Sunday, July 15, 2018

Daniel 3:8-12 – “Redeemers”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

8Thereupon, at that time, the men of the Chaldeans came near to denounce the Jews. 9They answered and [were] saying to Nebuchadnezzar the king, “O king, live to ages. 10You the king set a decree that every man who heard the sound of the horn, the pipe, zither, the lyre, harp, and pipes and the all of the sorts of the music should fall and should worship the image of the gold, 11and whoever would not fall and worship should be cast to the midst of the furnace of the fire burning. 12There are men of the Jews whom you appointed them upon the business of the province of Babel – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the men. Those do not set to you the king a decree, not paying homage to your gods and not worshiping the image of the gold which you set up.

There is so much to write on these verses, I almost don’t know where to start. I could comment on the fact that this list of musical instruments is again not identical to either of the previous two. I think for now I will just note it and then come back to ponder those differences when I’ve dissected the entire chapter.

Can we help but notice once again that these Chaldeans are of their father the devil and the lusts of their father they do? The very name “Satan” means “adversary” in Hebrew. He is and always was “the accuser of the brethren.” And where do we find him in the book of Job? At the throne of the very King of kings and doing what? Accusing. This “accusing” nature of his actually arises from the fact that he is “a murderer from the beginning.” Accusing is simply a subtle form of murder. Its purpose is to kill relationships.

The Chaldeans are simply “about their father’s business.” People debate whether the Chaldeans just happened to notice the guys not bowing and so they run in to “tattle” on them, or if perhaps they knew it likely they wouldn’t bow and so were watching for a chance to accuse them. Others suggest this is no different than later in the book when the same group gets the king to issue a decree specifically so they could accuse Daniel. Perhaps they were behind this idol thing from the very beginning? Haman did the same thing in the book of Esther. Any one of the above may be true, but they all have one thing in common – accusing. Hateful, mean-spirited, cruel accusing. Slander. Gossip. Mouths “set on fire by hell.”

I think this as good a place as any to just be honest and recognize this is the world you and I live and work in. Everywhere you go, everyone you talk to, one of their favorite subjects is bashing other people. Men bash their wives to each other. Women bash their husbands to each other. Get two workers together and they can bash on their boss or one of their co-workers. Get two church-people together and they bash on the pastor or on their fellow church-members. It is as common as the sunrise. But it arises from the same smoking pit that motivated these Chaldeans – hell. God is love. God says all that matters is love. God is not a murderer. He is a Redeemer. He doesn’t tear things down. He builds them up. God doesn’t destroy relationships. He encourages them.

As far back as Leviticus 19:16, He told His people, “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.”  Prov 11:12 tells us, “With their words, the godless destroy their friends …” In Eph 4:29, Paul tells us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” We should be using our mouths to build people’s relationships, not destroy them. I’m always blessed by the story of Saul and Jonathan in I Sam 19:4-7 where Saul had resolved to kill David, but Jonathan goes to him and reminds him of all the good David had done for him. In that particular case, Saul actually listened and brought David back. All it took was one person speaking well of another and a broken relationship was restored (even if only temporarily in that case). Truly, “life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

Just like the world Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to live and work in, our world is sadly an almost constant stream of negativity, slander, gossip, put downs, and anything and everything it takes to destroy each other’s relationships. It will happen to us at work and at church and in our families and neighborhoods. It shouldn’t surprise us. What is really important is that we don’t join them. God help us to be people who sincerely try to speak well of others, to be people who strive to encourage other people’s relationships, not tear them down. One Christian man recently said, if he ever hears one person say something nice about another person, he goes and tells them. “Did you know so and so said this about you? Wasn’t that nice?” He’s doing the exact opposite of the devil and, in our story, his minions the Chaldeans.

I honestly think, in our workplaces in particular, this is one of the things that ought to make us noticeably different than everyone else – that we are the ones who have something “nice” to say about others, that we are the ones who encourage people to respect each other and appreciate each other’s strengths, to be patient with each other’s weaknesses, to actually like each other!

May we be redeemers, not accusers!

Daniel 3:4-7 – “Commanding Hearts”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

4And the herald calling in strength,
“To you being said, peoples, nations, and languages,
5‘In the time which you hear
the sound of the horn, the pipe, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and the all of the kinds of music,
 you will fall and you will worship
 the image of the gold
 which Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up;
6And whoever does not fall and worship at the moment
will be cast to the midst of the furnace of the fire burning.’”
7Therefore, in the moment when hearing the all of the peoples
the sound of the horn, the pipe, zither, lyre, harp, and the all of the kinds of music
falling the all of the peoples, the nations, and the languages worshiping
the image of the gold
 which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

I’ve been studying the next few verses, but I want to ponder one more thought before I move on, and that is the folly of anyone thinking that power can change hearts.

What Nebuchadnezzar is trying to do is done all day every day all over the face of the earth – not only in governments but in churches and workplaces and families and pretty much anywhere people gather. It is true, if you have the power, you can get anyone to do anything. What I mean is, if you have the power to truly hurt someone, you can get them to say or do almost anything. And if the power you have to hurt them isn’t enough to move them, you just need more power. If a fiery furnace isn’t enough to exact obedience, then fire it up seven times hotter!

Of course, sometimes power may first seek to control others by offering them sufficient rewards. You could almost say the opposite of my assertion is true – that if you have the power to (significantly) reward people, you also can have considerable power to get them to do or say anything you want them to.

But, either way, what we’re dealing with is “getting other people to do what we want them to.” These thoughts of course lend themselves to discussions of “leadership” – good leadership, bad leadership, etc. A “good” leader is typically thought of as someone who has an unusual ability to get people to do things. A “good” leader in the business world is someone who can rally the troops around some goal and actually see it happen. A pastor is a “good” leader if he can implement programs and ministries in the church and see people rise up and clearly, visibly implement those programs or ministries. It would be generally agreed that Nebuchadnezzar was one of the greatest administrators (leaders) in human history. He extended Babylon’s rule from India to Egypt and ruled over it all. Even this whole “golden image” episode we’re considering in Daniel 3 is an amazing illustration of leadership.

Of course, his particular style of leadership was cruel dictatorship, but, we have to admit he did get essentially the entire civilized world to submit to his rule. I will say again, if you have the power, you can get other people to do or say almost anything you want them to. The story before us is a prime example. The leaders from basically the entire civilized world are bowing to this image at Nebuchadnezzar’s command.

And they do. Nebuchadnezzar must be quite proud of himself. The whole world bows when he tells them to. He can assure himself he has the submission of his entire kingdom. There they are bowing, right when he told them to.

But, as he congratulates himself on this signal accomplishment, he is failing to realize a very, very important reality. He has not changed their hearts. Oh, yes, they are bowing. Oh, yes, they’ll exclaim, “O king, live forever!” They are doing and saying all the right things.

But does he really have their hearts?

The fact is that all the power in the world, all the outwardly demonstrated acts of obedience someone can command, all the right words verbally expressed tell you nothing about the person’s heart. Do they really agree? Do they really believe these things? Are they really loyal?

As long as you exact those expressions with power, you’ll never know what’s really in their hearts.

Power does not change hearts.

I think of a church I knew where there was a very strong leader and good administrator. And he really was. The guy was just a naturally gifted leader. And he got essentially the whole church saying the right things and doing lots of right things. But as soon as he left, it all fell apart. And why? Because the truth is their hearts were never in it. They were simply doing and saying what they were told. He had the “power” of very persuasive leadership, an unusual ability to get people to do and say what he wanted ... but he couldn’t change their hearts.

As parents, we all desperately want our children to grow up and “do well.” We do our best to guide them and teach them and correct them while they’re growing up. But I remember reading one of the old reformed preachers way back then and he made the statement, “You’ll never know how much of your teaching your children have really embraced until they are on their own, living their own lives.” What he was saying was, you may have the power as a parent to command all sorts of behaviors and even stated beliefs. But the one thing you do not have is the power to change their hearts. Their “heart” will only show once they are no longer under your power. Then you find out what they really did and did not embrace.

Just in the last few years I have come to realize from the Bible that one of the supreme dignities of the human race is our freedom of choice. What that comes down to is the plain fact that each individual has a heart of their own – that place where they ponder and consider and think over the things they’ve seen and heard, where they dream, and desire, and hope, and become convinced of what they really believe is true and best for them. And the plain, simple fact is that NO ONE can command that heart. If you have the power, you can get them to do and say almost anything, but nothing you do can touch that heart.  Someone once called it “the unassailable citadel of the human heart.”

Hearts cannot be commanded. They can only be wooed. Jesus knew that. He didn’t come to earth and say, “Believe in Me or die.” He didn’t grab His disciples by the collar and say, “Follow Me or else.” This is precisely why it was true that “a bruised reed He did not break and a smoldering wick He did not put out.” That’s why His message was “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He was “drawing them” with “cords of love.”

When we are trying to get others to do something or believe something and find ourselves angrily demanding their compliance (like preachers screaming from their pulpits and bosses issuing fearful threats), we can rest assured the task before us is hopeless. It isn’t first of all them that needs to change. It’s us.

It is true that sometimes all that is needed is physical compliance, as in an advancing military column, and that may be all good and well. But when that same leader or we have started thinking we can command those same people’s hearts, we may rest assured we’ve embarked on a fool’s errand. Someone commenting on this passage said, “And what could be more foolish? It is attempting an impossibility. Force cannot reach the mind. Force may make cowards, it may make dissemblers, it may make hypocrites and apostates, but it never did, and never can make a convert.”

In our story, three young men didn’t bow. Three young men were seen standing. The truth is, there were a lot of hearts still standing that day – but Nebuchadnezzar didn’t know it, because he had the power to make their bodies bow. May you and I have the wisdom to know the difference.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Daniel 3:4-7 – “Comply … Or Else!”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

1Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold. Its height [was] sixty cubits [and] its width [was] six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Durah in the province of Babel.

2Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather
 the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors,
the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates,
and the all of the officials of the provinces
to come to the dedication of the image
which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
 3Then were gathered
 the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors,
the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates,
and the all of the officials of the provinces
to the dedication of the image
which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up
and ones standing before the image
 which Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
4And the herald calling in strength,
“To you being said, peoples, nations, and languages,
5‘In the time which you hear
the sound of the horn, the pipe, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and the all of the kinds of music,
 you will fall and you will worship
 the image of the gold
 which Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up;
6And whoever does not fall and worship at the moment
will be cast to the midst of the furnace of the fire burning.’”
7Therefore, in the moment when hearing the all of the peoples
the sound of the horn, the pipe, zither, lyre, harp, and the all of the kinds of music
falling the all of the peoples, the nations, and the languages worshiping
the image of the gold
 which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.

I have again arranged the verses to highlight the repetitions. As I said before, whenever ancient peoples seem to be repeating themselves, it was usually for a reason. Whether we’ll ever figure out why is another question, but I try to make it a point to note their repetitions and then at least take a stab at figuring it out. If and when I do, it is usually instructive. In this case, I’ve also highlighted the phrases that are repeated. I’m not going to exert much effort into analyzing these repetitions, since I’ve only progressed to v7. I don’t know that this is a good place to stop and analyze too intently. I’d rather get quite a bit further before looking too closely at it all.

I do want to say too, though, that within their repetition, one also needs to be observant of their differences. Those too are usually deliberate and intended to communicate something. Note that, “Nebuchadnezzar the king” is repeated seven times, but the fifth time it is just “Nebuchadnezzar.” Also note this dropping of “the king” occurs in the fifth repetition, which is the third or middle occurrence of the phrase “which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.”

The repeated listing of the nobles in v.2 and v.3 are identical, as might be expected. However, the listing of the instruments in v.5 and v.7 are not. In v.5, there are identified six instruments and then the “and all kinds of music.” In v.7, there are included only five -- the last one in v.5, the “pipes” does not appear in v.7. Also of interest is that in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th instruments of v.7, each is spelled with one letter different than the corresponding word in v.5. In each case, the letter makes the same sound (like our “c” and “k” can do), so the word would be presumably pronounced the same, but they are written differently.

I would suggest that these differences are just as deliberate as their repetitions. In their day, in their language, and in their culture, they were communicating something. If we can figure out what it was, it may be instructive. At bare minimum, one needs to note such things and ponder them then file them away. It may be that I see nothing now, but if I come back years (and more maturity) later, I may then see what today I cannot. Someone reading this might think these observations of the text are a waste of time, but, in my mind, I am dealing here with the words of the Living God. I want to pay very close attention to every word, even every letter, specifically because they are ultimately His words and His letters and in the end, the order is actually His.

As for the story itself – our friends go in to work on this particular morning, fully intending to do their jobs and do them well, only to have the HR director come on the company loudspeaker and announce this utterly absurd new policy, to which everyone will comply – or you’re fired on the spot. Oh, yeah – that’s not exactly the way it happened – but doesn’t it sound familiar? Our friends are told they must bow down to this idol or be thrown in a furnace and burned to death.

Here we go. Believers in a pagan workplace. Our friends have repeatedly been applauded and promoted, as long as what was expected was for people to do their jobs well. In that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have excelled. And they should have. A follower of Jesus ought to stand out in their workplace as someone who does their job well – “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men … for you serve the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23,24). However, because the workplace is pagan, a believer is frequently challenged by requirements that may simply be wrong. Sometimes those things are debatable and sometimes they are crystal clear. The book started with the guys challenged about the king’s food. As I said back then, I’m not so sure it was really a big deal. Whether it was really right or wrong for them to eat it I would suggest is debatable. But this time it is not.

“Bow down and worship!” This one comes straight out of hell. God says, “I am the Lord your God … You shall not make for yourself an idol … You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Ex 20:2-5). Now the believer is faced with a situation where he or she simply cannot comply. I recall a young woman in sales who was called in one day with her fellow salespeople only to be told, “From now on, we want you to tell the clients anything you have to in order to get the orders. If they want it by Friday, tell them you can get it whether you can or not. Get their order first, then we’ll deal with the schedule. Whatever you have to tell them, tell them. Get the order, then we’ll deal with whatever.” Basically what they were saying was “Lie to your clients if that is what it takes to get their money.” There you go. Same problem. Basic Ten Commandments stuff. “You shall not lie.” She waited until after the meeting, then went in to say to them, “My customers call me specifically because they trust me. They know I will tell them the truth. I cannot and will not lie to them.” In her case, they didn’t fire her on the spot. Instead what happened next was that her sales were the highest in the entire company and she ended up being awarded for her success. No fiery furnace for her – that time. But … one of those situations we all have to face in a fallen world. “Comply … or else.”

Believers in the workplace ought to usually stand out for their compliant spirits. We do as we’re told. We don’t talk back. We don’t shun work because we think we’re “above it,” or because we don’t want to sit next to “that person,” or because “that’s not my job.” Here in America, there are still enough basically Christian people that some companies rarely put their employees in situations like our friends are in – and in those companies we can be very compliant people who do their jobs well and retire. But there certainly are others. The company I work for today is built on honesty and a good work ethic and is a very pleasant place to spend my time. On the other hand, I have worked for companies that were seemingly immoral from the top to the bottom. Their answer to every problem was to lie and you were expected to join them in it. The immorality that went on even from the people at the very top was shocking. They repeatedly put me in situations where I had to weigh hard whether I could go along or not. Fortunately for me, the Lord gave me a good boss who somehow was able to maneuver around in all the evil and still be a basically honest, hard-working fellow. He sheltered me from a lot of trouble – perhaps more than I’ll ever know – but it was definitely a challenge.

Of course we can’t leave these verses without noting their similarity to Rev 13 where the False Prophet “ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast … He was given power to … cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed” (vv.14-15). For now, I will simply remark that the similarity is there because the source is the same. Whether today in the workplace or someday in the Great Tribulation, “they are of their father the devil and the lust of their father they will do.” The same malignant God-hating devil will fuel the dictates of the Antichrist and where he controls people in authority, he plies the same evil in our lives. “Comply … or else.”

The situation our friends are facing is no different than what you and I may or may not face every day, living as the Lord’s people in His adversary’s kingdom. What will we do? That is the very question facing our friends. Of course we all know the story of what they did and how it turned out … but we have to realize it’s true: We’re still writing ours!

In an evil world of “Comply … or else,” Lord give us grace to live a story worth writing.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Daniel 3:2,3 – “The System”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

2Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather
 the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors,
the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates,
and the all of the officials of the provinces
to come to the dedication of the image
which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.
 3Then were gathered
 the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors,
the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates,
and the all of the officials of the provinces
to the dedication of the image
which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up
and ones standing before the image
 which Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

I have arranged the sentences as I have above just to compare the repetition of officials and terms used. There is obviously a lot of repetition. It would even seem unnecessary to us to repeat the titles of all the officials – he could have said “they” the second time and we’d certainly know what he meant; but then, that is coming from people who live in the 21st century and speak English! It’s generally always true whenever you find a lot of repetition in ancient documents, they are up to something. Since few people were literate, sometimes it has to do with public reading – like cadence or the equivalent of our rhyming. Sometimes the order is emphasizing something. Even the “Nebuchadnezzar the king” gets repeated four times in the two verses (with the 4th time deleting “the king.”) I don’t see the point of the order here, but I’m sure, if you could ask Daniel, he would say, “Well, of course, that’s because …”

Apparently the Lord doesn’t think we need to know.

As far as the exact meanings of all the titles, even those are largely lost to posterity. Obviously it is a catalog of all the important officials throughout the kingdom, but exactly what each title actually means is gone. Too many civilizations, too many terms exchanged among them, and too many years passed by. But again, obviously it is all of the officials of the kingdom.

Back to my previous theme of life in the world of the Gentiles – I have to note the similarity to life in our modern working world. The boss came up with this great idea to set up this gigantic image and plate it with gold. Now he’s decided that everyone in the entire corporation needs to travel to the site of his image for a grand royal convocation.

Just think of the expense that is being wasted here. One can only imagine the cost to build the image to start with – the design, the gathering of materials, and the construction of a 90 foot tall structure in something like 600 BC. Although much would no doubt be done with slaves, still they had to be fed and housed and certainly a large number of paid Babylonian foremen of all sorts would be required to direct the workers and to complete such a project. People argue whether the image was solid gold or just plated. Either way, that’s a LOT of gold. Then couriers had to be sent to the ends of a kingdom that stretched from India to Egypt. Then all those officials had to travel those great distances – accompanied of course by considerable entourages of other officials, military escorts, cooks, and an unimaginable troupe of servants.

All of that for what?

The boss has an idea.

In the real world, of course, if you need to spend some money on something, you are constantly reminded there are no funds available. Then the boss decides to have some huge wasteful convocation where everyone gets fed and given a hat to wear! Or he gets “an idea” and suddenly cost is no object.

Just think, there in Babylon, how much good could have been done, just with all that gold, for poor people, for housing, for useful infrastructure projects. If all those officials were really working for the good of the people, how much could they have gotten done during the time (for some it would have been months) when they were instead traveling to (and from) Babylon for this grand ceremony?

Such is life in the world of the Gentiles – the world where we all work and live. Like Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we have to do our jobs and live our lives surrounded by what we can see is obviously completely useless and massively wasteful – even while we see the real needs that go unaddressed. The inconsistency is sometimes almost unbearable.

But that is simply “the way it is.”

That is the world we live in.

I may sound like I’m being cynical, but I don’t think I am. I’m trying to be honest and face the facts. That is precisely what the Bible is doing here. It isn’t sugar-coating anyone’s world. It is quite accurately depicting the reality of the world you and I must live and work in. It hasn’t changed in 27 centuries.

Even in this world, the Lord still says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God,” (Rom 13:1). To us as workers He says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving, (Col 3:23,24). The thing I would suggest we have to get figured out is this – it’s not our job to somehow change “the system.” The “system” will always be messed up. It’s our job to live and work in that system but be faithful, dependable, kind, appreciative, and everything else that adds up to “good workers.” We’re to “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky,” (Phil 2:14,15).

We mustn’t let “the system” so discourage us that we forget to love the people we work with, that we forget that all day every day, no matter what we do, we are servants of the Most High God and should conduct ourselves accordingly.

That is the world Daniel and his friends lived in and the same world you and I live in. May we truly work for the Lord.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Daniel 3:1 – “All is Well”


As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

1Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold. Its height [was] sixty cubits [and] its width [was] six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Durah in the province of Babel.

As I wander into chapter 3 of this book, I’m reminded of what I said at the onset of my study: “I want to say it is a particularly pleasant prospect for me to embark on a study of this book because I have always found it to be of profound practical implications. So much of the OT is set in the context of the nation of Israel where the Lord Himself is at least supposed to be King. In the book of Daniel, we find a godly man living in a world that feels no obligation to even acknowledge the God of Heaven, much less respect His will. Much like us Gentiles, Daniel had to live out his faith in a completely pagan world, and, in that, I find his example to hold what I believe are profound implications for your life and mine.”

Even as I consider this very first verse of Daniel chapter 3, I have the same thoughts. Here we get to observe Daniel’s three friends as they live and work in this very real world where God’s rule is given at most lip-service. As Nebuchadnezzar was shown in chapter 2, the plain simple fact is that God rules. God rules in the lives of men and nations. You and I know that, but the world around us does not. That means, for us believers, as we go out to work, as we interact in our neighborhoods and communities, as we come and go whatever we do, the plain, simple fact is that, sooner or later, our faith will clash with our world.

How should we then conduct ourselves in such a world? “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” We resort to our Bibles and learn all we can from the godly men and women (and even the ungodly) whose lives (and deaths) and the choices they made are recorded “for our admonition.” “He who walks with the wise shall be wise.” That is precisely my motivation as I would dig into the verses of this chapter. I want the Lord’s light. I want His truth. I want to be free. I want to “walk with the wise.”

I say all of that so anyone who stumbles across these scratchings of mine will understand why I have not the slightest hesitation about seeking in these verses practical truths to live by in my everyday life – and particularly at work, where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours and where very particularly we are called to live out our faith in a world and in a place that may or may not give a hoot what the true and living God thinks – but also a world full of the very people who so desperately need to see Him!

So … all that said – Nebuchadnezzar is the king. Nebuchadnezzar is in charge. He makes the rules. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego wake up on this particular morning living and working in this world where Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians make the rules.

Nebuchadnezzar has decided to build an image sixty feet tall and at least plated it with gold.

For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, it is what it is. Once again, they get up in the morning and this is the world they live and work in. No one asked their opinion – but they still have to live and work here.

Sound familiar? Is it not the same world you and I live in? And if it is, then we should be able to learn a great deal from these three young fellows and how they conduct themselves in this world.

Looking at the text, people have debated endlessly how much time might have transpired since the events of chapter 2 – Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and his exclamation to Daniel that “Your God is the God of gods!” It is almost shocking to us as we read, to hear him say, “Your God is the God of gods,” then in the very next chapter he’s building an image of gold for people to worship. I guess I’ve always assumed the “head of gold” thing just went to his head and somehow the image was really all about worshipping him. But it doesn’t say that. And it doesn’t give us any indication at all of how much time transpired in between. We’re just told the events themselves.

Actually, if we let our minds wander back into their culture, I don’t think it would be so shocking, regardless of the time interval. Other than the Jews, the ancient peoples were total polytheists. The Jews of course believed, “The Lord your God is one God,” but everyone else assumed there were many – perhaps thousands – of gods. And, in their world, it was totally okay to pay homage to someone else’s god, or even to ascribe greatness to that god, without in any way detracting from your own worship of your own god. Each nation had their own god and it was always okay to acknowledge someone else’s god. You basically worshipped whatever god and however many gods it took to get whatever it is you wanted. That was their world.

So when we read Nebuchadnezzar saying, “Your God is the God of gods,” he’s not in any way turning from the worship of his own god(s). We’re only shocked because we read his words seeing the world through our eyes, not his.

People also debate endlessly about the image itself. What was it? Assuming it is a statue of a man, people object to the proportions of 60 high x 6 wide. That would too tall and thin for a good depiction of a man. Others respond, perhaps it was actually a statue up on a pedestal, with the total dimensions of 60x6. Others note that the Babylonians were apparently pretty lousy artists and it is quite possible their “man” is simply out of proportion. I personally think it very likely it was actually a giant phallic symbol. Once again, we’ve got to let our minds wander back to their culture, not ours. In their world, a phallic was one of their favorite religious symbols. In that case, I would suggest, the proportions would be perfect. Once again, that may be shocking or even offensive to us, but this is a culture from 2600 years ago and half way around the world.

So whatever the elapsed time since chapter 2 ended and whatever the image actually looked like, it is what it is. This is the guys’ world.

I’m headed out this morning into my world. In a purely secular sense, it is no different. This is the Times of the Gentiles. Believers don’t necessarily run my world. For me, though, and like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we go knowing that ultimately the One really running the world is, in fact, our good God. Although the Gentiles may not acknowledge it, God rules. Nebuchadnezzar is about to find out it’s true. Like the guys, I need to head out into my day believing it.

As George Washington said with a smile as he passed away, “All is well.”