There was a film from 1966 (remade in 2004) entitled “Alfie”. The movie is about a sexually promiscuous young man and the big questions that he failed to ask or act on. The theme music, composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, asked that big question the main character had been avoiding: “What’s it all about Alfie?” It’s a question that we all need to ask — the sooner the better. And it is the central theme of 2 of the 3 stories in today’s reading in Daniel, where pride and selfishness have been given full reign.
From king to cow and back again
It is said that to be a king or run for president or to act in any way as the head of state, you have to have a certain amount of self-confidence that usually borders on or crosses the line into arrogance. Nebuchadnezzar had consolidated the nation of Babylon, had marshaled and fielded a very successful army that had vanquished the fierce Assyrians and conquered a vast empire. The city of Babylon was the center of civilization in that day; it was rich, sophisticated, opulent, powerful, organized, and the envy of the rest of the world — one of the “Wonders of the World” were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But such success often goes to one’s head: “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” In many cases God simply allows men to be self-decieved about their importance or accomplishment, but — maybe because Daniel, a prophet of God was available, maybe because Nebuchadnezzar had been specifically called God’s rod of punishment — God wanted to give Nebuchadnezzar a wake up call. It came in the form of a dream that necessitated Daniel’s interpretation. But even after Daniel’s interpretation — “that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.” — and warning advice, Nebuchadnezzar still forgot and returned to his former pride. Consequently, he did lose his mind and for a while lived and ate like animals.
Then there’s this interesting line in v.34, Daniel 4:34 “…I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.” He raised his eyes toward Heaven and his reason returned to him. In this particular case, it was a miraculous healing; but it still has application to us, doesn’t it? As long as we are looking toward Earth, as long as we see ourselves as the source of wisdom and problem solution, as long as we see ourselves as the maker of wealth and power; we will be no better than beasts. It’s when we lift our eyes toward Heaven — realizing that human wisdom is sharply limited, realizing that our wealth and power are derived from God’s blessings, and realizing that the good and permanent solutions to life are from God — that our reason returns. What’s it all about Nebuchadnezzar? It’s not all about you.
Don’t be too lightweight
Nebuchadnezzar was followed by the reign of his sons Amel-Marduk and Neriglissar and his grandson Labashi-Marduk (who was thought too young to rule and was assassinated) who was replaced by Nabonidus — don’t worry, there’s no test. Nabonidus’ son was Belshazzar who was the king in the story of chapter 5 — The handwriting on the wall.
Nabonidus was on an extended religious leave as the king and Belshazzar had been designated the king in his place. Belshazzar, however, decided to throw a party in his father’s absence using the very cups and dishes from the Temple of the LORD (5:3). This appears to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back with God and a hand appeared to the party-goers writing opposite the lampstand in the party (maybe the very Menorah of the Temple!): “Mene mene, tekel, upharsin.” It was in script that was unreadable by the usual wise men, so Daniel was called for. Daniel’s inspired translation wasn’t good news for Belshazzar: “God has numbered you kingdom and put an end to it — you have been weighted on the scales and found deficient — your kingdom has been divided and given over the the Medes and Persians” That very night the Persians took Babylon bloodlessly and killed Belshazzar.
The lesson for us is that we each have our own days numbered, don’t we? Shall we be judged by God as a spiritual lightweight or a spiritual heavyweight? To whom will the kingdom be given instead of you? This last part may be a little confusing, unless we think about the words of the Savior to the Jewish leaders who rejected Him, (Matthew 21:43) “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.” You see, it’s about producing the right kind of fruit. Belshazzar thought the kingdom was his; God said, “Not necessarily.” The Jews thought the kingdom was theirs by right; God said “Not so fast.” Do we think that the kingdom, salvation is “in the bag” for us? Don’t be a lightweight.
Daniel was not on the menu
This very familiar story comes from the days of Daniel’s life after the Persians took the kingdom from the Babylonians. I think the most inspiring and thought provoking passage in this exciting chapter is v.5 — “Then these men said, ‘We will not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God.’” May this be said of every Christian! Could it be said of you?
There’s no doubt about it, Daniel is truly a great hero of faith. Faithful in keeping God’s law (Daniel 1:8), faithful in reading and believing God’s word (Daniel 9:2), faithful in telling truth to power (Daniel 4), and faithful in speaking God’s word (chapter 7 and following) — all in the context of hostile, pagan Gentile influences all around him without any family or much friend support! Let no one use his/her work situation, academic circumstances, or social situation as an excuse to “do as the Romans do” or compromise with the world — faithfulness, integrity, and courage are rewarded by the LORD and admired by even the world. Daniel is proof.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.