16 April 2013

Daniel 4:1-18

“How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders!” (v. 3)


There are many echoes of other biblical stories within the Book of Daniel. Daniel's encounter with the powerful Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, for example, is strongly reminiscent of Joseph's interpretations of Pharaoh's dreams in the book of Genesis (Genesis 41:1-36). However, unlike that story, here the narrative is less straightforward.

It begins with Nebuchadnezzar's own proclamation and the disorientating suggestion that he is somehow God's intermediary speaking to an audience of which we, the readers, are part. Has the king of Babylon really become a true disciple of the God of Israel? Our confusion is exacerbated by the fact that Daniel is summoned to court by his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar - a name that reflects that of the Babylonian god!

The king speaks of the "signs and wonders" that the Most High God has worked for [him]" (vv. 2-3). We may be as amazed or as sceptical as the early Christians who saw their persecutor Paul execute a volte face and embrace the message of Jesus.

Nebuchadnezzar's new position has been reached on the strength of the vision that he now shares. The tree he describes sounds very like the 'tree of life' - a tree that provides shelter and good things for all people, not just the king's Babylonian subjects. To cut down the tree surely constitutes an ecological and humanitarian disaster, but our focus is drawn to the stump that remains. It may have positive connotations of rebirth (reminding us of "the shoot ... from the stump of Jesse" described in Isaiah 11:1) or it may be an image of judgement, as when Ezekiel describes the fall of Pharaoh (Ezekiel 31). Given that the stump somehow becomes one whose mind is now transformed into that of a beast (verse 16), the signs are not good.

Like any good serial, this episode finishes on a cliffhanger. How will Daniel interpret the dream of this powerful, fickle king? Reader, return tomorrow and find out.

To Ponder

  • Have you heard or felt a sense of God's dream for this world in unexpected people or places? If so, when and where?
  • To what extent are we too sceptical and rational nowadays to believe in "signs and wonders" that speak to our faith? Do they still occur?

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.