Read: Daniel 4-5
Two chapters that provide opposing viewpoints from kings that ruled Babylonia: Nebuchadnezzar (ch. 4) and his son (ch. 5). Their response to Daniel’s interpretations is significant: one humbled himself and enjoyed his position, the other chose not to show reverence to God and died. While the lesson is certainly about recognizing God is the One True God, we also get to see how Daniel carefully works in his context to witness to the people in that environment.
I’m reading a fictional novel by Ted Dekker, A.D. 30, which helps me appreciate the culture of multiple gods through his excellent research and writing skills. At on point the principal character is told about the One True God, but rebuts the concept saying, “So, then, you have only one god who’s like all the rest. I would choose many over only one.”* As many from that culture, she would rather have many gods to cover all the bases. I hadn’t really thought about it until putting myself in the perspective of the characters in the novel. I’m not sure it makes sense in a few sentences, but I’m beginning to appreciate how difficult it must be to spread the Gospel to people who have been raised for generations to worship gods of many kinds and for all occasions. It’s this perspective, I pray, that may help in reading the unreached.
Dream of a Tree – Daniel 4
Nebuchadnezzar writes a letter to the world proclaiming God as the one true God:
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. Daniel 4:2
This time, Nebuchadnezzar provides the dream in detail, so at least they don’t have to start by reading his mind! (Daniel 4:10-17). Daniel interprets the dream, carefully choosing words that show his respect for the power and position of Nebuchadnezzar. Four times in just six verses, Daniel inserts “Your Majesty” in the narrative.
Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth. Daniel 4:22
Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Daniel 4:27
Twelve months later, the dream became a reality, Nebuchadnezzar lived out the crazy dream and was restored:
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. Daniel 4:34
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:37
At this point it would seem reasonable to think that the Babylonians would honor God as a people–the kingdom would become that which honors God as the one true God. But such is not the case. One God, more powerful than all the others, fits nicely into their scheme of gods. This won’t last long.
Writing on the Wall – Daniel 5
We now have a new ruler in charge, King Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar (the name is a bit close to Daniel’s Babylonian name: Belteshazzar, hard not to get confused at first). Belshazzar is having a party, probably not your casual business get together, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination. Obviously, the words of his father at the end of chapter 4 have lost their significance. Dad is gone, let’s party!
So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. Daniel 5:3-4
I guess that had a lot to drink and were probably not quite right in their mind when they saw the proverbial writing on the wall:
Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking. Daniel 5:5-6
They might not have been in their right minds, but the writing is actually on the walls, though the have no idea what it says. The queen remembers the legendary Daniel at this point, so they find him and attempt to entice him to interpret the writing.
If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” Daniel 5:16
I love Daniel’s response, something we can all learn from:
Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means. Daniel 5:17
Daniel’s words for this king are not coated with “Your Majesty” in every other verse; quite the contrary, Daniel takes off the gloves and essentially rebukes the king by reminding him how Nebuchadnezzar honored God, was driven insane for a period of time, then restored when he finally confessed. Daniel calls out Belshazzar for profaning items from the temple and acting like a fool.
“But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. …
You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Daniel 5:22,23
Daniel reads the writing and provides the interpretation.
That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two. Daniel 5:30-31
Quite the contrast in words and actions. Daniel remains a powerful voice to be reckoned with, but he also remains one of many in exile, living out his faith in a land that does not honor God. Daniel’s integrity remains unblemished in a difficult period of time and in an impossible setting to freely worship God. Our excuses seem trite in comparison.
Lord, help us to be those who walk with such integrity that rulers of this world would seek us out for advice and, most importantly, that our words would be your words; may our actions consistently honor you.
*Dekker, Ted. “P. 46.” A.D. 30: A Novel. New York: Center Street, 2015. N. pag. Print.