A Faith More Precious Than Gold

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“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock….”

-  Revelation 3: 17-20

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 thought the secular mind would 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 “highest” authority. (See Jeremiah 25 and Ezekiel 14.) The destruction of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar teaches a profound truth: God’s longsuffering with Israel and His wrath against Israel is mirrors reflecting how God deals with all nations. (Leviticus 18:28; Jeremiah 25:12; Acts 10:34) God preserved a record of His actions in the Bible so future generations could understand why “He sets up governments and takes them down.”


In this particular setting, God selected Nebuchadnezzar to be His servant, His agent of wrath against Israel. (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6; 43:10) God empowered and enabled the king of the north, Nebuchadnezzar, to destroy His city and His people because of their rebellion and decadence. (Daniel 9) The role of Nebuchadnezzar as king of the north and the office of Nebuchadnezzar as the king of Babylon parallels the coming of the Antichrist. During the Great Tribulation, Lucifer will appear on Earth masquerading as God. The devil will be the “stern-faced king” from the North (Daniel 8:23; 11:36) and the devil will be the king of modern Babylon! We will examine these profound parallels in our study on Daniel 8.


Three Sins


God’s patience with Israel ended because of three persistent sins: a) Israel violated God’s Sabbaths, b) Israel engaged in sexual immorality, and c) Israel chose to worship idols instead of their Savior. (Do you see an end-time parallel?) Thoughtfully consider God’s words as He lamented 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 I am profaned among them.” (Ezekiel 22:26)

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 the 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 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 the 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 Earth by Israel’s decadence. As representatives of the Most High and trustees of the everlasting gospel, Israel degenerated to such a decadent condition that God could no longer use Israel as His representatives. Destruction was the only solution. Therefore, God Himself raised up a “servant-destroyer,” the king of Babylon, to destroy His city and His people.


The Vanished Vision


Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were taken from Jerusalem as prisoners of war during the first siege of Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C. Shortly after they arrived in Babylon; 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, a great rock that came out of the sky smashed the statue to pieces. When the king awoke, he became agitated for two reasons. First, Nebuchadnezzar knew that he had received an important vision but the could not remember what is was. He thought it was from Marduk, the god of the Babylonians. Second, as the king fretted over the loss of memory, he realized that he had no other option than to ask the clergy of Babylon for help. The king did not have total 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 by that vanished vision became the 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 his 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 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. Butt if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards of great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.’ Once more they replied, ‘Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.’ Then the king answered, ‘I am sure that you are trying to gain more 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 past times], hoping the situation will [favorably] change [in each instance to fit your predictions]. So tell me the dream, and I will know [beyond doubt] that you can interpret it for me.’”  (Daniel 2:2-9, insertions 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 supernatural connection with Marduk, as they had 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 out the services of clergymen 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 important because ancient rulers believed their prosperity and power depended on staying within favor of “the gods.” To earn their “salt,” clergymen had to walk a fine line. They had to say things that flattered the ego of their employer and they had to utter prophecies that could not prove to be embarrassing. For this reason, “wise men” were notoriously hard to “pin down.” By using crafted “weasel words,” 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 had a connection with “the gods” was highly honored, respected and paid well.

It is ironic that God’s prophets in Israel received the opposite fate. God’s prophets were often stoned or executed because Israel’s kings did not want to hear the truth! (Matthew 23:37) Babylon’s prophets were well educated and they presented their messages to Nebuchadnezzar with such slippery words that their prophecies always seemed to come true no matter how the situation unfolded. When Daniel stood before the king, repeated the forgotten 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! To keep Daniel close, Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel above all the prophets in Babylon.


Keep this thought in mind. A false prophet is a person who claims to speak for God when God has not spoken to that person. Every time Israel drifted away from God, she became full of false prophets and this made God angry. Men were saying “God showed this to me,” or “God said this to me,” when in fact God had said nothing or shown nothing. False prophets make God angry because the predictions or false prophets do not come to pass. Therefore, it is only a matter of time until God’s Word is defamed and considered worthless when falsehoods are uttered in His name. God promises to destroy anyone who uses His name for the sake of credibility. (See Ezekiel 13.) Lucifer is given the title, “false prophet,” in Revelation 19:20 for this very reason. The devil will speak out of his own evil imagination while masquerading as God!


Therefore, in an effort to stay within the king’s favor (and earn their keep), Babylon’s prophets made up fables and riddles to please and flatter the king. However, Nebuchadnezzar was smart enough to know that a dream cannot be validated or studied by other people, and although a false prophet can say that he has received a vision, no one can prove otherwise if the message is not clearly stated. (See also 1 Kings 18:22 and 2 Kings 3.) Therefore, when Nebuchadnezzar demanded the wise men to reveal the vanished vision, he turned the tables on them. There was no room for deception. The king reasoned that if his wise men really had contact with the gods, if they received visions as he had, and if they had the ability to interpret visions from Marduk, then they should be able to describe and interpret the vision that Marduk had given the king.


Therefore, the king called his wise men to his throne and he confronted them as a request that left no wiggle room. When the wise men heard the demand of the king, they knew they were in serious 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 king 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 the wise men of Babylon were forced to admit their deceitful ways 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 decisive moment of truth came, the clergy of Babylon were disgraced and the king was justifiably furious with them.


Marduk Is Not a God


Before God exalted His holy name throughout the empire, He chose to demonstrate that Marduk was “not a god.” It is amazing how a forgotten dream turned the world of Babylon’s clergy upside down. Minutes before the vision took place, the prophets of Babylon were highly paid and widely respected as “wise men.” After meeting with the king for a few moments, the clergymen of Babylon were forced to confess their impotence and a death sentence was hung 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? (Few, if any of the 144,000 will be theologians; yet, they will embarrass the clergy of the world.)


Remember, the 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 mercy and justice, a God of fairness and truth, a God of compassion and majesty. Unfortunately, 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. Therefore, God implemented a plan to restore His good name and He chose to use the mouth of a heathen 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 could 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 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 a vision that had vanished from the king’s memory.


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 on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.” (Daniel’s 2: 46-48)


A few hours later, 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 captives from Jerusalem. How could these captives have a God greater than the god of the Babylonians? Second, Daniel told the king that the God of the Jews was sovereign over the kingdoms of the world, even Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was told that God sets up kings and He takes them down, according to His sovereign authority. Nebuchadnezzar may have been somewhat flattered to learn that the Most High God of Heaven who had given him a throne. However, the reality of Daniel’s words did not sink in. Nevertheless, God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to know that he had not gained the throne of Babylon by human prowess, but this lesson would not be learned until after the king spent seven years living with animals. (See Daniel 4:16; 5:21.)  The third truth that dawned on Nebuchadnezzar was the most chilling of all. Daniel told the king that his kingdom would be destroyed in days to come and another kingdom would rise to take its place. As the king churned over the vanished vision and the train of events that it produced, he must have concluded his vision was more of a nightmare than a revelation from God. 

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