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Daniel (2010)

Madness

Daniel  4

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Nebuchadnezzar's madness

The picture above is from the poet and engraver William Blake. It shows Nebuchadnezzar in his period of madness.

Daniel 4:1-37 NASB Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth: "May your peace abound! (2) "It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. (3) "How great are His signs And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom And His dominion is from generation to generation. (4) "I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. (5) "I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. (6) "So I gave orders to bring into my presence all the wise men of Babylon, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. (7) "Then the magicians, the conjurers, the Chaldeans and the diviners came in and I related the dream to them, but they could not make its interpretation known to me. (8) "But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and I related the dream to him, saying, (9) 'O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, since I know that a spirit of the holy gods is in you and no mystery baffles you, tell me the visions of my dream which I have seen, along with its interpretation. (10) 'Now these were the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed: I was looking, and behold, there was a tree in the midst of the earth and its height was great. (11) 'The tree grew large and became strong And its height reached to the sky, And it was visible to the end of the whole earth. (12) 'Its foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, And in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, And the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, And all living creatures fed themselves from it. (13) 'I was looking in the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed, and behold, an angelic watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven. (14) 'He shouted out and spoke as follows: "Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, Strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit; Let the beasts flee from under it And the birds from its branches. (15) "Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, But with a band of iron and bronze around it In the new grass of the field; And let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, And let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. (16) "Let his mind be changed from that of a man And let a beast's mind be given to him, And let seven periods of time pass over him. (17) "This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men." (18) 'This is the dream which I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, tell me its interpretation, inasmuch as none of the wise men of my kingdom is able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for a spirit of the holy gods is in you.' (19) "Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was appalled for a while as his thoughts alarmed him. The king responded and said, 'Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.' Belteshazzar replied, 'My lord, if only the dream applied to those who hate you and its interpretation to your adversaries! (20) 'The tree that you saw, which became large and grew strong, whose height reached to the sky and was visible to all the earth (21) and whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and in whose branches the birds of the sky lodged-- (22) it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth. (23) 'In that the king saw an angelic watcher, a holy one, descending from heaven and saying, "Chop down the tree and destroy it; yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground, but with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field, and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts of the field until seven periods of time pass over him," (24) this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: (25) 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. (26) 'And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will be assured to you after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules. (27) 'Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.' (28) "All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. (29) "Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. (30) "The king reflected and said, '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?' (31) "While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, 'King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, (32) and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, 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.' (33) "Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles' feathers and his nails like birds' claws. (34) "But at the end of that period, 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. (35) "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?' (36) "At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. (37) "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride."

Notes on the chapter

This is one of the more unusual chapters in the book of Daniel. One reason for this is that the chapter is written in Chaldean. The incident described in this chapter is often challenged by liberal scholars because there is no comprehensive record of this set of events recorded elsewhere. This is a reflection of the fact that we actually know very little of Nebuchadnezzar outside the Bible. Only two authors in antiquity, Abydenus and Berosus, (I never heard of them either) wrote any extensive biography. We know of their writings only from the fact that they are quoted by other historians. Those interested in the history of this text should consult Albert Barnes’ notes on the New Testament.

You will also note that the chapter takes the form of a royal proclamation. Evidently, the chapter is composed of the Royal proclamation with commentary by Daniel himself. Thus, the writing is in something other than Hebrew.

The character of Daniel.

Daniel's actions.

It is interesting to note how Daniel reacts to the dream told to him by Nebuchadnezzar. His character is clearly shown in his actions. For example:

  • His first reaction is one of concern for Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel does not think of maintaining his position, but rather is concerned for the King about himself.
  • Indeed, his actions show a disregard for his place in the administration. Bringing bad news to the King is usually not a good idea.
  • Most important, Daniel attempts to get the king to repent. He does not attempt to sugarcoat the news. The objective -- and it is always God's objective -- is to produce repentance and reformation.
Daniel's humility.

One of the key characteristics of humility is this: the humble man's first concern is for others. This seems counterintuitive to most of us, but please remember that the humble man of God knows something the rest of the world does not. Specifically he knows, and accepts, that position and power come from the Lord, not from his own scheming. The key to humility is your relationship with God -- and it seems also the key to true success.

No one but Daniel could interpret.

Daniel is, of course, not the only devout Jew in Nebuchadnezzar's court. But it seems he's the only man who can interpret these dreams. God gives his gifts in such manner as fits his purpose. As such, it may seem unfair that others have gifts that we would like to have. For example, have you ever wanted to have the gift of healing? God gives this as he sees fit -- and only occasionally does he explain why.

The prophecy.

Let us begin with the purpose of the prophecy:

  • First, this prophecy is there to establish their credentials of the prophet Daniel. This is not so much as a foreteller as a forth teller. If you please, God gives Daniel the gift of interpretation so that he will be listened to when he calls for repentance.
  • Then, another purpose of this prophecy is to warn the King. Remember that God is just, and therefore provides a warning to those in need of repentance.
  • Finally, there is this: Nebuchadnezzar needs to know just who is God and who is not.
Symbolism.

It is customary when studying prophecy to state what the various parts of the dream mean. We will not disappoint you.

  • The most striking image is that of the tree: the tree, which blesses all the birds and animals, is an image of the kingdom. Indeed it is an image of the King himself. This has the incidental meaning that government is meant to be a blessing to the people. When it is not, it is the Lord's privilege to remove it.
  • The tree is bound with iron and brass. Iron represents strength; brass represents endurance -- it doesn't rust.
  • We see also the role of an angel as a watcher. This reminds us that our deeds do not go unnoticed, but that God knows everything.

As to the symbolism of the seven times, it is not certain. Many commentators take this to be seven years. However, it should be noted that seven, in the Bible, usually represents completeness. So we can say for sure that the madness will last until the time God is finished.

A prophecy of...

This is a prophecy of madness, repentance, and (please note) restoration. Note the purposes of God: it is not sufficient to repent. Restoration must follow.

Cycle of repentance.

We may begin by considering the nature of God. First, he is true and just. So therefore the things that he does our time in truth for the cause of justice. He is fair to all, even those whom he is punishing. You must remember that, in comparison to God, we are like ants. His will prevails. The amazing thing is that he pays any attention to us at all. Beyond that, the fact that he loves us is absolutely astonishing. This is the creator of the universe, and yet he stoops so low as to notice the inhabitants of this obscure planet.

It should go without saying, therefore, that he is able to humble the proud. Unfortunately the disease of pride prevents its victims from seeing this truth.

How God deals with pride

Let us begin with the concept of hubris. As the Greeks said, whom of the gods would destroy they first make mad. God's method be seen as follows:

  • First, a warning is given. Look back on your own experience; how often have you heard, "didn't I tell you so?" It's usually clearer after the fact, but the truth is yes, God told you so.
  • God punishes the sin by letting it run its course. He allows the effects of sin to be the punishment of sin. You have seen this yourself; often enough it is humorous -- when you see it in others. Think of Archie Bunker getting what he deserves.
  • Repentance begins the process of restoration. God does not desire simply the punishment of the sinner, but rather his complete restoration to the family of God. Nebuchadnezzar serves as an example for us that God greatly desires each of us to enjoy our service to him as he plans it. Sin interrupts this. When the interruption is over, God's desire is to restore us to our previous state.
The Donatist controversy

This desire on the part of God is often resistant and rejected by a certain segment of the church. Permit me a bit of history. In the early days of the church there arose persecution. Many Christians, including those who were priests, gave in to the persecution and surrendered to the authorities their copies of the Bible. After the persecution a group known as the Donatists arose, holding that those who had betrayed the Scriptures and the church could no longer hold positions of authority in the church. They refused to honor any ceremonies these priests performed, such as baptism.

Their view has not disappeared from the church. It seems there are two views of the church: the first is that of a health club for saints. Particularly for those in authority in the church, certain sins are unforgivable. Those of an older generation will recall the days when a preacher who had been divorced and remarried was considered unacceptable for the pulpit. The arguments for this are many; one might consider the example of the church.

The alternative is to view the church as a hospital for sinners. It is a well known fact that the best preacher to reach out to bikers is a man who is a biker himself. St. Augustine, in arguing against the Donatists, cites this passage. If Nebuchadnezzar then be restored to supreme earthly authority by Almighty God, then is it not also possible that even the greatest of sinners can be restored to a position of authority and great ministry? Perhaps we should consider the future of a preacher or teacher as more important than their past.

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