Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 10, Promotions And Idolatry

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 10
Promotions And Idolatry

Daniel has concluded his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and the king is awestruck at witnessing such power given to Daniel by his God. "Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering of incense be made to him.The king said to Daniel, 'Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.'" (Daniel 2:46-47) All throughout his interpretation, Daniel has been careful to keep reminding the king that he is able to do it not in his own power, but in the power of God. Now the king makes a declaration that honors the God of Israel, although as we will soon see, he has not converted to the God of Israel or forsaken his idolatrous ways.

Nebuchadnezzar cannot see the God of Israel with his own eyes, but he can see God's ambassador, so he presents offerings to Daniel. It is the best this pagan king knows to do and Daniel does not rebuke him for it. Some critics have had harsh words to say about Daniel for allowing this behavior. In their criticism they offer the following two examples. When the centurion Cornelius bowed at the feet of the Apostle Peter and worshiped him, Peter said, "Stand up. I am only a man myself." (Acts 10:20) And when the Apostle John fell at the feet of an angel in Revelation 19 and Revelation 22, the angel replied, 'Don't do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" But I disagree with those who find fault with Daniel, as do many who are far more educated than I in the Scriptures. Had Nebuchadnezzar actually been worshiping Daniel, then no doubt Daniel would have once again reminded him that it was the God of heaven alone who reveals mysteries. But the king clearly shows us what is in his heart by the words he says when he bows before Daniel. He gives credit only to Daniel's God and I believe Daniel accepts the king's behavior in the spirit in which it is given. This king was born and raised in a nation of idolatry and is doing the best he can to honor Daniel's God in the only way he knows how.

Now Nebuchadnezzar moves on to honoring Daniel for his service. "Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel's request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court." (Daniel 2:48-49) Daniel is eager to secure the safety of the three friends who prayed through the previous night with him, so he asks the king if these men (called here by their Babylonian names) can have a share in his reward, since they had a share in his long night of prayer and supplication. The king, in very high spirits and relieved to have the problem of the dream solved, grants his request. Daniel's promotion is similar to that which Pharaoh gave Joseph in the book of Genesis. But not everyone in the kingdom is as happy with these young Hebrew men as the king. Daniel is now in charge of all the wise men, those of the king's own nation with whom Nebuchadnezzar is currently displeased. And Daniel's friends now hold high positions in the government and are in authority over native Babylonians. This does not sit well at all with some of Nebuchadnezzar's own people, as we will find out in tomorrow's study.

But first, if we needed any proof that Nebuchadnezzar has not been changed by his experience with Daniel's God, we find him setting up an image which, in tomorrow's study, he will command the people to bow down and worship. "King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon." (Daniel 3:1) In our own system of measurement, this statue stands ninety feet tall and is nine feet across at its widest point. There are other examples in ancient history of massive statues like this, such as the Colossus at Rhodes, which was even taller than Nebuchadnezzar's statue, standing seventy cubits (one hundred and five feet). The exact location of the plain of Dura is not known in our times but about six miles southeast of Babylon there stands a man-made rectilinear mound about twenty feet tall, upon which is a square base measuring about forty-six feet. Way back in Babylon's heyday, something stood on this base, something quite large, but it is long gone now. This is a possible site for the plain of Dura and the location of Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. 

The image is not described to us in the Scriptures but many scholars through the centuries have stated that it was most likely an image of Nebuchadnezzar himself, or at least an image that represented his power and authority. The creation of the golden statue follows immediately after him receiving the interpretation of the dream in which he was the head of gold on the statue in he saw in his sleep. And the creation of the statue comes right after being told that at this point in history he is the king of all kings, the most powerful king on earth. Daniel addressed him in the lofty and flattering words used by those in the court of the king, declaring him to have dominion over many lands and many peoples and animals. With his head swelled all out of proportion at the realization he is the greatest king in ancient history, and that all the kingdoms to follow will be inferior to his except some far-in-the-future eternal kingdom he has no real concept of, it seems a logical conclusion that this image somehow represents Nebuchadnezzar and his power and authority and greatness. The statue may not have looked like Nebuchadnezzar, being of such odd proportions. It may have been nothing but a golden obelisk. But I think it's a safe bet that, when he requires the people to bow before it, they will be declaring their allegiance to him. 

We discussed a few days ago the possibility that Nebuchadnezzar had little faith in the gods of his people. He certainly had little faith in those who claimed to be receiving messages from the gods, because his Babylonian wise men had been unable to help him in the matter of the dream. What he possessed in place of faith may have been more like superstition. He does recognize the God of Daniel but does not recognize Him as the only God, declaring Him simply to be "the God of gods". He may have felt Daniel's God was more powerful than others, but he added him to the pantheon of gods known to him: the gods of the Babylonians and the gods of the nations he has conquered and taken captive. Somehow this statue which he will command the people to worship embodies his own authority and that of all the gods he recognizes, all rolled into one. I tend to think he would like to command worship for himself alone, but is afraid with a superstitious anxiety of offending a god or gods, so tomorrow when Daniel's three friends refuse to bow to the image, he will ask them, "Is it true that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?" To refuse to bow to the image is to refuse to bow to the king and to whatever gods he thinks may actually exist. An insecure man, who was formerly so worried about losing his grip on the kingdom that he had a strange and repetitive dream about it, he desires to control the people by combining government and religion so that they are one and the same, with him at the head of all. They will swear their allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar and to all he stands for and believes in or they will lose their lives. 

But three men will not bow to any image or to any god but the one true God. They will stick out like three sore thumbs in a culture willing to bow to anything set before it. But, as the saying goes, "He who kneels before God can stand before anyone". These three men have done all their kneeling before God and they are about to make a stand for Him, no matter what the cost.

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