Friday, October 7, 2016

Daniel 4: 27-37--New Vision Brings New Vision

"...O king, may my advice be pleasing to you...." (3:27)

Daniel faced the difficult task of not only being the bearer of bad news, as prophets often were, but giving bad news to someone for whom he had a level of compassion--and someone who still wielded enormous amounts of earthly power. Nebuchanezzar had not notably changed in his belief in God or in the way he served. Daniel lets the vision's interpretation stand by itself on that point: "...your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules." (3:26) But, in his words of advice to the king, he says the following:

"...break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity." (3:27)

We talked a bit at our table about the question on our worksheet: "If Nebuchadnezzar had repented of his sins as Daniel advised, do you think God would have withheld his judgment, or was his decision irrevocable at this point?" If Nebuchadnezzar had truly repented of his sins in his heart, God would have truly forgiven him, and it is possible that his future might have had a different look. Note, Daniel says, " case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity." (emphasis mine) But, as was mentioned in our group, there are times when we do repent, ask for and receive forgiveness, but God's discipline for the consequences of our sins is still brought forth. (David has a few stories--and reflective psalms--that deal with this very thing.)

Do we consider that part of our being repentant of our sins is not only "breaking away" from our sins and seeking forgiveness, but "doing righteousness" and "showing mercy"? As my study Bible adds, Daniel was not "presenting a works salvation, but treating the issue of sin exactly as Jesus did with the rich young ruler in Mt. 19: 16-23."

As we know, Nebuchadnezzar does not repent. He's had "12 months" (3:29) to re-consider his path, but he chooses to stay on it. At the height of his earthly majesty and sovereignty, Nebuchadnezzar acquires what some believe was lycanthropy--a disease in which a person thinks he is an animal and lives as such. But, we know that it was the angel's warning now made the king's sentence. 

"Let us pause a little, and view this miserable spectacle; and let us receive instruction from it."
--Matthew Henry

One of the gals in our group defined Nebuchadnezzar's condition as such: "He [God] made him not so much in His image." Pride is definitely not part of God's image. The preaching on pride takes up much of the Book of Proverbs. We discussed in group how it is possible to take pride in something, like our children's achievements and progress, things that we do well, etc. There is a fine line, though, and pride in something can easily turn into proud, period. Through Who's work should that being proud of something be reflected?
The king's vision is completely fulfilled as presented, with "seven periods of time" (3:32) passing before Nebuchadnezzar recognized "'...that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.'"

"But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever...." (3:34)

And we know, as we finish the chapter, that the king meant it all "for reals." He was returned to his physical self. His kingdom was completely restored to him, without question. [Probably another reason Daniel held the position he did, as there would have been a lot of explaining to do to everybody else in the kingdom!] "...And surpassing greatness was added to me." (3:36) More importantly, the king gave praise and thanks to the One True God and documented his witness of that fact, thanks to Daniel. 

When we lift our eyes to heaven, our reason returns. Think about that!

King Nebuchadnezzar would not live long past this admission--maybe another two years. Yes, changes were coming to the kingdom of Babylon, still, because God's work on the larger scale in the world had not yet been completed. But God's working in the life of a prideful, powerful, polytheistic king had reached its most significant milestone nearest its heavenly perfection. 

"Whether he [Nebuchadnezzar] continued in the same good mind that here he seems to have been in we are not told, nor does any thing appear to the contrary but that he did: and, if so great a blasphemer and persecutor did find mercy, he was not the last. And, if our charity may reach so far as to hope he did, we must admire free grace, by which he lost his wits for a while that he might save his soul for ever."
--Matthew Henry

Or, as TobyMac would sing quite a bit later:
"I don't want to gain the whole world and lose my soul."

--Toby McKeehan, Christopher Stevens and Michael Ripoll, composers