Friday, December 31, 2010

National Pride

King Nebuchadnezzar, supreme ruler of the Babylonian Empire, employed Daniel the faithful Jew as chief of magicians in his court as well as ruler of the province of Babylon.  Daniel gained such position via his accurately interpreting the king's most baffling dreams.

One such dream warned Nebuchadnezzar that his pride would bring him judgment and discipline from Daniel's God.  Daniel proclaims in 4.27, "Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.  It may be that then your prosperity will continue." 

Nebuchadnezzar did not heed the warning and the consequences were significant (Daniel 4:28-37):

All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.

He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.

No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”

At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Mighty King Nebuchadnezzar is struck with some manner of deep psychosis by the hand of Most High and he lives the next seven years as some demented feral goat in the wilderness.  I cannot imagine that he had too many friends during his little meltdown!
Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar had an epiphany.  Perhaps the curse had simply run its course.  Perhaps he finally tired of living in his private hell and just let go of his arrogant pride.  For whatever reason or combination thereof, he finally lifted his eyes toward heaven and away from himself, and his sanity was restored.
Isn't that a universal Truth?  When we tire of playing king or queen in our own lives, or in the lives of others, and simply acknowledge that our perceived power is meaningless and really offensive to Most High, we are freed to live in real prosperity under the benevolent, omniscient headship of God Almighty.

Nebuchadnezzar, following his mental and spiritual awakening, praises Most High, implicitly acknowledging his place well beneath the Deity.  Then Nebuchadnezzar lays out the coup d' grace of this whole story: he testifies to the essential differences between Most High's Kingdom and all other human kingdoms.  Most High's kingdom lasts forever.  All human kingdoms come to an end.  They are nothing before Him - they do not impress Him in the least.  In fact, He gives them power and then retracts it at any holy whim (vv.32b, 36).

Nebuchadnezzar fades from biblical history as one who acknowledges the King of heaven and earth.  He recognizes that he has no power that has not been given to him by the true King.

The Jewish people must have found great joy and vindication in this story.  Though Nebuchadnezzar and his peerless army had destroyed their holy city, autonomy, place of worship, and carted many of them off to an unfamiliar pagan land, he was nary more than a puppet of Most High, and the powerful, greedy nation of his would soon come to an end.
It seems appropriate to view Nebuchadnezzar (and Babylon) as an archetype for all mighty rulers and all great nations.  All nations - including America - are ruled by principalities and powers that drive them to greed, self-aggrandizement, and all manner of wickedness.  They are motivated by seemingly innocent factors :self-defense and self-preservation.  Spinning these motives for their citizens, great nations seek decent ends even if the means are bathed in wickedness.

The truth is that no nation is all bad or all good.  The Lord continues to use nations for His purposes.  For instance, American government has been the standard-bearer for worldwide governments to treat their citizens with respect, equality, dignity, and to give them a voice in the development of policy.  That has the fingerprints of Most High all over it.  The American government has also responded quite generously when other nations have experienced catastrophes and needed aid.

On the other hand, the default setting for all nations is always arrogant, unrepentant self-centeredness as witnessed in Nebuchadnezzar, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”  All national leaders utter this same blasphemy - albeit with different words - and do it without qualm or recognition that they are living under a satanic illusion.

The rhetoric of nation and leader eventually take on religious significance.  Remember: Nebuchadnezzar erected a monument to nation that was to be worshipped (3.1-6).  The repercussions for not bowing down to the nation-god was death in a fiery furnace.

Fortunately, we Americans live in a nation where we are not required to bow down to Nation-God.  Perhaps if we were required to, we would be less likely to actually do it, however.  Though we are not mandated to worship Nation-God (Pseudo-YHWH), we sure have no qualms doing it.  We are like the masses that bowed down to Nebuchadnezzar's ninety foot visage on the plains of Dura.  We are unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who could tell the difference between the real God and a real counterfeit.

Do we really think that Babylonian rhetoric was of any different substance than American rhetoric?
  We are the greatest nation in the world!
  We are the most powerful nation that has ever existed!
  Our military might is unquenchable!
  Our values are superior to those of others!
  We should die and kill for our great nation!
  God bless Babylon/America!

Like Babylon, we even have a symbol of worship: the flag.

It does not seem to me that Daniel is all that interested in critiquing the national religion.  Pagans will worship who and where they will worship.  He is interested in showing that powerful and wealthy people who revel in these things will be removed from their power.  He is also interested in showing that a national religion is not for God's people, however.  It is just as idolatrous as bowing down to Baal or Asherah or Vishnu.  People who belong to YHWH Most High do not bow to Nation-God of Babylon nor to Pseudo-YHWH of America.

The American government is not Christian.  Our nation is only Christian insofar as there are more self-identified Christians than there are say, atheists, Muslims, Hindus, and Wiccans.  One might argue that our American way of life is indeed Christian because it was founded on some Christian principles.  A few Christian principles become quickly irrelevant, however, when other Christian principles must compromised for the sake of self-preservation or continued prosperity. 

The only government and nation that is Christian is the one that has as its head Christ Jesus and follows Him in selfless obedience.  The only Christian nation is the one that lifts its eyes to heaven and renounces its pride.  I'm having trouble seeing that in our nation or any other.

To love one's land and people is perfectly appropriate and respectful.  To work for her well-being out of a call to discipleship is a divine call.

To bow at her altar because of her wealth and might, and to drink her poisonous rhetoric at the expense of the Gospel of Christ is the sin of Nebuchadnezzar.  We should expect that God's response to our sin will therefore be no different than His response to Babylon's.  They are no more.

We all must decide.  Will it be the glory of Pseudo-YHWH I choose or will it be the suffering and self-sacrifice of the true King, Jesus Christ, to whom I bow down?  We cannot choose both.


Sandy Stuckey said...

Hi Jeff! Just checking out Central's website and thought I'd check out your blog! Never done that before! Somehow God prompts us at certain times for a reason! We just began a study on Daniel last evening at Pinegrove so, this was interesting! One thing I learned as I was studying is that Babylon means selfwill, self indulgence, and rebellion against God. Thinking of Bablyon as being all about "self" made an interesting study. Gary just mentioned to me as well that in Revelation it refers to Babylon and the end times and the significance that has when thinking of Babylon meaning "self".
Something to think about!

Sandy Stuckey

Pastor Jeff said...

Thanks for your note, Sandy. I did not know the meaning of the word "Babylon." that is truly fascinating. How's that study going?