Thursday, 4 December 2014

(339) December 5: Daniel 3-4 & 1 John 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what we are learning about God.

To ponder:
We immediately see Nebuchadnezzar’s affirmation of faith (2v47) is hardly sincere. He creates a massive gold idol and summons the officials from throughout the empire to come to its dedication. As the officials stood before it, a herald proclaimed that when they hear music (presumably whilst at the dedication) whatever nations the officials belong to, they are to fall down and worship the image, or else be thrown into a furnace (3v1-6). No doubt it was meant to be a way of them showing their allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom and god. Like some governments today, he therefore acknowledged the true God whilst requiring people to deny him.
            When the music began it seems all peoples did as commanded except the Jews – ie. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Some astrologers denounced them to Nebuchadnezzar, saying they pay no attention to him or his gods, nor worship the image (3v7-12). It’s unclear why Daniel is not included. But in the light of 1v8 it is unthinkable he compromised. Perhaps the astrologers were too fearful of his position to denounce him too. Whatever the case, Daniel’s friends give a second example of the limits to what a believer should do in a pagan culture – refusing to dishonour God by honouring false gods, even though they do not personally believe in them.
            Nebuchadnezzar is furious, summoning the men, and asking them if what he has heard is true. He adds that if they now do as he asked, that will be good, but if not, they will be thrown into the furnace – asking “what god” will be able to rescue them from his hand (3v13-15). The pressure to compromise at this point must have been huge, and has no doubt encouraged Christians as they have faced threats ever since. Yet they courageously reply that they don’t need to defend themselves as the God they serve “is” able to save them from the fire and so rescue them from the king’s hand. Yet, acknowledging God’s sovereignty to do as he pleases, they add that if he doesn’t, they still won’t do as Nebuachadnezzar asks – choosing to honour God even if it means death. This lays down the gauntlet as to who is more powerful, the great king or God (3v16-18).
            Just as his anger intensified, so Nebuchadnezzar responded by intensifying the heat of the furnace (7 times hotter implies it was as hot as possible). He then commanded his strongest soldiers to bind the men and throw them in (3v19-23). These details are to stress there is no human explanation for them being able to survive. Indeed, the furnace was so hot that it killed the soldiers when they brought the prisoners close! Nebuchadnezzar then leapt up in amazement, clarified those thrown in were the three men, and then described how he saw four men unbound and unharmed, with the fourth looking like “a son of the gods.” The contextual stress that it is God who saves the men gives weight to this being the angel of the LORD or even the pre-incarnate Son. In response, the king calls the men to come out, describing them as “servants of the Most High God.” This is the issue. The LORD alone is the true God who is well able to save his servants. This is stressed by the officials examining the men only to find that they are not even singed, nor have the smell of fire on them. The lesson to the exiles is that God can deliver them from the fire of Babylon, and for us, from the fires of judgement (3v24-27).
            Nebuchadnezzar’s song of praise affirms God’s rescue and the friends’ trust in being willing to defy him and lose their lives rather than serve or worship a false god. Again, this would remind the exiles to do likewise. And we should note Ezekiel has taught us of the idolatry many in Jerusalem would be committing before being taken to Babylon in coming years. Nebuchadnezzar then decrees that those who speak against God should be killed and their homes destroyed, as no god can save like him. He also promotes his victims. We should be encouraged our confidence in God for salvation is well placed (3v28-30).
            Chapter 4 includes another of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, that is introduced with his declaration to all peoples of the eternal nature of God’s kingdom or reign, born testimony to by the miracles and wonders he is about to relate (4v1-3). He then describes how he was content and prosperous at home, when he had a disturbing dream that only Daniel could interpret – described as one in whom is the spirit of the gods. The dream was of a huge and abundant tree, at which beasts and birds found shelter, but that “a holy one” from heaven then commanded be felled, stripped, leaving only the stump remaining, bound in iron and bronze. The change to “he” in 4v15 implies this tree is a man, who is then to be drenched with dew, and because of some form of insanity, live like an animal for 7 times (ie. the complete time allotted for him). We are told this is announced so the living know the Most High is sovereign, giving kingdoms to whomever he pleases (4v4-18).
            The king is clearly terrified (4v19). And rightly so. Daniel explains that Nebuchadnezzar is the tree, being great and strong, with his dominion stretching over the earth – and so peoples sheltering under his rule. Yet he will be driven from his people and become like a beast until he makes the acknowledgement of 4v17. Daniel states that the stump signifies that his kingdom will then be restored, and ends by urging the king to renounce his sin and do right, particularly in being kind to the oppressed, suggesting his prosperity might continue. This shows Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation is a judgement on him (4v20-27). The sense is that whereas righteous man is created to rule over the beasts, the penalty for unrighteousness is to lose that privilege and become dehumanized or beast-like, just as occurs in those who give themselves to sin. 
            We then read that 12 months later the king boasts that he built Babylon and his palace by his power and for his glory, only to hear an immediate pronouncement that his authority had been removed and he would suffer just as Daniel said. And so he did, growing hair and nails in such a way that he even resembled a bird. It was only at the end of that time that he looked to heaven (presumably in repentance) and had his sanity, honour and throne restored – becoming even greater than before. He then praised God as the everlasting God whose kingdom endures and who does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and peoples of the earth, which none can resist or question, but that is nevertheless right and just (4v28-37). This would urge the exiles, humbled in their captivity, to repentance, whilst giving them confidence that God could bring down even the mighty Babylon. It also reminds all God’s people that when they experience trouble, they must still submit to his sovereign right to do as he wisely and rightly determines. And he will humble the proud, whether in bringing them to faith now, or bringing them low at the judgement. And those who do humble themselves in repentance now, will be exalted to reign with Christ over the creation to come.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that even human rulers are subject to his will. Pray he would establish more just governments, and bring to high position those who humbly honour him for any achievements.

Thinking further:
None today.

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