(39) I praise the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just – Daniel 4:37

In the first Babylonian invasion of Judah during the reign of King Jehoiakim, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar not only took treasures from the temple but also took many of Israel’s brightest and best young people to be trained in the King’s university. He wanted “young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace” (Daniel 1:4). Those chosen underwent a three year training programme in preparation for joining the Babylonian civil service. Among them were Daniel and three of his friends, better known by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

These four young men had grown up under good king Josiah and had a strong understanding of the Lord and his ways. Even though they were taken from their homeland into an alien environment they demonstrated great courage in maintaining their faith. Daniel decided not to eat the food that had been offered to foreign idols, so risking their lives, but they flourished on a diet of vegetables and by the time of their graduation the king found them to be “ten times better” (Daniel 1:20) than all his other officials.

In Daniel 2 we read that Nebuchadnezzar woke up one morning disturbed by a dream. The people of this time put great store by dreams and their interpretations so he summoned his wise men to tell him what it meant. The only trouble was that he had forgotten what the dream was! The wise men could easily create an interpretation to any dream that they were told, but in this case they had nothing to go on and the king could not be fooled by anything they made up. Nebuchadnezzar was impatient with their excuses and, in characteristic style, told them that they would be “cut into pieces” (Daniel 2:5) if they failed to bring him an answer. He could always get more wise men.

When they told Nebuchadnezzar that his request was impossible he ordered that all the wise men of Babylon be put to death. But when the king’s captain came to round up Daniel and his friends he went to Nebuchadnezzar and asked for time to interpret the dream for the king. He then got together with his three friends and prayed to God that the dream would be revealed to them. God answered by giving Daniel the same dream and he went to Nebuchadnezzar to tell him what it was. Like Joseph standing before Pharaoh to interpret his dream, Daniel made it clear that it was God in heaven who revealed it to him and then told him the dream and the interpretation (compare Genesis 41:16 with Daniel 2:27-28). Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed that he fell on his face before Daniel and immediately appointed him as the chief of all the wise men.

Later Nebuchadnezzar was warned in a second dream that he would lose his mental faculties for a period if he failed to abandon his wickedness and show mercy to the people he oppressed. In his pride he ignored the warning and went mad for a period of seven years. At the end of this his sanity was restored and he acknowledged and praised “The King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.” He also added, from his own experience, that “those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37).

This insight into the life of a dictator is both fascinating and instructive as it shows how God deals with the greatest of characters. On the one hand God is not intimidated by any man’s so called greatness and is ready to confront him with his sins. On the other hand he is not quick to write him off for his extreme excesses and continues to pursue him and show him undeserved love. God used what would have seemed an incredibly difficult seven years to reveal his truths to King Nebuchadnezzar. This account holds out great hope for those of us who lead more ordinary lives, as we can know that God will deal with our sins and show us his patient love, even through the hardest of times.

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