06 January 2014

Nebuchadnezzar's Humble Praise

Daniel chapter 4 is Nebuchadnezzar's letter of testimony to the whole world.  If we didn't know the story already, perhaps we would begin this chapter with expectations high, looking for a glorious victory of faith.  In fact, let's pretend for a moment we don't already know.  Let's simply revel in his praise for a moment, his apparently jubilant declaration that God is above all, everlasting, mighty.

We travel through dreamland with the king, but not just normal dreamland.  Once again, Nebuchadnezzar's dreamland gets infused with the divine longing to save him from himself.

We see a beautiful picture in nature, of a tree full of all kinds of birds and surrounded by the peaceful pasture home of every ho-hum and exotic creature we could imagine.  The tree is gigantic, and bears all kinds of fruits.  In fact, the language and imagery here, used to describe Nebuchadnezzar and what he is and should be to the world as its leader and protector, remind me a little of the way John describes the tree of life in heaven itself (see Revelation 22).

For a moment, it would be easy to think the tree would give honor to its Creator, pointing high into the heavens to remind everyone who sees it that God made all things and rules all things.

But unlike the peaceful picture painted of the tree of life, a note of trouble soon rings through dreamland.  The tree is about to be cut down.  We can hardly imagine such a picture of strength being laid low.  The warning sounds loud, in hopes that all the birds and animals taking shelter under this tree will escape with their lives before it comes crashing, hard, to the ground.

Now we hear a clue that perhaps the tree isn't a tree after all, but a person.  The tree has a man's heart, but soon it will have an animal's heart, instead.  The only hint of hope comes with the promise that the roots will be left in the earth, and that another change of circumstance will come to this tree-man after "seven times".

The holy one tells us all these things have to happen not only for this person will know God, but also because all living people everywhere need to know that ultimately God's power rules even the kings of the earth.

And it all happens.  Daniel stands in shock for an hour before he can wrap his mind around it enough for words; finally, he's able to tell the strong and mighty king how he will live as an animal in the field for seven years, until he acknowledges the God of heaven above all.  Then he begs the king to change his ways, in hopes that a repentant heart, humbled before God, will remove the need for such an intense trial.

God gives Nebuchadnezzar the space of twelve more months.  Twelve months to consider and implement Daniel's advice.  Twelve months to begin learning to show mercy in place of cruel force.  Twelve months to remember that while he's the head of gold, the chest of silver follows upon his heels, and even that is ultimately followed by God's own everlasting kingdom.  (See Daniel 2.)

With so many humans bound by hurt, anger, bitterness, and fears, however, Nebuchadnezzar finds that time alone does not heal the wounds of a life or change the deadly habits of pride.

Another voice speaks from heaven, and Nebuchadnezzar becomes as close to an animal as a human can get.  He eats grass.  His hair grows like feathers.  His fingernails and toenails grow like claws.  He stays out in the pasture, leaving his government officials to tend the needs of the world while he's entirely incapable of doing so.

It's out of the depths of difficulty and even insanity that Nebuchadnezzar recognizes God's hand in his life.  Only at a point lower than we can imagine reaching does the king finally grasp what his brilliant mind ignored for years.

He was not brilliant in his own power.
He was not strong in his own might.
He was not king of the world in his own wisdom.

And when he's released from the pasture, the zoo of creatures who have been his companions for the better part of a decade?

He doesn't praise God merely for letting him back into the land of human intellect and activity.  He acknowledges the miracle of restoration, to be sure, yet the main theme of his praise is simply this:

"Now I praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase."  Daniel 4:37

Because he knows only a good God can and will wash pride away from the ugliest human heart.  He knows from painful, bitter experience that any trial we face that brings us to this place of complete surrender and praise to the One who is all powerful, is truly a good thing and something for which we can be infinitely thankful for.

Remember how the messenger in the dream says that the trial comes to the king not only for him, but also for every living person to see the power of God?

The king can't keep such good news to himself. 

Thus, in the end of the story, we get a glimpse of a glorious victory in faith after all, which is told all over the world, from that time to this.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What great photos to illustrate the story with! :)


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