Daniel Commentary Chapter 4
Daniel chapter four speaks of Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream and Daniel’s interpretation of that dream. We then read of how that dream is fulfilled and see Nebuchadnezzar’s declaration about the One true God at the end of the chapter.
Royal proclamations were often written on a stele (a stone) and placed in prominent places. This was an ancient way of advertising and may well have been the way Nebuchadnezzar communicated to people about what God had done for him.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream terrified him (4:5) and he could not find anyone who would interpret it except Daniel. However, at that time, Nebuchadnezzar also calls Daniel by his Babylonian name, assuming that the spirits of the gods were in him. Nebuchadnezzar speaks of Daniel as the chief of magicians yet has not realised that God is not one amongst many but the One true God of heaven and earth. In our modern day society, we need to make sure that people realise Jesus is the only way to God and that true religion is not about how man finds God, but about how God reaches out to men and women. Take, as an example, the following story.
“When God spoke to Sister Chang, a house church leader from Henan, he told her to do something that made no earthly sense at all. He told her to go and preach the gospel on the steps outside the local police station. Such an action may lead to arrest even in Western nations, and in Communist China it is a sure way to invite severe punishment….Standing on the top step outside the police station, she boldly proclaimed the gospel to astonished onlookers. Within a few minutes several officers dragged her inside and placed her under arrest. ..Sister Chang was sentenced without trial and sent to the local women’s prison, where she was placed alongside thousands of spiritual lost souls. She boldly and lovingly proclaimed the gospel to her fellow prisoners. The light of the gospel spread like wildfire. Within just three months, 800 women believed in Jesus. The entire atmosphere of the prison changed, and new sounds of praise and worship were heard echoing down the prison hallways and in the courtyard.
The prison director was greatly impressed at the change in the atmosphere and was able to trace it to the preaching of Sister Chang. He brought her into his office and said, “You have made my job easy! There is no more fighting between the prisoners and the women have become gentle and obedient. We need more people like you working here. From today, we have decided to let you go free. We want to give you a full-time job here in prison and will pay you 3,000 yuan per month. She chose to reject that offer but continued to reach out to all those around her for Christ.”
P. Hattaway in ‘Back to Jerusalem’ pages 140-141.
A pagan tree and Oaks of Righteousness
In his dream Nebuchadnezzar sees a large tree, which was representative of his reign. In the Ancient Near East, a tree image was viewed by some as being at the centre of the world, so God steps in and uses this imagery to communicate with Nebuchadnezzar. The imagery of a tree is also used in, Ezekiel 31, and here the King represents the human personification of the tree. Scripturally speaking, believers are called ‘Oaks of Righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3) because of the strength and power of another. But what is righteousness?
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”
Being righteous speaks of walking a straight path and is the opposite of ‘wicked’ which means to depart from the path. The path we are to walk is to be in accordance with our Father’s instruction: He stoops low to point out the path we should walk and this is the picture behind the word ‘Torah’ (Law). God is like a father who kneels before a son or daughter and points out the right way to go. Walking the ‘right path’ means moving from being centred on self to being centred on God. As Christians, a righteous person is one who stands in the position provided for by God and lives out that position in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Abraham believed God and this was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6) and Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). In the building of the Ark, Noah reveals himself as a God-centred man in his trust and ability to rest (his name means rest) in the Lord.
In Ephesians (one of the occult centres of the Ancient World), Paul encourages the church to “Put on the breastplate of righteousness”. The breastplate covers the heart which never stops beating and is therefore likened, in scripture, to the mind, will and emotions which are always active. The protective work of God’s righteousness (hence breastplate) points to Him as the author of salvation when we link Eph 6:14 to Isaiah 59:14-16.
God’s salvation-creating activity
“Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no-one, he was appalled that there was no-one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.”
In Isaiah 59, we read that God was aware of the waywardness of His people and appalled that there was no-one to help them. He puts on righteousness and steps in to save His people, this ultimately pointing to Jesus Christ the Righteous One (1 John 2:1). He is the Shepherd - with the Shepherd (in Hebrew thought) being known as the ‘Man of the Eye.’
“For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.”
God’s righteousness is His salvation-creating activity with ‘his arm being stretched forth’ speaking of His personal involvement. It is because of Him that we can be spoken of as Oaks of Righteousness - a planting of the Lord (Is 61:3 and Ps 1:1-3).
The reason that Israel had been taken into Babylonian captivity was because of her departure from the truth and her reliance upon the imaginations of her own heart (Ezek 13). Their situation became so grave that God stated that even if Noah, Daniel and Job were present, they would be the only ones saved. The fact that this is mentioned twice in Ezekiel 14 underlines the gravity of the situation. However in the place of judgement there was also the mention of great blessing: God is willing to step in, ultimately through the Messiah.
The fruit of the Messiah’s work was pictured as bringing justice into the barren places, righteousness that produced a harvest of peace with the effect of righteousness being quietness and confidence forever (Isaiah 32:16-18). This does not mean that right thinking will always be easy. We are called to forgive those that have sinned against us because of what God has done for us, even if it is painful to do so. Then note people like David who danced before the Lord in all his strength and was laughed at. Whatever we find ourselves going through, the simple truth remains: we are to draw from our knowledge and the presence of God with us in all ways and at all times.
In all that goes on in Babylon and the way God works in history we see His salvation-creating activity. In both judgement and blessing, His work continues to move forward. God would rather be involved in reconciliation than condemnation as can be seen from the following passage from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
In coming into a wayward Israel, Jesus begins His ministry reading from Isaiah but stops short of speaking of vengeance which would be the next line that He would have read. In this, we see His clear understanding of His mission: He did not come to condemn the world but to save (John 3:17) and in Him there is ‘no condemnation’ (this being a legal term).
A tree that is cut down
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were all in a pagan empire that was at times very subtle in its attacks and at other times sought to destroy life. Yet they acted as best they could in accordance with the requirements of a two-way relationship: with God. They were - in this sense - Oaks of Righteousness that would grow regardless of what was going on. Nebuchadnezzar, on the other hand, was a ‘tree’ growing in his own strength, but only being allowed to do so by God.
Moving back into Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, we read of a sentinel (4:13) descending and calling out for the tree to be cut down with the stump being bound. The binding of the stump with iron and bronze chains (a symbol of strength) would stop further growth and in these actions we see the work of One who enters from the eternal kingdom to deal with what, though powerful in worldly terms, is but a house of cards.
There is recognition from Nebuchadnezzar that the One who speaks in through his dream is the Most High (4:17). Yet Nebuchadnezzar is not aware of what it means as the tree is chopped down, or who the person with the mind of an animal for seven periods of time is. Either this, or he simply chooses to ignore what was being revealed to him, thus letting pride get the upper hand.
A year after Daniel’s interpretation, we find Nebuchadnezzar walking on the roof of his palace and boasting of what he had done:
“Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
Heaven then steps in and Nebuchadnezzar is struck with boanthropy and we will come back to this later. Before doing so we remind ourselves of where true authority comes from and our need to repent of our pride and rebellious ways in order to stand in His authority.
A soldier obeys the orders of their sergeant because the sergeant is invested with authority by the officers above him. If that sergeant is drunk the soldiers will not obey him because he has broken the chain of command. When we sin we break the chain of command, so to speak, and are unable to benefit from what God has done for us.
In many respects, Nebuchadnezzar must have wanted his kingdom to be eternal, however he finally recognised the authority of the Most High over his life: the authority of the only One whose kingdom is everlasting. But what is ‘authority’?
Authority speaks of the power or right to perform certain acts without impediment. Whilst human authority can be elected or delegated, God’s authority arises from Himself alone. He is the Creator, the First Judge and the all-powerful One whose authority is absolute and unconditional. As a Father, God wants us to submit to His leading and guidance and experience His authority in our lives as we grow in His grace. The authority of God as the only legitimate Ruler is seen in that all security in the created order comes through Him, and that nothing can stand in His presence without His permission (Psalm 104:5).
“The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.”
The rule and reign of God’s kingdom is expressed through His Son’s sacrificial love. This love is offered in equal measure to all who would bow the knee and accept His everlasting gift. In this, we are reminded that our existence as His children and ability to receive love from the One who has all power and authority is not achieved or earned in any way. Instead, it is received through the second-birth made possible by the servant Shepherd-King. His rule and reign is then experienced in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working through those who yield their lives to God and so begin to live out their real identity as sons and daughters of the living God. One such person who did this was a radical feminist professor called Rosarina Butterfield.
Professor Rosarina Butterfield, in her book “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert” writes about her journey to God. Before becoming a Christian, she was a Professor of English who championed the gay movement, wrote articles undermining Christianity, organised Gay Pride rallies and was a lesbian in a relationship for ten years. Her journey started with a letter from a local pastor who did not seek to attack her as many Christians did, but simply asked her how it was that she arrived at her view of life and then posed a few other questions as well.
Rosarina said that the letter was unlike any other letter she had read and that she could not throw it away. Eventually she rang up the Pastor and through his love and care and spirit-inspired answers to all her questions over the next two years, she committed her life to Christ. This is what she had to say about first becoming a Christian…
“When I became a Christian, I had to change everything – my life, my friends, my writing, my teaching, my advising, my clothes, my speech, my thoughts. I was tenured to a field that I could no longer work in. I was the faculty advisor to all of the gay and lesbian and feminist groups on campus. I was writing a book that I no longer believed in. And I was scheduled in a few months to give the incoming address to all of Syracuse University’s graduate students. What in the world would I say to them? The lecture that I had written and planned to deliver – on Queer Theory – I threw in the trash. Thousands of new students would hear my first, fledgling attempts to speak about Christian hermeneutics at a postmodern university. I was flooded with doubt about my new life in Christ. Was I willing to suffer like Christ? Was I willing to be considered stupid by those who didn’t know Jesus? The world’s eyes register what a life in Christ takes away, but how do I communicate all that He gives?”
Prof Rosaria Champagne Butterfield in, ‘The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.” P26.
Garments of authority
The marvel of it all is that we, the often graceless ones by way of thought and deed, are the recipients of everlasting grace through the most holy life that has ever walked these earthy realms. He is the One who has all authority and He is the One who gives authority and does so right from the beginning. This can be seen in God’s command for man to take dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28), and in God’s provision of garments after the fall (Gen 3:21).
The word garment (‘kuttoenet’) speaks of clothing worn by one in authority. Although man had fallen into sin, God was still willing to reach out and help and so in His actions there is great hope for man. We see this, yet again, in God’s dealings with Joshua the High Priest who represented Israel.
“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you." Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by. The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.”
When God is acknowledged as being present and as the One who has legitimate claim to our lives, we can walk in His authority in so far as we submit to Him.
As Christians, this walk is possible because the all-powerful One came as a servant and paid the price for our wrong-doing. Through Him we are clothed in the work of Christ (Gal 3:27), clothed in power from on high (Luke 24:49, 1 Cor 3:16) and will be clothed in the imperishable (1 Cor 15:54). We can walk in His authority and take victory over situations and circumstances in His power as sons and daughters of the living God. But do we really understand this?
In the parable of the nobleman and his servants, we see that it is those who understood the nobleman and worked with what he had provided them with who were then given authority over cities (Luke 19:11-29).
The picture behind authority is that of a Shepherds staff in the house – in the place where life and relationships are lived. As Christians, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit yet need to recognise that walking in authority is not automatic. Authority is bestowed insofar as we seek to live according to God’s word and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
It is His presence and power that helps us live as sons and daughters of the Kingdom.
“I am designed to live under the influence of the King and His kingdom, and I must make sure the right things impact me so that my impact on the world around me is what God intended. In doing so I must ensure that it is the works of the Lord that impact me most, for history testifies that the ongoing effect is an increasing supernatural invasion of the Kingdom of God.”
B. Johnson in ‘Releasing the Spirit of Prophecy’ page 139.
Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man in the most powerful kingdom on earth at that time; yet this kingdom was still under the hand of God’s kingdom.
The Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God speaks of God’s perfect rule and reign which by its very nature cannot be limited or confined to the church or a particular geographical area. The Kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign – the rule and reign of the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Yet it is not the reign of someone who stands on a distant hill and shouts out orders. Instead God’s rule and reign is something awesome to behold because God has chosen to come close to the rebel who seeks to run and hide. Because of this we can say that the rule and reign of God is His salvation-creating activity. It is the work of the supreme Holy One who actively seeks out the lost and chooses to draw so close that He entered the human race as a servant and gave His life so that we could live. Isaiah spoke of this awesomely generous grace over seven-hundred years before Christ. When in speaking of the forthcoming Messiah he said, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6). In the One who said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) is ‘Immanuel’ – God with us (Matthew 1:23). In Jesus the law-giver has come to the aid of the law-breaker.
The law of God’s kingdom is the Law of Agape love, (1 John 4:8) and in Jesus we see exactly what that love is like (v9-10). In all that Jesus did, we see a heavenly King who regarded no-one as insignificant or too far gone and who saw nothing as too trivial to warrant His attention. Unlike so many around Him, Jesus did not write off the tax collector (Luke 1:1-9), the adulterer (John 8:10-11) or a Centurion and his servant (Luke 7:3ff). In Jesus we see what God’s rule and reign is really like. God’s rule and reign speak of His power and authority being brought to bear on our lives with the purpose of reconciliation and restoration. In Nebuchadnezzar we see a man who stood in his pride and trod on whoever got in his way. In Jesus we find the King of Kings stooping low and walking with His people.
The King who stoops low to walk with His people
In the Ancient Near East, kings did not rule by just sitting on a throne and distancing themselves from their people; instead choosing to rule amongst the people. In Jesus we see the King of the Kingdom – the mighty One who carries His staff in His hand as the Great Shepherd and who comes with the offer of life to all. In His rule and reign we find a King who does not want to curtail real freedom, but who came to deal with what we have become (sinners: Rom 3:23). His purpose is to make us His, rooting us in His work (eternal life, speaking of quality and not just quantity: Rom 6:23) and helping us grow through all that He has provided. From this we see that His kingdom rule and reign is about being released into freedom and maturity in all that it means to be a son or daughter of the living God. An example of this release from bondage to freedom is found in the following story…
Chai Ling was a young college student in, Beijing, and found herself as one of the leaders on the student uprising in Tiananmen Square in 1989 where so many students were massacred. Chai Ling managed to escape and, as China’s most wanted woman, made her way to America. She is now a Christian and in her book, ‘A Heart for Freedom” she wrote..
"I now see that the thirst I had is the longing for freedom placed in our hearts by God. Only when I came to know God could I truly begin to comprehend his unique purpose for my life. I’ve since been given renewed strength, healing, and insight to explain my perspective on China’s past, the meaning of the Tiananmen movement and God’s future plan.”
. Chai Ling in, A Heart For Freedom, p 9
N.T Wright in ‘A Place for Truth; (Ed Proff D. Willard), speaks of how, in Jesus, a great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we have been chained up. He says:
“We are offered freedom, freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access… (and) to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven. In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.”
N.T. Wright quoting his book, ‘Simply Christian’ in A Place for Truth p 249, Ed Prof D. Willard.
Heaven and earth
Heaven interacts with earth as the glory of heaven arrives clothed as a servant (Phil2:5ff, 2 Cor 8:9) in order to give a life that was powerful beyond measure, yet willingly suffered in the weakness of the flesh. Think about it:
Adam and Eve were created in a world that was perfect whilst Jesus was born in a stable. At his birth, the most powerful army that has entered space sang praises to God at the arrival of this Shepherd-King (Luke 2:13-15). Three decades later, angels ministered to Jesus after the defeat of Satan in the desert (Mark 1:13). After a few years no one from heaven would intervene as Jesus was crucified for our sin because He had come to stand in our place. Jesus came to die, yet death could not hold Him.
During Jesus’ life, the rule and reign of God had been seen in the healing of the sick, the deliverance of the possessed, the raising of the dead and the stilling of the storms. Legions of angels could have been called upon at the time of Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:53), but instead the wrath of God was brought against the sin-bearer, so that we - the rebel - might go free. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and all across the world, whether in prison or pulpit, millions pray “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
After Jesus’ ascension, the promised Spirit is poured out at Pentecost (Acts 2) and ordinary men and women found themselves able to extraordinary things as darkness was overcome and people were set free. God speaks to a murderous Saul on the road to Damascus and an angel appears to an evangelist (Philip: Acts 8:26), sending him to an Ethiopian eunuch, struggling with his understanding of scripture. God is present with His people and is willing to reach out to all who seek Him and all across the world there are men and women who reach out to others in the name of Jesus, as the following true story illustrates.
A few nights ever month an almost eighty-year-old peasant farmer puts on a neatly pressed suit and tie and goes out in his fishing boat to throw bottles in the water, but why?
Mr ‘Yu’ is a South Korean Christian. Under the cover of darkness he navigates his boat along the coast of North Korea and prays for an unseen congregation of believers in the country as he drops scripture leaflets in bottles into the water. He says, “I pray over every gospel leaflet I throw into the sea. I pray for those that will read then as they wash up on the shore. This is now my profession, the most important task of my life.” Mr Yu wears a suit and tie and he does this because to him, it is all a matter of honour and respect. As an ambassador of Christ, he offers his very best.
In the above story an old fisherman wears a suit for Jesus whilst in Daniel chapter four a king continues to wear his pride. However Nebuchadnezzar is about to find himself undergoing a complete change of circumstances and this is where we pick up on boanthropy.
Back to Nebuchadnezzar and boanthropy
In 1975 the Assyriologist, A.K. Grayson, published a cuneiform text that is now in the British Museum (BM 34113+sp213) that alludes to Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity. At one point the tablet speaks of how Nebuchadnezzar’s life seemed valueless as he gave senseless contradictory orders and appeared unable to recognise people or participate in the Babylonian building plans. In all likelihood, this tablet speaks of the time Nebuchadnezzar began to descend into boanthropy (v32-33).
Boanthropy is the belief that one is an ox and must live accordingly. In the Ancient Near East at that time, many people-groups believed that the gods could inhabit people. It is probably because of this belief that Nebuchadnezzar was ‘put out to pasture’ until his sanity returned and people could hear what he had to say.
Scripture informs us that Nebuchadnezzar eventually lifted his eyes to heaven and his sanity and understanding was returned to him. He then blessed the Most High saying:
“I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his authority is an everlasting authority, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.”
In the above statement we have the proclamation of good news coming through a pagan King. In Nebuchadnezzar’s words there is the acknowledgement of the One who has everlasting authority and whose kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
Good news and the servant-king
In the world that Jesus entered – the Roman world - good news would often speak of the greatness of the emperor’s military victories. The arrogance and pride of some of the emperors’ in the decades following Jesus can be seen, for example, in Caligula’s attempt to put a statue of his god in the Jerusalem Temple, yet with his own face on the statue. In many respects emperors like Caligula, Nero and others claimed to be like gods as they ruled the empire. In total contrast to this we see Jesus, the legitimate king coming as the incarnate Son of God.
In Matthew 4:23 we read of Jesus, the Servant-King, teaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (rule and reign) of God. This proclaiming of good news (covenant-relationship) points us back to Isaiah’s prophecy of the One who would preach good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1).
The promise of God through Isaiah was to restore the people of Israel from bondage and exile. This suffering had come about through ignoring God’s word and an ‘I can do it my way’ attitude. The people were poor, oppressed and blind through following idols which could not see and which placed a burden on others, leaving them in spiritual poverty. Although the people were released from Babylonian captivity, Israel never regained the position she had once had as a light to the nations; many were still caught up with the idolatry of the heart.
At the time of Jesus, the Jewish nation was oppressed by the Roman Empire and a priesthood that, in many respects, placed a heavy burden on the people. Instead of helping an oppressed population engage with God, many were caught up with leaders who were too blind to see the power that could set a cripple free. Instead of seeing this, all they could see was someone breaking their Sabbath law (John 5:10).
Freedom for all
When Jesus spoke in the synagogue about freedom, restoration and healing (Luke 4), those listening would have understood what He referred to. The prophecy (which Jesus had come to fulfil) referred to Israel as blind, poor, trapped and down-trodden. In many respects Israel was a nation that was still in exile, that is, away from their heavenly Father, yet still God drew close. Jesus came to set people free yet many did not see that the freedom He speaks of is freedom from sin and what self has become.
Jesus also spoke about how God’s power and blessing was still open to those who were willing to embrace God and in doing so, gives us a clear indication of His all-inclusive mission to the world. Yes He had come for the lost sheep of Israel, but He was still going to reach out to others as God had always done.
In Luke 4, Jesus reminds His listeners of how God used Elijah to help a gentile widow outside of Israeli territory. This woman was open to the Lord who had told her to help Elijah. Her awareness of God is seen in her words to Elijah, “…As surely as the Lord your God lives.”
Although this suffering widow was in the difficult and traumatic process of making a final meal for her and her son before they died of starvation, she obeyed God and fed Elijah. In response to this, Elijah said to her: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land” (1 Kings 17:14). Despite her suffering and impending doom she had obeyed God and received blessing whilst Israeli widows were caught up in the prison of their unbelief and were unable to receive.
Jesus also pointed out that there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha but only Naaman was healed. Naaman had listened to the words of an Israeli slave and went to Elisha for help; he was healed by God. His greatest concern was that He would not offend God by helping his own king bow to false gods when in a pagan temple. Therefore, on one side of this story we have the king of Israel in all his finery who should have known better but was not listening to God and on the other side, a slave-girl who didn’t complain and still encouraged others to see God, along with an army chief who came to know God.
Today, our heavenly Father continues to reach out in unexpected ways and in Jesus we see the radical call to friendship and fellowship as we are called from darkness to light. G. Livingstone speaks of this need for commitment to Jesus and other believers in this way in his book, ‘Planting Churches in Muslim Cities.”
“In a culture where all the loyalty and affinity goes to blood relatives, we must emphasise the will of God as articulated by the Lord Jesus (Mat 12:48-50). The new believers have a new family. Jesus, as an easterner, startled his listeners: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Repeatedly, until the new believers internalise it, we must reiterate that commitment to Christ, our head, is not genuine without accompanying commitment to Christ’s body, the other followers of Christ, as our brothers and sisters.”
G. Livingstone in, ‘Planting Churches in Muslim Cities’ p 220.
In Babylon, Daniel was surrounded with all manner of false worship and darkness yet his greatest enemy would always be himself. God wants to be known personally and the only thing that prevents Him from doing so lives within us!
The good news is that God is willing to reach out to all people – even the Nebuchadnezzars of this world - regardless of race, colour, religion or background. He came to stand in our place (2 Cor 8:9) and opened the way for us to grow in the riches of all that He has done.
As the camera focuses in on Nebuchadnezzar’s restoration to sanity we find a man who humbles himself before the legitimate owner and ruler of heaven and earth. If we as believers are to continue to walk in His power and anointing then we must always come to God with a repentant heart which, at the same time, knows that it can receive great blessing.
Repentance from the heart
In Hebrew thought the heart speaks of the mind which is always active, as is the physical heart, it being the only muscle that does not stop. The pictures behind the word ‘heart’ lebab (each letter in Hebrew has a picture behind it) are a shepherd’s staff and the floor plan of a tent. In these pictures we see authority (Shepherd’s staff) in the place where one resides (the place where life is first lived). Ultimately this is in the mind, and authority can speak of anything we have allowed to dominate our thinking. Due to the fall, we often end up under the wrong authority which then needs to be dealt with through understanding and engaging with the right blueprint for life and destroying the house of our own thinking and means of protection. One person who ‘destroyed the house of self’ and embraced Christianity was Professor Mary Poplin.
Professor Mary Poplin, was a radical Marxist, Feminist and a Professor of Education. Before becoming a Christian she was regularly experimented with drugs and tried everything from Zen Buddhism to Transcendental Meditation. In an article in ‘A Place for Truth…’ she wrote of her journey to Christianity in the late 1990’s.
“Where were the slaves first freed? Where are people still freest? Question after question just jumped out. Was Christianity really that oppressive? If so, why is the largest non-government organisation in the world, ‘World Vision’, Christian? Why were all these little churches everywhere doing what I called social justice? They didn’t necessarily call it that, but they were feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, visiting hospitals and nursing homes, sending money to free slaves, adopting new immigrants…so I had to ask myself, was Christianity really anti-intellectual? (After all) You see the intellectuals all over the world – for instance, Francis Collins, Dallas Willard, Carol Swain, Michael Novak, Steven Meyers…” (later) C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that we cannot say that Christians are “better” people than non-Christians, but we can say that everyone who truly comes to Christ will be a better person than he or she would able otherwise.”
Prof M.Poplin in ‘Is Reality Secular? Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews.” Pages 288,9, 92.
The journey from repentance to faith began, for Prof Poplin, through seeing the impact of Christianity on ordinary everyday people and the presence of the Holy Spirit working with people who reached out of their personal comfort zones to help people who had little or no way of doing anything in return.
In repentance from the heart we leave and destroy the ‘house’ that we have lived in, acknowledging that it is wrong and seeking forgiveness from God. Through this act of faith we turn to a new position in Him (as ‘reconciled ones’). We enter our true home living in the presence of the Great Shepherd and in the power of the Holy Spirit. All of this comes about because God chooses to reach out to us and therefore it is the presence of the Holy One who makes us holy (holiness is a gift).
“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.”
When we have pride in our own ability or achievements with a ‘look at what I’ve done’ attitude, we damage the very life that we think we are promoting (Prov 13:10 16:18). Pride in self says, “I have achieved, I am to be noticed, I am better than, I deserve and so on.” The biggest danger in this is that it separates us from the author of life and prevents us from asking for help or acknowledging our need of the empowering strength of the Holy Spirit.
“I was in third grade when in conflict I discovered a primal fear: I was sure my turn in a game had been skipped. I stated my opinion tentatively at first, then emphatically, but was ignored. I felt terribly hurt and rejected. For a long time – days, even weeks – I didn’t play with my friends. I sat alone at break, immersed in loneliness, wishing I had the courage to re-join my friends. But pride and fear held me back. I was too proud to admit how hurt I was and how much I cared and too afraid it didn’t matter to them at all. I was alienated from some of the people who mattered most to me. The chords of relationship were for a time devastatingly broken."
E.C. Shrock-Shenk and L. Ressler in ‘Making Peace With Conflict’ p25
Nebuchadnezzar, the small man of pride was restored to health through humility and God’s subsequent intervention. Humility recognises that all of us, great or small, are those who receive no matter our achievements and despite our failings. The only reason any of us can stand in His authority and power is because of the grace and mercy of another: the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jeremiah once wrote:
“…But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the Lord.”
Nebuchadnezzar was struck down with boanthropy, yet was later restored to health by the One who seeks to reach all people. God works in ordinary and also extraordinary ways to accomplish His purpose in redeeming time and bring many to salvation. Take as an example, the following story.
In 1817 an American Baptist missionary called Adoniram Judson arrived in Burma and found lodgings in Rangoon. He spent many years reaching out to Burmese Buddhists little realising that another group – the Karen people – were passing by his door each day.
One day a Karen man called Ko Thah-byu started to work in his household and started asking questions about the gospel. On coming to place his trust in Christ he learned to read and started reading the Bible as fast as Adoniram Judson could translate it into his language. Ko Thah-byu was totally preoccupied with the Bible and for a very interesting reason.
The Karen people had a belief in God and were waiting for what they believed was their ‘lost book’ to arrive in Burma. It was not long before hundreds of Karen people had turned to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It was found that, in their own beliefs, the Karen people already had a knowledge of the one true God and stories such as man’s falling away from God which are similar to those found in Genesis:
“Y’wa formed the world originally. He appointed food and drink. He appointed the “fruit of trial.” He gave detailed orders. Mu-kaw-lee deceived two persons. He caused them to eat the fruit of the tree of trial. They obeyed not; they believed not Y’wa…When they ate the fruit of trial, they became subject to sickness, aging and death.”
By 1858 there were tens of thousands of Karen Christians and they started reaching out to other groups around them such as the 500,000 Kachin people. The Kachin people also believed that their forefather’s had once possessed sacred writings which were now lost. They also believed in a supreme being. During the next ninety years over 250.000 Katchin people became born again Christians. Their story, and that of many others, is found in Don Richardson’s book, ‘Eternity in their Hearts,’ (pages 78 and 92 onwards).