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Nebuchadnezzar's bad dream

Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient king of Babylon, need not have feared a recurrence of his bad dreams if he had only accepted the inevitability of the Kingdom of God on earth.

If Nebuchadnezzar had only learned the lesson of his first bad dream -- of the terrible image that was finally destroyed by the stone cut from the mountain, but not by human hands (Dan 2) -- he would have had no reason to worry. But the more he thought about the God of heaven setting up a kingdom that would never be destroyed and grinding all human kingdoms to powder, the more he thought about the integrity and stability of his own kingdom. Perhaps he also pondered the make-up of the terrible image, a head of gold and feet of part iron and clay.

If his kingdom was to last, it must have cohesion. It must be united, purged of all opposing ideas and forces -- it must be of pure gold, not fragmented bits of different metals, as the image in his vision. Then it would be indestructible. This was the lesson which Nebuchadnezzar wrongly learned from his dream.

So, in keeping with the character of all tyrants, he reacted in rebellion to the God of heaven instead of submission. As if to challenge the intent of the Divine message, he now built his own image [notice the connection with Rev 13:14,15], an image of pure gold. The dimensions of the image are given in the Babylonian numbering system of six: six cubits wide and 60 cubits high. (Or, quite literally, a multiple of six's high. It could almost be said that the number of the Babylonian image was "666"! [Rev 13:18]) In any case, it was an image associated with the number six.

This image was to be the focus of the empire. A great Babylonian music festival was instituted with new music composed for an array of instruments, at the sound of which all peoples were to bow down before the image. There were, incidentally, six instruments in all. And bowing down to the image was not an option.
"Then the herald loudly proclaimed, 'This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace' " (Dan 3:4-6).
All seemed well until it was discovered that certain people in the empire refused to bow down. Some of the king's counselors came forward with this important statement...
"But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon -- Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego -- who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up" (v 12).
Thank God for the Jews! The Eternal Jew, he is God's witness [Isa 43:10; 44:8; Rev 11:3?] that He is God! This is the reality that has stood in the way of all world rulers: "there are some Jews!" They were and are the one nation that will remain separate from all the others. All human plans will, sooner or later, be interrupted by God or His eternal purpose through His people.

The reaction of Nebuchadnezzar to their refusal was predictable. He was filled with rage and heated the great furnace [was this the same furnace used in the forging of the great image?] seven times hotter than before. There had been extreme reactions before against God's people when they stood apart, from Pharaoh king of Egypt, and there would be again with a whole host of oppressors of God's people, including Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein.

The reply of the three Jews is a classic study in faith:
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Dan 3:16-18).
These three courageous men had a song in their hearts. It was a hymn that had been written down years before by the prophet Isaiah:
"...Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze... All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they are right, so that others may hear and say, 'It is true.' 'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen...You are my witnesses... that I am God' " (Isa 43).
Indeed, they did not need to defend their position before some pagan king who was only ruling because the God of Israel allowed it, or to plead their cause before some gold image. They served the Living God who could rescue and deliver. They were His witnesses. Someone had to stand for truth and this was their moment.

They were prepared to stand whatever the outcome. "Even if he does not..." indicates their acceptance of the sovereign will of God in this matter. It is not for us to decide just how God will respond; He has His own reasons. It is for us to accept the outcome, whatever it be, to His glory.

"We will not serve or worship..." was their calm and confident reply. They would stand on the commandment that said, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exo 20:3). They served a living God who had the power to save, who rules in the kingdoms of men giving them to whomsoever He wills. Why then bow down to an image made by man's hands?

Well, by this time Nebuchadnezzar was backed into a corner. Furious, he commanded that the three Jews be thrown into the furnace. The flames were so hot, the soldiers who threw them in perished from the heat. Then the king was in for the shock of his life.
"These three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, 'Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?' They replied, 'Certainly, O king.' He said, 'Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods' " (Dan 3:23-25).
The king commanded the Jews to come forth from the fire as he and his advisors crowded around inspecting them.
"They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched... there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, 'Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God' " (vv 27,28).
As always, there are some important lessons to be learned from these accounts.

The statement made to the ancient king of Babylon, "there are some Jews...", is as arresting and insightful today as it was then. We have a few million Jews surrounded by at least one hundred million hostile Arabs or Moslems today. There is the miraculous return of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the north and south in literal fulfillment of prophecies made over 2,500 years ago. The "Jewish Problem" is not going to go away. They continue to be the living witness to an eternal divine plan.

How far are we away from the time when some power in the Middle East [perhaps another "Nebuchadnezzar" of "Babylon"?] will seize control and institute some international focus as the means of consolidating his rule? Religion could well be the focus, or some personality cult. There could well be a new "image" to bow down to; a worldwide boycott for those who are different [Revelation 13:16,17?]; and a new "furnace" awaiting those who refuse.

And some will refuse. The Bible continues to assure us, even in 1991, that those who refuse to bow down have nothing to fear. We can still serve this same Living God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He has the same power to save and rescue. His plan is alive, His invitation is current. If forces close around our personal liberties to serve Him, He has promised to be near each one of us through the presence of His Son, Jesus Christ -- who is available to be "our man in the furnace" today!

Our individual challenge is to take a stand with all of God's people, including the Jews. We must be prepared to give up our life if it is God's will, knowing that He is able to save us eternally through the promised resurrection from the dead, and to make us part of His eternal kingdom that will soon be established on the ruins of the kingdoms of men.

Clyde Snobelen

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