Friday, 21 February 2014

Daniel 4 'Will you be proud or Christian?'

Muhammad Ali is not known for his modesty.  He called his autobiography 'The Greatest.'  But on one occasion this master of both boxing-ring met his match.
He was on a plane preparing for departure when an air-hostess requested that he put on his seatbelt.
'Superman don't need no seatbelt,' he informed her.
She replied, 'Superman don't need no plane.'

Muhammad Ali's arrogance might seem humorous but actually pride is an ugly thing.  Pride is anti-God.  Pride refuses to acknowledge that everything we have comes from God.  Proud people don't see their need of mercy and grace.  Proud people won't admit that they have blown it in life.  Proud people refuse to say thanks or sorry.  God hates pride.  Pride keeps people out of his kingdom.  On a number of occasions the Bible tells us that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.

God opposing the proud and giving grace to the humble is exactly what we see in the life of Nebuchadnezzar.

1.  A humbled man tells of God's kindness (1-3)
Our passage opens in the first person.  Nebuchadnezzar wants to tell people about God.  He is addressing himself to all peoples, nations and languages that dwell in the earth.  He had previously ordered them to worship his statue.  He now comes with a message of peace.  

He mentions the signs and wonders 'that the Most High has done for me' (2).  God was revealing himself to Nebuchadnezzar as the king witnesses such events as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being protected in the fiery furnace.  God was calling the king to repentance through the severe humbling that is recorded in this chapter.

How kind and gracious is the Most High God.  Nebuchadnezzar was a tyrant.  He had besieged Jerusalem, carried God's people into exile, stolen vessels from God's temple and placed them in the temple of his god.  Nebuchadnezzar had demanded that people worship his statue and persecuted those who were faithful to God.  Yet God reveals himself to Nebuchadnezzar, deals with his pride and blesses him when he repents.  

2.  A loving man pleads for the king to repent (4-27)

The events of this chapter take place near the end of Nebuchadnezzar's reign.  Nebuchadnezzar had shown his contempt for Daniel's God by changing Daniel's name to one that honoured the god Bel.  Nebuchadnezzar had witnessed Daniel at work for forty years, seen the presence of God in him, and benefitted from the wisdom God gave Daniel.  Yet Nebuchadnezzar refused to place his life in the hands of Daniel's God.  Nebuchadnezzar ignored God but God would not ignore him.  God acts with both judgement and mercy towards Nebuchadnezzar.  

God gives Nebuchadnezzar a terrifying dream.  He summons his wise men, despite the fact that they were unable to help him with a previous disturbing dream.  They cannot interpret it.  Daniel can interpret the dream.

Notice Daniel's compassion.  He knows that Nebuchadnezzar is a cruel and egotistical man but he is nevertheless dismayed at the impending judgement coming the king's way (19).  Daniel reflects the character of our God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but rather that they repent and live (Ezekiel 33:11).

The dream centres on a large tree.  This tree stretches to the sky.  It is a beautiful and abundant tree.  A heavenly decree is issued.  The tree will be reduced to a stump.  The tree is now seen as a person.  This person will be humbled and end up living like an animal.  He will lose his sanity.  Daniel informs the king, 'that tree is you' (22).  God is going to humble him.  Although note the kindness of God: 'the command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules' (26)

Daniel pleads with Nebuchadnezzar to repent.  He knows that The Lord is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster (Jonah 4:2).  Our message centres on the wrath and mercy of God.  A God who will bring judgement to those who refuse to repent but a God who never rejects  those he turn to him with a contrite in heart.  We must never ignore the spiritual danger of our family, friends and neighbours.  We are to plead with them to turn to Jesus.

3.  A broken man is restored (28-37)

Tragically Nebuchadnezzar ignored Daniel's plea.  God gave him a year to repent but he resisted.  Then one day he was walking on the roof of the palace.  He looks around the city, which archeologists tell us was filled with an ornate temple, hanging gardens built for his wife and a city wall wide enough for two chariots to pass each other on top of it.  Nebuchadnezzar credits himself for all this splendour.  He has not learned that it is God who sets up kings (2:21).  

'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”' (31-32).

At the end of the seven times (most commentators see this as seven years) Nebuchadnezzar lifted his eyes up to heaven.  God restored his sanity.  He blessed the Most High and praised and honoured him who lives for ever.

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?” (34b-35).

God had promised to restore Nebuchadnezzar when he had humbled him.  But God's kindness does not stop there.  God made Nebuchadnezzar's glory greater than it had been before.  Now Nebuchadnezzar knows where his authority comes from.  

Some commentators question whether Nebuchadnezzar was truly converted because of his comments in verse eight.  There he refers to Bel as 'my god' and to Daniel as having the 'spirits of the gods'.  Was he still refusing to see that there is only one God?  Yet he may simply mean that Bel was his god when he gave Daniel his new name and 'spirits of the gods' can also be translated 'the Spirit of the God.'  Certainly the whole thrust of this passage seems to portray Nebuchadnezzar as being converted.  

Whether or not Nebuchadnezzar is truly converted we do see lessons here that are true of genuine conversion.  For God cannot bring us into his kingdom until he has addressed our pride.  It is only as we recognise that every good gift comes from him that we will see that we owe him our lives.  It is only as we give up building empires of self-righteousness that we will cry out for his mercy.  When we acknowledge our moral bankruptcy he renews our mind.  When we call upon him he restores to us to a place far greater than we had known before: we now have Christ dwelling within us, reigning as our king, and bringing us into an inheritance in his kingdom.  Thank God that he is able to humble those who walk in pride (37).

Two last comments before we finish.  

Firstly, what a contrast Nebuchadnezzar is to Christ.  Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself trying to come like a god.  He had to be humbled.  Jesus considered equality with God something not to be grasped, but took the nature of a servant and went to a cross.  He will be exalted (Philippians 2:5-11).

Secondly, let us strive to remain humble.  The only reason we are Christians is that God woke us to the extent of our sinfulness, warned us of his coming judgement and forgave us because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross.  We cannot be self-righteous and Christian at the same time.

Yet pride reasserts itself in our lives in subtle ways.  A lack of prayer may be an indicator of pride because it suggests that we think that we can make it in life without God's help.  A critical spirit can be an indicator of pride because it fails to see God gives gifts and talents as he pleases, and we ought not always assume that we can do better than others.  If we are easily offended that is a sure indicator of pride.  Let's not dishonour God with our pride or force him to discipline us.

Finally, let those who boast not boast of their self-righteousness (for we are merely a sinful people who have been given the righteousness of Jesus); let us not boast in our talents (for God distributes gifts according to his wisdom); let us not boast of our hard work (because it is God who works within us to will and act according to his good purpose).  No, let those who boast boast about Christ Jesus our Lord.

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