SHADRACH Meshach and Abed-nego (whose Jewish names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) had just been thrown into the special, great furnace in Babylon because of their refusal to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. (Daniel 3:1-20.)
God Rules Furnaces, Too!
The king was disappointed in the satisfaction he imagined he would receive by seeing the three Jews consumed by the flames. To start, they had spoiled his sadistic fun by failing to scream for mercy. On top of that, he had lost some of his best soldiers, famous in his kingdom for their physical strength, when they burned to death upon hurling the Jews into the furnace. "If only I could see their ashy, scorched skeletons lying in there in the embers," Nebuchadnezzar thought. By now the horrible heat of the giant furnace was diminishing, as no further fuel had been added. Morbidly curious to learn if anything could be seen through the wide furnace door, the king inched forward as close as the heat would allow him, and stared inside. It was almost impossible, through the eyeball-drying, torrid gusts, to make out the heat-distorted embers glowing in a blinding fusion, but for some reason the king stood resolutely against the heat, his attention riveted by something unusual. "Weren't there only three men thrown into the furnace?" Nebuchadnezzar asked, blinking in bewilderment and pain. "That's right," aides answered. "But I can make out four people in there!" the king exclaimed excitedly. "And they're walking around!" "The heat distorts things and makes them unrecognizable," the aides answered concernedly. "You should leave this place now, sire, and return to the comforts of your palace!" "Don't try to cause me to lose sight of what I'm seeing!" Nebuchadnezzar snapped angrily, carefully backing up a few steps. "I tell you I see four men walking around in there as easily and calmly as I would walk around in my palace! And the appearance of the fourth one is similar to a Son of God! Look in there for yourselves!" (Daniel 3:21-25.) The king's nearest aides, along with many bystanders, carefully peered at where Nebuchadnezzar's excited finger was pointing. "I see them! I see them!" several people started loudly exclaiming at once. As more and more bystanders witnessed the miraculous scene of men walking about in a sea of withering flame, gasps of disbelief and even cheers filled the air. The most moved and enthusiastic witness was the king himself. "Come out, come out, you servants of the Most High!" Nebuchadnezzar yelled, wildly waving his arms. There were more gasps of surprise and wonder as the three men obediently strode out of the furnace door and walked up to Nebuchadnezzar. The king stared in wonderment, noting that the hair and clothing of the victims hadn't been touched by the flames. Nor was there even the smell of smoke on them. High-ranking Babylonians crowded around to gaze in disbelief, but none were more amazed and impressed than Nebuchadnezzar.
Praise for God — But No Repentance!
"The God of these men has shown His great power!" the king of Babylon loudly announced to all who stood about. "The God of the Jews is so powerful that He has swept aside my decree that all people should worship my golden image! Therefore I now decree that all people over whom I have dominion must show respect to the God of these men above any other god! Any who refuse to worship Him or speak against Him shall be hacked into small pieces and their homes shall be turned into dumps for barnyard refuse!" But Nebuchadnezzar was still far from repentant. With this the three Jews were swiftly escorted to comfortable quarters, but only after Nebuchadnezzar had satisfied his curiosity about the fourth person he had seen in the furnace. "But what happened to the fourth person who was with you?" Nebuchadnezzar asked. "Where did he go?" "He returned to the throne of our God," was their general reply. Following their trial of faith in the furnace, God blessed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego for their obedience, and they were promoted to even higher positions of importance under Daniel in Nebuchadnezzar's powerful and growing kingdom. The incident greatly altered the king's attitude for the better, but he had still much to learn about how great God really is. (Daniel 3:26-30.) He also had much to learn about how insignificant he really was compared to God, even though he was the head of the most powerful nation on earth. Nebuchadnezzar had such a consuming awareness of his power and possessions that his mind was obsessed with it. Long before that, Daniel had reminded him that these things had come only through God's hand, and that God could take them back at any time. The king of Babylon could only conclude that he must be a very special person in God's sight to be given such special things. "If I'm a person distinctive enough for all I've accomplished and accumulated, then I'm too distinctive to be deprived of it," Nebuchadnezzar mused. Little was he aware of what was soon to happen to him because of his egotistic overconfidence in himself. One night he dreamed an unusual dream that troubled him so much that he decided to call before him those who were supposed to have special knowledge in such matters, so that he could determine the meaning of the dream from them. Thus, on a certain day, the king's throne room was jammed with magicians, astrologers, and prognosticators, all anxious to please Nebuchadnezzar and receive his rich reward.
"Listen carefully while I relate to you my strange dream," the king addressed them. "Afterward I don't want to be bothered by anyone who is merely guessing at the meaning of the dream. I want a sensible explanation, and I shall deal harshly with anyone who dares take up my time with ridiculous remarks and shallow philosophizing. "I dreamed that I was standing in a wide expanse of open country, where there was a great tree. The tree grew swiftly until its side branches filled the sky and its top branches went up past the clouds. Mammoth leaves cast a vast shade area across the earth, and all kinds of beasts sought shelter there. Gigantic flocks of birds came to live in the farreaching branches. Beasts and birds alike fed well on the tree's huge fruits growing in unbelievable abundance. "Then down from the sky swooped a being whose voice filled all of space as he shouted out that the tree should be cut down, and that its branches should be removed, the leaves shaken off, the fruit scattered and that the beasts and birds should flee for their lives. "The stump of the tree was to be left and encircled by a protecting band of iron and brass, but exposed to the elements for a period called 'seven times.' Any who can interpret this dream should step forth and speak up!" There was a restless shuffle in the crowd, but not a man stepped forth. Probably some of the would-be interpreters remembered a previous time when Nebuchadnezzar angrily threatened to behead all who were unable to explain one of his dreams. In any event, not one of the many magicians, astrologers, and prognosticators came forth with anything to say, whereupon the king dismissed them. For a while Nebuchadnezzar sat glumly silent, disappointed that none of his so-called "wise" men could help him. Suddenly a hopeful thought came to him. "Why didn't I save time and effort and simply send for the man who interpreted my dream years ago?" he asked himself, gesturing for a servant. "Send word to Belteshazzar the Jew to come to me as soon as possible!" "Belteshazzar" was the pagan name the king had given to Daniel, who soon arrived before Nebuchadnezzar. The king recounted to him all he had told his former audience. "Not one of those learned men was able to tell me what my dream meant," the king observed discontentedly, "but I know you won't fail me because you are constantly in touch with the gods." "I have only one God," Daniel smilingly reminded the king. "Then ask your one God to show you the meaning of my dream," Nebuchadnezzar insisted.
Daniel Interprets the Dream
Daniel was troubled. The meaning of the dream was plain to him as soon as he heard it, but he was hesitant to startle the king by coming out bluntly with unpleasant facts. As the minutes dragged by and Daniel was still preoccupied with his thoughts, the king realized that there was something Daniel wished he did not have to tell him. "If there's something you think I wouldn't want to hear, don't let it prevent your speaking out," Nebuchadnezzar said, at the same time desperately wondering what bad news he was about to hear. "I'm afraid that only your enemies would be pleased to hear what I have to say," Daniel answered. "But I'm sure that I want to know what it is even more than they do," the king retorted. "Here is the meaning of your dream," Daniel began, knowing there was no point in trying to spare the king's feelings any longer. "The colossal tree you saw in your sleep is you. You have grown in such power in the world that many rely on you for protection and sustenance, just as did the animals in your dream that fed off the tree's fruits. "The one you saw in your dream who came out of the sky and decreed that the tree should be cut down was a messenger from God. God has decided that you need to be taught humility and to be shown how insignificant your pomp and majesty are when compared to the God who made the heavens and earth." Nebuchadnezzar was on his feet now, staring blankly out a window at his beautiful Hanging Gardens of Babylon. "Just how does your God plan to teach me this humility you speak of?" the king asked in a sarcastic tone. "Your dream was meant to tell you that," Daniel promptly answered. "The cutting down of the tree means you will lose your position as king of Babylon." "You mean my enemies are going to take over my nation?" queried Nebuchadnezzar. "Not at all," Daniel explained. "For seven years you will have no power over Babylon or any other nation, but God will protect your kingdom for you. Before this happens it would be wise to depart from sinful pursuits, including the worship of idols. God would also be pleased if you distributed a part of your great wealth to the poor among your people who are in such need of food and shelter. If you do that, God would surely postpone the miserable events that otherwise will soon come upon you." (Daniel 4:21-27.) Nebuchadnezzar was naturally quite miffed with these statements from Daniel. Even though he had just declared Daniel's God to be considered the most powerful of deities, he didn't like to be told how he should worship. As for contributing to the poor, he reasoned that he would have no wealth left if he gave to all who were in need. Nebuchadnezzar ended the audience abruptly. This relieved Daniel, who was spared informing the king HOW he would lose control of Babylon. The fact was that Nebuchadnezzar was going to go insane! As the months passed and the political and financial affairs of Babylon remained in a promising state, the king began to doubt that Daniel's interpretation of the dream was true. There was no indication of trouble ahead. On the contrary, matters appeared better than ever, what with the wars of expansion apparently in the past.
The Haughty One Humbled
A year after his dream, Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his palace, particularly pleased at the sight of the lavish surroundings. "Feast your eyes on all that!" he exclaimed proudly to guests as he gestured widely toward costly walls and buildings of the city. "There's no place in the universe like Babylon, the city I have built through my great power for the honor and glory of my majesty!" Just as the king finished uttering this extremely vain remark, he was startled by a thunderous voice from the sky! "Nebuchadnezzar, you are to lose your kingdom," the voice boomed. "Within an hour you will be an outcast from this city of your haughty pride! Instead of living with men, you will be forced out into the fields and forests to live with animals! For the next seven years you will even act and look like a wild beast! It will take you that long to fully realize that God decides every man's state, and gives to and takes from whomever He chooses!" The king suddenly crouched crazily at the base of a fountain and gazed wild-eyed with his mouth wide open. He looked as though he wanted to say something, but only loud gasps and grunts came past his distorted lips. His shocked guests and aides backed away from him, obviously more perturbed by his conduct than by the thunderous voice, which possibly was heard only by Nebuchadnezzar. The king fell to his hands and knees and ran awkwardly along the street. Women screamed and men seized them and pulled them away from the struggling figure. A crowd began to gather, but everyone kept a safe distance from the prone figure. The king's aides were afraid to seize the stricken man. "Mad man! Mad man!" was the shout that spread around the streets, and that drew only more of a crowd. Even the members of Nebuchadnezzar's family, when they heard of his condition, made no moves to have him taken away privately. God willed it that way. (Daniel 4:28-33.) Very likely Daniel, who had long been next to the king in authority, kept the government running smoothly while Nebuchadnezzar was insane. Daniel and his three friends could be expected to return Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom to him in good condition when he recovered.
"— With the Beasts of the Field"
Meanwhile, little was seen of the former king. Occasionally he would be glimpsed in some distant wooded area digging for something to eat, but if he knew he was being watched, he would scurry away like a startled animal. As the years passed and Nebuchadnezzar was seen less, Daniel had a growing desire to learn how the former king was making out. Daniel had no intention of helping him in any way, because he realized God was dealing with the insane ruler, and would keep him alive through the seven rugged years. By following the clues of farmers and hunters, Daniel found where Nebuchadnezzar was living at the time. It turned out to be a small cave. There Daniel almost came face to face with Nebuchadnezzar, whose hair and beard were long and matted. Even his fingernails and toenails were thick and long like those of an animal, which indeed he had become after years of living like one. It was difficult to believe that such a creature had once been the most powerful ruler in the world, but it was more difficult to believe that he would soon return to that same position. If Nebuchadnezzar saw Daniel watching him, he gave no sign of it. He simply ambled down to a small stream, where he took a long drink. After that he munched on grass and dug vigorously in the ground, with his long nails, in search of roots. Shocked at the sight, Daniel returned to his home, thankful that he could know that God would restore Nebuchadnezzar to be a wiser man than he had been almost seven years before.