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One of the reasons why the narratives of Daniel 4 and Daniel 5 are put side by side, even though they clearly come from two quite different periods of Daniel’s life, is that each serves as the foil of the other. Both are accounts of rich, powerful, arrogant men. The first, mercifully, is humbled and therefore spared and transformed; the second is simply destroyed.
Many critics doubt that the account of Daniel 4 is anything more than pious fiction to encourage the Jews. They note that there is no record of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity in the surviving Babylonian records, and they doubt that the empire could have held together had the emperor himself gone mad for a period of time. Neither argument is weighty. Official records would not have talked much of Nebuchadnezzar’s period of insanity, and in any case records from the latter part of his life have not so far come to light. Moreover, we do not know exactly how long Nebuchadnezzar was insane: it is uncertain what “seven times” (4:16) means. Certainly the Roman Empire survived under Caligula, whose insanity no one doubts.
In our short space, we may reflect on the following:
(1) Nebuchadnezzar’s dream reflects his megalomania. He has a narcissistic personality: he is corroded by his own greatness yet is so insecure that his grandiose fantasies must be nurtured by incessant self-admiration. Unlike the egotist, who is so supremely self-confident that he does not care a rip what anyone thinks of him or her, the narcissist is often hypersensitive and emotionally fragile. Regardless of all psychological speculations, the man’s arrogance before God is unrestrained (despite the experience of chaps. 2 and 3), and God resolves to humble him.
(2) Daniel’s approach to Nebuchadnezzar, once he has heard the dream, should be studied by every Christian preacher and counselor. On the one hand, he is deeply distressed to grasp what Nebuchadnezzar is going through, or going to go through (4:19). On the other hand, once he is prevailed upon to give the interpretation of the dream, he does so with admirable clarity and forthright truthfulness. He neither maintains professional detachment nor resorts to mealy-mouthed indirection.
(3) The psychotic breakdown is probably a form of lycanthropy (which today is subdued by antipsychotic drugs). But once his sanity is restored (4:36), Nebuchadnezzar articulates the lesson he has learned: God is sovereign, he raises and abases whom he wills, none can withstand him, and every virtue or strength we possess we derive from him. To think otherwise is to invite rebuke, for “those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (4:37).
The last chapter of 1 Kings, 1 Kings 22, many believers find troubling. For here God himself is presented as sending out “a lying spirit” (1 Kings 22:22) who will deceive King Ahab and lead him to his destruction. Does God approve of liars?
The setting is instructive. For once, the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel are pulling together against the king of Aram, instead of tearing at each other’s throats. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, comes across as a good man who is largely desirous of adhering to the covenant and being loyal to God, yet is a bit of a wimp. He treats the prospective military expedition as if it were an adventure, but he does want Ahab, king of Israel, to “seek the counsel of the LORD” (1 Kings 22:5). After the false prophets have finished, Jehoshaphat has sufficient smarts to ask if there is some other prophet of the Lord, and Micaiah surfaces. Yet despite Micaiah’s warnings, he goes off with Ahab, and even agrees to retain his royal robes while Ahab’s identity is masked.
But the heart of the issue turns on Micaiah. Observe:
(1) Implicitly, Ahab has surrounded himself with religious yes-men who will tell him what he wants to hear. The reason he hates Micaiah is because what Micaiah says about him is bad. Like all leaders who surround themselves with yes-men, Ahab sets himself up to be deceived.
(2) When Micaiah begins with a sarcastic positive prognostication (1 Kings 22:15), Ahab instantly recognizes that Micaiah is not telling the truth (1 Kings 22:16). This hints at a conscience more than a little troubled. After all, God had previously told Ahab that because of his guilt in the matter of Naboth, dogs would one day lick up his blood (1 Kings 21:19). He thus expected bad news someday, and at a deep level of his being could not really trust the happy forecasts of his domesticated “prophets.”
(3) When Micaiah tells him of impending disaster, he also provides a dramatic reason for the coherence and unanimity of the false prophets: God himself had sanctioned a deceitful spirit. Ahab’s time has come: he will be destroyed. God’s sovereignty extends even over the means to send Ahab’s tame prophets a “strong delusion” (compare 2 Thess. 2:11–12). Yet the fact that Ahab is told all this demonstrates that God is still graciously providing him with access to the truth. But Ahab is so far gone that he cannot stomach the truth. In a ridiculous response, he believes enough of the truth to hide his own identity in the hordes of common soldiers, but not enough to stay away from Ramoth Gilead. So he dies: God’s sovereign judgment is enacted, not least because Ahab, hearing both the truth and the lie, preferred the lie.
22:1 For three years Syria and Israel continued without war. 2 But in the third year Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel. 3 And the king of Israel said to his servants, “Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, and we keep quiet and do not take it out of the hand of the king of Syria?” 4 And he said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?” And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”
5 And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.” 6 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” 7 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” 8 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” 9 Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah the son of Imlah.” 10 Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and all the prophets were prophesying before them. 11 And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.’” 12 And all the prophets prophesied so and said, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”
13 And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” 14 But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.” 15 And when he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?” And he answered him, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.” 16 But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?” 17 And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” 18 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” 19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.”
24 Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek and said, “How did the Spirit of the LORD go from me to speak to you?” 25 And Micaiah said, “Behold, you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide yourself.” 26 And the king of Israel said, “Seize Micaiah, and take him back to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king's son, 27 and say, ‘Thus says the king, “Put this fellow in prison and feed him meager rations of bread and water, until I come in peace.”’” 28 And Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, all you peoples!”
29 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. 30 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. 31 Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” 32 And when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him. And Jehoshaphat cried out. 33 And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. 34 But a certain man drew his bow at random1 and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” 35 And the battle continued that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died. And the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot. 36 And about sunset a cry went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!”
37 So the king died, and was brought to Samaria. And they buried the king in Samaria. 38 And they washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood, and the prostitutes washed themselves in it, according to the word of the LORD that he had spoken. 39 Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did, and the ivory house that he built and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 40 So Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son reigned in his place.
41 Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel. 42 Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. 43 He walked in all the way of Asa his father. He did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the LORD. Yet the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. 44 Jehoshaphat also made peace with the king of Israel.
45 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, and his might that he showed, and how he warred, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 46 And from the land he exterminated the remnant of the male cult prostitutes who remained in the days of his father Asa.
47 There was no king in Edom; a deputy was king. 48 Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold, but they did not go, for the ships were wrecked at Ezion-geber. 49 Then Ahaziah the son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “Let my servants go with your servants in the ships,” but Jehoshaphat was not willing. 50 And Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Jehoram his son reigned in his place.
51 Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned two years over Israel. 52 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. 53 He served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done.
5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,1 you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children2 of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,3 encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
25 Brothers, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
4:1 1 King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! 2 It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.
3 How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and his dominion endures from generation to generation.
4 2 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace. 5 I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me. 6 So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. 7 Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation. 8 At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods3—and I told him the dream, saying, 9 “O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you, tell me the visions of my dream that I saw and their interpretation. 10 The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. 11 The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.
13 “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. 14 He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from a man's, and let a beast's mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him. 17 The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’ 18 This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. And you, O Belteshazzar, tell me the interpretation, because all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation, but you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, “Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies! 20 The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, 21 whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived—22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. 23 And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’ 24 this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, 25 that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. 26 And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws.
34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason 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 endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay 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 majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
108:1 My heart is steadfast, O God!
I will sing and make melody with all my being!1
2 Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
3 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
4 For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
6 That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer me!
7 God has promised in his holiness:2
“With exultation I will divide up Shechem
and portion out the Valley of Succoth.
8 Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah my scepter.
9 Moab is my washbasin;
upon Edom I cast my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.”
10 Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
11 Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
12 Oh grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
13 With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.
109:1 Be not silent, O God of my praise!
2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.
3 They encircle me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.
4 In return for my love they accuse me,
but I give myself to prayer.3
5 So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.
6 Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin!
8 May his days be few;
may another take his office!
9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
10 May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11 May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
12 Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!
13 May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
15 Let them be before the LORD continually,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
16 For he did not remember to show kindness,
but pursued the poor and needy
and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
17 He loved to curse; let curses come4 upon him!
He did not delight in blessing; may it be far5 from him!
18 He clothed himself with cursing as his coat;
may it soak6 into his body like water,
like oil into his bones!
19 May it be like a garment that he wraps around him,
like a belt that he puts on every day!
20 May this be the reward of my accusers from the LORD,
of those who speak evil against my life!
21 But you, O GOD my Lord,
deal on my behalf for your name's sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!
22 For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is stricken within me.
23 I am gone like a shadow at evening;
I am shaken off like a locust.
24 My knees are weak through fasting;
my body has become gaunt, with no fat.
25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they wag their heads.
26 Help me, O LORD my God!
Save me according to your steadfast love!
27 Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O LORD, have done it!
28 Let them curse, but you will bless!
They arise and are put to shame, but your servant will be glad!
29 May my accusers be clothed with dishonor;
may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a cloak!
30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD;
I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.