There is a lot of pressure in our world to be first, to be number one. Some people will attain it, but the number of those who do will be very few. There can only be one number one in any given group! Some will occupy first place in their family, this may be based on their age, wealth, or accomplishments. Others will be first in their place of employment. For example, a man or woman might be the top salesperson for their company. Holding the highest place has its benefits. Not only is there personal recognition, but there is also, in many cases power. We see evidence of this in Scripture. Both pagan and Israelite kings who ruled over their respective lands had a title and power. They could use it for good or evil, they were in a position to make a difference in their land. However, one need not be the top person in order to make a difference. I am not suggesting that we do not try to be our best or strive for excellence, what I am saying is that sometimes being number two is good enough. We also see examples of this in Scripture. In the remainder of this article we will look at two people who only made it to number two, but it was enough for them to make a huge impact in the lives of many people. The two that we will considering are both found in the Old Testament; we will be looking at the lives of Joseph and Mordecai.
In the book of Genesis we meet a person named Joseph, he came from a large family, he had many brothers. He also had some divinely given dreams which caused him trouble when he shared them with his family. His brothers were so furious with him that they sold him (Gen. 37:28). Those who purchased him from his brothers brought him to Egypt and then they sold him (Gen. 37:36). While he was in Egypt Joseph found favor with Potiphar who put him in charge of his household (Gen. 39:4). Because Joseph was strong and attractive he caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:6b-7). She made sexual advances toward him (Gen. 39:7, 12). Out of reverence for God and his boss, he resisted her, even though her advances went on for a number of days (Gen. 39:10). Because he resisted her she lied about him (Gen. 39:14-18). She told her husband, Potiphar, that Joseph had made advances toward her (Gen. 39:17-18). This landed Joseph in prison (Gen. 39:20). While he was there he rose to a place of prominence. He also successfully interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, the butcher and the baker (Gen 40:8-22). In time he was called upon to interpret the dreams Pharaoh (Gen 41:14-15).
Joseph was also successful in interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh. Because of this Pharaoh promoted him and placed him in charge of all the land of Egypt (Gen.41:41). He gave him the position of number two in the land (Gen. 41:43). In this position he was able to save many people, including his own family, from the ravages of an ongoing famine (Gen. 45:5-6). He was not the number one person in the country but he was able to make a difference, even though he was number two, and a foreigner. This unlikely leader used his influence for good. Joseph himself was able to see that he was used to help save the lives of many people (Gen. 50:20).
The second biblical character whose life we will consider is Mordecai. He was a relative of Hadassah, whom we know better as Esther; he raised her, because her parents were not in her life (Esth. 2:7). While Mordecai was in Susa he heard about a plan to assassinate the king. This plan was devised by two officers of the king (Esth. 2:21-22). He told Esther about it and she told the king, but she gave credit to Mordecai for uncovering the plan (Esth. 2:22).
Mordecai was not rewarded for his loyalty at the time when he exposed the plan, he was not honored until later (Esth. 6:1-11). He also served as an “informant” regarding Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews. When Mordecai became aware of it (Esth. 4:1) he sent word to Esther and urged her to speak up for her people (Esth. 4:8). She did, and as a result the threat to Jews was addressed. Again, as a result of Mordecai’s actions, life was saved. And like Joseph, he was promoted to a place of prominence; he was second in the land (Esth. 10:3).
Joseph and Mordecai had some similarities and some differences. Their similarities include both being Jewish men and both doing right. They lived in different places and at different times but both were instrumental in saving the lives of others. Joseph saved people from the natural disaster of the famine, and Mordecai saved people from the evil plans of sinful human beings. He saved the life of the king and helped save the lives of the Jewish people. These two men also had something else in common. They both maintained their integrity. They behaved as they did because they honored God above all. It is worth noting that neither of these men sought the high positions that they eventually received. In fact, both were very unlikely candidates to receive these positions. Neither of them became number one. However, from where they were they made a big difference. We don’t have to be number one in order to make a difference in the lives of people. In fact, we do not even need to be number two. Whatever our position in life is we just need to use the influence and position we have to serve the best interests of others. If God is number one in our lives, and we are submitted to Him, our earthly position is not really all that important.
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.