God is in Charge!

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“Write This Down…” provides a restatement of selected points or observations from various teaching venues at which Pastor Matthew speaks. The following material is from Pastor Matthew’s sermon entitled, “P.S., God is in Charge!”, part of the sermon series “Memoirs of an Ancient Prophet: A Study of the Book of Daniel,” presented the weekend of February 6, 2011, at Bethel Church:

Daniel 4:1 and following finds Daniel and his friends some thirty years after their arrival in Babylon. Daniel is no longer a mere novice with life in the court of the king, but a stalwart and seemingly trusted advisor and leader. King Nebuchadnezzar himself is also much more seasoned. Having been on the throne decades, and with major wars past, he has been focusing much attention on revitalizing the ancient city of Babylon. Through his efforts, this crown jewel of the nations (cp. Isaiah 13:19 NIV) became known throughout the world for its magnificence—filled  with breathtaking beauty and comfort.

As Babylon’s golden era was reaching its climax Nebuchadnezzar had another dream, one that he needed help with; one that inferred his great reach as a monarch, but also a quick demise, even if only for a season. Through Daniel’s interpretation, King Nebuchadnezzar discerned that he would have a hard fall, become something other than what he had been, and for seven years live among the animals that no doubt filled his vast gardens and parks. His would be a humiliating and terrifying experience, one that could be avoided if only he would follow Daniel’s sagacious advice (see Daniel 4:27).  Sadly, he would not, and “twelve months later” (Daniel 4:29 NIV), while musing over the greatness of the kingdom stretching out before him, Nebuchadnezzar “was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird” (Daniel 4:33 NIV).

So much could be discussed here, but for the sake of focus let’s consider three important statements. The first is what I’m calling The Power of the Polemic. A polemic is an aggressive refutation of another’s principles or doctrines, and the polemic offered here is that mankind is not in charge—God is! Three times in Daniel 4 we see it stated that the Most High is over the kingdoms of men and establishes them as he pleases (see Daniel 4:17, Daniel 4:25 and Daniel 4:32). It is a universal reality that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men. And this is not the first time this message has been declared within the context of ancient Babylon. Genesis 11:1 and following tells the story of people settling in the very same place, establishing the first great civilization, and then building a monument to their own glory and effort, a monument designed to reach the heavens—the Tower of Babel. In the ancient languages the name “Babylon” means “Gate of the Gods,” and this description offers a fitting glimpse into the rebellious spirit of the people who were determined to unify together around paganism and self-glorification. That God Almighty would scatter them broadly by giving them many different languages served as a strong polemic against their arrogance, for the name “Babel,” serving as a play on “Babylon,” means “confusion.” God had asked that mankind scatter and multiply across the earth. Their desire to gather together and unify for their own power, would not be tolerated. God establishes the kingdoms of men.

Millennia later God would demonstrate this same point again, in the same place, and for the same reason. The city (and kingdom) of Babylon was marvelous beyond comprehension, and its people—chief of which was its king, Nebuchadnezzar—took great pride in it. In so many ways they perceived themselves as having accomplished what the people in Genesis 11 were not able to complete: a united kingdom and a glorious capital that promoted self-glory manifested by intense worship of created beings within the confines of structures that supposedly speak to man’s majesty. And just as in the days of old, God confronted them on it, but instead of confusing the people through various languages, God confused the king himself, thrusting upon him a mental disorder called Boanthropy that forced Nebuchadnezzar into the wild, where he would live like a bull, eating grass and running with the wild animals. Herein is also a unique hint to God’s disdain for Bel Marduk, the Babylonian bull-god who was the patron deity of Babylon. It is as if God were saying to Nebuchadnezzar, “You like bulls so much, then be one!”

A second important statement regarding Daniel 4 speaks to what I call The Power of Grace. Grace abounds in King Nebuchadnezzar’s life! The very fact that God does not take his life is evidence enough of God’s mercy and grace. And the fact that God would choose to preserve Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom (cp. Daniel 4:26) speaks to God’s gracious purposes for the king. When the time came and the seven years ended, Nebuchadnezzar “lifted [his] eyes to heaven” (Daniel 4:34) and thus began a transformation that would carry-on the remainder of his life (the verbs in Daniel 4:37 speak to an on-going commitment to God). King Nebuchadnezzar was a transformed man, who relied no longer on the pagan gods with which he had grown up but upon the true King of Heaven, the Most High God whom Daniel worshiped (as a side note: Marduk, referenced in the previous paragraph, was also commonly called “the king of heaven;” how earth-shattering for the Babylonians to have their king assign this title to another!).

A third important statement regarding Daniel 4 speaks to what I call The Power of Availability. Daniel spent decades loving and serving the king of Babylon. He remained available to the king, and the king therefore had the opportunity to see the transforming power of the true God lived out in Daniel’s life. No small wonder that when Nebuchadnezzar’s awful season was coming to an end he turned his eyes to God. Deep down he had learned—from Daniel—that the Most High is premier and worthy of exclusive devotion. All of us have opportunities to influence just like Daniel. Let us begin today!

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