Two Pagan Birthdays (Just A Minute #122)

Andy Bonikowsky
Written by Andy Bonikowsky

And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. . . . But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. (Genesis 40:20 & Matthew 14:6)

Pharoah and Herod are the only two men whose birthdays are recorded in the Bible. The unusual coincidences connected with their special days actually make a strong case against them being coincidences at all.

Notice that both kings are pagan and have in their jails two very godly man—Joseph and John the Baptist. One story takes place in the Old Testament, the other in the New. The two faithful believers associated with these rulers were unjustly thrown in prison and neither had much hope for a fair trial. From all human perspectives, they are mere pawns at the mercy of an unsaved king’s whim.

However, God guided both kings to make birthday decisions that would hugely affect the men in their dungeons. In Pharoah’s case there are in fact two birthdays to keep in mind. In the original one he dealt dramatically with a couple of his kitchen supervisors. It was exactly two years later that the butler realized his mistake and Pharoah called Joseph in. At Herod’s party, his daughter pleased him with a birthday dance and then forced him into an awkward and deadly decision concerning John, whom her mother hated with a passion.

Curiously, the account in Genesis ends with Joseph being catapulted into the palace as second in command over the empire. He then lived in Egypt for another 70 years. The one in Matthew concludes with John the Baptist being immediately promoted into heaven.

The two stories had so much in common . . . until the final chapters.

Why does Joseph soar to the heights of human authority while John is cut down in a most humiliating and grotesque way? How could the two faithful men receive such contrasting rewards?

These questions are logical and deserve real consideration, and doctrines like those of the Father’s perfect wisdom or His rewards for believers would help us do that.

However, for now let’s unwrap a couple of important lessons that will help us face whatever surprises God’s will hands us. One is that God is fully capable of orchestrating the minute life details of any of today’s presidents and prime ministers (no matter how wicked they are) just as easily as He did those of Pharoah and Herod. So, we should stop wringing our hands and acting as though the Lord has lost control of the planet.

And two, the Lord decides how He wants us to best glorify His name when we come out of the deep trials of our earthly journey. Joseph lived longer and died expressing absolute trust in Jehovah. At the end of John’s short life, before being thrown in prison, he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Both men were happy to bring glory to God, in life and in death.

Rather than a sweet and sour pair of birthday parties, the two stories blend into a divine gift to us, a reminder that . . .

if God be for us, who can be against us?

Dear Father, if my life is long as Joseph’s or brief as John’s, grant me their living faith and their dying grace, that I may glorify You like they did. Amen.