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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Nebby and his hair-shirt and grass dinner (Daniel 4)

Daniel 4:28-33. “All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. . . .’Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’ . . . a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar. . . ‘Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. . . The Most High does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’”

Exegesis and Application

This well-known passage describes the divine judgment of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar driving him away from civilization and causing him to behave like n grass-eating bird-like animal. Verse 17, “The decision is announced by messengers: the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.” This message comes to Nebuchadnezzar from Daniel as he interprets Nebby’s dream. The last verse in chapter 4 reiterates the message: “And those who walked in pride he is able to humble.” After the “decision” was made to humble Nebby, he is given a year to repent and bow before Yahweh (vs. 29). But he still struts around his enormous palatial compound bragging about how great he is and what great things he has done, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Nebuchadnezzar, having played a prominent role in Old Testament narratives in 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel disappears from view after our fourth chapter and non-biblical documents don’t mention his divine judgment. Little is mentioned of his later life and he dies in 561 BC.

There are many questions which come to mind as one reads this report, such as:

*Other than over-weaning pride (cf, 3:1), why was Nebby marked for such judgment by God? Answer: Yahweh was to prove He was the sovereign Lord over humankind and could humble the greatest king on earth.

*What were the “sins” Daniel accused Nebby of in 4:27. Answer: It was the stewardship sin of injustice and unconcern for the people over whom he ruled.

*Was Nebuchadnezzar a believer? Answer: His doxology at the end of chapter 4 has the ring of a saving encounter with the triune God.

*Was Nebby’s “restoration of sanity (reason)” (vss. 34 and 36) the result of his conversion and his belief, thus “restoring” him to a life of unbelief and resultant “sin and wickedness”? Answer: The word Hebrew word for “sanity” (“manda”) does not necessarily mean “that which is rational as opposed to that which is irrational.” Rather it can also mean “knowledge” or “intelligence” or “understanding.” So Nebby was “restored” to being a skillful and effective leader and king.

However, a more practical question for us: Was the “decision” to punish Nebby predetermined by God a full year before he was judged? Could he have repented and humbled himself before Yahweh before such a “decision” was implemented? Answer: Nebby could have changed the conclusion by “renouncing” his sins and using his power to “be kind to the oppressed.” The announced judgment was descriptive and not prescriptive. The announcement was conditional and not determinative. It was in the power of Nebby to change the course of his history. The key verse in this report is 27: “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” God gives Nebby a year to change his behavior. God gave Nineveh 40 days to repent before His judgment (Jonah 3:4). God’s continued material blessing will be dependent on Nebby’s commitment to morally do the right thing as king. But Nebby failed to do the right thing and God punished him by sending him into the field. If he was not going to act like a human being and worship and obey his creator, then he would be allowed to act like the beast of the field and graze on grass (vs. 33).

Christian journalist, the “may” in vs. 27 is important for it illustrates the fact that God gives us an opportunity to do right in our lives. Our Lord sets before us His written will in the Bible and says obey and live, disobey and die (“eat the fruit of their ways and schemes,” Prov. 1:30-31). God is not mocked but He is not impatient. He will wait for us, but eventually we will reap what we sow, for good or ill. Your newsroom may be a Babylonian empire but remember that our God “does as He pleases” (vs.35), and He expects you to do the “right” thing and live faithfully before His face, whatever that may mean in your circumstances.

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