17 April 2013

Daniel 4:19-27

“Atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed.” (v. 27)


We've already read about King Nebuchadnezzar recounting his dream of a felled tree and the remaining stump. Now, we hear the dream all over again, as retold and interpreted by Nebuchadnezzar's trusted Jewish adviser, Daniel. As with those pairs of seemingly identical pictures that sit side by side in puzzle books, the trick is to spot the differences.

Tension is in the air. Daniel is dumbfounded and dismayed by what he has heard. He knows that the dream represents imminent disaster for a man who holds the fate of the world's nations in his hand - and Daniel is the fearful messenger. For all Daniel's prominent position at court, and Nebuchadnezzar's undoubted faith in him, Daniel is still a slave, powerless and vulnerable.

Perhaps with a very human instinct of self-preservation, Daniel softens the words and meaning of the dream, ignoring the fact that, in the king's own telling, the lesson of the dream was being played out publically and humiliatingly in order that "all who live may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdom of mortals" (Daniel 4:17). The message now becomes a more personal one between the Most High and Nebuchadnezzar (verse 26).

More significantly, Daniel assures the king that his power will be returned to him when he learns his lesson. This is not a message of utter destruction (it will last only seven years) so long as the fallen king acts charitably and generously to the poor and vulnerable (like Daniel and the exiled Israelites?).

Daniel adds divine grace to the meaning of the dream and reveals a quality within Yahweh's nature that perhaps is not apparent in other gods with whom Nebuchadnezzar normally deals. Yahweh is portrayed as the God of the second chance. Maybe this is why Nebuchadnezzar trusts Daniel - because he has that ability of the wise to look through the facts of a situation to the possibilities that lie beyond them.

To Ponder

  • How far do you think you sometimes water down the Christian message in order to avoid being too unpopular with our friends and communities?
  • What do you say, do or support that is 'prophetic' about the way God wishes the world and its people to be?

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.