Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 11, Obeying God Rather Than Man

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 11
Obeying God Rather Than Man

In yesterday's study we found King Nebuchadnezzar setting up a golden statue, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, on the plain of Dura. Today he reveals the purpose of this statue's creation and there will be three men who will refuse his orders. "He then summoned the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it." (Daniel 3:2-3) 

The newly-promoted friends of Daniel are among those invited to the dedication, and we could easily substitute the word "ordered" or "commanded" in place of "invited". There was no refusing the king. Daniel is apparently not there, or else he would have found himself in the same predicament as his friends, but he does not explain to us why he isn't there. His position in the kingdom (ruler over the entire province of Babylon and in charge of all the wise men) may have excused him from being included with these officials of lesser rank. He may have been at another location, handling matters for the king. The king may have trusted him so much, because of his fine character, that he did not feel it necessary to command Daniel's allegiance in the way he is going to command it of these other men. I like to think the reason was this: Nebuchadnezzar knew Daniel would bow to no god but the God of Israel and, valuing his service and respecting him as a person, he did not want to risk losing him. 

These officials assemble in front of the statue and an announcer tells them what is expected next. "Then the herald loudly proclaimed, 'Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace." (Daniel 3:4-6) In researching this furnace, the main opinion I found regarding its nature is that it was likely a brick kiln. The Babylonians made extensive use of bricks, and glazed bricks in particular, which required a temperature of 2372 degrees Fahrenheit. The base for Nebuchadnezzar's statue was probably composed of bricks and the kiln used for making them would have been nearby for the sake of convenience. No remains of brick kilns have been found in Babylon but due to the massive amount of bricks used there, they had to have been there. The bricks still existing in the ruins of ancient Babylon are of materials found in the land; they were not imported. There was no need to import what could be made there and the cost of doing so would have been prohibitive. It's likely that the landscape was at one time dotted with brick kilns and that one of them was quite close to Nebuchadnezzar's statue. 

One commentary I consulted suggested a purpose for the statue, and for the assembled men of all ranks and all nationalities, that was somewhat unique from other opinions I found in my studies. Bible scholar, pastor, and author Bob Deffinbaugh, with a master's degree in theology, states that Nebuchadnezzar is attempting to alter the outcome of his prophetic dream. In the dream the statue was unstable because its feet were made up of a mixture of iron and baked clay, representing a mixture of people who would not remain united. Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom was made up of a mixture of people, for he was a conqueror, and after hearing the interpretation of the dream he begins to fear this will be the downfall of the kingdom. So he comes up with a means of uniting the people. He commands nations and peoples of every language, at the sound of various musical instruments native to each of their lands, to fall down before the same image. Anyone who refuses will perish. The threat of death generally puts an end to any dispute and he sees no reason why this won't be effective.

Just as he suspected, as the people stand there with the fiery furnace within their sight with smoke rising from it, they do as they are told. "Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp and all kinds of music, all the nations and peoples of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up." (Daniel 3:7)

But not everyone does as they are told and the jealous wise men of Babylon see an opportunity to rid themselves of the three Jews who have been promoted over them. "At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, 'May the king live forever! Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon---Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego---who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.'" (Daniel 3:8-12) In my head I hear their accusation like this, "There are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon." We hear racial discrimination in their voices and also an accusation against the king, something along the lines of, "You set these men, these foreigners, these Jews over us, even though they have other customs and a different religion, and now look how they repay you! What did you expect from men such as these? You should have known better than to trust them." They don't dare say such things out loud, of course, but they are thinking them and the king knows they are thinking them.

The wise men of Babylon should have been grateful to these three Jews and to Daniel. If not for Daniel's quick action in asking for time to interpret the king's dream, all the wise men of Babylon would have been executed. But gratitude is a funny thing. There are some who despise feeling under obligation to anyone, especially to someone they consider inferior as these Babylonian wise men consider the Jews. They are greedy and ambitious, believing themselves to be above all others, and to acknowledge they owe their lives to these young men from Judah makes them feel weak. It goes against the grain for them to enjoy having these men in charge over them. And now an opportunity to be rid of them has fallen into their laps because of Nebuchadnezzar's statue. It must have been all they could do to keep themselves from grinning with glee as they spoke with the king.

Nebuchadnezzar's authority is being questioned. These Jews have disrespected him in front of all the gathered officials. How dare they? Is this how they repay him for the lavish gifts and the promotions he bestowed on them? Hasn't Daniel already told him he is the head of gold, the king of all kings on the earth at that time, having power and dominion over many lands? Do these Jews not understand who he is and that he holds the power of life and death in his hands? If he allows these three men to get away with their disobedience, he will not be able to maintain control over the other foreign officers he has promoted in his kingdom. His own people will laugh at him behind his back. He has commanded everyone to bow to the statue or else be thrown into the furnace, and if he does not follow through he will never be able to hold his head up again. Nebuchadnezzar, for all his power, has less of a problem feeling grateful toward those who have helped him than some of his Babylonian wise men do, and I suspect he does not want to execute Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but he will if he must. His only hope is that they have somehow misunderstood his instructions. In tomorrow's study we find him calling the three men before him to repeat his instructions and to offer them a second chance. He will ask them why they have not obeyed. In their answer we find one of the most simple, yet stunning, statements of faith in the word of God.

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