Monday, January 23, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 16, The Fulfillment Of The Dream

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 16
The Fulfillment Of The Dream

In our study yesterday Daniel urged King Nebuchadnezzar to repent so that the calamity foretold in the dream would not befall him. But Nebuchadnezzar doesn't take the advice to heart. The Bible doesn't tell us why, but when we look back on the lives we lived before we came to Christ, many of us could say that we continued living in sin for a long time even though we knew better. It wasn't until we made Christ the Lord of our lives that our ways began to change. When Daniel gave his advice to the king, the king did not at that time submit his life to the Lord. 

The king's reaction to Daniel's interpretation of the dream about the tree is markedly different from his reaction to Daniel's interpretation of the dream about the statue. No mention is made of the giving of rewards or promotions when Daniel ends this second interpretation with a call to repentance. Daniel is asking the king to do something he doesn't want to do, so he rejects this advice. Nebuchadnezzar thinks he didn't get where he is by being kind and merciful. He got there by being a brilliant army general, a powerful conqueror, and a tyrant. He probably fears losing his hold on the kingdom if he changes his ways, even though Daniel pointed out yesterday that it's God who sets kings up and it's God who takes kings down. Nebuchadnezzar's true security can only be found in the Lord but instead he trusts in power and wealth and the force of a mighty army. 

As a result of dismissing any thought of repentance, "All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, 'Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?'" (Daniel 4:28-30) We don't want to miss the fact that the Lord allowed him a whole year to consider the interpretation of his dream and to recognize his need to repent. But at the end of that year we find Nebuchadnezzar more full of pride than ever.

"Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, 'This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes.'" (Daniel 4:31-32) Abydenus, an ancient Greek historian and author who wrote A History Of The Chaldeans And Assyrians, relates a legend of the Chaldeans in which it is said that one day King Nebuchadnezzar went up on his palace roof and became possessed by a god and suddenly began to prophesy aloud about the coming downfall of Babylon, then he disappeared from sight. The Babylonians would naturally have assumed Nebuchadnezzar's power of prophecy came from one of their many gods, so we need not take this literally, nor do we need to assume he disappeared before their very eyes. It may have been at this point that he was "driven away from people". He was stricken with an anti-social compulsion that led him to shun human contact and caused him not to want to live indoors or be a part of society. We find similar conditions among some of the mentally ill in our own times. There are illnesses that can cause the sufferer to want to live on the streets and cut off all contact from family, in some cases essentially becoming missing persons by living entirely off the grid. A number of mentally ill persons are actually listed as missing persons because their families no longer know whether they are alive or dead. 

"Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird." (Daniel 4:33) The king lived in the outdoors, suffering from the delusion that he was a cow or an ox, an extremely rare condition known as "boanthropy". Because he thought he was an animal, he ate like an animal. He stopped taking care of any personal hygiene and his hair and nails went uncut for seven years. His delusion has been compared to the better known "lycanthropy" in which the sufferer believes he is a wolf, and this may be the basis for the werewolf legend. Lycanthropy is rare, like boanthropy, but has occurred slightly more often and has been better studied. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the sufferer can look at himself directly in the mirror and believe he is turning into a wolf, seeing things that are not there such as fangs instead of teeth. These delusions may be related to Body Dysmorphic Disorder ( a persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one's appearance). In other cases the delusion that a person is turning into an animal may occur alongside Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Psychotic Depression. We've already noticed that Nebuchadnezzar suffered from anxiety and insecurity. He tried to comfort himself by pridefully bragging about himself and his kingdom, but it's hard to say what neuroses lurked under the surface.

"At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored." (Daniel 4:34a) Nebuchadnezzar left behind no Babylonian records of his illness, but in the British Museum is a fifteen hundred pound bronze doorstep from Borsippa in Babylon, and on it is carved an inscription saying that it is a votive offering commemorating Nebuchadnezzar's recovery from sickness. In the Babylonian historical records of King Nebuchadnezzar's reign there is said to be a period of unexplained silence, several years when he evidently launched no building projects and passed no laws and made no military conquests.

"Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: 'What have you done?'" (Daniel 4:34b-35) Throughout the ages, it has been debated by Bible scholars and historians whether Nebuchadnezzar truly came to the Lord and was saved from his sins. Quite a few well-known and well-respected scholars believe he was. We won't know for certain until we ourselves go to be with the Lord, but I like to believe Nebuchadnezzar is in the Lord's presence right now. I like to believe his conversion was real and that it came about because Daniel, a man who witnessed to the king for a period of about forty years, led him to the knowledge of the Lord. If Nebuchadnezzar is in heaven right now, what grace is displayed by our God! He took a man who grew up in a pagan world of idolatry and built his empire by violence and oppression, and transformed him into a servant of the Lord. If God could use a man like this, He can use anyone. And if God could transform a man like this, there is hope for our lost family members and friends. 

"At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 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 4:36-37) Nebuchadnezzar formerly feared that submitting to God would make him weak but, as always, submitting to God has the opposite effect by making the person strong. The Lord preserved his kingdom for him. The Lord blessed his repentance by blessing the remainder of his reign. And it's my opinion that the words of Nebuchadnezzar are the words of a changed man. He knows the Lord was right to afflict him as He did. He recognizes that he was deserving of judgment and that he needed to be humbled. We looked at a verse from psalm 119 the other day in relation to Nebuchadnezzar and I believe, following his affliction, the king was every bit as saved as the psalmist who said, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word."

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