At the intersection of religion and politics is influence. Specifically, can the righteous influence unrighteous leaders? Of course, there are all kinds of religious interest groups attempting to influence policy one way or the other. But what about individual influence?

At the time of this posting, the United States is a largely Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles – a nation “under God”. There is a sitting Vice President in Mike Pence who openly professes his faith and belief in Jesus Christ and who most would describe as spiritual and even pious. Yet, he works for and serves at the pleasure of a President in Donald Trump that has had, to be generous, a “checkered past”. He is unapologetic, prideful, and a notorious womanizer. Many Christians openly object to him based on their own moral principles, accurately pointing to behavior that is difficult if not impossible to justify spiritually.

Only God can know the heart of individuals. He is the ultimate arbiter of anyone’s righteousness or unrighteousness before Him. Yet, from the outside looking in, the Trump-Pence spiritual dynamic does seem at odds. Does Scripture reveal any similar dynamics involving the righteous influence of unrighteous leaders/rulers/kings?

How Scripture answers "Can the Godly influence ungodly political leaders?"

The Godly can definitely influence ungodly political leaders1,2,3,4,5,6,7. In most cases, we don’t know of the personal influence they may have had on the leader1,3,4,5,6,7 but we are told of the policy influence1,2,3,4,5,6. In at least one case, we can see the influence and effect they had on the leader personally2.

In all cases, we confidently know through Scripture’s testimony the righteousness of the influencer. God was at work through the pure hearts of Joseph1, Daniel2,3, Ezra5, Esther4, Nehemiah6, and Paul7.

Conversely, we don’t know the spiritual condition and state of those they influenced. Did they turn their hearts in the end? We don’t know, and like today, we won’t know until that Day. But, it’s not implausible to think that the great Nebuchadnezzar himself awaits us in heaven2. Wouldn’t that be something?

Answer built on scripture-blocks below

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, Bow the knee! Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt.

The Egyptian Pharaoh installed Joseph as his right hand and gave him power and authority in Egypt second only to himself.

Joseph has gone from slave, to prisoner, to second in Egypt.  He was recognized by Pharaoh for interpreting two dreams (with God’s help) that foretold a great famine in the land.  Joseph’s appointment included setting policy and making provision for the famine that would allow the rest of his household to find solace and prosper in the land.  This lasted until “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8)
Scripture-block application to this question

The security and prosperity of God’s people was directly tied to Joseph’s time in office and his influence. When a new king arose that didn’t know Joseph, the people were enslaved.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery. Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

King Nebuchadnezzar honored Daniel and acknowledged his God as the God of all gods and ruler of kings.  He gave him gifts and made him ruler over the province and put in charge over all the wise men.  Daniel was also to appoint his three friends into positions over the province, while Daniel remained in king Nebuchadnezzar’s court.

With God’s help, Daniel is able to interpret a dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s that nobody else was able to interpret. It was of an image made of different alloys that each represented kingdoms, starting with Nebuchadnezzar’s and ending with a kingdom that God will establish, lasting forever (vs 44).

Scripture-block application to this question

Daniel’s (and his friends’) position in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was influential. We don’t have a specific record of policies or reforms, but given the public stand this ‘group of four’ has made at other times (chap 1 – not eating the king’s diet, chap 2 – his friends not bowing down to the image Nebuchadnezzar had erected) it would be more than reasonable to assume they used their influence to move the nation toward God.

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.
Darius set 120 satraps over the kingdom and over them three presidents including Daniel.  Over time, Daniel distinguished himself about all presidents and satraps so that the king planned to set him over the entire kingdom.

The Babylonian empire has been overthrown by the Medo-Persian empire as is remarkably chronicled in the immediately preceding verses (chapter 5).  Daniel apparently was not active in the court of Nebuchadnezzar’s son and had been somewhat forgotten (5:13).  Nevertheless, Daniel is again viewed as an essential asset with the new Persian regime.

Scripture-block application to this question

Whether this Darius is another name for Cyrus, king of Persia, or if he was himself a co-regent for the area with/under Cyrus (and Darius in vs 1 isn’t the same as “the king” in vs 3) is unclear. What is clear is that Daniel was given immense authority in the Persian empire just as he had in the Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar.

And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.

The king gave Haman’s position to Mordecai, sealed with his signet ring.  And Queen Esther set Mordecai [her uncle] over Haman’s house/possessions.

Xerxes (aka Ahasuerus) is king in Persia and he has taken Esther as queen.  Haman had been installed as his ‘right-hand’ (
Esther 3:1-2
Scripture-block application to this question

About fifty years and four kings after Daniel served king Cyrus, Esther and her uncle Mordecai find themselves with power and influence in king Xerxes kingdom.  In fact, not only do they expose a plot to have all the Jews in the land exterminated, they instituted a national holiday with an edict from the king (Esther 9:29-32).

this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the Lord, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.

Ezra was a scribe in Babylonia.  He was skilled in the law of Moses and the king showed him favor, granting whatever he asked because God was with him.

Probably around 458BC.  Ezra is a Jewish exile in Persia and Artaxerxes I is on the throne.  We don’t know any official position Ezra held in his government, but the king was obviously familiar with Ezra and Ezra had influence over the king.  Ezra asked to return to Jerusalem and the king granted his request and sent him with provisions, security and a letter from the king.

Scripture-block application to this question

We don’t know Ezra’s position in the government, but we see the great influence he had with the king and the authority bestowed on him once he arrived in Jerusalem (Ezra 7:21).  Furthermore, we see Ezra attributing God’s working in all of this (Ezra 7:27-28).

Now I was cupbearer to the king.
[Nehemiah] was the king’s cupbearer.

Probably around 444-445 BC and Artaxerxes I is on the throne.  Nehemiah prays to God and uses his position and favor with the king to petition for his return to Jerusalem.  His petition is granted and the king provides a letter sealed by the king.  Nehemiah will be the 3rd group of exiles to return to Jerusalem.

Scripture-block application to this question

Nehemiah’s previous position in the Persian government and the influence he garnered while there is pivotal in his success in facing down political opposition in Jerusalem and leading civic (rebuilding the wall), social and religious reform.

After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you. At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him.

Felix and his Jewish wife Drusilla sent for Paul to hear him speak about faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul reasoned about righteousness, self-control and the coming judgement.  Felix was alarmed by the message and sent him away but continued to meet with him as he had other motives of getting a bribe from him.

Paul has been arrested upon a return trip to Jerusalem (following his third missionary journey) and is being held by the Roman governor, Felix.
Scripture-block application to this question

This isn’t quite the same as situations we see in governments preceding Rome. Paul has no state position or title, quite the opposite. However, he does have access and opportunity for influence over the political authority at that time. However, and unlike the Old Testament examples, we are not told if Paul’s efforts were effective over the two years (vs 27) for either a personal change in Felix or in any policy matters.

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