Archives for May 2011
Daniel 4—the King’s Personal Testimony
According to Wikipedia, clay tablets were discovered in the ruins of ancient Babylon that give the history of King Nebuchadnezzar from his rule in Babylon from 605 BC until his death in 562. In one inscription it alludes to a difficult time in his life in which, “His life appeared of no value to him”, and “he does not show love to son or daughter and his family and clan does not exist” to him. There was also a notable absence of any record of his acts or decrees by the king during a seven year period from 582 to 575 BC. Therefore, this would fit the events portrayed in Daniel 4 in which the great proud king was humbled by God by striking him with insanity for seven years. When he was brought back to his senses, he humbly recognized the God of Israel as The Most High God, and personally confessed his allegiance to and belief in the Most High God
In Daniel 2-3, Nebuch threatened Daniel and his Jewish friends with death repeatedly. To prevent this, God came through with miracles that astounded all, especially King Nebuch. He was so amazed he praised the God of Israel as a “god of gods”. Nevertheless, it was clear that the king himself did not commit himself to God or change his own ways, his religion, or his character. He just recognized the God of Israel as powerful, but did not embrace Him as his God. King Nebuch continued to be an evil tyrant, a pagan idol worshipper, and a man filled to the brim with arrogance and pride. Even though it was clearly revealed to him in chapter 2 that all his success was God given, he suppressed the truth and magnified himself as a god. This fault is dramatized at the climactic point in Daniel 4:30 when the king is walking in a high place on his great palace, and he looked down at all the great wonders of the great city of Babylon and said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” God chose this perfect time at the peak of the king’s arrogance and vanity to bring him down hard. All people need humility, and some if they are very fortunate have humility forced on them. Nebuchadnezzar was warned but he ignored it, and he would never be humbled unless God completely broke him.
Daniel chapter 4 was actually written by King Nebuchadnezzar and included in the Book of Daniel by Daniel. It is the king’s personal testimony of being broken by God, repenting, and coming to God as a new believer. Every good testimony about believing in the one true God has three important parts that are emphasized: who you were before you believed, what happened to convert you, and then the difference in your life as a changed person. The value of your personal story is that it is true, and can’t be denied because it is your story, the change in you is apparent, and it has a positive recommendation for the listener. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God has committed to us the word of reconciliation, therefore we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were entreating through us.” Most people fear doing personal evangelism, or believe you must be very knowledgeable, but all believers should be ready, willing, and able to tell their own story. When you have a minute, just jot down some notes about your own story in three categories. Who were you before Christ became your Lord and Savior, what happened for you to believe in Him, and what difference did it make in your life. You may be thinking you believed when you were a kid, or you may think your story is dull, or maybe you don’t know exactly when you believed—no matter, just consult the Bible and it will tell you. Romans 3:23 and a wealth of other passages make it clear that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Therefore even if you were a youngster, you were still a lost sinner in need of a Savior, so in your own words portray yourself that way. If you don’t know exactly when, God does, so you can just say something like “When God came into my life”. The Bible is clear that when Jesus came into your life changes were made by God, and you continued to change progressively. Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony is classic. He was a proud boastful tyrant, God afflicted him with mental illness, and he repented and humbled himself and submitted completely to God’s authority.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream and its Interpretation
In Daniel 4:5, we are told the king had a very fearful dream that was troubling him. Apparently it was reoccurring because it “kept alarming” him. In a repeat of chapter 2, he first brought in all his “wise men” to interpret but they could not. It was a dream about the future, and just as they had said in ch.2, no one can foretell the future but God. Now the proud king was aware that Daniel was blessed by God to interpret his dreams so he had to bring Daniel in as his last resort. The king described the dream to Daniel as a great tree that grew and was visible to the entire earth, and had abundant foliage and fruit. All the creatures of the earth lived in its shade and fed from it. An angel from heaven shouted to cut down the tree, but leave the stump. The angel then spoke of the tree with the human pronoun “him”. His mind would be changed to that of a beast who lived in the fields for seven years. The purpose of this according to the angel was that all the living may know that the “Most High” is ruler over the realm of mankind.
When God made Daniel aware of what the dream meant, he was appalled and scared for Nebuch. If you are like me, you may think that the king’s demise would be a good thing, but think again from Daniel’s perspective. The king had made this young Jew his Prime Minister, and from that position he could help himself and his people. If a new king came in, it could change everything. Daniel told the king that he wished the interpretation of the dream could apply to his enemies, because it was bad news.
The tree in the dream was an image of the king because he was great and his dominion covered the known world. The order to chop down the tree meant that King Nebuch would be driven insane, and removed from mankind to dwell in the fields and eat grass like cattle for seven years until he recognized God’s authority over him. In v.27, Daniel gave the king some valuable advice to humble himself and repent in hopes that God would show mercy. We don’t know the king’s immediate reaction, but we can guess that he probably was fearful and apprehensive for a time, but like all of us, when he returned to business as usual, he forgot all about it, and returned to his normal life of believing the world revolves around him. I am reminded of 1 Peter 5:5, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you.”
Maximum Humiliation for a Vain Man
In Daniel 4:29-33, twelve months later, King Nebuch was strutting around like a peacock admiring his kingdom and thinking vain selfish thoughts, when the dream interpretation of Daniel was fulfilled. He was driven away from mankind to live as a beast in the field, and in his madness he believed he was an animal, and ate grass like cows. There is actually a mental disorder called zoanthropy in which one behaves like an animal. Whether he had this or some other disorder, he was insane for seven years until God graciously restored his senses and reason returned to him. At that time, he was truly a different person as he humbled himself before the one true God, and praised and worshipped “the Most High”. We can only imagine what his family did during those years, and who ran the kingdom. They probably covered it up, and protected him with some published story, and let no one see him as the family and closest advisors ran the kingdom. Imagine their great surprise when he showed back up as a transformed godly man who was converted to Judaism.
His first order of business was to send out the proclamation recorded in Daniel 4:34-35 praising the God of Israel, and professing his belief in Him alone. What had really happened to Nebuch appeared terrible to his family, but we can see it as the grace of God. The Most High had graciously, lovingly broken the king. Sometimes the only thing that can impress people is pain, and the king got seven years of it. In Nebuch’s case, the best thing God could do for him was to crush him, humiliate him, and degrade him below the human race. This is what it took for the king to submit to God’s authority and be saved. Therefore, because God broke him, we will see him in heaven. Now I must admit I am not voluntarily signing up for any painful lessons, and would not wish upon anyone what happened to Nebuch, but if it meant eternal salvation, then yeah let’s do it.
I heard a guy’s testimony years ago who had been an avowed atheist. He said he used to believe that religion was just “a crutch that weak people needed to get by”. He went camping and got hit by lightning. One month later, a gas leak blew up his house when he turned on the lights. The neighbors reported seeing a man running through the neighborhood with smoke coming from him looking like Wile E. Coyote in those cartoons. He was yelling “God is talking to me!” In his testimony he said that if Christ is a crutch, that’s good, because we are all cripples. If we are really fortunate, God uses extreme measures to get through to us. Just ask Nebuchadnezzar when you see him.
Daniel 3—When Life Heats Up
In Daniel, chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar was very impressed by Daniel’s revelation from the God of Israel that detailed and interpreted the king’s dream. In the dream the king saw a large statue with a head of gold that represented King Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom of Babylon. The king rewarded Daniel with a promotion to be the ruler over the whole province of Babylon as chief prefect. In Daniel 2:49, we read that Daniel requested that his Jewish friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be appointed over the administration of the province as well. Thus through the blessing of God, these young Jewish captives from Jerusalem were suddenly in positions of authority and influence in the Kingdom of Babylon. Because of Nebuch’s great proclamation honoring the God of Israel in Dan.2:47, we must ask what effect the dream of the statue with a head of gold had on Nebuchadnezzar
In Daniel 3, King Nebuch erected a huge statue plated in gold. The Greek Septuagint added that this occurred in 587 BC during the rebellion and siege of Jerusalem recorded in 2 Kings 25:8. The story suggests his purpose was to unify all the peoples that he had conquered, and consolidate his universal authority as ruler. It would be doubly important to the king that the Jews obey his order to worship the statue since Jerusalem was in rebellion. The appearance of the great image was very large, awesome, and expensive, so the king was very proud of it. It seems certain that his dream in chapter 2 inspired this image. At this point, the king is impressed by the God of Israel, but has no fear of Him. King Nebuch’s attempt to coerce all the officials to worship the statue represents the conflict between worship of the one true God and the use of religion to boost the power of worldly rulers. Interestingly, archeologists have uncovered a large square foundation for a statue in a broad plain located just 6 miles southeast of Babylon.
The Insanity of Idolatry
In Daniel 3:1-6, King Nebuch called all the officials from all over the kingdom to come to Babylon and worship the image. We notice that this event is for the leaders of all the different areas that make up the kingdom. Nebuch had conquered many nations and added them to his empire, and now in a show of unity and submission to his authority he called for all the leaders of those nations to come and worship the idol. This was an important political event that would have terrible consequences for those leaders and their people if they disobeyed. Therefore when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego disobeyed, it would not only mean death for them, but threaten the very existence of all the Jewish people.
Just imagine the insanity of all these great men—distinguished leaders from many countries travelling long distances to Babylon in order to bow down to some man made statue. The prophet Isaiah, over a hundred years before had warned Israel about the insanity of idolatry. In Isaiah 44:14-17, the prophet gave a very humorous description of idolatry. Men plant trees and water them, and years later they grow up and men cut the trees down. Part of the wood is used to make a fire, and part is used to make a chair to sit in. Tools that are man made are then used to carve the remaining wood into an image that the man then falls down in front of and worships and prays to it. It sounds nuts, but that is what people have been doing in all of recorded history, and it seems that people would rather worship created things than the Creator.
I believe that the king’s main purpose was to unify all the various parts of his kingdom by requiring that they submit to his authority and his religion. Nebuch was very much like the arrogant guy I once told, “You and I have religious differences, you think you are god and I don’t.” What was important to the Jewish leaders as captives in Babylon was their witness to the other Jews. Idolatry had gotten Israel in this mess in the first place. The captivity was a discipline from God against idolatry, and if these leaders (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) set the terrible example of going right back into idolatry, then Israel might be doomed.
The Rival’s Accusation
No doubt the local Chaldeans of Babylon were furious when these young Jews came in and became their bosses. Therefore, they were observing the Jews closely to find fault in order to bring them down. In Daniel 3:8, the Chaldeans brought charges against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In verse 13, King Nebuch was furious. You can imagine how their refusal to obey made him look in front of thousands of dignitaries. As an absolute ruler, he had to act swiftly and cruelly to maintain his authority over all these diverse peoples. From Shadrach’s perspective, just imagine the peer pressure, and the temptation to rationalize and just go along, but what kind of witness to the people of Israel would that be, and what would be God’s response? Clearly Shadrach et al feared God more than Nebuch.
The Enhanced Warning
In v.13-15, Nebuch allowed Shadrach et al a mulligan or do-over. He asked them to verify, and gave them another opportunity to obey. If they would not fall down and worship the image they would be thrown into the furnace of fire. Then Nebuch asked them a rhetorical question that he did not expect an answer to, “what God is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel and his friends had served the king well, and Daniel had pleased the king greatly by interpreting his dream in ch.2; but now in his pride and rage, Nebuch prepares to throw them in the furnace. Mark Twain once asked his audience if they knew the difference between a man and a dog. He said, “If you pick up a starving dog, feed him and help him, he will not bite you. This is the difference between a man and a dog.” Nebuch was like a rooster who thinks the sun rises to hear him crow.
God is Able
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king that he was wasting his time waiting for them to worship the image. “Our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace, and He will deliver us one way or another; but even if He does not, let it be known to you O king that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the image that you set up.” Notice that they distinguished between their occupation under Nebuch and the God whom they serve. God is all powerful and can deliver them, but if He chooses not to, it won’t matter because their response is not conditioned on a miracle but on obeying the truth from God. The first commandment was “You shall have no other gods before Me.”, and that was the basis of their decision. Their fixed knowledge was that they would not worship idols. Their unfixed knowledge was whether God would deliver them from the fire.
Tied Up and Thrown in the Fire
The text in Daniel 3:20-24 repeats four times that they were tied up securely. Their clothes were left on, and they were thrown in the fire. In v.25 we read that the only thing that was burned up was their ropes that bound them. In order to enhance the rage of the king, and give even more drama to their deliverance, the king ordered that the furnace be heated up seven times hotter. This may have not been possible, but it makes for a better story. The guys who were in real danger are the warriors who were commanded to throw the Jews in the fire. It was so hot that the soldiers who had to get close enough to throw them in the furnace actually perished from the heat. This draws a wonderful contrast to God’s deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Think of it this way—the soldiers of Nebuch were killed on the outside, but the soldiers of God on the inside were unharmed. In verses 24-26, Nebuch had an amazing view of the 3 men walking around in the fire with a fourth guy who had a unique appearance “like a son of the gods”. Many theologians believe this was the preincarnate Christ. When Nebuch called them to come out, he had a new name for them and new respect for the God of Israel. He said, “come out, you servants of the most high God”. This was a remarkable admission by Nebuch that his gods were inferior to the God of Israel.
In v.28-30, Nebuchadnezzar was amazed and declared it an act of God who sent His angel and delivered His servants. As a result of this incredible miracle, the king sent out a decree to the kingdom to revere the God of Israel. The effect was that Judaism was declared a legal religion, the Jews were exempt from idolatry, and they were exalted in the kingdom of Gentiles.
Why did God Deliver Them? Would He Deliver You?
In the Bible’s great passage on faith in Hebrews 11, we read about all the exploits of the heroes in the Bible that responded in faith, and God miraculously delivered them; but in Hebrews 11:35 there is a pivot to a much greater number of martyrs who responded in faith, but they were stoned, sawn in two, and put to death. The nature of a miracle is that it is a rare event done by God for a purpose. We don’t obey God as Shadrach did because we expect a miracle. We should do it because it is right. God delivered Shadrach to comfort the afflicted Jews in captivity, to set up Nebuch’s conversion in ch.4, to make Judaism legal, and to elevate them to make possible their eventual return to Jerusalem. As for us now it is a great example of what our response to our culture should be. I like what James Boice wrote, “Let us stand with unbowed heads and rigid backbones before the golden statues of our godless, materialistic culture. Let us declare that there is a God to be served and a race to be won. Let us be confident in the presence of God and be strong.”