A testimony

It took Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon seven years to learn a lesson that he could have gotten immediately if he had been open to the possibility that God was more powerful than he was. Nebuchadnezzar thought he could ignore God’s existence and do as he pleased, until he was stripped of his power and made to live like an animal. Nebuchadnezzar recorded his testimony of conversion and made it available to the world large. His opening remarks are recorded in Daniel 4:1-3, where it says, “Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s second experience of having a prophetic dream showed that he had gained no insight into God’s plan for his life. Instead of honoring God for the privilege he had been given of ruling over the entire world, Nebuchadnezzar chose to honor himself and claim the glory that rightfully belonged to God. Therefore, he was told his kingdom would be taken from him until he acknowledged God’s sovereign control of the entire planet. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Daniel 4:17). The watchers were agents of God, guardian angels, that were empowered to bring down any kingdom that did not conform to God’s will.

King Nebuchadnezzar was forced to submit himself to God. Through a unique set of circumstances, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled and became like a wild animal in order see that he could not live apart from God’s divine control. For seven years, it says in Daniel 4:33 that Nebuchadnezzar “did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.” Whether or not Nebuchadnezzar contracted a rare disease or went insane is not clear from the description of his condition, but it appears that he was aware of what he was going through, and yet had no control over his behavior until a set period of time was completed. It says in Daniel 4:34, “At the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lift up mine eyes to heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation.”

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The fiery furnace

Nebuchadnezzar’ experience of having his dream interpreted by Daniel did little to change his opinion of himself or God. Even though Nebuchadnezzar identified Daniel’s God as a God of gods, and a Lord of kings (Daniel 2:47), Nebuchadnezzar did not believe in God, nor worship him. As a result of having his dream interpreted, Nebuchadnezzar actually became more conceited and arrogant in his behavior. It says in Daniel 3:1, “Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits.” The identity of the 90 feet high image is not given, but it may very well have been a statue of Nebuchadnezzar himself. In his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel told the king, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee a ruler over them all” (Daniel 2:37-38). And with regard to the image he saw in his dream, Nebuchadnezzar was told, “Thou art this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38).

After his golden image was erected, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that everyone in his kingdom bow down and worship it (Daniel 3:7), “And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:11). The fiery furnace may have been symbolic of hell or was a sadistic means of satisfaction to the king who had been given power over everyone on earth. When Nebuchadnezzar was told there were three men in his kingdom that did not bow down and worship the image, he went into a rage. It says in Daniel 3:19-20, “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heat. And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace.”

In stark contrast to Nebuchadnezzar’s blatant disregard for God’s dominion over the earth, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were completely devoted to the one true God. When they were told they were about to be burned in the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego replied, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s miraculous deliverance from the fiery furnace was not only a tribute to their faith, but also a sign that God was with his people even during their captivity in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar himself testified to the appearance of a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. It says in Daniel 3:24-25:

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

The secret

One of the unique characteristics of God’s relationship with his people is he doesn’t keep secrets from them. The Bible is filled with prophecies of future events that were shared exclusively with the Israelites until Jesus was born. One of the things that distinguishes God from all other beings is he knows everything; past, present, and future, and can reveal hidden secrets such as how the world we now live in will eventually come to an end. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was given the privilege of seeing in a dream how God intended to establish an eternal kingdom for his people. It says in Daniel 2:1-3:

And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith his spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him. Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream.

King Nebuchadnezzar perceived in his spirit that the dream he dreamed had a special significance. When it said his spirit was troubled in Daniel 2:1, it meant that God was communicating with Nebuchadnezzar. A literal translation of the phrase “spirit was troubled” would be, “the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God caused his spirit to come to life or his spiritual heart to start beating within him” (7307/6470). The type of dream Nebuchadnezzar had was a sign of his having acquired a supernatural, spiritual health because he had received a prophetic revelation directly from God. The only problem was Nebuchadnezzar didn’t know what the dream meant. He needed the dream to be interpreted for him.

Nebuchadnezzar didn’t have a relationship with God. In fact, it appears that he was unaware of God’s existence. His attempt to have his dream interpreted by magicians, astrologers, or sorcerers indicated that Nebuchadnezzar’s god was Satan. The reason Nebuchadnezzar was given a vision of the future was revealed in Daniel 2:30. Daniel said, “But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart.” God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to know that he not only knew the meaning of his dream, but could read Nebuchadnezzar’s mind and was aware of every thought that went through his head, even the things that Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t remember.

Daniel said of God, “He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. Daniel was referring to the profound mysteries of life that only God can unravel and illuminate in the human mind. Those who are separated from God cannot see the future. Even though Nebuchadnezzar’s magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers pretended to know what was going to happen and gave him advice regarding future events, they really didn’t know the truth. When Nebuchadnezzar saw the future in his dream, he realized that it was nothing like what he expected it would be. After Daniel told him what his dream meant, “Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him. The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret” (Daniel 2:47).

Cultural change

The Israelites’ exile into Babylon created a situation in which their lives were strongly influenced by the Babylonian culture. It is likely there was a deliberate attempt by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to wipe out any remembrance of their former way of life. The book of Daniel opens with a recount of the events that led up to their captivity. He said, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god” (Daniel 1:1-2).

The Hebrew word translated vessels in Daniel 1:2, keliy (kel – ee´) refers to something prepared (3627). It is derived from the word kalah which means to cease, be finished or perish (3615). Although the instruments that were taken were not identified, it can be assumed that they were critical and were taken so that worship services would be interrupted, or perhaps even permanently terminated. According to Daniel’s record, certain young men from the king of Judah’s household were also brought into king Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in order to indoctrinate them into the Chaldean culture. Daniel said these young men were, “children in whom there was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4).

Four young men were singled out by the king’s servant and given new names, a sign of conversion or adoption of the Babylonian gods they were expected to worship. Daniel said, “Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (Daniel 1:6-7). In spite of the extreme pressure they must have felt to conform to king Nebuchadnezzar’s demands; Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused to cooperate with their captor’s subtle attempts to brainwash them. It says of Daniel that “he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). The Hebrew term for defile has to do with reputation and is associated with the kinsman redeemer who was expected to “raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. Thus the kinsman redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative” (1350).

 

A model of success

The lives of the Israelites were meant to be an example of what dependence on God could do for a nation of people. Their prosperity and peaceful existence was not only unusual, it was a stark contrast to a world in which power and influence reigned supreme. In particular, the city of Tyre or Tyrus appeared to be a model of success. Tyre was the island capital of Phoenicia (present day Lebanon). “Because of its geographical location, its political importance and the central role it played in international trade,” it was thought to be a gateway to the world (Ezekiel 26:2 and note). In many ways, Tyrus was the opposite of Jerusalem and could be considered an evil empire led by Satan himself.

Regarding the kingdom of Tyrus, Ezekiel was told, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock” (Ezekiel 26:3-4). Tyrus’ attitude of invincibility made it an easy target for God to shoot down. As he had sent Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem, so the Lord would bring down this coastal stronghold with the crushing blow of the Babylonian army.

Ezekiel was told, “For  thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadnezzar king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people” (Ezekiel 26:7). The term king of kings was first used by God in reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, but it was frequently associated with God’s kingdom and the Messiah. It is possible that Nebuchadnezzar was used by God to set the stage for a worldwide ruler who would as the Messiah, conquer every kingdom that stood against him.

Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Tyrus opened up a vast well of resources that would eventually cause him to follow in the footsteps of Tyrus’ leaders, becoming arrogant and blinded by pride. Nebuchadnezzar’s 15-year siege of Tyrus began shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign began in 605 B.C. and ended in 562 B.C., so he had about nine years to enjoy the fruits of his labor. No doubt, the king of Babylon was revered and hated by many, but his success in bringing down two of the most invincible cities in the world, Jerusalem and Tyrus, gained him a reputation for being a model of success.

The forgotten king

King Jehoiachin’s brief reign of only three months over the nation of Judah may be why he is often overlooked or forgotten, although he was obedient to the LORD. There is conflicting information about his age when he took over for his father Jehoiakim. It says in 2 Kings 24:8 that Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign and in 2 Chronicles 36:9 it says he was eight. Whether he was eight or eighteen, Jehoiachin was exceptionally young to become king.

In the third month of his reign, Jehoiachin was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and carried away to Babylon (2 Kings 24:15). He was the last descendant of king David to actually sit on the throne and rule over God’s people. King Zedekiah, who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to replace Jehoiachin, was the son of Josiah, Jehoiachin’s grandfather. After he was transported to Babylon, Jehoiachin was referred to as Jeconiah or just Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:24). The Greek form of his name, Jechonias is listed in the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1:11-12.

Jehoiachin was considered to be despised by the LORD because none of his descendants ever reigned, “sitting upon the throne of David” (Jeremiah 23:30), but Jehoiachin’s grandson, Zerubbabel became governor of Judah after the exiles returned to the Promised Land (Haggai 1:1). A pivotal point in the life of Jehoiachin is recorded in Jeremiah 52:31-34. It says that he was released from prison in the thirty-seventh year of his captivity and was given daily rations from the king of Babylon.

Evidence of Jerhoichin’s survival has been found in Babylon. According to archeological records, “Jehoiachin and his family were kept in Babylon, where clay ration receipts bearing his name have been found” (Exile of the Southern Kingdom). The fact that Jehoiachin was not killed like many of the other important officials from Judah (Jeremiah 52:27) and was later shown great respect by the Babylonian king (Jeremiah 52:32) shows that God was intentionally working to save his life, and the lives of his sons and grandsons, in order to preserve the royal blood line.

Trouble makers

After the fall of Jerusalem, it says in Jeremiah 39:9-10, “Then Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city, and those that fell away, that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained. But Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.” Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan governor over the cities of Judah and had Jeremiah released from prison. “Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were in the land” (Jeremiah 40:6).

Everything was fine until the captain of the forces which were in the fields, that had escaped with king Zedekiah when he tried to run away from Nebuchadnezzar, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah governor in the land (Jeremiah 40:7). The leader of the men, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, wanted to kill Gedaliah and take back control of Judah. Even though the captains of the forces tried to warn Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:13-14), it says in Jeremiah 41:2, “Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.”

A power struggle between Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and Johanan the son of Kareah resulted in Ishmael escaping to the Ammonites and Johanan and all the military men that were with him looking to Jeremiah for advice about what to do next. Jeremiah was asked to pray to the LORD and was told that whatever God said, the men would obey his instructions (Jeremiah 42:6). Jeremiah received this message:

If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you  to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land. But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the LORD your God, Saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell: and now therefore here the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; If ye wholly set your face to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt;  and there ye shall die.

Afterwards, Johanan accused Jeremiah of lying to him (Jeremiah 43:2). In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, it says in Jeremiah 43:5-7, “But Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces, took all the remnant of Judah, that were returned from all nations, whither they had been driven, to dwell in the land of Judah: even men, and women, and children, and the king’s daughters, and every person that Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Jeremiah the prophet, and Baruch the son of Neriah. So they came into the land of Egypt: for they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: thus came they even to Tahpanhes.”