Daniel 4 Feeling Sheepish

Standard
Questions: To what is the heart of Nebuchadnezzar turned? Where is Daniel’s heart? What about God’s? Why does it matter who rules in the kingdoms of men — and whether we know it? Are we grateful that God humbles the proud? Should we be? Why?

“Read More” to pursue answers from the Prophet Daniel.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence, and fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I might know you as my Father, and manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Daniel 4:1-37

Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.

This is truly one of the most unique passages in the Bible, having been written by a non-Jew — and one often considered the greatest enemy of the Jews!

While his initial greeting of peace may be no more than pious political platitudes, his message is far more concrete:

I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great [are] his signs! and how mighty [are] his wonders! his kingdom [is] an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion [is] from generation to generation.

That’s a fairly audacious statement! Let’s see how he backs it up:

I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise [men] of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream.

I wonder if any of them were struck by a sense of déjà vu. 🙂 Fortunately, he’s not so harsh as he was the last time — not that they’re any more successful:

Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof.

Perhaps it is because he knows he can always drag Daniel away from his administrative tasks for an encore interpretation:

But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name [was] Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom [is] the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, [saying],

O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods [is] in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof.

This time, we have a tree instead of a statue — though no less impressive:

Thus [were] the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof [was] great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: The leaves thereof [were] fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it [was] meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.

Awww. A nice pastoral scene, filled with plenty. What’s so scary about that?

I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;

Uh oh.

He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches:

That can’t be good. Though, there is a silver lining (even if it is of iron :-):

Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven

Not that it helps him much:

and [let] his portion [be] with the beasts in the grass of the earth: Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him.

Ouch! And who exactly is doing this? And why?

This matter [is] by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men.

It reminds me a bit of Jim Collins‘ comment that the best leaders look outside (we might say “upward”) to assign credit (“the window”) and inside (“the mirror”) to assign blame — as opposed to vice versa! Apparently God really wanted Nebbie to learn this lesson, and (since the book wasn’t available 🙂 God sent a dream:

This dream I king Nebuchadnezzar have seen. Now thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise [men] of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation: but thou [art] able; for the spirit of the holy gods [is] in thee.

I am struck by the depth of Nebbie’s confidence in Daniel. Alas, this affirmation only heightens Daniel’s distress:

Then Daniel, whose name [was] Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him.

To the point where Nebbie becomes more worried for Daniel than himself!

The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee.

Here we find that Daniel doesn’t merely serve Nebbie — he loves him:

Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream [be] to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.

Why?

The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; Whose leaves [were] fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it [was] meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: It [is] thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth.

Well, that part sounds pretty cool. Alas, the good times don’t last:

And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and [let] his portion [be] with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him;

Meaning:

This [is] the interpretation, O king, and this [is] the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king: That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.

Ouch! Though, there is a light at the end of the tunnel:

And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule.

And, Daniel still holds out the hope that God might be merciful — if Nebbie repents:

Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

I find it intriguing that i) Daniel appeals to a shared sense of righteousness with this pagan king, and ii) it is intimately tied up with compassion for the poor. And, I’d like to think that Nebbie would have responded to that entreaty and tried his best to honor Daniel’s god. Alas, it didn’t stick:

All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?

I gotta admit, I sympathize with him. It truly was a colossal achievement, unique in all the earth. It is hard to blame him — except of course for overlooking the fact that God had given this to him, and could just as easily take it all away:

While the word [was] in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, [saying], O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling [shall be] with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.

Ouch. And sure enough:

The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ [feathers], and his nails like birds’ [claws].

Now, I don’t know the exact nature of his illness, but Lord, it sure wasn’t good! Fortunately, neither was it permanent:

And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High:

While I’ve (almost) never eaten grass, I can actually relate to this. Often times my own anger, pain, and hostility disconnect me from those I love, filling me with angst and confusion. It is only when I let go and turn to praise:

and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion [is] an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom [is] from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth [are] reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and [among] the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

that my mind becomes clear:

At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me;

And people want to be around me. 🙂

and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.

But though he was restored to his former glory, he didn’t forget to whom glory belonged:

Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works [are] truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

Amen!

Prayer

Lord, like King Nebbie I too often fall into the trap of praising myself for my own accomplishments, not remembering that both my skills and the opportunities were unmerited gifts from you. And Lord, I know that I too become a beast when I set myself up as my own god. Father, forgive me for my pride and my folly. Teach me to give you the honor and praise that you deserve, that I may find true peace — and relationship, and humanity — beneath your Tree of Life. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

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