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Table of Contents
1 A King’s Pride
2 Serving God in Humility
3 Graffiti on the Palace Wall
4 Praying as Usual
5 Renewal for Dry Bones
6 Go Up to Jerusalem and Build the Temple
7 Busy With Your Own House
8 Repentance and Renewal
9 A Family Feud
10 If I Perish
11 You Will Surely Come to Ruin
12 Relief From Their Enemies
13 To Teach the Law
14 Send Me to Rebuild the City
15 Building the Wall
16 Return to the Law
17 Defiled Worship
18 The Day of His Coming
Appendix – What Happened Next?
About the Author
It’s easy to destroy. It is hard to build. It’s even harder to restore what was destroyed. But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is to maintain something which has been restored so that it won’t be destroyed again.
The people of Judah and Jerusalem watched their civilization collapse. Social, moral and spiritual corruption made destruction inevitable. As He promised, both in the Law of Moses and through the prophets, when their society could no longer be reformed, God wiped out most of the population by famine, plague and sword. Invaders turned Jerusalem and God’s Temple within it, into a heap of burned ruins. Productive farms and vineyards went to wrack and ruin with no one to tend them.
God also exiled a relatively small and relatively righteous remnant to the Babylonian Empire. He intended not to annihilate, but to refine and redeem His covenant people. His desire was to purge idolatry from them. It was a multi-generational process spanning many years.
Seventy long years after the first batch of exiles arrived at Babylon, the Jewish people received permission to return to their homeland and to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. Permission is one thing, acting on it is another. Though many eagerly took the opportunity to return to their homeland, they faced daunting challenges. The first was simply getting there. It took months of travel over dangerous roads. Upon arrival the returnees faced the problem of how to survive while trying to get their fields in shape and then waiting for a harvest. They also faced ridicule and active opposition from their pagan neighbors and those who had moved into the territory in their absence.
The rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem didn’t go well either. Just clearing the Temple site was a daunting task, let alone obtaining new construction material and transporting it to Jerusalem. Red tape also reared its ugly head. Official interference shut the project down for several years. Later, threats and intimidation discouraged the workmen rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall.
However, the biggest challenges facing the returnees were social and spiritual. It is true that the exile cured the Jewish people of idolatry. Never again would they bow to stone and wood or before the hosts of heaven. Yet, they still retained some of the same attitudes which led their ancestors into heresy and rebellion against the Covenant. For example, the rich were not above taking advantage of their less fortunate countrymen – to the point that many were forced to sell their own children into slavery in order to pay their debts.
An even more insidious problem was that of intermarriage with pagan people. Assimilation with and accommodation to other cultures was one of the factors which brought God’s wrath on them before. Would the Jews succumb to the temptation to become like everyone else, or would they remain a separate people, dedicated to God?
In addition, serious problems developed in regard to worship. People went through the rituals, but their hearts weren’t in it. At times support for the Temple dropped so low that those serving in the Temple had to quit and return to their ancestral homes to earn a living.
It wasn’t just the returnees who experienced trouble. Those who remained behind in the Persian Empire also faced a crisis which threatened to destroy them. In this case, the people responded with tremendous faith, resolution and courage. Out of the crisis a new festival was born which is kept to this day.
Though the prophets often had to rebuke the people and encourage them to remain faithful to the Covenant, they also brought a message of hope. The Jews’ experience of rebuilding, restoration and renewal of their vows foreshadowed an even greater restoration. One day God’s righteous ‘Branch’ would come to redeem His people. He would come to purify, reconcile and restore. The big question was whether people would be ready for His coming. Would the ‘Day of the Lord’ be an occasion of joy or would it usher in another time of destruction?
The lessons from this period of history are still relevant to us today. Though we may not experience physical exile and return, we still face the same kind of spiritual, ethical, moral and social pressures as the returnees did. And we also anticipate the coming of the ‘Day of the Lord’ just as they did. We also face the same question of how we will respond.
The lessons in this volume come from the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Psalms, Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
A King’s Pride
Introduction: Power, they say, is the most addictive drug of all. The ability to command and have things happen can easily go to one’s head. In a system of government where there are no checks and balances – where the ruler’s every whim or word is law – the tendency to become proud is even greater.
King Nebuchadnezzar was an able ruler. Under his leadership the Babylonian Empire extended its rule over many other nations. In addition to conquest, he also built up the city of Babylon as his royal residence. The palaces and hanging gardens of Babylon are legendary.
Nebuchadnezzar took personal credit for his successes and the prosperity of his empire. He did not realize that God granted him victory on the battlefield for a reason – he was God’s servant to punish Judah and Jerusalem for their wickedness (Jeremiah 25:4-11). He did not realize that God gave him victory over Egypt as a sign that Jeremiah’s warnings to the people of Judah against fleeing to Egypt were from God (Jeremiah 43:8-13, 44:29-30). He did not realize that the prosperity of his empire was due, at least in part, to the prayers of the Jewish exiles who lived there (Jeremiah 29:7). It took a very hard lesson for Nebuchadnezzar to learn that God rules over the nations and that it is He who raises people up or brings them low.
In chapter 4 of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar tells us in his own words the lesson he learned and how he learned it.
I. A Strange Dream (Daniel 4:1-18)
Nebuchadnezzar addressed his proclamation to everyone living throughout the world. What he has to say transcends the borders of his own empire. His message is relevant to everyone because the ‘Most High God’ whom he praises in this account is not some local deity, rather His rule extends over the heavens as well as the whole earth.
The words “May you prosper greatly!” (or “May your peace abound!”) read like a ritual greeting. However, in this case Nebuchadnezzar was probably implying that prosperity and peace depend on acknowledging the truth about God which he, himself, learned during this incident.
What did Nebuchadnezzar learn? What attributes of God does he list?
God is a God who performs great miracles and wonders. God’s kingdom is eternal. His dominion endures from generation to generation.
This is something which Nebuchadnezzar should have learned from his earlier dream of the statue (Daniel chapter 2). If he did, he seems to have forgotten it. So God sent him another dream as a warning. Just as before, Nebuchadnezzar called in all the court magicians, enchanters and astrologers but they could not interpret the dream. Finally, he called on Daniel to provide the meaning.
By what other name does Nebuchadnezzar call Daniel and what is the significance of this?
Daniel’s Babylonian name was Belteshazzar. Nebuchadnez-zar writes that this name was derived from the name of his god (that is the god Bel). This is significant because it tells us about Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual condition. He still worship-ed Bel even after receiving this dream and being forced to acknowledge that the ‘Most High’ is sovereign over the kingdoms of men (Daniel 4:17, 25). Apparently he was willing to accept that God is greater than all, but never understood that God alone is worthy of our worship. He merely added God to the deities he already worshiped.
Lesson: Just like Nebuchadnezzar, there are many today who are willing to add Christ to their existing pantheon. But this will not do. If we are going to follow Christ, we must give up allegiance to all others. The Apostle Paul writes, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:21-22 NIV)
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was of a huge, tall tree. It provided shelter and food for all. Yet, a ‘holy one’ commanded that the tree be cut down and stripped of its branches. The stump was to be left in the ground but bound with iron and bronze.
At this point the dream changed. Instead of referring to a tree the message of the ‘holy one’ switched to using the word ‘him’ and ‘his.’ What’s the significance of this?
From this we know that the dream was really referring to a person. The symbol of the tree being cut down refers to this person’s mind being changed from that of a man to that of a beast.
Why would this change take place?
So that this person would acknowledge God’s rule.
II. An Alarming Interpretation (Daniel 4:19-27)
It was pretty obvious that the tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream actually represented a person. The question was who that person was. Naturally, Daniel was alarmed when the king demanded an answer. How do you tell someone who can have you executed on a whim that he is going to become insane and live like a beast for seven years? Fortunately, Daniel did not flinch. He told the king honestly and forthrightly what the dream meant. However, Daniel did not stop there. What else did he tell the king?
He gave Nebuchadnezzar wise advice. He told him to renounce his sins and to show mercy to the oppressed poor in his kingdom. By doing so it was possible that his prosperity would continue. To put it another way, Daniel urged Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge God’s rule in a very practical way by living according to God’s moral law.
Application: Most people in Daniel’s situation probably would have rejoiced that Nebuchadnezzar was going to suffer. After all, this was the man who had destroyed Daniel’s homeland and exiled him. Instead of viewing the king as an enemy, Daniel was concerned for his welfare. He tried to help the king avoid the punishment God pronounced. How much do we care for the people around us? Do we put into practice Jesus’ instruction to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-45)?
III. A Heavenly Decree (Daniel 4:28-33)
Nebuchadnezzar may have made some attempt to follow Daniel’s advice because a whole year went by before his dream was fulfilled. What triggered his punishment?
His pride. Even if Nebuchadnezzar did try to do what Daniel advised him to do it was a surface change which did not address the root issue of pride. He would not acknowledge that his position, authority and possessions came from God. Instead, he boasted that Babylon reflected his own power, glory and majesty.
Just as the dream foretold, Nebuchadnezzar started acting like an ox and was driven away from people. For seven years he lived outside in the elements. He ate grass. His untended, matted hair became like feathers and his uncut nails like claws.
Note: What happened to Nebuchadnezzar is not some imaginary fantasy unknown outside of the Bible. Even today some people are occasionally afflicted with a psychological disorder which causes them to think they are a cow or an ox. They moo, walk on all fours and eat grass, etc. This disorder is called boanthropy.
IV. Sanity Restored (Daniel 4:34-37)
After seven years Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity was restored. What caused the change?
He looked toward heaven. While this may have been literally true, it is probably a metaphor for reaching out to God. It was only when Nebuchadnezzar turned to God that his sanity was restored.
What was Nebuchadnezzar’s response when he regained his mind?
He praised, honored and glorified God. He acknowledged that God can do whatever He pleases. He is able to humble the proud.
As proof of God’s ability to do whatever He chooses to people, Nebuchadnezzar’s advisers and nobles sought him out and restored him to his throne.
Application: Nebuchadnezzar learned humility the hard way. Let’s not make the same mistake he did in thinking that our position or accomplishments are due to our own might or wisdom. The Apostle Peter writes this to leaders in the church, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:1-6 NIV)