Daniel 4: He knows how to turn a proud person into a humble man or woman.
In his mercy the Lord deals with Nebuchadnezzar in a direct and attention getting way. Here’s a man driven by arrogance and drunk with power. The Lord strips all that away from him and sends him out into the wilderness for seven years. That sounds like a long time, but its short compared to the 40 years it takes the Israelites to learn a similar lesson. We don’t know what’s happening inside of Nebuchadnezzar during those long years of insanity, but somehow God is dealing with him and the end result is filled with redemption. In fact, one of the strongest examples of this is the fact that Nebuchadnezzar is allowed to write his own testimony, found here. His words are filled with humble praise and thanksgiving to God. This is a case of strong discipline yielding desirable results. Nebuchadnezzar is made into a new man by the grace of God. Know what? That’s just the kind of stuff God does. The focus here shouldn’t be on seven years of mental illness. The central issue here is that God takes messed up lives and makes them new. The “grass diet” was just the method. The made-new life is the result. Nebuchadnezzar isn’t complaining about the diet, but he certainly thanks the Lord for what he did for him.
Take Away: The Lord takes messed up lives and makes them new.
Take your pick
Daniel 4: Make a clean break with your sins…quit your wicked life…then you will continue to have a good life.
Nebuchadnezzar’s been dreaming again. This time he dreams of a larger-than-life tree that commands the landscape and provides for all around it. In the dream God orders the tree to be cut down but the stump be saved. Nebuchadnezzar wants to know the meaning of the dream and Daniel comes through for him. The king’s “statue” dream was about his kingdom. His “tree” dream is about him personally. The Lord’s weary of Nebuchadnezzar’s ignoring him. When there are miraculous events that declare God Almighty to him Nebuchadnezzar gives God lip service, but goes on living his own way. This time, the Lord will touch his life directly to humble him enough that he’ll stop merely declaring the Lord to be God but will start acting as though he believes it. After explaining the dream to Nebuchadnezzar Daniel pleads with him to respond now and avoid the reality of what he’s dreamed. In other words, through the dream and Daniel’s interpretation of it Nebuchadnezzar is being given a choice. If he continues as he is the dream will become reality. If he repents right now and changes his ways he can continue “to have a good life.” I see this as an example of the openness of God. Nebuchadnezzar’s future isn’t already set, but based on how he responds to this warning, it’s already known. If he heeds this warning from God things will go one way. If he ignores it, things will go the other. In this I see the Lord as knowing, not just one set future, but all possible futures. In this application we see God not only warning Nebuchadnezzar, but offering him a much more desirable alternative. Still, the Lord won’t negate his free will…the ball is in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.
Take Away: The Lord has granted us free will, but he holds us accountable for our exercise of that free will.
He’s still in the fire
Daniel 3: I see four men, walking around freely in the fire.
A “theophany” is the appearance of God in human forum, specifically in the Old Testament. Abraham and Jacob and Moses have such encounters and then there’s this incident: three men are tossed into the fire, but the king sees four. I understand that there are theological reasons to hesitate here, but I’m glad to hide behind the “devotional” aspect of my writing and leap wholeheartedly into this fire! The Hebrews are being executed because of their faithfulness to the Lord. Then, in the fire there’s a fourth man who, even the pagan king, can tell is “God-like.” On this day Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego experience a “theophany.” They meet the Lord in that furnace and he protects them from the fire! The furnaces of life might scare me to death, but it’s in those places that I find one who’s not only unafraid, but is in complete authority. Since he’s God he can appear in whatever form he wants, and because he’s God there’s nothing that’s going to happen to me there that he does not allow and can’t see me through.
Take Away: There’s nothing that can happen to us that the Lord doesn’t allow and that he can’t see me through.
God trusting us to trust him
Daniel 3: The God we serve can rescue us…but even if he doesn’t….
I love this story! The pagan king orders the three Hebrew men to worship his statue; it’s either worship or die in the furnace. Their response is one for the ages: “The God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace…but even if he doesn’t…we still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” Now, that’s trusting faith! I’ve never been where they are and I hope I never am. However, if such a day comes I pray that I’ll have the same backbone they did. At a much less intense level, I’m taken by their “even if he doesn’t” statement. They knew what God “could” do but they weren’t sure of what he “would” do. If they’re given a choice, they’ll vote for divine rescue, but, obviously they aren’t the ones choosing. If they have to, they’ll go with option two: obedience even to death. I, too, believe the Lord knows how to rescue his people. However, there are times when it seems God has something bigger going on and my predicament isn’t at the core of what’s happening. At times like that the Lord trusts me to trust him. So, “even if he doesn’t” do what I want, I declare my allegiance to him and then hold fast to it.
Take Away: The great test of faith isn’t believing for a miracle. Rather, it’s believing when the miracle never comes.
The Nebuchadnezzar school of leadership
Daniel 3: Anyone who does not kneel and worship shall be thrown…into a…furnace.
Any pollster will agree that an opinion freely given is more valuable than one that starts with, “If you don’t say this I’ll kill you.” One response of Nebuchadnezzar to his dream is to build a statue of himself and then command everyone to worship it. Can’t you imagine him watching this show and commenting, “See how they love me!” The truth of the matter is that there’s a lot more self-preservation than love going on in that event. This is leadership at its worst. A boss who says, “Do it or I’ll fire you” or a parent who says, “Do it or I’ll whip you” or a pastor who says, “Do it or God will get you” is a graduate of Nebuchadnezzar’s school of leadership. In this case, what the king wants is wrong in the first place, but even if what he wanted people to do was clearly the right thing he’s going about it in the wrong way. Real leaders lead by vision and example. People follow because they’ve made that vision their own and believe that the leader is the person who can help them get there. Jesus doesn’t say, “Follow me or you’re going to hell.” Instead, he says, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.”
Take Away: Real leaders lead by vision and example.
First steps of a long journey
Daniel 2: Your God is beyond question the God of all gods, the Master of all kings.
So, with Nebuchadnezzar now convinced that the Lord is God and Master of all, things are going to smooth out for the Hebrews, right? Wrong! Truth be told, Nebuchadnezzar hasn’t a clue. He takes Daniel’s dream interpretation and goes right out to build a statue of himself, based on that dream. He then demands that everyone, including those who worship the Master of all kings, bow down to him instead. I’m telling you he’s clueless! The dream episode impacts Nebuchadnezzar and in that his attitude concerning God Almighty changes. However, his application of this new knowledge is skewed and greatly lacking. In fact, he’s years away from anything close to a humble relationship with his Creator. I’ve seen it in people’s lives. A person prays the sinner’s prayer and receives Christ and then, within two weeks does something so ill advised that I can hardly believe it. At one time I would have concluded that they had “back slid.” However, I’ve come to realize that, while it’s true that some have “looked back” others are still in the process of becoming believers. They aren’t sure what it means to follow Jesus, so they do silly stuff and stumble along, putting their spiritual lives in great jeopardy. Nebuchadnezzar has made a big move in declaring Daniel’s God the God of all gods. However, he’s a long way from what that God of all gods wants to accomplish in his life. In fact, his journey has only begun.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the crisis moments, but at the same time, recognize that they are but stepping stones in a longer journey.
Daniel 2: There is a God in heaven who solves mysteries, and he has solved this one.
Daniel is the interpreter of dreams. When Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream it’s Daniel who comes through, not only with the interpretation of the dream, but the dream itself. This good man is always careful to give credit where credit is due, and he tells this pagan king that it’s his God who’s solved this mystery. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men” can’t do it, but God can and has. Daniel describes the dream and then he explains the meaning. The vexing mystery is unraveled for Nebuchadnezzar and he likes what he hears. I haven’t had any deep, meaningful dreams of late. However, life does have more than its share of mysteries. Who hasn’t asked, at some point, “why?” If you’ve never received one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls I’m happy for you but don’t think that call will never come. Sooner or later we all face some mystery of life. I’m glad today to be reminded that “there is a God in heaven who solves mysteries.” In this statement Daniel reveals his Source. God is the great Mystery Solver.
Take Away: The Lord can unravel the mysteries of our lives.
God has ways of getting our attention
Daniel 2: If it please your majesty, tell us the dream.
Nebuchadnezzar is having some repeating, vivid dreams and he’s sure they’re a message from some god. He has an entire division of wise men who are supposed to be experts in such things but he suspects that they’re all just carnival fortune tellers. He knows that if he tells them his dream that they’ll make up an interpretation so he decides to really put them to the test. Not only are they to interpret his dream, they’re to first tell him the dream, itself. If they can do that he’ll know something supernatural is going on. Nebuchadnezzar also has decided on an incentive plan for his wise men. If they can’t tell him his dream he’ll kill them and their families. If they do tell him, he’ll make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. I can’t help but feel sorry for the fortunetellers who are in over their heads. If the king told them his dream some would, no doubt, take it quite seriously and try to figure it out for him. I’m also a bit frustrated with Nebuchadnezzar. Here’s a man arrogant in his power. The lives of all these men and their loved ones (including Daniel and his friends) are, in his eyes, disposable. However, the Lord knows all of this and is using it for his own purposes. Nebuchadnezzar has already been impressed with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah as individuals. Now, he’s going to find out about the God they serve.
Take Away: The Lord has ways of getting our attention.
Winning in little ways first
Daniel 1: Daniel determined that he would not defile himself by eating the king’s food.
The hardest time for me to stay on a diet is when I’m on vacation. There are so many nice places to eat, we’re out of our routine, and there’s the strange notion that “what happens on vacation stays on vacation.” One “off diet” meal leads to another and I end up bringing home, not just pleasant memories and photos of all the places we saw, but a few extra pounds too. Of course, Daniel and his companions aren’t on vacation. They’ve been taken against their will to a distant land with little hope of returning home. Even if they could go back, things are very different than when they left. Still, they’re in very pleasant surroundings. They’re part of the household of the most powerful king on earth and they’re being groomed to serve in the royal court. Their rations aren’t bread and water but, instead, are the richest of foods and the finest of wines. The thing is that their religion has strict dietary rules. That pork chop might look quite tasty, but it’s forbidden to them by their God. If we struggle with our diets just because we’re a few hundred miles from home, think of their struggle. The Temple, Jerusalem, and their family ties are all in their past. Do the rules even apply anymore? If they do just go along with what is being asked of them where will it take them next? Does saying “yes” here mean they’ll be expected to say “yes” somewhere else, like, for instance, the worship of an idol? Daniel decides to draw the line right where he is. He’s a follower of God and God has given him some dietary rules. He’ll be respectful, but he’ll hold steady at this minor point. If he never starts down the path away from God he’ll never end up where that path leads. I don’t know if this passage will help me stay on my diet or not, but it certainly can help me remember that spiritual failure doesn’t start with my rejecting God in some big way. Rather, it starts with little things. If I win there, I’m much more likely to conquer the “biggie” when it shows up.
Take Away: If we never start down the path away from God we’ll never end up where that path leads.