Daniel 4:27, says, “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.”
Sins of The King
Nebuchadnezzar bares the mark of a despot. He reigns as king, and yet he is not satisfied with a life of power, and exultation. As a man, he became obsessed with himself.
Question: What leads kings, presidents and others in power to obsess with themselves, to the extent that greed, loyalty, obedience, death and idolatry become instruments they us to measure their success?
Daniel 3:1 says, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.”
Then by royal decree he gathered all the officials in his kingdom to participate in a dedication ceremony.
Daniel 3:4-5 says, v4, “Then a herald cried aloud: To you is commanded, o peoples, nations, and languages, v5, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn , flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up;
v.6, and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
Reflection: Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, and he called his wise men to recount and interpret his dream. When they could not do what he asked, he commanded that they, and all wish men in the nation be put to death.
Now, Nebuchadnezzar orders that a statue be built and that all the officials in his kingdom gather and worship the statue. And, for anyone who resisted, he decreed that they be burned alive.
Nebuchadnezzar terrorized, tortured, and killed people because he could; it was his way of welding power and control. He surrounded himself with people possessed by loyalty, obedience, and power; people who would do anything to appease him.
Just recently, President Donal Trump encouraged large numbers of people to march on the US Capitol. A police officer was killed, the Capital ram-sacked, senators and congressional representatives were forced into hiding.
In Nigeria, children are not safe, and indiscriminate killing occurs randomly. And in Ethiopia the struggle for power is costing thousands of lives and displacing people from homes and communities.
In Mozambique, people are being killed and community unrest is a way of life, as indigenous groups fight for control of their natural resources.
Why do these atrocities occur disproportionally among poor people? Why do we support governments and institutions that allow poor defenseless people to be exploited?
Life In The Fire
Nebuchadnezzar was like; do what I say or die. And he was surrounded by people who would take lives at his command; people who devised ways to manipulate kill orders to advance their own interest.
Daniel 3:8 says, “Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and accused the Jews.” v.12 “There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and AbedNego: these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.”
The Chaldeans are Babylonian officials who have access to the king; it is clear that they intended to manipulate the kings kill orders, to remove Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego from their favored positions, and have them put to death.
The boys were slaves, who rose to positions of power and authority in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. The Chaldeans, who have access to the king’s ear; are full of envy, jealously and disdain for the Jewish boys.
And so, the boys are summoned, and bought before the king.
Daniel 3:14 says, “Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up?
The three Jewish boys replied to the king; “Let it be know to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up (Daniel 3:18).
After listening to the three boys refuse to obey his commands, the king was enraged and ordered them to be thrown in a furnace and burned alive.
Daniel 3:20, says, “And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.
With the fires in the furnace burning seven times hotter than normal; the three boys stood to their feet and began to walk around in the fiery furnace.
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Look I see four men lose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God (Daniel 3:23).”
Reflection: Slavery in America is reminiscent of being thrown in a fiery furnace; it evolved into an institution of demonic revelations. All you needed was white skin and you could own, and do as you pleased with Africans.
Those with white skin could legally rape, torture, dismember, burn and kill the enslaved Africans at will.
The same demonic forces that plotted the death of the three Jewish boys, participated in plotting and planning the enslavement, and dehumanization of Africans.
Instead of plotting among Nebuchadnezzar and his officials; the demons plotted with all branches of the US government, i.e., presidents, legislators, judges and clergy.
The everyday people marched in cadence to the song, “Where the government leads, we will follow. As a result America, became a furnace wherein Africans found themselves standing amidst flames that raged with the intensity of hellish fires.
John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom wrote: “In Kentucky a Mrs. Maxwell had wide reputation for beating her slaves, both men and women, on the face as well as the body. There is also the shocking account of Mrs. Alpheus Lewis, who burned her slave girl around the neck with hot tongs. Drunken masters had little regard for their slaves, the most sensational example, of which is a Kentucky man who dismembered his slave and threw him piece by piece into the fire.”
M. Shawn Copeland, Cut Loose Your Stammering Tongue/ Black Theology in Slave Narratives wrote: “One of the cows had dragged the rope away from the stake to which Hetty had fastened it, and got loose. My master flew into a terrible passion, and ordered the poor creature to be stripped quite naked, notwithstanding her pregnancy, and to be tied up to a tree in the yard. He then flogged her as hard as he could lick, both with the whip and the cow-skin, till she was all over streaming with blood. She was repeatedly flogged by both master and mistress. Ere long her body and limbs swelled to a great size; and she lay on a mat in the kitchen, till the water burst out of her body, giving birth to a dead child, after which she died.”
Demons lurk about, waiting on an opportunity to invade human hearts and mind in order to possess them. Once in their possession, the human heart and mind becomes subjugated to the fires of hell, that intend to destroy everything in their path.
We could credit the events discussed above to human mistakes, bad choices or human fallibility; but this does address the root cause of these events.
These events in human history have a pattern; over the course of millenniums, centuries, and decades poor people are enslaved, exploited, and killed at the behest of power wielding kings, presidents and other officials.
And so, the text says, “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.”
Daniel admonishes the king to integrate righteousness into his life and leadership. He counsels the king to show mercy to the poor.
In a sense, Daniel paints a portrait for the king to see. In the portrait the Kingdom of God is laid out; and in the Kingdom of God, God is King, and His will governs the Kingdom.
For example, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were thrown into the furnace, a fourth person appeared, who Nebuchadnezzar referred to as the “Son of God.”
As the Jewish boys stood amidst the fiery furnace, God sents an angel to protect and stand with them; the angel’s presence embodies the revelation of God’s authority over earthly elements and human lives.
God used the fiery furnace event to rebuke the king, his officials, and the image they created. The guards who threw the Jewish boys in the furnace, along with the king’s arrogance, was all that went up in flames.
Nebuchadnezzar, like others who have ruled over the kingdoms of the world allowed power to corrupt his thoughts and decisions.
That same corrupt and narcissistic arrogance; the same greed and thirst for glory and power was present in Lucifer, i.e., the devil.
Isaiah 14:12-15 says, v.12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!
v.13, For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north;
v.14, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the most High.
v15, Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the pit.”
In Nebuchadnezzar’s mind, God could rule the world, as long as it did interfere with or compromise his authority and power over Babylon, i.e., his kingdom.
And so, while on his bed sleeping, Nebuchadnezzar had a visions; the visions did not reveal the death of Nebuchadnezzar, but that he would be stripped of his position as king and ruler of Babylon.
Daniel 4:10-12 says, v.10, “These were the visions of my head while on my bed: I was looking, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. v.11, The tree grew and became strong; Its height reached to the heavens, And it could be seen to the ends of all the earth. v.12, 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.”
His vision continues: “there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down form 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 beast get out from under it, and the birds form its branches (v.13,14).”
His dream reveals the limitations of human beings. Whether Kings, Presidents, or Prime Ministers, all people are subject to God’s judgement.
This being the case, Nebuchadnezzar became another of many examples of human subordination to God’s power and authority.
Whenever we as human beings aspire to be God like; that is, to declare power, and authority and the ability to control human destiny; God’s judgement is imminent.
In his vision, a watcher, that is an angel informed Nebuchadnezzar he would be cut down, and that any power and authority he possessed would be taken away.
The angel that spoke to Nebuchadnezzar was a manifestation of heavenly beings who serve God. For, God is the source of all creation; which includes the visible world we live in, as well as, an invisible world of angels and other heavenly beings.
God is sovereign over all that exist; both spiritual and physical, visible and invisible, both human and non-human.
Here in the Book of Daniel, there are both human and angelic beings working as part of God’s plan to reveal Himself to Nebuchadnezzar, and the history of humanity.
God has always been present among humanity, so that, humanity might know Him and never lose hope in His plan for humanity; i.e., His plan of salvation.
Reflection: It might seem like my reflection on the writings of Daniel are about Nebuchadnezzar. But that is not necessarily my intention.
The book of Daniel, like other Old Testament books are inspired writings, yet they are books of history; or contain the fruit of historical theology.
God is present in human history as we experience, grow, understand and accept our fallibility. God saved the Jewish boys in the furnace, an event which foreshadows His plan to save us from our sins, and restore His intended purpose for having created us.
Nebuchadnezzar was a king with power; he was free to make his own decisions, and chart his own course through life.
But ultimate authority and power belong to God; and in the book of Daniel, God reveals His love for the faithful, as well as, the poor.
In addition, the book of Daniel provides us with a record of angels and heavenly host playing a role in God’s plan. Heavenly beings interact with human beings, enabling them to experience in real time, God’s faithfulness, omnipresence, power and saving grace.
Father in heaven, thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus to save us from the consequences of sin and death. Thank you for Your plan of salvation; thank you for saving grace.
Please Lord, anoint us to care for the poor and bless us with a heart and mind to end poverty on earth. Lord, bless us to lay down killing and violence, which affects so many of our lives. And illuminate in us the Spirit of caring for one-another above and beyond everything else, is our prayer, in Jesus name. Amen.