nebuchadnezzar

1 Kings 20, Daniel 2

Today we’re reading 1 Kings 20 and Daniel 2.

This devotional is about Daniel 2.

What would you do if you were a powerful leader but suspected that your spiritual advisors were making stuff up? You might do what Nebuchadnezzar did here in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar had a weird dream (v. 1) and he apparently believed that something was being communicated to him in it. Instead of describing it for his spiritual advisors, he tested them: could they tell him what he had dreamed and THEN interpret what it meant (vv. 2-9)? The key phrase in that passage is in verse 9: “You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.” If they could tell him what he had dreamed that would be proof that they had genuine access to the spiritual realm. That would give him greater confidence in their interpretation of this dream and in their spiritual guidance in every other matter.

Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual advisors did not like the new terms of service he was imposing on them. They protested that what he wanted was impossible (vv. 10-11) which confirmed to the king that they were dealers of nonsense; Nebuchadnezzar therefore ordered them to be put to death (vv. 12-13). Daniel and his friends were apparently junior officers in the spirituality cabinet of Babylon at this point. They were subject to the same death penalty but had not been given the opportunity to advise Nebuchadnezzar about his dream (v. 14). Daniel asked for some time and urged his three friends to pray (vv. 15-18), and God answered their prayers, revealing the vision and its meaning to Daniel (vv. 19-45).

The interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is important because it predicted world events that would happen after his reign and would culminate with the kingdom of Christ (vv. 36-45). But for this devotional, I want to focus on how Daniel responded when God answered his prayers. Daniel was given a gift that, according to Nebuchadnezzar’s astrologers, was impossible: “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks!” they said in verse 10. Daniel recognized that what they said was right. His ability to interpret dreams was a supernatural gift from God, not a natural skill he developed himself (v. 23). Daniel also recognized in this dream that God was at work in world events (v. 21). While we think that kings and leaders are chosen by natural events, political processes, and/or human manipulation, God’s providence stands behind it all. The rulers of this world think they are in control but their control is an illusion. God is using their ambitions to advance his will. While we should do what we can to influence world events toward righteousness, we need to recognize that the nations and political structures of this world belong to this world; they will be replaced by the kingdom Jesus came to establish (vv. 44-45). What seems so powerful, so permanent, so impenetrable to us now will be supernaturally—“not by human hands” (v. 34)—“broken to pieces and… swept away without leaving a trace” (v. 35).

Anytime we have an election, there are people who feel hopeful and people who feel hopeless. Regardless of your politics, you’ve been on the hill and in the valley of that roller coaster already in your life and you will likely experience that again. If our hope were in reforming this world and it’s rulers, we would have plenty to worry about, but our hope is in Christ. His kingdom may be right on the verge of appearing or it may be another thousand years away. Only God knows the timeline, but he has revealed to us the outcome. Look in faith to these promises and trust God to watch over us and use us in the meantime, just like he did with Daniel and his friends.

Judges 12, Acts 16, Jeremiah 25, Mark 11

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 12, Acts 16, Jeremiah 25, Mark 11. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Jeremiah 25.

People sometimes talk about God’s will and the will of humanity as if they are in conflict with each other. In the moral sense, they are. Morally, God’s will for humanity is to obey his commands but in our fallenness our human wills choose to disobey him. But I am referring to God’s will and the human will in a different sense here. I am talking about what God has willed to happen on earth in terms of human events—the rise of nations, political rulers, the winners of war, and so on. The Bible teaches that God has decided what world history will look like. He chooses who becomes the president, who wins wars, which nations become powerful and prosperous, and which nations wither and die. Since God has decided all of this in advance, people sometimes wonder if we have any free will at all. Are we mere puppets manipulated by God to do his will in human history? Or is humanity ultimately in control of all things and, if so, are God’s prophesies about what will happen merely him guessing really well or being able to see in advance what will happen?

The Bible’s teaching on this is that God has decided what will happen and he controls the outcome of all things, but that his will is carried out by humans who are acting according to their own will and desire. In other words, God is sovereign over history, making his will happen but humanity cooperates with God’s will, often without realizing it, by doing what comes naturally to humans. Even our sins and the evil acts of emperors are in some way accounted for within the overall will of God.

As created beings, it is impossible for us to fully understand how this is true. The most important thing for us to know, however, is that God’s will works on a different plane than our wills do. Because God is the Creator and we are the creation, we should not assume that God’s will and our wills are on the same continuum, the same spectrum. We are not on one end of a rope and God on the other end in a cosmic game of tug-of-war. No, as Creator, God can accomplish his will without sharing any guilt for our sins or without violating human will. We are not robots; we do not act because we have been controlled or coerced by God in some way. God wills in a completely different way than we do, which is how His will is accomplished even while he allows us to follow our own desires, even the wicked ones.

Today’s passage contains language that suggests all of what I have written in the preceding paragraphs. As you know, Jeremiah had been prophesying for over twenty years (see verse 3) that God would judge Judah for their sins and idolatry. God’s method for bringing this punishment would be a foreign nation, just as the curses of Moses’ law had declared. In this case, it would be a foreign nation called Babylon, led by a king named Nebuchadnezzar. Because it was God’s will for Judah to be punished in this way, Jeremiah’s prophecy was, “Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.’” Did you catch how he described Nebuchadnezzar as “my servant” in verse 9? This indicates that Nebuchadnezzar’s success against Israel was due to God’s will to punish his people. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were agents for carrying out the will of God in human history.

And yet, although it was God’s decree that Nebuchadnezzar be the agent of discipline for God’s people, what Nebuchadnezzar did was still sinful in the eyes of God. Verse 12 put it this way: “‘But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will make it desolate forever.’” In verse 9, Nebuchadnezzar was described as God’s servant, carrying out the will of God in his attack on Judah. In verse 12, however, God promised to punish Babylon for attacking Judah, suggesting that their attack was sinful by using the word “guilt.” This shows that Nebuchadnezzar was acting out of his sinful nature, attacking all these other nations, including Judah, for his own selfish reasons. But God used his sinful attacks to chasten his people, so Nebuchadnezzar was also God’s “servant” in that he was accomplishing the will of God, bringing the covenant curse that God had warned Judah about. If Judah had repented or had been faithful to God all along, God would have prevented Nebuchadnezzar from defeating Judah. But, given their disobedience, God instead used Babylon to accomplish his will.

This shows us that we do not need to fear the things that happen in our world. Wars, evil rulers, corrupt politicians, injustice, and even persecutions all happen under the sovereign will of God. God is not surprised at who is running for President right now nor will he be surprised at who wins. Since neither major party candidate is a genuine follower of Christ (as I see it, at least), neither one of them is serving God from the heart. Yet, whichever one wins will be serving God in the sense that their decisions—unjust, cruel, corrupt, flawed, or good—will be used by God to accomplish his will. 

We ought to stand for what is morally right and to do whatever we can to bring about righteous results in our nation. But we must also remember that God is acting at a whole different level than we can comprehend and that he will accomplish his will as he promised it in his time. So whether your candidate gets elected or not, God will accomplish his purposes in this world. Whether the next President is good or bad for America, God will accomplish his purposes in this world. Take comfort in this; let it encourage you. God is in control.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.