Thursday, October 6, 2016

Daniel 4: 1-27--"I am Nebuchadnezzar, and I approve this message"

This is an interesting beginning to a chapter, because King Nebuchadnezzar is narrating all the way through Chapter 4.

"The penman of this chapter is Nebuchadnezzar himself: the story here recorded concerning him is given us in his own words, as he himself drew it up and published it; but Daniel, a prophet, by inspiration, inserts it in his history, and so it has become a part of sacred writ and a very memorable part."
--Matthew Henry

It's also an interesting chapter because of how the king presents a flashback in the middle of it. Verses 1-3 are the introduction; verses 36 and 37 are the conclusion; and, verses 4 through 35 are the flashback, describing Nebuchadnezzar's vision, its interpretation and its fulfillment. We had a question in my group as to whether the king's use of 'Most High God' really meant God or just the highest god of the gods. Given the structure of the story, he really meant God in the beginning and the ending (and maybe in the middle, too; read on!).

Not unlike his dream of Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a vision that alarms him. He calls in his wise men, who cannot interpret the vision. Daniel is then brought in (without the fear of death this time), and the king shares his vision. Note how the king refers to Daniel--"...Belteshazzar according to the name of my god" and "chief of the magicians." Never mind that Daniel has been in the king's palace as a high administrator for awhile. Here, he is still seen as the interpreter of dreams.

My study Bible has a mention of the use of the phrase "a spirit of the holy gods." (3:9, 18) Some versions use all caps in their translations, making it a reference to God in Hebrew and equivalent to the Aramaic used here. The reasoning given for why that would even work--given that Nebuchadnezzar uses Daniel's pagan name and such--is that the king in his narrative (which was written after he experienced everything) may have been "rehearsing his conversion" as he was writing. Something an editor might have caught, perhaps, but the king and Daniel left open to interpretation?

With verse 10, Nebuchadnezzar presents the dream to Daniel, and we see the clear picture of the kingdom of Babylon and the king's place of pride within it. An angel appears in the vision, and we know that angels are messengers of God. This one certainly brought a warning: "This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers...." (3:17) If the king's wise men had been more read up on Hebrew prophecy, they might have been able to have helped their master.

"But the key of this dream was in a sacred prophecy (Ezek. 31:3), where the Assyrian is compared, as Nebuchadnezzar here, to a tree cut down, for his pride; and that was a book they had not studied, nor acquainted themselves with, else they might have been let into the mystery of this dream."
--Matthew Henry

Having that historical knowledge as well as God's interpretation of the dream, more specifically, left Daniel in good position to tell the king what he wanted to know. But, we read that Daniel "was appalled...his thoughts alarmed him" (3:19) Other translations use phrasing like "greatly perplexed...his thoughts terrified him" (NIV); "appalled and speechless for awhile..." (AMP); "sat there stunned and silent for an hour, aghast at the meaning of the dream" (TLB). Daniel could have feared sharing this personal interpretation with the king, though that seems out of character for him, given all Daniel has been through. More likely, Daniel's relationship with Nebuchadnezzar left him concerned, saddened and compassionate to the king's situation.

Likewise, Nebuchadnezzar sees that Daniel is in an alarmed state. What the king's actually thinking, we don't know, but what he says also illustrates that there is a relationship that has been established and respected between the two.

"'...Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.' Belteshazzar replied, 'My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you and its interpretation to your adversaries!'" (3:19)

The interpretation is as devastating to hear as the description of the vision was. There is a time of change coming for Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. The angel's warning was strong and true. Daniel knew there would be nothing he could add to make that word any more comforting. But he could not leave his king, the earthly one he served, without any word.
"...O king, may my advice be pleasing to you...." (3:27)

Next post, why we need to listen to Daniel's advice, too.