A Faith More Precious Than Gold
Lesson 42
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In Chapter 41, we studied the experience of Daniel in the lion’s den and how God used Daniel’s faith to set His people free from their Babylonian captivity. Now, I would like to share a story that explains why god put Daniel’s three friends in a fiery furnace. I want to share these stories of faith because they have so much to say about the coming drama predicted in Revelation. As you proceed through this story, see if you can detect any end time parallels.

God’s Agent of Wrath

King Nebuchadnezzar set siege to Jerusalem three times. He finally destroyed the city in 586 B.C. because Israel refused to submit to his “higher” authority. Even though the secular mind might say that Jerusalem was destroyed because of rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, the Bible indicates that Jerusalem was destroyed because Israel refused to submit to God’s authority.  (See Jeremiah 25 and Ezekiel 14.) The destruction of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar teaches a profound truth: God’s longsuffering and wrath against Israel are but a mirror reflecting how God deals with all nations. (Leviticus 18:28; Jeremiah 25:12; Acts 10:34) God preserved a biblical record of His actions so future generations could understand why “He sets up governments and takes them down.” In this particular story, understand that God selected Nebuchadnezzar to be His servant; His agent of wrath against Israel. (Jeremiah 25:9 27:6; 43:10) In other words, God empowered and enabled the king of the North, Nebuchadnezzar, to destroy His city and His people because of their decadence. (Daniel 9) The role of Nebuchadnezzar, as the king from the North and as the king of Babylon, parallels the coming of the Antichrist. During the Tribulation, Lucifer will be the “stern-faced king” from the north (Daniel 8:23; 11:36) and also the king of modern Babylon! (Revelation 17:11) This is just the beginning of the end time parallels.

Three Sins

God’s patience with Israel ended because of three persistent sins: Israel violated His Sabbaths, engaged in sexual immorality and preferred to worship idols instead of Almighty God. (Do you see an end time parallel in this?) Thoughtfully consider the words of God as He laments the apostasy of Israel: “Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.” (Ezekiel 22:26, insertion mine)

Also consider God’s comments about the clergy of Israel:” ‘And among the prophets of Jerusalem, I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah…for they have done outrageous things in Israel; they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives and in my name have spoken lies, which I did not tell them to do. I know it and am a witness to it,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:14; 29:23)  “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.’” (Ezekiel 5:8-10)

We learn from Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel why God’s anger with Israel reached a boiling point. His holy name had been profaned among the nations of the Earth by Israel’s decadence. As representatives of the Most High God and trustees of the everlasting gospel, Israel’s rebellion had degenerated them to such a decadent condition that God could no longer use Israel for the benefit of the world. Destruction was the only solution. Therefore, god Himself chose a “servant-destroyer,” the king of Babylon, to destroy His original plan, His city and His people.

The Vanished Vision

Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were taken to Babylon as prisoners of war during the first siege of Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C. Shortly after they arrived, god exalted Daniel and his friends before King Nebuchadnezzar through a curious turn of events. One night God gave Nebuchadnezzar a vision that outlined the remaining course of human history. (Daniel 2) Essentially, the vision consisted of a great statue of a man that was made out of various materials. At the end of the vision, the statue was smashed to pieces by a great rock that came out of the sky. When the king awoke, he became agitated for two reasons. First, Nebuchadnezzar knew that he had received an important vision, but he could not remember what is was. He initially thought it was from Marduk, the god of the Babylonians. Second, as the king fretted over the loss of his memory, he realized that he had no other option but to ask the clergy of Babylon for help. The king did not have complete confidence in the “wise men” of Babylon and he anticipated a skirmish with them. To stop this before it started, Nebuchadnezzar made it clear that he would not tolerate any delay or double talk on their part.

Behind the scenes, the God of Heaven was unfolding a plan to exalt His holy name throughout the world. Nebuchadnezzar’s vision was from the God of Heaven, not Marduk, and it was the god of Heaven who gave the king amnesia. By doing this, God made fools of Babylon’s clergy and at the same time, revealed the impotence of Marduk. Even though the vanished vision agitated the king, the agitation caused by that vanished vision became the very means through which young Daniel became exalted to a position close to the king.

God Is So Clever

After rising from bed and I am sure, pacing the floor, Nebuchadnezzar called an emergency meeting for all the wise men of the palace. Suspecting lame excuses and weasel words, Nebuchadnezzar confronted the wise men with these words: “so the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, he said to them, ‘I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.’ Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, ‘O king, live-forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.’ The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.’ Once again they replied, ‘Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.’ Then the king answered, ‘I am certain that you are trying to gain time [so that you can create another one of your incoherent riddles], because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: If you do not [immediately] tell me the dream, there is just one penalty for you. [If you do not tell me the dream, I will know that] You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things [during times past], hoping the situation wild [favorably] chinge [in each instance to fit your predictions]. So then [since you claim to have contact with the god of Babylon], tell me the dream, and I will know [beyond doubt] that you can interpret it for me.’” (Daniel 2:2-9, insertion mine) Nebuchadnezzar was no dummy. Consider his speech to the wise men. If the wise men proved to be a bunch of clever liars, he would destroy them. If they really did have a supernatural connection with Marduk, as they claimed, they would be rewarded. The astrologers, magicians, sorcerers and enchanters represented Babylon’s diverse religion and they claimed, from time to time, to have received visions from Marduk on behalf of the king. Their claims of contact with Marduk almost led to their demise.

False Prophets

In ancient times, kings often sought the services of religious leaders as counselors and advisors. For example, Jezebel employed 450 prophets of Baal. (1 Kings 18:19) Even as late as the fourth century A.D., Constantine depended heavily upon the advice and flattery of the theologian, Eusebius. Clergymen were sometimes deemed important because rulers believed that their prosperity depended on staying within the favor of “the gods.” To earn their “salt”, religious leaders had to walk a fine line. They had to be very careful of their words. They not only had to say things that bolstered the ego of their employer, they had to say things in a way that could not be proven false. For this reason, “wise men” were notoriously hard to “pin down.” They always had an “out” hidden somewhere in their riddles and prophecies.

In ancient times, the highest rank among the clergymen was that of a prophet. (Remember Balaam? See Numbers 22.) Any person who hal direct connectaon with “the gods” was highly honored, respected and paid well. It is ironic that God’s prophets in Israel had just the opposite fate. They were often stoned or executed because Israel’s kings did not want to hear the truth! (Matthew 23:37) In most cases, to become a “prophet,” all a person had to do was claim that he or she had received a message from one of “the gods.” Of course, a prophet was validated when his prophecy came to pass, but this was the point that bothered Nebuchadnezzar. Babylon’s prophets presented their messages with such slippery words that they always seemed to come true, no matter how the situation unfolded. However, when Daniel stood before the king and repeated the vision and declared its interpretation, the king immediately recognized the veracity of Daniel’s words. Daniel was a “true” prophet speaking clearly and decisively. He did not use weasel words! Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar promptly promoted Daniel above all the prophets in Babylon.

Let me explain one thing. A false prophet is a person who claims to speak for God when God has not spoken to that person. As Israel degenerated, she became full of false prophets and this made God very angry. Prophets were saying “God” showed this to me,” or “God said this to me,” when in fact God had said nothing or showed nothing. The reason this makes God so angry is because it is only a matter of time until His Word is defamed and considered worthless because of prophetic falsehoods. God feels so strongly about this that He promises to destroy anyone who uses His name for the sake of credibility, when in reality a false prophet is speaking out of his own imagination. (See Ezekiel 13.) Lucifer is called the “false prophet” in Revelation 19:20 for this very reason. He will speak out of his own evil imagination, claiming to be God!

So, in an effort to stay within the king’s favor (and earn their keep), Babylon prophets made up fables and riddles to please and flatter the king. But Nebuchadnezzar was smart enough to know that (a) a dream cannot be validated or studied by other people, and (b) although a false prophet can say that he or she has received a vision, no one can prove otherwise if the message cannot be clearly nailed down. (See also 1 Kings 18:22 and 2 Kings 3.) So, when Nebuchadnezzar demanded the wise men to reveal the vanished vision, he turned the tables on them. There was no room to deceive. The king reasoned that if his wise men really had contact with Marduk, if they received visions as he had, and if they had the ability to interpret visions from Marduk, then they should be able to determine, describe, and interpret the vision that Marduk gave the king. So, the king was ready to confront his “wise men” and frame his request in a way that left no wiggle room. When the wise men considered the demand of the king, they knew they were in big trouble. They would not be able to weasel their way out of this confrontation. Consider their defense: “The astrologers answered the king, ‘There is not a man on earth who can do what the kings asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.’ This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:10-12) Can you imagine being summoned to the palace for an emergency meeting only to discover that your execution is minutes away? In the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, all of the wise men of Babylon were forced to admit deceit and failure. How clever of the God of Heaven to have the wise men confess with their own mouths the impotence of the Babylonian religion. When the moment of truth came, the clergy of Babylon were disgraced and the king was justifiably furious with them.

Marduk Is No God

Before God would exalt His holy name throughout the Earth, He chose to demonstrate that Marduk was “no god.” It is amazing how a vanished dream turned the world of the religious leaders upside down. Before the vision took place, the prophets of Babylon were highly paid and wisely respected as “wise men.” After meeting with the king for only a few minutes, the “wise men” of Babylon confirmed with their own mouths that they were just  “a clutch of liars” with a death sentence hanging over their heads. I am reminded of Paul’s words, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27) Do you see an end time parallel here? (Hint: Is it possible that few, if any, of the 144,000 will be theologians?) Remember, the ultimate point of this story is that God wanted to vindicate His holy name before the nations of Earth. He wanted the whole world to know that He was a God of love and salvation, a God of compassion and majesty. Unfortunately, just the opposite had occurred. The Jews had made enemies of almost everyone on Earth. They had slandered and profaned the exalted name of God, trampled upon His law, and rejected every prophet He sent to them. So, God implemented a plan to restore His good name and He chose to use the mouth of a heaven king to do it! A sovereign God can make a servant out of anyone or anything.

The Death Decree

News of a sudden and unexpected death decree for all the wise men of Babylon flew from the palace of Nebuchadnezzar as fast as a horse can go. The “news media” was on the story in a heartbeat. The threat of death for all the wise men of Babylon did something that Nebuchadnezzar would later regret. The king had unwittingly informed the whole world of the impotence of Babylon’s wise men by putting a death decree on their heads. Even worse, the entire kingdom became eager to know the contents of the vision that had vanished, and they wondered what was so imperative about the vision that the king would kill all of his wise men.

Daniel Exalted

Through a series of providential events, Daniel eventually stood before the king. He not only revealed the vanished vision, but he also interpreted the vision for the king. This pleased the king more than words can express. When the king heard Daniel’s testimony, he was thrilled: “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, ‘Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’ Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts upon him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.” (Daniel 2:46-48)

A few hours later, after pondering the consequences of his rash decisions, the king had a change of heart. He must have grimaced as he faced three sobering truths: First, Daniel had informed the king that Marduk did not give him the vision. Nebuchadnezzar’s vision came from the Most High God of the Jews, those despicable people. They were the lowest class of people in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and he did not want to admit that they had a God greater than the Babylonians. Second, Daniel told the king that the God of the Jews was sovereign over all the kingdoms of the world, even Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar heard how God sets up kings and takes them down, according to His sovereign authority. Nebuchadnezzar was flattered to learn that it was the God of Heaven who had given him a throne. At the time, the reality of Daniel’s words had not sunk in. God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to know that he had not gained the throne by human prowess, but this lesson would not be learned until the king was humbled and spent seven years living as an animal. The third truth was the most chilling of all. God told the king that his kingdom would fall and it would be destroyed in days to come. As the king churned on the vanished vision and the train of events that it produced, he must have thought his vision was more of a nightmare than a revelation from God.

The King Distressed

Nebuchadnezzar’s impatience with the wise men had created a political nightmare. The king had publicly humiliated and discredited the wise men of Babylon. He had tested the god of the Babylonians and proved that Marduk was inferior to the God of the Hebrews. Worst of all, he had fueled the curiosity of his subjects by putting a death decree on the heads of Babylon’s wise men. Everyone wanted to know the contents of the vanished vision! The seriousness of a death decree for Babylon’s religious leaders indicated this vision was not a trivial matter. Furthermore, when the Jewish teenager, Daniel, was promoted above all the wise men of Babylon, it was obvious to everyone that Daniel had successfully recalled and interpreted the vision for the king. So, the vision had been recalled and interpreted, but what did it say?

We know the vision predicted the fall of Babylon and other world empires, but Nebuchadnezzar did not want his subjects to know that the God of the Hebrews had predestined the fall and destruction of his empire. The king knew that if this information leaked out, his government would collapse. A government cannot survive without the submission and loyalty of its subjects.If the news of Babylon’s predestined fall reached the ears of his top administrators, Nebuchadnezzar knew he would soon be a king without a throne. How could he maintain confidence in a king that was predestined to destruction by the Most High God? Nebuchadnezzar realized that a long tenure on the throne was only possible for as long as people were loyal to him and his regime. If the subjects knew that God had numbered his days, they would rise up in rebellion and he would perish.

Kings may conquer nations and kings may kill thousands to secure their authority, but no king can thwart the God of Heaven. The rumor began to spread that the God of the Jews predestined the fall of Babylon. Based on Nebuchadnezzar’s subsequent actions, I believe it is safe to conclude that the administrators from the far reaches of the empire must have sent requests of clarification so that they could deal with the rumors about the vision. As the situation worsened, Nebuchadnezzar consulted with his embarrassed wise men and they decided to dissolve the rumor by mixing error with truth. Nebuchadnezzar chose to distort the truth that was given to him in the vision for a number of practical and political purposes. The wise men owed their lives to the king (actually to Daniel and his three friends) because the king relented on the death decree. Consequently, they were very eager to help the king solve his political problem. Nebuchadnezzar and his wise men conspired to tell the world that Marduk had given the king a great vision of a “golden man.” The people would be told that the golden man represented the kingdom of Babylon, which would last forever. Based on the course of events, Nebuchadnezzar evidently alleged to his subjects that he “was commanded” in vision to empty the golden coffers of Babylon to erect a golden replica of his vision. Because the rumor had circulated that Babylon was predestined to fall, the king decided to use the golden image as a way to renew loyalty to his government. He planned to require the king would tell all of his administrator’s and governors to travel to the province of Babylon so that they might be present on the day the vision of the “golden image” and the image dedicated.

The construction of a 90-foot tall golden image of a man began in earnest. (It is believed that a cubit in ancient Babylon equaled 18-20 inches, so 60 cubits [in height] would equal 90 feet. For comparison’s sake, the Statue of Liberty is 111 feet tall, but Lady Liberty stands on a pedestal that is 194 feet high, which makes her total height 305 feet.) Due to the swiftness of rumors and the irreparable damage they could cause, there was no time for delay.  Riders on horses were dispatched to the ends of the earth calling the administrator’s and governors to be present on the Plain of Dura at an appointed time. Nebuchadnezzar anticipated some resistence to his plans, so he ordered the giant smelting furnaces that were used to cast the men man to be kept burning during the dedication service. The loyalty test would be “real simple.” If anyone refused to bow down and worship the golden image, they would be thrown into the furnace. The king calculated his loyalty test would force everyone back into “the fold” if any loyalties had been compromised by the rumor that Babylon was destined for destruction. The immediate death of rebels would reduce potential problems. The king was satisfied that this course of action would protect his throne.

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