God is Judge Chapter 3

God is Judge

Chapter 3

A Commentary on the book of Daniel

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Nebuchadnezzar

 

The narratives that feature Nebuchadnezzar as the main protagonist are usually treated as separate incidents belonging to the genre of court tales reflecting either contest or conflict motifs.  Usually the historiography is examined and the text undergoes form and structural analysis with theology coming a poor second.

 

Questions of historiography and textual development (important as they are) detract from understanding the final canonical form and the theological intent of the author/redactor. The theology of chapters 2-4 can only be understood when placed in the context of the cataclysmic events that ended Judean independence. Within that scenario the role of Nebuchadnezzar is pivotal in introducing an era of Gentile domination that would last (with brief intervals of independence) until the final dispersion of the Jewish nation by Rome. The concluding speeches of Nebuchadnezzar in chapters 2-4 are midrashic portrayals of Isaiah’s theology[1] that progressively examine the temple holocaust and the exile in terms of divine foreknowledge, divine punishment and divine sovereignty.

 

Nebuchadnezzar’s doxologies

The three doxologies of Nebuchadnezzar and his subsequent actions are recorded in Dan. 2:46-49, Dan. 3:28-30 and Dan. 4:34-37.

 

46.Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an [....continued on next page]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See Chapter 24: Intertextual use of Iasiah

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offering and incense to him. 47. The king answered Daniel, and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.” 48. Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49. Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king. (Dan. 2:46-49)

 

In the first of these passages Nebuchadnezzar prostates himself before Daniel and actually worships Daniel! This has troubled Jewish and Christian interpreters alike, especially as Daniel does not object to the veneration offered by Nebuchadnezzar. Some interpreters understand the phrase “the king answered Daniel” (v.47) as presupposing unrecorded objections by Daniel but the phrase is probably nothing more than an aramaism indicating that the king’s response (his worship and his statement) was a spontaneous act.  The worship of Daniel is to be understood in the light of Isaiah 49:23;

 

“Kings shall be your foster fathers, And their queens your nursing mothers; They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, And lick up the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD, For they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me”.

 

Other Isaiah passages (cf. Isa. 49:23; 60:14) repeat the same theme but it is in Isaiah 45 that we encounter the twin motifs found in Daniel of ‘proxy’ worship and divine foreknowledge. By ‘proxy’ worship is understood the worship of God through means of his appointed agent [....continued on next page]

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– this can be the king or the nation (cf. Isa. 49:3)[2] – or the messiah through whom God receives and accepts worship. Isaiah 45 speaks of the Lord’s anointed (usually understood as Cyrus but actually Hezekiah)[3] who is a functional type of the messiah (Emmanuelle – God with us); “And they shall bow down to you. They will make supplication to you, saying, ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other; There is no other God.’” (Isa. 45:14 cf. 45:23-24). The same chapter emphasizes the foreknowledge of God; “Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me.”(Isa. 45:21)  It is God who “declares the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10; 48:5-7) not the enchanters and astrologers of Babylon (Isa. 47:12-13). Similarly it is God who is the “revealer of secrets” (Dan. 2:47)[4] and Daniel who acts as a proxy by accepting the worship due only to God.

 

The dream-omnia of Daniel 2 is not given to Nebuchadnezzar in order to satisfy royal curiosity but rather to reassure the recently deported Judean captives that the era of Gentile domination over Israel[5] that would follow was foreordained by God. Moreover, the era of oppression would conclude with the in-breaking of divine sovereignty in the form of the Messiah (the stone cf. Isa. 8:14) who as the true [....continued on next page]

 

[2] Isaiah constantly switches between a corporate understanding of the servant (i.e., the nation) and an individual conception of the servant (i.e., the king).

[3] See, chapter 8: The Cyrus Problem, where it is propoposed that Cyrus Xrk (Isa. 45:1) is a revocalisation of carpenter/worker Xrx (cf. Isa. 44:13).

[4] The “revealer of secrets” is the meaning of the name Zaphnath-Paaneah given to Joseph by Pharaoh in Genesis 41:45 - the similarities with the court tale in Daniel 2 has not escaped exegetes.

[5] The Jewish nation was a territorial possession of all the Empires described in Daniel 2. The chapter only has relevance to Gentile domination of Israel and is not a continuous unfolding of secular history written in advance.

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Israel would be vindicated and accept the worship offered to God.  In this sense Daniel acts as a type of the messiah.

 

The second doxology in Daniel 3:28-30:

 

Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! 29.Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.” 30. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon. (Dan. 3:28-30)

 

This doxology has many interesting points that can only be fully appreciated in context of Daniel 3 (the fiery furnace). For now the observation must suffice that the punishment threatened for disobeying the “God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego” is that the offenders be cut in pieces and their houses made an ash heap – which is effectively the punishment that Nebuchadnezzar meted out to the Jews when he burnt their temple and city and deported them.  The land covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 15 was ratified by passing between the cut pieces of the sacrifices and Jeremiah implicitly refers to this in Jer. 7:33 when he warns of the carcases of the people becoming “meat for the birds….with no one to frighten (the vultures) away” (cf. Gen 15:11) – the context of Jeremiah 7 is the belief that the temple was inviolate and Jeremiah warns against the proverbial saying; “Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these’ ”(Jer. 7:4). The conviction was that nothing could happen to them because    Continued  ˃

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God had placed his temple in Jerusalem (had he not saved the city in Hezekiah’s day?). The temple had become a den of thieves (Jer. 7:11 cf. Matt. 21:13) and was no longer fit for worship of Yahweh, “therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh”(Jer.7:14). First century Judaism faced the same crisis when Jesus warned; “Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate.” (Matt. 23:38) It was no longer Yahweh’s house but their house and Ezekiel clearly saw the glory of God depart from the temple and leave the city (Ezek. 9:3; 10:19; 11:23). This ‘speech’ of Nebuchadnezzar emphasizes God’s ability to save even when he punishes – so unfaithful Jews see their house burnt but a faithful remnant is saved out of the ‘fire’.  The intention here is not so much to teach Nebuchadnezzar a lesson but rather to reassure the exilic community – those who blaspheme (speak amiss) about God will be punished – ironically the ones who spoke amiss were the ones who believed that God would not punish them because the temple was in their midst.

 

The third doxology in Daniel 4:34-37:

34.And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. 35. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” 36. At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added     Continued  ˃

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to me. 37.Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. (Dan. 4:34-37)

 

Nebuchadnezzar’s doxology is concerned with divine sovereignty and the judgement of human pride. The deification of human power is at the root of empire building and also at the root of Adam’s fall and Israel’s debasement. Although Daniel 4 is concerned with the humbling and restoration of a Gentile king the subtext is the humbling and restoration of Israel. The blessing of the Most High by Nebuchadnezzar is similar to the blessing of the Most High by Melchizedek, “And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your (Abram’s) hand” (Gen 14:20) and Nebuchadnezzar’s observation “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing”(v.35), once again reflects Isaiah’s prophecies, “All nations before Him are as nothing, And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless”(Isa. 40:17), and also the divine reassurance given to Judea; “Those who war against you  shall be as nothing, as a nonexistent thing”(Isa. 41:12).

 

The punishment of Nebuchadnezzar that lasted “seven times” parallels the warning to punish Israel “seven times” for disobedience (Lev. 26:18). God threatened to break the pride of their power by making their heavens like iron and their earth like bronze (Lev. 26:19 cf., the stump bound with bronze and iron in Dan. 4:15) and by sending wild beasts among them (Lev. 26:22 cf., Nebuchadnezzar changing into a beast in Dan. 4:33). However, those who walk in pride He is able to put down (Dan. 4:37);

 

And that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt -- then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant    Continued  ˃

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with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land. (Lev. 26:41-42)

 

Christian use of the doxology

 

Christian use of Nebuchadnezzar’s doxology in Dan. 4:34-37 is largely unrecognized. The Lord’s Prayer reflects terminology found in the doxology (v.35); “He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (cf. Matt. 6:10) and in (v.36); “Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation” (cf. Matt. 6:13).  The trial narrative before Pilate also contains allusions to the doxology, with the gentile Pilate reversing the sentiment expressed by Nebuchadnezzar;

 

Daniel 4 John 18
35. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” 35. Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have you done?”
34. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. 36. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
37. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. 37. Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

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Conclusion

 

Nebuchadnezzar’s doxologies are concerned with divine foreknowledge, divine punishment and divine sovereignty. The exilic community shared all these concerns and the doxologies reflect the theological questions that were raised by the cataclysmic events of the burning of the temple –was this in God’s foreknowledge? Was God still sovereign?  Would he restore the Jews?