Let me begin by asking you a question: What conclusion do you draw in regard to the power of God's promises to support and save us in our trials? If God is our Father, as He has shown Himself to be by adopting us and by granting to us His spirit and by His gracious purpose to save us, then the opposition of unbelievers and Satan will never ultimately succeed ever.
In Romans 8:31, Paul asks the essential question,
Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
The story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego vividly illustrates the power of the protective and saving promise of God. These three brave Jewish men risked their lives for the sake of their loyalty to God. The narrative begins with a plan conceived by Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel 3:1-2 Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits. He set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. And King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to gather together the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
Nebuchadnezzar built a great gold statue which was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide in our terms today. This was a gigantic statue that must have required enormous amounts of gold. Even if the statue was just covered with gold, it still would have taken a great amount, but this is what he did, and the fact that it was made completely of gold is significant.
In order to understand the reason for Nebuchadnezzar building the statue, we have to go back to the previous chapter in which he had dreamed of a statue, the head of which was gold, with breasts and arms of silver, the middle portion of bronze, the legs of iron and the feet of iron mixed with baked clay.
As Daniel interpreted the dream, the gold head represented the glorious kingdom of Babylon; the sliver, a less glorious but stronger kingdom was that of the Medo-Persians that would follow Nebuchadnezzar's; the bronze, still less glorious but stronger kingdom was that of the Greeks; and the iron, the strongest but basest kingdom of all was that of Rome, and it's later ongoing influence.
At the end of this history, a rock, representing Jesus Christ, would strike the world's kingdoms, destroy them, and then grow to fill the whole earth. As we read this interpretation, it does not seem to be at all threatening. Kingdoms do succeed other kingdoms, but the eternal Kingdom of God will succeed them all. But this is not the way Nebuchadnezzar must have seen it. After Daniel had revealed the dream and it's meaning to Nebuchadnezzar, notice what the king replied in Daniel 2:47.
Daniel 2:47 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.”
But when he got to thinking about it later, Nebuchadnezzar was not at all pleased. He must have said to himself, “Wouldn't it be nice if more of that statute were gold than just the head. The head represents me, and I am glad that I am the head and not the toe. But it would really be nice if I were not just the head, but the whole statute. Why should my kingdom be succeeded by other kingdoms? Why should not this great Babylon that I have built last forever?”
Daniel 3:1-7 tells us the story of Nebuchadnezzar building a statute that represented his will for the future—emphasis on his will. It was all of gold, and in this way he defied God and said in effect, “I will not allow the God of Daniel to set my kingdom aside. My rule will endure.” We can see the sheer obstinance toward God.
At this point we begin to understand why this is not a humorous story, and why instead it is actually another chapter in what we have already seen to be the theme of this book—who God is and who rules history. It is why this matter of bowing down to the statue was more than just a question of physically bowing down or not bowing down to an idol, though it certainly was that, but even more was a matter of bowing before the will of the king and rebelling against the will of God. It was the issue of whether bowing down or not was a preference or a conviction. It is a spiritual issue.
Ask yourself: "What am I willing to sacrifice in exercising my belief?" If you feel you should do something but also feel you have the right to do it, it is merely a preference not a conviction. Generally, a conviction, on the other hand, is a belief that you will not change. You must believe that God requires something special of you. A belief that is God-ordered is a conviction; it is not a matter of resolve or dedication, but a matter of believing with all your heart that God requires it of you. It is a matter of faith. Faith without conviction is a dead faith.
Conviction is not something we learn, but something we purpose in our heart. It is not something we just happen upon, but something that is part of the very integrity of our character, and this means that we are not made by a crisis, but a crisis exposes us for what we are.
About 20 years ago, John Ritenbaugh gave a sermon on preferences and conviction. If you were to type in preferences and convictions into Google, it would be the first one that comes up—that 20 year old article and sermon is still having its effect in teaching people.
Our convictions will be purposed as a part of our way of life. They are beliefs that we determined to execute and achieve. In Daniel 3:8-12, Daniel records the conspiring of the Chaldean astrologers against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Daniel does not appear in this incident—we don't know why—but the construction of Nebuchadnezzar's gold statue seems to have happened earlier in Daniel’s career when he was still young. So it is probable that he had been assigned work in some other portion of the empire. But at any rate, he does not seem to have been in Babylon at this time. So the storm broke instead on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, Daniel's three friends.
The trouble began with the Chaldean astrologers by whom the four young Jews had been trained. They told the king that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were defying a decree that whenever the horn, flute, zither, lyre, pipes or other instruments sounded, everyone was to fall down and worship the golden image.
Daniel 3:12 There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego; these men, O king, have not paid due regard to you. They do not serve your gods or worship the gold image which you have set up.”
Why did they say this? Why did they accuse these three from among their own number? It is not hard to discover the reason. There was jealousy and resentment against those who had been part of the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar earlier dream, which they themselves had been unable to discern. It was the same motivation that causes co-workers to slander or gossip about each other when they should be building one another up. It is the thing that causes unpleasantness in school or sibling rivalry.
The convictions of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego provide their enemy co-workers with an opportunity to accuse them of treason, and that is exactly what they did. They phrased their remarks to work Nebuchadnezzar into the greatest possible agitation. Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar brought three young men before him and probed for a confession in the case.
Daniel 3:13-14 Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up?
No reply is recorded, but there must have been one. They must have told the king that what he had been told about them was correct. Nebuchadnezzar offered to give them another chance:
Daniel 3:15 Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”
That was the situation, the ultimatum imposed upon those three men. How would we have acted, standing there in front of the all-powerful physical king, with the power of life and death in his hands, to say that he was about to throw you into a furnace that was hot enough to consume a person’s body, if God allowed him to?
Let me say at this point, so that we will understand the story at the proper level, that this is the problem that confronts every follower of the true God when the requirement of serving Him comes into conflict with the demand of a secular state. What I mean by this is not merely a demand to do an openly wicked thing or die by refusing to do it, like refusing to turn over and kill Jews like in Nazi Germany. I mean any pressure to disobey the teachings in the Bible, whether it be peers in school, by fellow employees, by employers or by whomever.
Whenever we are pressured to do something or not to do something that we know by the teachings of the Bible to be wrong or right, our situation is the same as these three men and our responsibility before God is the same also. We must do the right things; we must not bow to the world's demands, even if the consequences are costly. So people will say, “But we are commanded to obey by the state.” Yes we are, but in areas of it's legitimate authority that do not conflict with God's truth. Paul wrote in Romans 13:7,
Romans 13:7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
Also in obeying the state, we must know that God has established such authorities.
Romans 13:1-5 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good [that is the key in obeying the authorities of a nation—do whatever they say is good to do, not the evils], and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. [The two qualifiers there are the whole issues of having the proper obedience to secular authorities.] But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
Daniel and his friends knew this, at least after the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, if not before. God had established Nebuchadnezzar. He made him to be the head of gold, but notice the fact that Nebuchadnezzar had been established by God did not make Nebuchadnezzar god. The fact that God raises up rulers does not make rulers autonomous. It does not give them unlimited power; on the contrary, it limits their power because they are responsible to the One who has set them up, whether they acknowledge Him as God or not. We are all tested to reveal whether our beliefs are preferences or convictions.
Back in Daniel 3, the three young men flatly, but politely and respectfully, refused to obey the king. When the ultimatum was put to these three men, we do not read that they took time to think about it, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego seem to have responded immediately.
Daniel 3:16-18 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
The threat that they had hanging over their heads was the same as if he had held a gun to their heads and threatened to pull the trigger if they did not bow to his idol. A person of conviction will not debate the pros and cons of a position on the spot; if he does, he will very likely choose the wrong side. There are times when you have to respond the right way and do the right thing instantly or otherwise you will probably fail the test.
What if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had listened to our kind of rationalizations, meaning human nature rationalizations? One of the wiles of Satan is how he plants doubts in our minds. He might say something like this:
The three of you are obviously sincere and quite dedicated; we need more people like you and that is just the reason you must listen to reason in this matter. Because if you do not listen and instead persist in this obstinate disobedience, you are going to be killed and your beneficial influence on Babylon will be over.
Consider first that your disobedience is already being entirely misunderstood. You think that you are standing for the identity of the true God, but what you are doing is actually being construed as political rebellion, defiance of the kings order. You are not going to be executed for religion but for civil disobedience, so what good does persisting in this rebellious state do? The proper course is to bow down, live, and extend your godly influence in other ways.
Into the early 1990s, as the Worldwide Church of God continued down the road to apostasy, there were some members, knowing that false doctrines were being introduced increasingly each year, made the conscious decision to remain a member and continue to financially support the promotion of false doctrine. What motivated them to remain? What was their excuse? Many claim that they had stayed in that profane organization to help others who were not as spiritually strong as they were. But this may have an error of self-righteousness about it, and in fact, they themselves absorbed many of those false beliefs.
Later many people changed to keeping Sunday instead of the seventh day (Saturday) Sabbath. Were their previous beliefs preferences or convictions? What if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had listened to Satan and used human reasoning to stay alive in Babylon so they could "help" the other Jews being brought into the empire as slaves? Would that have been nobler than sacrificing one's life for a mere commandment of God? Only according to Satan and human nature.
Deuteronomy 28:15 “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
These curses are being dumped as we speak on this nation for disobedience. Then God, through Moses, lists all the bad things that will happen to those who do not uphold God's standard of righteousness. The responsibility is even greater for those with God’s Holy Spirit.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego could have used this to cop-out with this reasoning:
Understand that Nebuchadnezzar is actually on your side. He did not need to give you a hearing, he did not need to give you another chance. He has done these things only because he is already favorable towards you and likes you. He does not want to execute you. I think that if you would stand at a distance from the statute and tip you hear forward slightly, you do not need to prostrate yourself on the ground. Nebuchadnezzar would be pleased at that and respect you all the more. He would realize that it was a difficult thing for you to do but that you did it for his sake. If takes men of courage to compromise like that.
Isn't that what those who stayed in the Worldwide Church of God did, knowing full well that it was teaching false doctrine? Many acted as if they were agreeing members when in reality they disagreed with what was being taught, but their disagreement was based on a preference not a conviction.
If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had stopped to consider these arguments, they might have wavered, but they did not stop to consider them or waver because they already knew where they stood and why they stood there. That is why they could answer immediately without thinking. In other words, they had already wrestled through such issues and knew that whatever else they might have been, they were first and foremost worshipers of the true God and He—God—said in Exodus 20:3-6,
Exodus 20:3-6 “You shall have no other gods before Me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Unto the third and forth generations and that is what is happening today. This nation is really beginning to suffer awfully.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in Daniel 3 illustrates conviction over preference very vividly, but the prelude to the crisis is in Daniel 1:1-8, and it reveals why they could do what they did at that time—why they could stand firm in such strong faith and conviction.
Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the kings delicacies nor with the wine they drank; therefore, he requested from the chief of the eunuchs that he would not be forced to be defiled.
From a distance, we are looking back on history, and it does not seem like all that great of a thing, but it really was because it was the foundation they stood on for the rest of their serving in Babylon. Though the resistance began with Daniel, verse 12 shows that all four men were involved, united in purposing to carefully obey God.
There are three things that gave Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego the strength to stand firm in this great test of their commitment:
1) They knew that God was sovereign. And by "knew," I mean they were convicted and had faith, a saving faith. They knew that God was sovereign. Nothing is clearer than their response to king Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:17
Daniel 3:17 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.
There is no airy, speculative, abstraction here. This is faith in the furnace, a firm conviction of the sovereignty of God in the midst of all things contrary. These men knew that God is sovereign and therefore it was not foolish but wise for them to entrust their lives to Him in this matter. Remember I quoted earlier the apostle Paul affirmed in Roman 8:31:
Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
2) They—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego—knew the scriptures. This is the reason they refused to bow down—God had forbidden it. But knowing the scriptures is also important for the reason that moral issues in the world seldom come to us in black and white terms. The world makes moral issues as ambiguous as possible, because when that is the case it seems to free people to do what they want to do, or at least to do what we deem best in the circumstances. If we are to do the right thing in such circumstances, we must know the word of God, because only the word of God will cut through such ambiguity.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego triumphed because their minds were filled with scripture, and because they kept coming back to scripture as the only fully trustworthy and inerrant authority in all matters. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free," says John 8:32.
3) They were willing to die for their convictions. They were not just saying they were willing; they were willing and showed it. I am sure you can see why this is important. It is important because it is possible to believe in a sovereign God and know from scripture what that sovereign God requires, and yet fail to do the right thing because you were unwilling to pay the price of obedience.
Thankfully, it is true that not many of us are likely to be faced with a choice between compromise or execution. I hope we all never face such a thing, but the issue is the same regardless of the penalty. Many fail because they will not pay the price of a loss of popularity, loneliness, ridicule, persecution, or economize hardship. Only those who are willing to pay such prices make a difference. In Luke 14:27-28, Christ is recorded as saying,
Luke 14:27-28 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—
By counting the cost, you are deciding and counting and purposing as to whether you are willing to make the commitment or not. Many get dunked but do not make the commitment, and have preferences rather than convictions.
How can we know if a belief is a conviction? Here are seven test questions to ask yourself:
1) Do I require other people to stand with me before I stand? If so my beliefs are preferences and not convictions. Matthew 26:33-35 and then verses 55-56.
Matthew 26:33-35 Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.
They were strong in number. They were relying on each other. Their faith was based on watching each other, what they were doing. Now jumping to verse 55
Matthew 26:55-56 In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me. But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled.
This is the uniform rule laid down in the Bible in which God will judge people. In other words, what do other people have to do with what God requires of me? If what I believe is God ordered, then who can turn it aside? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego did not require others to stand with them. They told the king that giving them another chance would change nothing. Their answer would be the same; their beliefs were convictions and therefore unchangeable.
2) Are my beliefs non-negotiable? If so my beliefs are convictions. Remember what we read in Daniel 3:16:
Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.
They were standing on their convictions. Their state of mind here is that their minds were made up, their principles were settled and well understood. They had come to the deliberate determination as a matter of conscience not to submit to the kings command; they were submitting to God's command. They knew that the result could not be modified by any statement which they could make or by any argument in the case and therefore they were not worried about the result, but calmly committed the whole issue to God.
Why are convictions non-negotiable? Negotiating with what God has ordered is the same as saying that He is not supreme, that someone or something is greater. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego told the king that whether or not they came out of the furnace alive changed nothing. Their belief stood firm.
3) Must I be assured of victory before I will stand? If so, my beliefs are preferences. If I must be assured of victory before I stand, I am not living by faith with God. It is far more important that I stand for what is right than for me to appear to win. If I stand for truth I already have the victory, though the world may see me as losing.
Matthew 27:11-14 Now Jesus stood before the governor [Pilate]. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.
Jesus Christ, at His trial and crucifixion, stood for truth and they took His life. To all the world He appeared to be a fool and a loser, but He won victory. Resurrection was His vindication, and our resurrection will be our vindication as we stand for the truth and are convicted of it.
4) Do I live what I claim to believe? Even if a person is a clever liar, the truth can always be found in his lifestyle.
Romans 2:13 for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified;
Our goal is to be able to say, “I consistently show by my lifestyle that I am living up to what I believe and by what I believe.
5) Can others see that I live that conviction with some consistency? James 2:18-24 says,
James 2:18-24 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works [or, you could insert the word "convictions" there]. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Testimony of beliefs without the works or the act to prove them is invalid.
6) Do others see my faith in action? There may be some overlap on some of these, but each one causes us to view it in a different way. Romans 1:16-17 says,
Romans 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” [The just shall live by conviction.]
If the Bible requires something, it is God-ordered. If it is God ordered, it should be a conviction. If it is a conviction and God-ordered, not to do it would be a sin, which is disobedience to God.
7) If what I claim I believe is a conviction, am I prepared to say that it's opposite is a sin? In Romans 14:23, Paul writes:
Romans 14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith [or conviction] is sin.
Whatever is not done with a full conviction that it is right is sinful. Whatever is done when a man doubts whether it is right is sin. The apostle Paul is simply saying that a man should not do a thing doubting it's correctness. He should have a strong conviction that what he does is right and if he does not have this conviction, it is sin.
All these test questions can be used as guidelines to help determine if our beliefs are preferences or convictions. Psalm 118:6 says:
Psalm 118:6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
This is exactly the kind of attitude Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had facing the king. Some people do pay for their faith by dying, of course, but in other cases God intervenes to spare His servants. He certainly spared Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in a great way.
Nebuchadnezzar was furious that the three young Jews would not obey him, so he ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual in case their God was able to save them from normally heated furnaces only. So, Nebuchadnezzar's attitude was that just in case God is a weak god that can perform weak miracles, he was going to make it seven times hotter and surely He could not save them from that. It was human reasoning from the beginning.
The flames from the superheated furnace killed the men who took the three Jews to it, but they, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, were not killed. Instead, when Nebuchadnezzar peered into the furnace, he saw them walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed.
Daniel 3:25 “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
It is not difficult to know who that fourth person was. It was Jesus Christ in a pre-incarnate form, perhaps the same form as when he appeared to Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or in which he wrestled with Jacob besides the brook of Jabbok.
It is a vivid portrayal of the fact that God stands with His people in their troubles. God does go with His people in their trials; countless people have testified to that. So let's be confident in the promise of that presence and be strong. Let's stand for the right and do it. Let's refuse to compromise, and stand with unbowed heads and rigid backbones before the golden statutes of this godless materialistic culture. Lets declare that there is the Most High God to be served and a race to be won. Let's assert that we are determined to receive God's prize, which is far greater than this world's tinsel toys, and that we are servants of Him before whom every knee will bow.
Now what of Nebuchadnezzar? He was impressed and awe-struck.
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! 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.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.
But Nebuchadnezzar was not converted. He was going to have to sink much lower before he was ready to acknowledge that there is but one God and all must worship Him. Twelve months later, the king was glorifying himself while walking on the roof of the royal palace.
Daniel 4:30-34 The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. 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.
In the ultimate sense, there is no sin that God will tolerate. All sins will be judged. Many are judged in this life and all will be judged in the life to come. Although God does temporarily tolerate some sins in this world, there is one sin that He does not seem to stomach at all. Daniel 4, which concludes the story of Nebuchadnezzar, deals with this matter.
The key to understanding these early chapters and perhaps the entire book of Daniel comes in Daniel 1:2, as I explained in the previous sermon. That verse tells of the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and explains that after the conquest of the city, Nebuchadnezzar brought back the vessels of the temple of God in Jerusalem to the house of his god, and laid them up in the treasure house of his god. It was a slap in the face right from the beginning.
By this symbolic act, Nebuchadnezzar was asserting that his gods were stronger than Yahweh, and we know that God permits others to triumph over His people for His own reasons, generally to bring judgment for sin. The temporary victory of evil persons does not mean that God is not more powerful than evil or that He will not ultimately be victorious. Yet this is what Nebuchadnezzar believed.
These opening chapters of Daniel show Yahweh teaching this proud king that neither his gods nor Nebuchadnezzar himself was stronger than the Most High. Daniel's God is God. “My glory I will not give to another,” says the great God. He does not allow Nebuchadnezzar to give God's glory to another in this story either.
God had already been working on teaching Nebuchadnezzar that. The first story of that involved Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great image, a figure of gold, silver, bronze and iron. The fact that Nebuchadnezzar was represented by the gold head of the image was God's acknowledgment that his kingdom was indeed magnificent. But as God pointed out, it would be succeeded by another, as all human kingdoms are, and only at the end will come the eternal Kingdom of God and Christ. The kingdom would overthrow all others, grow greater and fill the earth. God was teaching Nebuchadnezzar that he was not as important as he thought.
The next story in Daniel concerns the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura that we just covered. In reading the story with Nebuchadnezzar's story in view, we realize that Nebuchadnezzar was rebelling against God's decree, and now God has to humble Nebuchadnezzar and show that only the Eternal God is supreme King.
The story we have in Daniel 4 has to do with another vision, but it must be seen against this background. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed again, and this time he dreamed that he saw a great tree. Nebuchadnezzar is speaking here in Daniel 4:10-17
Daniel 4:10-17 “These were the visions of my head while on my bed: I was looking, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong; its height reached to the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of all the earth. Its leaves were lovely, its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, the birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it. “I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts get out from under it, and the birds from its branches. Nevertheless leave the stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field. Let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let him graze with the beasts on the grass of the earth. Let his heart be changed from that of a man, let him be given the heart of a beast, and let seven times pass over him. ‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.’
After receiving this vision, Nebuchadnezzar consulted the Chaldean astrologers as he had done on other occasions, but they were unable to give the meaning as they were unable to do on the previous ones. Eventually, he turned to Daniel, who apparently understood it at once. Daniel saw that the vision referred to the king. So we read that his countenance was troubled for about an hour, bothered obviously by what he knew this meant.
Finally Nebuchadnezzar said, “Do not be bothered. I understand that this is not a good vision; tell me about it anyway—I want to know the truth.” Daniel began to explain the vision and explained that the tree was Nebuchadnezzar, and God had exalted him to be great figure to fill all the world with his empire. Those of the earth were nourished by him, the birds, the branches, the beast under the tree all were fed, but because his heart was lifted up through pride, God was going to cause this great tree to be cut down. He was not to die, but he was going to lose sanity for seven years until he came to recognize that the most High God rules in the affairs of men.
This God sets up whom He will and brings down whom He wills. And when He sets a man up, He can do it from the basest of men. He does not have to choose what He would regard as the best. The story goes on to show that this is precisely what happened.
Then the time came when Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his palace, looking over the great city of Babylon, and he took to himself the glory that he should have given to God. He said, “Look at this great Babylon that I have built.” in the same hour, the prophecy took place. Nebuchadnezzar's mind went from him; he was driven from the palace and into the fields in the way that presumably they treated the insane in those days.
So he made his home with the beasts, his nails grew long like claws, his hair became matted, and he was unable to care for himself. At the end of the time his reason returned to him, and we are to understand that this was not only in a mental sense but also in a lesser spiritual sense. He recognized the truth of things, coming to what we would call a genuine human repentance. We find his words of repentance and praise for God at the end of the chapter. Verse 30 is the key, it contains Nebuchadnezzar's boasting. What Nebuchadnezzar says as he looks out over mighty Babylon is:
Daniel 4:30 The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”
He said, “Look what I have done,” and he failed to give God glory. Verse 30 is the expression of Nebuchadnezzar's heart and of our hearts apart from the grace of God. We think that we are responsible for what we do and achieve. We do not recognize that even when we achieve great things it is because God, the giver of all good gifts, has given us the ability to achieve them.
Now, lay that perspective over against the unique name of God that we find 6 times in this chapter, but which has never occurred in the book of Daniel before this point. The name is the Most High. You find it in a slightly different form in verse 2. It says there, “the Most High God.” Then you find it exactly as the “Most High” in verses 17,24,25,32,34. What does this name signify? Well, if you look in the concordance to see where else it occurs in the Old Testament, you will find the first time the name appears is in Genesis, in connection to the story of Abraham's return from the battle against the kings and his meeting with Melchizedek.
We are told there that Melchizedek was the priest of the Most High God, ruler of heaven and earth. That phrase explains the name. It is not referring to God's role as redeemer, or to His wisdom; it relates to God's sovereignty. The Most High God is the God who rules not only in heaven but also in earth.
A bit further on in the Old Testament in Isaiah 14, we have a description of the thoughts that went through the mind of Satan in the moment of his rebellion against God. One of the things Satan said is that he wished to be like the Most High. Isaiah 14:13-14
Isaiah 14:13-14 For you have said in your heart: [speaking to Satan here] ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’
Why did Satan not say "I will be like the Redeemer"? Why not say, "I will be like the most wise God," or one of God's other names? It is because he was not interested in those aspects or attributes of God's character. He wanted to be like God in His sovereign rule. It was power that he was after. He wanted ultimate power, and it is the same motivating desire that evil rulers in the world have because Satan is the god of this age and has blinded them.
I have told you the story before, but it is so earth-shaking to me. There was a Satan-worshiper being interviewed on the radio, and the interviewer asked, "Why would anyone become a Satan worshiper?" The guy replied in a raspy voice, "Because of power," and it came out so demonically. That is what attracts people to be Satan worshipers—the power that he promises and it is the very same thing he wanted. He wanted God's power, the power of the Most High.
That is the meaning of the Most High. Here is Nebuchadnezzar saying with all the folly which human beings are capable, “Look at this great Babylon that I, Nebuchadnezzar, have built.” God replied, “That is the sin I will not tolerate," and He brings him down.
Of course, this is not just Satan’s sin or just Nebuchadnezzar's sin; this is every human beings' sin, both individually and collectively as a nation. It is a great sin when we take glory to ourselves instead of giving credit to God and thanking Him. When we do well, we think it is our achievement, and when we do badly, we think it is someone else's fault. It is the perspective of the carnal human mind and what we do as individuals in the leading of our daily lives, we do nationally as a people as well. So what we are seeing happening in the national sins of this nation is the sins of the people coming out into the open, and it's effect on all the nation.
America has no real greatness. It has been greatly blessed financially, culturally, spiritually and in many other way, but instead of giving glory to God, from whom such blessings come, we boast of our achievement as a nation, assuming it is because we are great in our own right. God will not tolerate that in individuals or as a nation.
The history of humanity is summarized in three parts:
1) The raising up of a nation by the blessing of God.
2) Men and women taking glory to themselves.
3) God tearing them down in order to show that He is the Most High God and not man.
The Israelitish nations of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and others in Europe, are nearing the end. Satan's world will soon experience the power and wrath of the Most High God.
The next part of the story is about Nebuchadnezzar's punishment, and it is very significant. It is not a case of God merely going down a list of the various punishments available and randomly choosing insanity as punishment for Nebuchadnezzar. God does not operate that way. Everything God does is significant, so when God calls Nebuchadnezzar to be lowered from the pinnacle of pride to the baseness of insanity and to be associated with and behave like a beast, God was saying by that punishment that this is the result when people give the glory of God to themselves. They become beast-like. There is a difference of being a beast and becoming beast-like.
In fact, they become even worse than beasts. Because beasts, when they are beast-like, are at least behaving the way beasts should behave. Their nature is already formed and designed in them to react a certain way. With an insanity such as Nebuchadnezzar had, he became even lower than that because he did not have that natural ability or instinct that the animals had to survive. He also was unable to think clearly. Who knows what he though at that time? He must have had enough ability to know what was going on, otherwise it would not have been as effective.
Let me show you what happens when men and women take the glory of God to themselves. In Romans 1, we see what happens when God says He gives people up. When He gives them up, He does not give them up to nothing, rather He gives them up to the working out of the moral laws of the universe that He has established. These laws decree that if you will not have God, you will not have truth, holiness, justice, righteousness and all the other good gifts that have come from Him. You will inevitably have the opposite.
Romans 1 shows that when people turn from God, God turns from them, and they inevitably go downhill and degenerate. To what did God give them up? First of all, He gave them up to impurity and moral defilement:
Romans 1:24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves
Paul had in mind all kinds of filthiness and moral abuse, but especially sexual impurity. For example, fornication, adultery and it also includes drug abuse, tattooing and body piercings.
Secondly, He gave them up to wicked, obsessive desires:
Romans 1:26-27 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
This means such sexual perversions such as prostitution, lesbianism, homosexuality, pedophilia and bestiality, and there are other things that I do not even want to try to imagine.
Third, He gave them up to a perverted, degenerate mind:
Romans 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
Then what? What follows is a reprobate mind, whereby men and women who should be ashamed of the things they are doing say instead, “Not only are we going to do these things and will continue to do them, but we consider that these things are right, and demand that you recognize that they are right.” What comes to mind is the militant gays—"militant miserables," maybe I should say.
Regarding those who sin habitually and as a way of life, God abandons them and He ceases to restrain them. He allows them to act out their own feelings and to manifest them in their own life.
This does not imply that He exerted any positive influence in inducing them to sin, anymore than if we would seek by argument or appeal to restrain a headstrong young person. And when we are unable to succeed we leave him to act out his feelings and desires in his determination to take the road to ruin. The prodigal son found out what that road to ruin was and he came back, thankfully.
Three things are implied in this:
1) That the tendency of human beings is to commit these sins.
2) That the tendency of idolatry is to promote these sins
3) That all that is necessary in order for people to commit them is for God to leave them to follow the feelings and desires of their own heart.
It is the miserable gay community coming to the churches as the only recognized moral authority in the land (though the churches of the land are scarcely that anymore) to say, “We want you to declare before your people in the world that what we do is right.” It is the expression of a debased mind.
If Romans 1 is the word of God and it is trustworthy—which it is—then what we are witnessing in our day in the churches is God giving them up to this kind of thing. It is bad enough to be given up to sexual uncleanness; it is worse to be given up to sexual perversion, but it is worst of all to be given up to that kind of depraved mind that says, “I demand that you—God—recognize that what I want to do is right." That is what they are saying to God in their actions.
When God gives a person up to the desires of his debased heart and mind, he becomes by virtue of that judgment even worse than the thing to which he is compared. He becomes worse than the natural beast, as did Nebuchadnezzar. In Psalm 8:4-5 there is a description of man that reads,
Psalm 8:4-5 What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.
This passage is quoted in Hebrews 2:6-7. These verses fix man in an interesting place in God's created order. Lower than the angels but higher than the beasts, somewhere in between. It is the glory of men and women and that position, that as God speaks to them and reveals Himself to them that they look up to God rather than down at something else.
But you see if you do not look up, you will inevitably look down, and will become like the one to whom you are looking. If you look to God you will become like God; if you will not look to God and worship God, you will become like beasts. We live in a beastly society.
Have you ever considered the synonyms for the term "beastly"? They are: awful; horrible; terrible; nasty; rotten; foul; revolting. That is what beastly means. In what way is today like that? Well, take for example the systematic murder by abortion. In most instances, it is for the convenience of the mother.
According to the World Health Organization, every year in the world there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions worldwide. This corresponds to approximately 125,000 abortions per day, which comes out to about 1.5 babies a second. Are those depraved minds?
Human beings are not animals to be killed at will. Humans are made in the image of God and have the opportunity of looking up to Him and becoming increasing like Him, through His grace in Jesus Christ. But if we will not look up and not become like God, we will inevitably look down and increasingly become like the animals, and even sink below that.
Truly, the world has become worse than the animals, which is what Nebuchadnezzar's fall indicates. If you say, “Look how good I am; look at what I have done;” if you do not give God the glory, you will bring ruin upon yourself because God rules in the affairs of men and has ordained that this is the way it shall be.
Our duty is not to take the glory to ourselves, but rather to achieve everything we possibly can achieve, to do as well as we possibly can, and to be as moral as we possibly can, and then to point to God and say, “It is God who works in me both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” That is where the glory lies.
Nebuchadnezzar finally gained an understanding of the greatness of God, because at the end of Daniel 4 he confesses that the God whom earlier he had called "Daniel's God" is the Most High God. These scriptures we are about to read end the story of Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel 4:34-37 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. 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?” 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 to me. 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.
God is not only able to humble them, He does humble them. But as we humble ourselves, we find ourselves exalted in the role God has called us to fill, as light bearers, reflectors of the glory of God, and we find that God uses people as inconspicuous and unimpressive as ourselves to bring people even like Nebuchadnezzar to the knowledge of himself. If God is for us who can be against us?