18 April 2013

Daniel 4:28-37

“O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you!”(v. 31)


As elsewhere in the book of Daniel, there are echoes here of other biblical stories and passages, which lends it wider implications.

If it hasn't been apparent so far in the accounts of Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the felled tree (Daniel 4:1-27) then now, as Daniel's predictions come to pass, we can hardly fail to miss the same message of divine justice that is embedded in the song of Mary, "The Magnificat" (Luke 1:46-55). Mary's song itself echoes that of Hannah, Samuel's mother (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Clearly, the stories of Daniel stand in a tradition as old as the people of Israel: the powerful and arrogant do not in fact have control over their own story. Human power is always temporary.

As Nebuchadnezzar walks on the roof of his palace in Babylon we may recall, also, the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Its builders wanted to build a city for their own glory and to make a name for themselves. What they and Nebuchadnezzar forget is that God has "got the whole world in his hands".

Nebuchadnezzar's banishment from human society (verse 32) appears to be a descent into madness. The level of detail with which the author describes his diminished physical appearance is striking. And even though the king's fall from power is only temporary, it nevertheless embodies the fundamental hope that God offers us as well as the people of Israel: that God oversees all and that "all his works are truth and his ways are justice" (v. 37).

And yet … the gusto with which Nebuchadnezzar praises the Most High at the end of his ordeal, his ability to speak (or mimic?) the language of the Psalms, is just a little bit too good to be true. Has he simply learnt the right words in order to stay on the God of Israel's good side?

To Ponder

  • The songs of Mary and Hannah, as well as the hymn "He's got the whole world in his hands", are attempts to express the essence of personal belief. What song or hymn would you choose to sum up your beliefs? (It doesn't have to be obviously religious!)
  • The American pastor and preacher A W Tozer once wrote that "Christians do not tell lies; they just go to church and sing them". Do you think that's true? To what extent do we sometimes hide behind easy or familiar words?

Bible notes author

Laurence Wareing

Laurence Wareing is a Methodist local preacher and works as a freelance writer and media producer. He was editor of the Methodist publication Momentum from 2005 until 2010 and currently edits the website Singing the Faith Plus.