[T]his is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, 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. – Daniel 4:24-25
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Time and Chance
It has been a challenging week so far. I finally got some sleep last night, and we have been getting some rain, which makes things better.
Daniel was a trusted adviser to King Nebuchadnezzar at this point, and he was the man the king called when something disturbed him. Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a beautiful tree which was cut down. A true prophet, Daniel, who had affection and respect for the king, though troubled himself when he received the interpretation, nevertheless delivered the verdict. Due to his achievements, his victories, and the magnificence of his kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar had been filled with pride. He was impressed with himself, forgetting that he had been raised up by the one true God, whom Daniel worshipped and served.
In our day of popular democracies and (allegedly) constitutional republics, of democrats and demagogues, it may be hard to relate to the ancient concepts of warlords and autocratic kings. There is a time and a place for everything. When communication is primitive and travel is difficult if possible at all, the idea of some kind of representative central government was perhaps less of a concern to people trying to scratch out a few years of subsistence before succumbing to famine, the latest plague, accident, or attack.
It might have made more sense to people five or six hundred years ago that God would raise up, favor, and empower a gifted person to bring a period of peace and prosperity out of chaos and constant struggle. I even wonder if God did not have an easier time of it back in those days. It seems to me that it would be a lot harder to bring a few million people in line to vote for the “right” candidate than to find one seven-foot head-banger to bring it all together. It would be for me. I am confident, though, that God can work things out regardless of the political structure of any given era.
As He did in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, God has a way to bring us in line with His purpose and His will. This great king lost his mind. One day, a year after the delivery of Daniel’s prophetic warning, he was walking amid the wonders and marvels of his wealth and power, thought, “Ain’t I somethin’”. The next moment he became as a beast of the field: 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 (Daniel 4:33).
Madness engulfed Nebuchadnezzar. It’s hard not to think of Howard Hughes with his great wealth, living in crazed and fearful isolation. We wonder sometimes why powerful, wealthy people find so many ways to humiliate themselves, why they seem to descend into such utter foolishness and self-destruction. It’s not all their doing. They refuse to acknowledge God and endeavor to exalt themselves to the throne that is His alone. At some point, the Lord simply lets them have their way, allows their will to be done, and steps back. The consequences are varied but inevitable.
Were it not for the presence of the Remnant, there would not be a human left on the face of the earth by now. The rest would have destroyed themselves, wiping one another out until the last fell and became naught but bones for the coyotes to gnaw triumphantly. But that is not God’s plan. He will adjust and rebalance the equations. In this sense, I think miracles happen all the time – if by miracles we mean interventions normally attributed to chance -- chance being a comfortable, reassuring, though meaningless term to fence off the inexplicable Cause.
In another place, in his initial encounter with the King of Babylon, Daniel had been given both the forgotten dream and the interpretation. In response, he praised God, saying: He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding (Daniel 2:21). God is present in all things, working through and with natural agencies and causes in a vast multi-dimensional game of unlikely blocks, startling captures, strategic retreats and unexpected advances. Sometimes I think research in subatomic particles is akin to taking apart a radio looking for the voices. In the end, as Chesterton would say, they will find a Man.