By coincidence–or maybe not–the story today involves talking turkey about who God is and isn’t. It was that second piece of Derby pie that has me wondering–who is God for me, really? Because it’s more than bellies that God wants to honor him: it’s hearts and minds, too.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has had a disturbing dream, and he wants it interpreted. More than simply interpreted, he wants someone to tell him the dream itself and so prove their ability to interpret it. He’s furious when he’s told that no one can tell him his dream, and in a fit of rage, he orders that all the wise men of his realm be killed. This includes Daniel and his three friends.
Daniel is a Jewish exile in Babylon. He intervenes with the king and asks for a chance to find out the dream and its interpretation. He and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, then plead for God’s help, and God reveals the dream to Daniel during the night. The next morning, he comes before the king to tell him what he’s learned.
But Daniel and the king aren’t the only characters in this story. God himself stepped into Babylon when his people did, and God is shaking things up. While Nebuchadnezzar tries to indoctrinate the Jews by educating some of its top young men in the ways of Babylon, God’s plan is to use his most devout worshippers to upend the leadership of Babylon instead.
Nebuchadnezzar’s request of the dream seemed impossible in the eyes of the wise men of Babylon, but it wasn’t too hard for God. And it’s here where this story really lies: with the God of the Universe who is making himself known to this pagan king, a king who consults the stars and cards, dead spirits and animal innards, and every other spiritual voice he can find to guide him.
All of them, that is, except God’s. I’m guessing God’s gotten tired of him taking every road to find him except the one that will get him there, which is the last one he’d expect. It’s the road hardest to find, because it leads through the story of the people he’s just conquered and captured. Nebuchadnezzar has stolen temple treasures from Jerusalem as well as its best and brightest people and their land. In his eyes, they’re despised. He can’t know that the truth he seeks will lead him first into humility and defeat.
Who is the true God? In all of Nebuchadnezzar’s searching, he still hasn’t found him. So God reaches out to him. I love this about God. Such kindness and compassion in his condescension. Neb is The Big Dog of his day, arrogant as all get-out, rash and boisterous, loud and proud, likely foul mouthed and foul living, and still, God looks down and reaches out.
And this isn’t the first time. Daniel and his friends have already distinguished themselves by refusing to live as the king decrees, and yet, they were still his first round draft pick. He considers them to be wiser than the king’s wise men. Even so, they aren’t spared from the king’s rash decree, (for the story of their draft pick, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/25/november-25/).
I wonder if Daniel slept after God revealed the king’s dream. It had to be a wild ride, having a vision from God Almighty in the night. He knew he held the get-out-of-jail-free card for himself, his friends, and the rest of the wise men. It would be tough not to turn this story into a tale of “what I like best about me.”
But Daniel doesn’t. When he meets up with the king, he tells him that no wise man or enchanter could explain the mystery the king’s asked for, but “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.” Daniel says it’s not because he’s wiser than other men that he’s been given the dream. It’s so the king can understand what’s ahead, 2:26-28. I’m guessing Daniel could only take a back seat in this story if he absolutely knew who was driving.
So what’s the dream? In a nutshell, there is a “dazzling statue” made of different materials. While the head is pure gold, the materials that make up the statue–silver, bronze, and iron–become less valuable the closer they get to the ground, with the feet made of a mixture of iron and clay. When a rock “cut out, not by human hands” hits the feet, the whole statue falls to the ground and is swept away by wind. And the rock becomes a huge mountain that fills the whole earth, 2:29-35.
Daniel says that God is the one who’s given the king his power and might, “You, O king, are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he’s placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air.” The king is the head of gold, and the other materials represent other kingdoms that’ll rise to power after him. Their kingdoms are less magnificent than his, and eventually God will set up a kingdom that will never end, “It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever,” 2:36-45.
Commentators agree that these kingdoms are Persia, Greece, and Rome and that the rock is Jesus, who broke into the world’s scene with his birth. But they disagree about what the feet represent, when the statue will topple, and when the rock will turn into the mountain. Some see it as a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
But the plainest interpretation seems to be that Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection have already smashed the power of the nations. God’s kingdom was certainly on Jesus’ mind when he came. He spoke openly about what the kingdom of God was like–how unlike other kingdoms it was, Mk 1:15, 4:26; Lk 13:18, 17:20; Jn 3:3, Ac 1:3.
What is God’s kingdom? The mountain that fills the earth is his church. The church shares God’s word and takes it all over the world through his people, by his Spirit. It’s the Spirit who invades human hearts, not with weapons of war and hate, but with weapons of peace and love. God’s enemies aren’t dominated by tyranny; they’re transformed into family who look to him as their Father and one another as brothers and sisters. His kingdom is all about the love, Jo 17:23; Ac 8:12; Col 3:14, 4:11; 1 Co 15:50.
It’s a brilliant strategy, one the gates of hell cannot prevail against. It goes against the strategy of every known world power in history. Rather than conquering with tools of fear and subjugation, God brings forgiveness and restoration. God’s plan since time began has been to love the people he’s made. No wonder his kingdom takes over the earth. Who has any defense against this good news, that there really is a One-True-Love? Mt 16:18.
Nebuchadnezzar can’t know who the kingdoms are that will come after him, but who they are isn’t the point. His take away is that God Almighty reigns. For all of the idol worship and truth seeking he’s done, Nebuchadnezzar has missed the one true God right under his nose, the one whose people and temple goblets he holds hostage.
It’s this God who gives him a peek into the future as well as a man who explains it for him. After Daniel shares, the king worships. “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor…’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.'” 2:46-47.
Falling down in worship is what people seem to do when they get a real glimpse of God’s glory. It’s what Ezekiel did when he saw visions of God, Ez 1:28. It’s what angels and elders do in God’s presence in heaven, Re 5:8. It’s what the whole world will one day do before the Father and the Son, Phi 2:10; Ro 14:11.
Daniel is lavished with gifts and is made a member of the royal court as well as ruler over all of Babylon. And he’s promoted over Babylon’s wisest men. At Daniel’s request, his friends were also promoted as administrators over the province, 2:46-49.
You’d think this lesson of who God is would have stuck a while with the king. But evidently his ego is bigger than his newfound respect for God. He makes an image of gold, 90 feet high and nine feet wide, and sets it on the plain of Dura in Babylon. The Bible doesn’t say what’s the source of this statue, but I’m guessing he’s inspired by his dream and its golden head, 3:1.
Nebuchadnezzar gets distracted from the God who revealed himself and his future plan. Maybe he’s caught up in the side bar of being the golden head, “The Big Show” of all kingdom leaders, both then and to come. Maybe it went right to his hairy head?
Because the statue Nebuchadnezzar makes doesn’t just have a head of gold–it’s made of gold from head to toe. Maybe the king thinks he can change the dream’s prophecy by creating an entirely gold statue. As superstitious as he is, there could be any number of motives for making it.
Whatever his purpose, Nebuchadnezzar is tangled up in his own glory, a glory he wants everyone to know and acknowledge, and he commands that the statue be worshipped. Since he’s irate when some won’t, I’m guessing he’s linked his own self worship with it. Regardless of who he perceives God to be, God Almighty is still the main character in this story, and he’s not done teaching Nebuchadnezzar who he is. Lesson two comes next. 3:2, 13.
Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship is cued to whenever the people hear music, which I’m guessing is often. The list of instruments to listen for pretty much covers everything common in the ancient world, and he ends the list with “all kinds of music,” just in case he’s missed one, 3:5.
The king’s not complicated; he’s just all inclusive. The rules are easy, and really there’s only one: when you hear music of any kind, fall down and worship the statue, or you’ll be fed to the fiery furnace, 3:4-6. Cinchy. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego don’t find the law an easy fit.
In fact, they flatly refuse and are ratted out by some astrologers, who tell the king, “…there are some Jews…who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up,” 3:12. The king is enraged. It would be one thing for his own people to ignore him, but the folks he’s just conquered and raised up to rule under him? Unforgivable! Who do they think they are? 3:12-13.
He sends for them and gives them another chance. In case they’ve missed how serious he is, he explains what they must do, and reminds them of the red hot fire at hand if they refuse, “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 3:13-15.
But they do. It’s not the king’s hand who holds their future, they say, it’s God who’s able to save them from the blaze. But even if he doesn’t, “…we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up,” 3:16-18.
So Nebuchadnezzar has the men tied up and the furnace heated seven times hotter than ever. It’s so hot, in fact, that the guards who throw them in are killed. As the king watches, he sees four men walking around in the flames, though only three were thrown in. The king “leaped to his feet,” all amazed. He commands them to come out, and all the officials crowd around. They’re completely unharmed, not a hair is singed. They don’t even smell like smoke, 3:19-27.
Just as with Daniel and the dream, Nebuchadnezzar again praises the God, “who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” In his typical rash fashion, he proclaims that anyone who says anything against their God “be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” And he promotes these men, all over again, 3:28-30.
It’s an extraordinary story and is hard to believe, unless you believe that God is who he says he is. Because if he’s truly God, the Great God of Heaven and Earth, then it would be an easy thing for him to communicate with the people he’s made, regardless of who they are or how hot the fire is. It would be an easy thing to rescue them from slavery, death, and hell, too. Isn’t that what God’s always done? This day was no different.
The problem in the king’s life isn’t so much that he’s open to idol worship. It’s that he’s closed to the One True God. Once a person has the truth of who God is firmly in place, idolatry is seen for what it is–an utter waste of time and resources. This is why God says the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom, Pr 9:10.
Until I reckon with God as God, nothing else is of any real benefit. What does it matter if a man or woman gains the whole world, after all, but loses their own soul? Mt 16:26. The book of Ezekiel has shown us all month that what God has to teach people—both his own people and those of all nations–begins with who he is.
Until that point is understood and believed, everything else is irrelevant. It’s why Hebrews says that “without faith, it’s impossible to please God because anyone who comes to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him,” 11:6.
Like Neb, I’ve got my own times of stumbling around in pride, thinking my life is my own, and I know best how to live it. My own quick anger shoots flares that signal I’m forgetting who I am–and who God is. No matter how many times he reveals himself to me, like Nebuchadnezzar, I can still forget. And sometimes I don’t want to remember. Bites of Thanksgiving pie make me turn a blind eye.
But I see how Daniel desired to honor God with every part of his life, even in the little things, like what he ate. I think I want God to be sweeter than anything else for me, but I see how quickly I settle for my idols instead.
While Daniel shows me “little” devotions, his friends show me “big” ones. They refused to bow their heads in larger things like peer pressure, reputation, job security, employee benefits, even loss-of-life assurance. Rather than grab hold of the world, they grabbed hold of God and trusted him to be their source of life, even if he chose to take theirs away.
Be my all-in-all, Abba.
1 Peter 4:7-5:14
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,’God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,” 1 Pe 5:5-6.
Peter was martyred under the reign of Nero in Rome during a time of great persecution of the church. That’s why there’s so much in his books about suffering, this passage in particular.
But what grabs me today is that despite the suffering that surrounds them, he encourages God’s people to be humble under God’s hand, to wait for him to lift them up, to cast their anxiety on him, and to believe that he cares for them.
When suffering, it’s easy to believe that you’ve fallen off God’s radar, that if he regards you at all, it’s certainly not with loving-care. But Peter says the opposite is true. He couches these words about humility and trust right smack between ones about suffering on both sides. Peter says that their heart attitude while suffering should be faith, not fear. Because God doesn’t change, and he cannot lie, and he cannot stop being who he says he is, we can believe that he’s always loving and listening and leading us. Even when everything around his says otherwise: “Faith is confidence in what we hope for…,” He 11:1.
Circumstances don’t dictate who God is to us. His word does. And his word says that humbling ourselves and trusting him when we suffer is the way to get through it until he chooses to lift us out of it. This is Peter’s message during a time when suffering was what he intimately knew.
Will we trust Peter’s words? Will we trust God regardless of what surrounds us today? In the face of rejection, loss, loneliness, and despair, it’s tough to keep our eyes on Jesus. But he endured the suffering of the cross by keeping his eyes on the joy of saving us. Surely he will help us do the same as he walks with us through our own suffering, He 4:16; 12:1-3.
I’m interested to read that there was a church in Babylon when Peter wrote his book, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings…,”5:13. I wonder if the truth of who God was to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego–and maybe to Nebuchadnezzar himself in the end–bore fruit in this part of God’s mountain that broke through to Babylon.
God’s word doesn’t come back void, Is 55:11.
“If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
To all perfection I see a limit;
but your commands are boundless,”
The psalmist gives us his secret for living with affliction, which is to delight in God’s words. If he hadn’t hung onto them, he wouldn’t have survived. I’m noting that his enemies are still lying in wait for him–they haven’t changed. But he’s found safety and life in what God says, regardless of them.
How does one delight in God’s word? He tells us…
“I never forget your precepts.” He doesn’t forget what God says because he regularly remembers it. He listens to it, reads it, sings it, speaks it, shares it. There are many ways to be immersed in remembering God’s words. I’m guessing that remembering comes first, and then comes delighting.
“I sought out your precepts.” He digs in God’s word. He studies it. He’s focused. He’s diligent. He makes it his job—his priority. I’m doubtful that he loved it when he first started. But he’s found the reward for seeking it: delight, safety, protection.
“I ponder your statutes.” He thinks about God’s word. He bites off a piece that speaks to his heart and chews it over and over. “What does this bite tell me about me and my situation? What does it teach me about God? What does it tell me to do or not do?”
Delighting in God’s word is what comes when we remember it, seek it, and think about it. The delight follows the doing. Eventually we get to the place where we see the limited perfection of everything in life alongside the boundless beauty of God’s words. The infinite goodness of God, given to us in a book we can hold in our hands?
The wonder of that still boggles my mind.
My take away today is the beauty of God’s word and the “boundless perfection” it offers to me and everyone else who is crying out for help and hope (Psalms).
God’s story in Daniel teaches me that regardless of human beings, God reigns. Believing he’s who he says he is, is my very first step of faith. It’s the one Daniel has already taken, and it’s the one the king is taking by fits and starts.
But the step is the same for everyone: Who is God? There’s really nowhere to go but to him to find out. It’s only he who knows how to find a good and satisfying life. It’s only he who has the power to enable us to live it. This is what God is all about.
Peter teaches me that humility and trust is the way to survive hard times, and the psalmist agrees. Regardless of enemies, God’s words hold. They connect me to the one who will carry my cares and who will lift me up (1 Peter). God shows me he loves me by what he does and by his words.
I can ask him to “preserve my life according to [his] love,” because his love was proven at the cross…by the earth and sky…by gravity…
…and by Thanksgiving pie.