Now let's, again, turn to the book of Daniel, Chapter 3, as we continue our journey through the Bible.
Back in the late 1970s, the first featured Star Wars film came out. And it was sort of like a futuristic book of Daniel. Except the evil King-- Darth Vader-- wasn't taking over city-states and local kingdoms, he was busy taking over universes. Then, in 1980, 1981-- The Empire Strikes Back was the second film.
The Empire Strikes Back is about how this evil Lord tries to set up his own kingdom and seek to squelch those who would try to set up the Good Kingdom. And you might look at Chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel as the emperor strikes back.
He is defiant against a revelation that God gave him several years before, in Chapter 2. God told him through a dream that there would be a succession of world empires-- he was the head of gold. But after him would arise another kingdom, and then another, and then another-- that was 16 years before Chapter 3.
But here, it's as if Nebuchadnezzar says, forget the silver and the brass and the iron-- it's going to be all of gold, my kingdom will stand forever. It's the emperor striking back at the revelation of God. The heroes in our story tonight are the three friends of Daniel. Daniel isn't even mentioned in this Chapter, he'll be mentioned again in Chapter 4.
But his three buddies-- now called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego-- that you heard about in Pastor Chuck's sermon this morning are the featured heroes of Chapter 3. Now, let me just help you see Babylon as a city. It will help get the context and help us understand the kind of intimidation factor for these young Hebrew teenagers to be transported to this megalopolis-- this impressive city-- and the temptation they would have to compromise, just because of the splendor around them.
The walls of Babylon were 87 feet thick, 300 feet tall, and watchtowers about every 65 feet. It was massive, it was beautiful, and it was bedecked with all sorts of ornaments so that everywhere you looked, it was beautiful.
If you went through the Ishtar Gate-- that marvelous entrance to the city-- you would notice that the Euphrates River ran right through the center of town. And as it went through the center of town, it also fed one of the seven wonders of the world-- the Hanging Gardens in Babylon-- named after Semiramis, one of the Goddesses of that city.
And the ancient writers say that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon that were in Nebuchadnezzar's palace, looked like cascading mountains, one upon another. That it was just beautiful-- as you'd enter town, you'd notice that.
The street that you would walk down to the Ishtar Gate was some 65 feet across, paved with white imported limestone. On either side, it was flanked with a sidewalk of red tile-- magnificent. Then the river-- as I said, the Euphrates River went through town-- and flanking each side of the river was a canal made of shiny blue brick and yellow mosaics of lions, which typified the nation of Babylon. And dragons, which typified some of its leaders. And it was just a beautiful, beautiful city to behold. That's where Daniel and his three friends were taken captive.
Now, Nebuchadnezzar-- Verse 1-- the King made an image of gold, whose height was 60 cubits-- that's 90 feet. And it's width-- six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. So he built an image with a 10 to 1 ratio. Which would look, if you put it as a human figure, like a very emaciated man-- 9 feet by 90 feet.
Now, probably, it wasn't head to foot 90 feet. There could have been a base. They did find a base-- the archaeologists discovered-- six miles southeast of the ruins of Babylon, out in the plain of Dura. A huge brick base-- 45 feet by 45 feet, by some 20 feet tall-- and probably, originally, it was even taller. And on that base, stood the statue. A statue of gold, the height of an eight story building, all together-- 90 feet tall.
King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates-- and all the officials of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image, which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
And so they satraps-- these are rulers over regions of the empire. The administrators-- those would be the military leaders. The governors and the counselors-- these would be the lawyers. The treasurers-- this would be the administrators of the funds of the kingdom. The judges and the magistrates-- those who administered the law of the land. And all the officials of the provinces gathered together for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
And they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So its a leadership summit. And notice that the author is underscoring the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had set this up-- this was by his own authority. It was his dictum that this image be set up.
Then a Herald cried aloud, to you it is commanded, oh peoples, nations, and languages-- that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, the flute, the harp, the lyre-- the lyre was a stringed instrument that was played with a pick, a plectrum. And the psaltery-- also a stringed instrument but not played with a pick, but plucked with the fingers-- a low toned stringed instrument. In symphony with all kinds of music-- so this is the Chaldean Philharmonic Orchestra.
That you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning, fiery furnace. In other words, turn or burn. You will bow, or you will be baked. That is the decree.
Now, in the setting up of the image in this enforced worship, no God is mentioned. No God to be worshipped is mentioned, no Babylonian deity is brought forth. And it is thought that, perhaps, no God was intended to be worshipped. But rather, that Nebuchadnezzar was setting himself up to be worshipped.
It's quite the opposite of the separation of church and state, like we have in our country. It is the combination of religion and government together, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted to be the head of both. A strong unified government, a strong religious ideology-- and he was to be the head of both.
It is a state-run religion-- an imposed, enforced worship system. It's something that was tried at several times in history, it wasn't just Nebuchadnezzar. But in the early part of the Roman Empire, there was the worship of Caesar-- Caesar Augustus, Caesar of the Gods. And he was worshipped as a God.
And once a year, on a certain prescribed day, there was a libelous that was signed by the people of each province. A pinch of incense was burned before the bust of the Caesar, the emperor. And they were all to give a little utterance, a chant-- Kaiser Kurios-- Caesar is Lord.
And it was simply a way to form an allegiance that would be commonplace among the people. Of course, the Christians wouldn't do this. They would stand up in front of this bust of Caesar, and they wouldn't say, Kaiser Kurios-- or, Caesar is Lord. They would say, Jesus Christ is Lord, and they suffered for it. And they were very much in line with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to bow before this image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
A little bit of helpful background might be of aid here. Right around 596 BC, there was a revolt internally, within Babylon. There's a whole lot of people who are disagreeing with Nebuchadnezzar and the way he was running things. And this revolt was portentous of a civil war, perhaps. So to quell everything and to bring them back into unity, he thought, let's have a reaffirmation-- a public reaffirmation-- of who I am. I'm in charge here. Let's see what happens.
So at that time, when all the people heard the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre-- in symphony with all kinds of music-- all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshipped the gold image, which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. You can see the message is clear-- 16 years before this, God gave him a vision. Oh, yes, he was the head of gold. But, oh, no-- his kingdom wouldn't last forever.
As he was pondering, what's going to come after my reign, my kingdom. Daniel says, well, God has told you that you're going to have an inferior kingdom that's going to take over the world. And then another, and then another. And then in the end of days, a combination of 10 nations. And at the time of those kings, God's going to set up His kingdom. It's as if he is shaking his fist at God and saying, oh, no-- my kingdom is going to last forever, in defiance to that revelation 16 years prior.
Now, enough time has elapsed between Chapter 2 and 3-- 16 years if those estimates by scholars are correct. Enough time has elapsed to forget the lessons that God has taught him. They've grown fuzzy in his mind. His memory isn't quite as pricked and convicted, like it once was. I know the old saying, as do you, that time heals all wounds. And the idea is that over time hearts will soften-- perhaps.
On the other hand, it's possible that over time hearts can harden. You can grow colder to the things of God. You once learned something early on, maybe as a child in Sunday school, or as a young Christian. Then, over time as you let what you hear in the world and in the media help rationalize things in your mind, your heart can actually grow colder, it can grow harder. He learned an important lesson 16 years prior, even confessing that there was no God like the God of the Hebrews.
But that was then, and this is now. Therefore-- Verse 8-- at that time, certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews. The word accused is a strong word, it literally means to tear in pieces.
You got to know that the other leaders in Babylon-- for 16 years-- have had a jealous eye on Daniel and his three friends. After all, they've been elevated to prominence because of the dream that they interpreted-- that Daniel interpreted-- through the Spirit of God. And you'll notice that down in Verse 12, they mentioned the fact that these Jews have been set over the affairs of Babylon.
So for a long time, some of these rulers were just waiting for something to accuse these Hebrews of. Now, this kind of jealousy that produces anti-Semitism has continued long after Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar.
In fact, it was the same kind of jealousy-- in the success of the Jews-- that propagated and fomented some of the pogroms of the Nazis in World War II, against the Jews. The German people noticed how successful the Jewish populace was in their business dealings.
And the Jews are unique. God truly has blessed them, as a people. It's estimated that the Jewish population on Earth is about 1/10 of 1%. And yet, between 25% and 33% of all Nobel Peace Prize have been won by Jews. That about 30% of all the awards in art and literature and science have been awarded to Jews-- uniquely blessed, and other nations notice that, jealously so.
And so they accused the Jews. They spoke to the King, King Nebuchadnezzar. And listen how they butter him up-- Oh King, live forever! You, Oh King, have made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, the flute, the harp, the lyre, the psaltery in symphony with all kinds of music shall fall down and worship the gold image. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a burning, fiery furnace.
There are certain Jews that you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon-- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, Oh King, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your Gods or worship the gold image, which you have set up.
I can sort of picture the scene-- the music plays, everybody bows down ritualistically, in harmony together. Except for these three. They stand up, back straight, defiant against the command. So that some of the people in the crowd were looking up going, quick-- get down, or you're toast! You're going to die-- bow! And they wouldn't do it. They stood up straight, they were defiant to this kind of a command.
You know, the Jews have always had a reputation among the nations-- wherever they have gone-- to be, in the words of these other nations, a bit stubborn. Now, God noticed that they were stubborn in the Old Testament-- it's nothing new. They were defiant against God, but in a good way. They were defiant against other governments. They refused to fit in, they refused to bow down. Even Pontius Pilate-- the governor of Judea at the time of Jesus Christ-- had to come to that conclusion.
The Romans discovered that of all the people that they had overtaken, the Jews were the most difficult. Here's an example. One time, Pontius Pilate ordered ensigns to be made-- banners of a figure of the emperor of Rome-- and they were put on the poles of the Roman soldiers and marched through the city of Jerusalem.
When the Jews saw that an image had come into their city, they rebelled. Because the commandment says, you will not make any graven image of anything in heaven or on Earth. So they sent a delegation to Caesarea, where Pilate had his headquarters. And they demanded that the ensigns be removed from Jerusalem. Pilate decided, I'm going to show these stubborn Jews a thing or two, and ordered the delegation into this amphitheater there in Caesarea-- had the soldiers take out their swords and said, another word and we're going to cut your heads off.
The Jews did something Pilate did not expect. They laid down on the ground, they took their robe and they bared their necks-- as if to say, cut it off. And then, Pilate understood who he was dealing with. He thought, oh, these are stubborn folks. And he removed the ensigns from the soldiers hands in Jerusalem.
So these three, standing up defiantly-- oh no, we're not going to bow. We don't care what it costs. Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So they brought these men before the King
Now, Daniel is not mentioned, you notice, in this entire Chapter. It could be that his elevation-- because he interpreted the dream 16 years prior-- was to a higher level. We know that's true from a verse in Chapter 2. Could be that he was the prime minister, of sorts. Or that he was simply away on business, or he wasn't required to be there, for some reason. But his absence is, nonetheless, very interesting and conspicuous.
And those who know prophecy-- as we'll make mention by the end of this Chapter-- that his absence may be a type of the church, absent during a time of tribulation where the Jews are present during that time and 144,000 are sealed-- but the church is absent.
Nebuchadnezzar spoke-- Verse 14, saying to them-- is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my Gods, nor worship the gold image which I have set up? Now, if you are ready at that time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harps, lyre, psaltery, and symphony with all kinds of music, then you shall fall down and worship the image which I have made-- good. But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning, fiery furnace.
So he's given them a second chance, isn't he a nice guy? Look, I know that something happened, you didn't have the presence of mind. Anybody who's smart and had sense would know that it's time to bow down. I'll give you another chance. And listen to how he finishes that statement out.
And who is the God who will deliver you from my hands? Oh-- a little testy now, isn't he? Wait a minute-- back in Chapter 2, Verse 47, we remember that this same Nebuchadnezzar said of the God of the Hebrews, He is the God of all Gods. Funny how that memory has sort of been erased at this public declaration. He's now challenging God. Well, God's going to take him up on it.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the King, oh Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. Or, another translation-- we have no need to defend ourselves, regarding this issue.
They find themselves in an ethical dilemma, of sorts. Number one, do we obey the command of God to respect civil authority? Or do we obey the command of God as found in the Book of Exodus, where it says you will have no other Gods, besides me. You will not make an image, you will not bow down to it.
Because the consequence is the furnace. And, by the way, archaeologists have found in northern Iraq furnaces that are so large, they're about a city block in size. We don't know if that was the exact kind of configuration of these, but most believe that it was a large furnace made out of brick, couple of stories high-- up to 35 or 40 feet high-- about 20 square feet inside. Enough space to walk around and have good fellowship, as you'll see in just a moment.
So we don't need to answer you in this matter-- if this is the case, or if that is the case-- our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace. And he will deliver us from your hand, Oh King-- what faith, what statements. But if not, but if not-- let it be known to you, Oh King, that we do not serve your Gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.
What an answer to these three Hebrew youths, living in a foreign land for some time. Their names have been changed, their identity has been altered. They've been pampered with the best of the best, they're now elevated to nobility rank. There's no compromise, there's no blurring of the lines here. There's no rationalization.
I can think of a few ways they could have rationalized bowing down. They could have said to each other, look-- we're not going to be idol worshippers. Let's just bow quickly, and get it over with, and it's done. We're not going to actually live the lifestyle, we're just going to do it once.
Or they could have said, well, we're being forced to. We can't help but obey the laws of the land. We're really victims of the whole thing, we're victims of our circumstance. We're being forced to do it. Or they might have said, well, you know, Nebuchadnezzar has treated us pretty well. And he's given us a raise and an elevation in position, we at least owe him a little respect. Or they might have said, look we're hundreds of miles from home-- nobody's going to see us. When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians.
Or maybe they could have rationalized by saying, you know, if we bow down, we'll live. And if we live, we'll have years to influence this nation for God and witness to this King. But they couldn't do it. See, to them, it was better to die with conviction, than to live with compromise. So it's already settled, King. We don't need to answer you, it's not really an issue. We're not going to do it. Our God can deliver us, and he will. And if he doesn't, not going to do it.
They were steadfast. It reminds me of what Job said when he came to that conclusion during his period of suffering. And he realized, God has allowed this. His ultimate statement of faith was, even though he slay me, yet I will trust him-- anchored firm on that foundation.
In 167 AD, a pastor-- called then the bishop of Smyrna, named Polycarp-- was arrested and he was told to recant, to deny Jesus Christ. He was taken before the emperor. The emperor said, just recant. He said, look-- for 86 years, my Lord and Savior has never denied me, nor has he ever left me. I will not deny him now in my hour of trial.
I have wild beasts, said this ruler. Polycarp said, call for them, set them loose. This angered the emperor even more, and he said, I'll burn you with fire. And Polycarp said, you threaten me with fire that'll last an hour when you face the judgment of eternal fire, which will never end. How do you stop a guy like that? You don't!
It's like these three Hebrews. Nebuchadnezzar-- look at his reaction-- was full of fury. And the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated-- than it's ever seen to be heated. Now, a brick furnace with an air draft could be heated by more fuel and more air. And so the command was heated up.
Well, you might look at that and say, well, now what would be the difference, really, whether it's a low heat or a high heat? If it's a low heat, they're just going to be tortured longer. If it's a high heat, they'll just die quicker. I think the idea is simply to show who's in charge. And the fact that my enemies will be eliminated, immediately, when they defy me like that-- that's all.
And so the commandment-- Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make a public display of the cost of rebellion. Now, there's a word used 11 times in this Chapter-- it's the word worship. And it's used in enforced worship of a false deity. Here's a state-run religion, and a command to worship. A worship that is forced, not one that is voluntary.
And that never works, by the way. Even the church, historically, in the Middle Ages, tried to force a worship system. And it never works, because the best you can do is cause people to bow the body but not the soul, not the heart. But it was an enforced type of worship system.
And I've been to a few churches-- I've visited around and I've heard some worship leaders-- or, even pastors-- almost forcing worship. Now, come on church-- let's do this now. And, come on church-- raise your hands and come-- and it's like they're pumping them to get a response out of them. And you know what? It works. You can get a response out of people if you instruct them and push them and prod them.
But true worship, as Pastor Chuck is often fond of saying, rises spontaneously from the heart. When I recognize some attribute of God, and I understand His grace, and I go, oh-- my heart responds in worship, automatically-- it's not enforced.
Well, he commanded a certain mighty men of valor, who were in his army, to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and cast them into the burning, fiery furnace. Then, these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their garments, and they were cast in them into the midst of the burning, fiery furnace.
The reason that is mentioned is because it was customary to completely disrobe a person before this type of ancient execution. And the King, in haste, wanted it done immediately. And so it's mentioned that they were just thrown in-- lock, stock, and barrel-- turban, coat, everything.
Therefore, because the King's command was urgent, the furnace exceedingly hot-- the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego-- what a display! And these three men-- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego-- fell down, bound, into the midst of the burning, fiery furnace.
They had refused to bow, they go now into the furnace. They are resting their case completely-- their lives, their future-- completely, now, in the hands of God. Trusting God, absolutely. Hey-- if He doesn't help us, we're going to be well done or medium rare. But now, we're resting completely in God's hands.
For some people, that's a scary proposition when all human helps are pulled out. That's why a lot of people like to say, yes, Jesus is your crutch. I hope He is not your crutch, I hope He's your stretcher. I hope you're not just leaning on Him from time to time and when you're strong enough, you get back on your feet. And, oh yeah, now I have a trouble-- I'll lean a little more on Jesus. But you let Him carry you, you lean completely upon Him.
I heard of a Bible translator in one of the jungles around the world translating the New Testament. He came to John 3:16-- "for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life." And he didn't quite know how to translate the word believe, and he talked it over with the village elders.
And as they were talking about the right word, one of the elders stood up immediately, ran into a tent, and lay down on a cot. And the translator said, what is he doing? He said, he's giving you your word. And he translated it, "for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever would lean his whole weight upon Him would not perish, but have everlasting life."
But for some people, it's such a scary thought to completely trust. There was a pilot who was flying his airplane off the coast. And he got on the radio, and he wired the tower-- the local airport on land. And he said, pilot to tower, pilot to tower. I'm in a real fix, here. I'm 400 miles away from land, I'm 800 feet above the water, and I'm running out of fuel-- please advise, over. The transmission said, tower to pilot, tower to pilot. Repeat after me-- our Father, who art in heaven--
It's time to trust, time to rest.
Then, King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished. And he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, did we not cast three men, bound, into the midst of the fire? They answered, and said to the King, true, Oh King. Look, he answered, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire. And they are not hurt. And the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
Notice that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego aren't even trying to get out. They don't even come out until King Nebuchadnezzar has to tell them, hey, get out of there! They're not scrambling to get out, they're walking around. They're enjoying the fellowship of the fourth that is walking in the flames with them.
There's a promise in Isaiah that when you go through the fire, I will be with you-- God promises to walk with us. The Lord is walking with them. Most think that this is a pre-incarnate theophany or Christophany in appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. That it's Jesus Christ who's appearing and walking with them. And I believe that's true.
Nebuchadnezzar, however, would not have understood a Christophany or a theophany-- he wouldn't have understood, oh yes, this is a pre-incarnate version of Christ in the Old Testament. He was Babylonian. And Babylonians believed in families of Gods, just like there was Semiramis and her son, Tammuz. The idea is that there must be some son of a God-- a son of God, or one of the sons of God. He's thinking in his own terms.
However, you notice something in the Bible that sometimes unbelievers will say very profound truths without knowing it. Like Caiaphas in John, Chapter 11, who uttered a prophecy that year-- being the high priest-- saying it is expedient that one man should die for the nation. The Bible says he was actually prophesying of Jesus Christ, who would die on the cross, as the high priest. He wasn't a believer, but he uttered an incredible truth-- as does Nebuchadnezzar. I see four walking, and the fourth is like the Son of God.
Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning furnace and spoke, saying, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of God-- the highest, literally-- now he's changed his whole tune now, hasn't he? What God will deliver you? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the most high God-- come out, and come here. And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came from the midst of the furnace.
I love how God makes His name great through uncompromising stand of three young Hebrews. Never underestimate the power of this kind of singular courage in a situation. The Lord may give you the opportunity to make a stand for Him, and it might be a significant meeting with someone who will influence others in a greater way.
In the third century, a man by the name of Athanasius stood against a heresy that had come in the church. It is the ancient heresy by which the Jehovah's Witnesses get their modern day heresy. It denied the deity of Christ, it denied the Trinity. It was the Aryan heresy. And Arius was getting quite a following in North Africa-- in Alexandria, Egypt.
And Athanasius stood against the Aryan heresy, saying that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. He is God in human flesh. He had lots of opposition. And he was called before the Emperor Theodosius, who said, Athanasius the whole world is against you. And Athanasius said, then I will be against the whole world. Guts, courage-- making a stand. And so they make a stand. And the effect is he says, this is the most high God.
And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the King's counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whom their bodies the fire had no power. The hair of their head was not singed, nor were their garments affected. And the smell of fire was not on them.
Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him. And they have frustrated the King's word and yielded their bodies so that they should not serve nor worship any God, except their own God. Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation, or language-- which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego-- shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap.
Boy, he liked to do that kind of stuff, didn't he? He was, like, a little over the edge on this stuff. Couldn't he just say, you ought to worship God, He proved himself-- oh no, he goes to the nth degree. Because there is no other God, who can deliver like this.
Then, the King promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. So they get promoted again, to the chagrin of all the other satraps and administrators and Chaldean princes. Once again, a set up-- a set up. God is showing himself great and causing Daniel and these three faithful ones to be promoted.
You could also look at this prophetically, could you not? Because this whole episode foreshadows the coming of another leader in the tribulation period-- the anti-Christ-- who will erect an image and command the world to worship the image.
Paul in 2 Thessalonians says he opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or worshipped, so that he sits in the temple of God. He is worshipped as God, and he sets himself up as God. And the worship is enforced. And the people who do not bow, and aren't part of this economic system-- interestingly called Mystery Babylon-- are killed.
But there will be those who will defy the King's command. They will refuse it, and they will be killed. But God will seal and protect not three Hebrews, but 144,000 of them. And so it's a type of what's coming in the future tribulation period-- it's a template. If you're familiar with Daniel, you read Revelation, you go-- I get it, He's done it before. And again, Daniel wasn't present. Perhaps a type of a group that won't be present during the tribulation period-- the church, absent from the whole scene.
Now, Daniel, Chapter 4-- there's an old saying that says, you can put a pig in a parlor, and it won't change the pig, but it will certainly change the parlor. In other words, a pig is a pig, and his environment won't change him. But those who are around him will notice he's there.
In Chapter 4, God changes the pig. Nebuchadnezzar comes to a place, now, of absolute humility. It's the only chapter in the Bible written by a Gentile King. Other Chapters have been written by Gentiles, like Luke. And the Book of Acts-- a Gentile doctor.
But here's a Gentile monarch, who after the most humiliating time in his life, posted publicly and tells the world what God has done and how it turned him into worshipping God. It's his State of the Union message. Can you imagine if Prime Minister Blair or the President of the United States got on national television and said, I'm going to have a State of the Union message this week, at this time. I have a very important thing to tell the United States and the world, who will be watching on live television?
And if he opened his broadcast by saying, people of America and citizens of the world, God spoke to me. You know all the White House staff would go, oh no! Oh no, he said the G-word in public. And he said that God is speaking to him. You know how the media has a heyday right now when the President mentions that he reads the Bible. Imagine if he says, God spoke to me that He is the only true God on the Earth, and the one to be worshipped.
Now you get the picture of what it was like in those days. It was about 25 years after the events in the previous Chapter. So 41 years removed from Chapter 2, 25 years after the events in Chapter 3. It's toward the end of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, Daniel is about 50 years of age during this time. He's been around a long time. He's a veteran now, he's a veteran prophet.
God has tried to get Nebuchadnezzar's attention in a number of ways-- a dream, Chapter 2. And on several different occasions that we have seen, now he really does. Nebuchadnezzar, the King to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the Earth-- peace be multiplied to you.
A word about this statutory edict that you're about to read-- it is so different in the style from what we have read so far about Nebuchadnezzar that some people think Nebuchadnezzar certainly couldn't have said this or written this-- couldn't happen. And that, probably, Daniel took some edict of the King and doctored it up to make Nebuchadnezzar look good. Now, that viewpoint underestimates the power of God to change a person's life.
If you know anything about God, you know that God can take anybody and change them. And you might be thinking of somebody right now that you say, oh, he's beyond hope, there's no way he'll ever come to Christ. They might be the perfect candidate. Don't you think the early church said that about Saul of Tarsus? Don't think they got together and said, oh, he'll never become a Christian. And he became the greatest missionary of that time.
I remember my 10 year high school reunion-- which was a long time ago. And I walked in, and I noticed this guy that I recognized. I said, that's John Booth-- not John Wilkes Booth-- I go back, but not that far back. John Booth was a big football player in our school, really popular, and very anti-Christian at that time.
And I suppose I would have thought if anybody was not going to become a Christian-- if you were going to have something in the annual-- most unlikely to convert-- he'd be there. He walked up to me, put his hand out and said, hi Skip, I'm a Christian. And I want to tell you about Jesus Christ. And I said, well, John, I'm a Christian. In fact, I'm a pastor. And he said, no way!
God's power to change-- Hebrews 7 says, He's able to save to the uttermost, those who call or come to God by Him. Charles Spurgeon used to retranslate it, He is able to save to the guttermost. He'll go reach down in the gutter and take people up and change them. I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the most high God had worked for me-- how great are your signs, and how mighty His wonders. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, His dominion is from generation to generation.
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in my house and flourishing in my palace. I saw a dream, which made me afraid. And the thoughts on my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. This is like deja vu for this guy.
Now, when he had the dream, I suppose he thought, oh no, a dream-- this is going to be a bad day, I know it. Because he had a dream once before, and he defied that dream. God told him that other kingdoms were going to take over for him. He didn't want to hear it. And now another dream that he had.
The first dream that he got was about successive human governments. This second dream is about his own personal future. Starts out good, but doesn't end good. Therefore, I issued a decree to bring in all of the wise men of Babylon before me-- that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.
Then the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, the soothsayers came in. And I told them the dream, but they did not make known to me its interpretation. This is Babylonian protocol. He tried that before. He's bringing in the God squad and having them see if they can come up with the right interpretation. It's just protocol.
Again, Daniel is not there, he's absent. He's going to show up, but he's not here at this point. Why? Couple of reasons, perhaps. Reason number one-- he's busy doing something for the King. Reason number two-- the King deliberately didn't ask for Daniel, because he has a hunch that Daniel may not give him good news. So he says, I'll try the other guy-- see if they're up to it. They couldn't do it.
But at last, Daniel came before me. His name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my God. Remember, his name was changed from Daniel-- God as my judge-- to Belteshazzar, which means bell-- chief God of Babylon-- protect the King. In him is the spirit of the holy Gods, says this King. And I told the dream before him saying, Belteshazzar, Chief of the Magicians-- | I know that the spirit of the holy God is in you, and no secret troubles you. Explain to me the vision of my dream that I have seen, and its interpretation. It's pretty obvious that Daniel has had a reputation growing in Babylon-- he's been watched. I've looked at you, I've watched your life, Daniel. It's pretty evident that God is all over you. The spirit of the holy God is in you.
You know, the world is watching us-- unbelievers watch believers. As soon as you say, I'm a Christian-- they focus in. Oh, really? Let's just put on the little microscope and see how your life matches up. And sometimes, you feel like you live in a fishbowl-- that's good, if you swim right.
In Albuquerque, our church was quite large. And the city was, for the size of the church, relatively small. And I remember my mother-in-law visiting one time. And we would go to the mall and you go into a store-- hey, Pastor Skip-- to another store-- hey, Pastor Skip. We were recognized everywhere we went. And she turned to me and she said, you couldn't get away with anything in this town if you tried to. And I thought, good-- that's a good kind of accountability.
Nebuchadnezzar and the court had watched Daniel over a period of time. And this was his reputation, it was a good reputation. The spirit of the holy God was in him. And notice this-- no secret troubles you. In Aramaic, that could be translated, nothing reduces you to distress. I notice, Daniel, that when trouble comes, you don't panic. You don't give it up, nothing troubles you-- doesn't eat at you.
These were the visions of my head, while on my bed. I was looking, and behold, a tree in the midst of the Earth, its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, its height reached to the heavens. It could be seen to the ends of the Earth, of all the Earth.
Now, remember dreams don't always make sense. So what you see in a dream may be out of proportion. It makes sense to you in the dream, but when you try to explain it later it's like that doesn't make sense, does it? I was here, but I saw that, and then this happened-- and they're just disconnected. But it was all making sense in the dream.
Now, this was a dream from God about Nebuchadnezzar, personally. He saw a tree that grew and filled the whole Earth. And even though the Earth is a globe-- we know-- you could see that tree from everywhere-- to the ends of the Earth. Its leaves were lovely, its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all.
The beasts of the field found shade under it. The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches. And all flesh was fed from it. I saw in the vision in my head, while on my bed, that there was a Watcher-- a Holy One, coming down from heaven.
He cried aloud and said, thus chop down the tree and cut off its branches. Strip off its leaves, and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts get out from under it, and the birds from its branches. Nevertheless, leave the stump and the roots in the Earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze. In the tender grass of the field, let it be wet with the dew of heaven. And let him graze with the beasts on the grass of the Earth.
Now, I want you to notice the change of pronouns in these verses, from it to him. So that we understand we're dealing not with an entity anymore, but with a personality. And it says in Verse 14-- strip off its leaves, scatter its fruit. Let the beast go out from under it, and the birds from its branches. Nevertheless, leave the stump and the roots in the Earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze. The tender grass of the field, let it be wet with the dew of heaven. And notice the change-- and let him graze with the beasts on the grass of the Earth. Let his heart be changed from that of a man, and let him be given the heart of a beast. And let seven times pass over him.
First part of the dream was great for Nebuchadnezzar. Oh yes, Nebuchadnezzar was thinking-- I am like that tree. I love to think of myself as one who would extend covering and branches and prosperity to all of my subjects, in all of my realm. The second part of the dream was disturbing-- chop it down. The third part of the dream was absolutely terrifying-- let him act crazy. Be reduced to the level of an animal, and go out to the field.
Let him be given the heart of the beast, and let seven times pass over him-- probably meaning seven years. Seven months wouldn't work, seven weeks wouldn't work-- that's certainly not enough time for you to see what happens happen-- that is, his hair grow out so long it looks like feathers, et cetera-- do take a period of time. Plus, over in Chapter 7, you're going to find a very interesting construction-- time, times, and a half of time-- that's 3 and a half years, or one part of the seven year tribulation period.
This decision is by the decree of the Watchers. And the sentence by the word of the Holy Ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will and sets over it the lowest. You can't beat the King James translation-- the basest of men. It's a remarkable statement. Number one, God appoints human authority. Number two, God often appoints not the best, but sometimes the worst-- the worst type of leaders to rule.
Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, who was a weak leader. And said to Pilate, you would have no power or authority at all, unless it were given to you from above. Romans Chapter 13 is tantamount to the same message-- that God establishes human government, and it's our duty as Christians to honor and respect human government, obey the laws of the land. And even go so far as to call law enforcement officers ministers.
Hey, do you ever think about that when they pull you over and write you a ticket? They are ministers-- God's ministers to keep society in check, to keep the unruly from getting out of hand. Which brings up another issue that ties in with Daniel-- what about wicked rulers?
OK, God appoints rulers. But what about inept, wicked rulers? Well, once again, it says, and He sets over at the lowest of men. Keep in mind that when Paul wrote Romans Chapter 13, about obeying the laws of the land, Caesar Nero was occupying the throne in Rome. And he was ungodly, and he was wicked. And Paul still wrote that. In fact, oftentimes, wicked rulers are a part of God's plan to punish wicked nations and set them on the path toward the judgment in destruction. And also, to purify the church.
You see, God's church has never required a perfect form of government for it to flourish. In fact, oftentimes, the church flourishes in the most wicked conditions. The early church in Rome-- the persecution against it grew like crazy during that time.
Look at China. 100 years of Western missionaries produced some fruit in the thousands, and even hundreds of thousands-- 100 years of Western missionaries. But then came the Cultural Revolution in China in the '40s. All Western missionaries were kicked out, the church went underground. It's been estimated that since that time till now, there are between 50 and upwards of 100 million Christians in China-- in the worst kind of conditions.
So here's a bad government-- bad decrees-- and Nebuchadnezzar has found out God is in charge, and He sometimes sets over it the very worst leader. He's probably thinking of himself at the time, or he should be. This dream, I, Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now, this is post conversion, he has understood who God is. But you, Belteshazzar, declare it's interpretation. Since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation. But you are able, for the spirit of the holy God is in you.
Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the King spoke and said, Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you. Belteshazzar answered and said, my Lord, may the dream concern those who hate you and its interpretation concern your enemies. That's the first hint that Nebuchadnezzar should have said, uh oh-- this isn't good.
The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens which could be seen by all the Earth-- whose leaves were lovely and fruit abundant, in which was food for all. Under which the beasts of the field dwelt, in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their home-- it is you, Oh King, who have grown and become strong. For your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the ends of the Earth.
In the Bible, a tree is sometimes a symbol of either human government or of a person in charge-- either a nation or a person. Jacob prophesied of his son, Joseph. Joseph is a fruitful bough, planted by the well of water, whose branches go over the wall. Back in Ezekial, you remember-- that one of the nations, Assyria, was likened into a majestic tree-- a cedar-- in Lebanon, that grew very stately.
So now, this King who rules the kingdom-- Nebuchadnezzar over Babylon-- is seen as a tree, cut down. And as much as the King saw a Watcher-- a Holy One-- that's an angelic coming down from heaven-- and saying, chop down the tree and destroy it. But leave its stump and roots in the Earth-- that's the only good part of this dream is that it's not completely destroyed-- bound with a band of iron and bronze. In the tender grass of the field, let it be wet with the dew of heaven. Let him graze with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him.
This is the interpretation, Oh King. This is the decree of the Most High which has come upon my Lord, the King. They shall drive you from men. Your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass, like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven. And seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
Several times so far, these angelic beings that come from heaven are called Watchers. An interesting proposition-- you're being watched, everything you do. Of course, God sees all. But just to think that you're sort of being displayed, and the grandstands of the angels can see. Somebody once said, secret sin on Earth is open scandal in heaven. One of these Watchers are going to come down, and they're going to make sure that all of this-- that you saw in the dream-- is administered unto you, and this will happen to you.
And in as much as they gave the command to leave the stump and the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you after you come to know that heaven rules. Therefore, Oh King, let my advice be acceptable to you-- break off your sins by being righteous. And your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps, there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.
I love this about Daniel. He's not just imparting information, but here's a loving confrontation. Not just, Oh King, live forever-- he wasn't a sycophant. He wasn't just telling the King what he wanted to hear. He's saying, King, I wish this was for your enemies. But it is about you, and there's only one hope for you, buddy boy-- repent, turn from your sins and turn to God, the only God who rules in heaven.
All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar at the end of the 12 months. Now, a year has passed-- 12 months, 12 months goes by. Enough time, once again, for him to forget this whole episode and go on his merry way. 12 months of patience that God was letting him bide his time, in hopes that there would be a repentance.
But at the end of 12 months, he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. The King spoke-- maybe to people around him, maybe to himself-- is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power, for the honor of my majesty?
If you were to look at this purely from a human level and understood that Nebuchadnezzar had recently refurbished several areas of Babylon. There was enough of this building prowess that he had seen and was involved in to make one very proud-- look what I've done, look what I've built-- one of the seven wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
When Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq, he announced that he was willing to give prizes to any engineer who could figure out how Nebuchadnezzar was able to irrigate those Hanging Gardens in Babylon, so that he could pull it off and make it successful. Nobody, really, could figure out how it was so well irrigated to fit all of the descriptions of the ancient ones who wrote about it.
So there was enough there for him to get very prideful-- and by the way, his palace had several nicknames in Babylon. It was called the marvel of mankind, the center of the land, and the dwelling place of majesty-- that's his house. The dwelling place of majesty-- look at this, I've built it-- not giving any glory to God. Proverbs says there's six things that God hates-- yea, seven are an abomination to him.
First on the list, a proud look. So this guy is going down. Well, the word was still in the King's mouth. A voice fell from heaven-- King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken. The kingdom has departed from you. And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass, like oxen. Seven times will pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
That very hour, the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from men and ate grass, like oxen. His body was wet with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown, like eagle's feathers, and his nails, like bird's claws. Now, here's this monarch sinking to the level of an animal. Living in ancient Iraq, where the temperatures soar over 120 degrees in the summer, to below freezing at night-- and for seven times seven seasons he's living outside, like an animal-- that's the King.
And it's more than the spirit of Euell Gibbons has come upon him, he acts like an animal. He's completely insane. There was a form of insanity-- it's in medical records-- that is known as boanthropy, or lycanthropy. Insania lycanthropy is the medical name, and it's this condition.
It's a mental institution condition. Now, I've worked around mental institutions. And I've met people who think that they're Napoleon, or they're Stalin-- he acted and thought he was an ox, eating grass. You think, oh, that's just some fanciful Bible story. That never really happens, that's not really a medical condition.
Back in the '40s, R.K. Harrison-- a Bible scholar-- was in London. And he encountered someone in a mental institution, and here's the description. "This patient was in his early 20's, reportedly hospitalized for five years. His daily routine consisted of wandering around the magnificent lawns of the institution, and plucked up and ate handfuls of grass, as he went along.
He never ate institutional food with the other inmates, and his only drink was water. The only physical abnormality consisted of a lengthening of the hair, and a coarse, thickening condition of the fingernails. Without institutional care, the patient would have manifested the same physical conditions as those in Daniel, Chapter 4, Verse 33." End of quote.
He was the only guy in the Bible that we read acted like this. It is harsh, it is a result of his pride. But look at the result. At the end of time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven. And my understanding returned to me-- I wasn't a nutcase anymore, I came back to my senses.
And I bless the Most High and praised and honored Him, who lives forever. For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the Earth are reputed as nothing. He does according to His will. In the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the Earth, no one can restrain His hand or say to Him, what have you done?
At the same time, my reason returned to me. And for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles was restored to me. I was restored to my kingdom, and the excellent majesty was added to me. Now, I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of Heaven, all of whose works are truth and his ways justice. And those who walk in pride-- here it is-- He is able to put down.
Talk about learning humility! And he announces this to the nation as a public edict. Hey, everyone, I've been nuts for the last seven years-- I thought I was an ox! God humbled me, and now I realize there is a God who is sovereign over all. I've learned my lesson. God is able to make low the pride of man. Nebuchadnezzar went from this-- his fist at God-- to this-- his arms up, worshipping and embracing God.
Could it be that some of you, still in your heart, have that angered fist, doubled up before God? Defiant, holding out, not surrendering, not submitting-- angry at God for some reason. God, why did you allow-- why did you let this happen, who do you think you are?
Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess. I gotta tell you, it's a lot better to do it now. It's more rewarding to do it now. If you strive against God, you are striving against good. God has good things for your life. You're striving against God's best for you.
Let's pray together. Heavenly Father, we remember your word says, woe unto him who strives with his Maker. The most reasonable thing to do, Father, we understand is not to strive with our Maker, but to surrender to our Maker. Not to fight You, but to fall before You in worship. To submit, because Your plan is the best plan.
Lord, I pray that we wouldn't have to learn such a hard lesson. We know that certainly You're up to the challenge, to take on any prideful person. But Lord, I pray that there would be a true humility, a true surrender. Because Your ways and Your plans for us are the very best. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Shall we stand? May the Lord be with you and watch over and keep you. And may you have a wonderful week, as you draw close to God and come to a deeper, richer understanding of his love and his purpose for your life. May this be a wonderful week of God's blessings upon you, as we walk in fellow--