted to overlook the many provisions, protections, and opportunities that have come to us which allow us to achieve our best.
Support for our advancements came in the form of the family or friends who provided us with food, shelter, and a loving environment of encouragement. Education has often been available to us through the hard work of our teachers and mentors, leading to successful personal growth and employment opportunities. Even in the hardest times God has made a way for us to survive and thrive, coming through our challenges stronger and wiser by His hand and favor.
In Luke 12, Jesus told a parable about a rich man with a successful harvest that was much larger than his barns could hold. Congratulating himself on his accomplishments, he planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones that could handle the coming bounty, then to retire and enjoy all of his riches himself. But in Jesus’ parable, the man would die that evening, rich in a wealth that he could not enjoy, and poor towards the things that are important to God.
God does not condemn wealth – only He makes wealth possible. Rather, He asks that those who receive anything from His hand remember to acknowledge Him, the Giver, and to share of the bounty with those who are in need for His glory and for the growth of His kingdom.
How do you define success? Has God made this possible in your life? What do you need from the Lord to complete the picture?
Father, thank You for the countless blessings you have given us each day. Thank you for bringing us through all of our trials and hardships. Grant us protection and favor today and always and help us to remember and acknowledge Your many gracious gifts and miracles. Grant us the good things we seek that are in line with Your perfect will for us and acceptance when Your answer is “No” or “Not now”. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.