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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Daniel 4:28–33           

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king said, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws. (NRSV)

Reflection
This passage begins with “All of this . . . ,” a phrase that references the lengthy preceding narrative about King Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of a great tree that a “holy watcher” who comes down out of heaven commands to be cut down. It’s not the king’s first go-round in the Wacky Dream Rodeo, and he knows who to call: Belteshazzar (Daniel), the seer from among the Jewish exiles to Babylon (and eventual lion whisperer).

Daniel interprets the dream for Nebuchadnezzar: You’re the tree. You’re going down.

Unfazed, the king is strolling on his rooftop some months later boasting aloud to no one in particular about the empire he rules. Just then a voice issues from the heavens to say, “Dude, your reign is already over,” and then “You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.”

Here’s the takeaway: God rules history, nations, and empires. It sure-as-Belteshazzar doesn’t seem like it most of the time, but that is the central claim that Daniel and other biblical apocalyptic writing makes. The word to the wealthy and powerful here is “Don’t be fooled by all that political capital and those glittering monuments to your ambition. They’re crumbling beneath you already while your successor is picking out paint colors.”

Seem bleak? Sure, if you identify with the king. But if you identify with the exiles the king has conquered?

Prayer
God of all history, cheer us with a word of your sovereignty over the course of human events, so that we may not despise any ruler to despair. Give us wisdom to use what power and influence we have not for our own legacy, but for the sake of righteousness and mercy to the oppressed. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry


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