As we discuss Daniel Four today, it will be helpful to provide some historical, cultural, and literary context to what we have in Daniel Four. Now, to get you up to speed again, you might remember that the Jews were taken into Babylonian captivity because of generations of failed covenantal loyalty, so God sends them off into Babylon. So the Babylonians were not particularly loved by people in the Middle East. And eventually the Persians. Around 525 BC, 520 BC.
Conquered the Babylonians, and the Persians then became the world’s largest empire. At that time, many Jews continued to remain in the area of Mesopotamia. Some Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. We have stories of Nehemiah and Ezra, for example. But many Jews continued to stay in the lands of Mesopotamia and even in other lands of Persia, because by this point they have been there for two or three or four generations.
And what we have are these stories of very powerful and faithful Jewish people who are faithful to God but end up being enormous blessings to the political leaders who are running the empire, the Persian Empire. And Daniel is one of these key characters. And the book of Daniel are all these episodes of how he has been faithful and delivered goodness and virtue and helped his people and the Persians to have better lives. Now, Daniel Four is an interesting one because it’s very focused on King Nebuchadnezar. In other ancient literature, it’s actually King Nabonitus.
Now, whether it’s Nebuchadnezer or Nabinitis, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s actually the purpose for why Daniel Four was preserved. It’s actually meant to teach us several things. One, that God is in charge. Even though there are powerful political leaders, it’s ultimately God who is fully in charge of the world.
Second, it’s also to show people who are living as religious minorities that they can flourish in a society where they are not the majority. Third, it teaches us that even secular rulers can acknowledge that God is ultimately king. And that really is kind of the thrust of Daniel Four, is to basically tell the story of how Nebuchadneser or Nabonitus, depending on the version you’re reading, came to acknowledge and recognize that ultimately he himself, the king, the human king, is nothing without God. And this is a way of reinforcing people’s, testimonies that they should be not trusting the arm of flesh, but they should be trusting in God himself. And again, the purpose here is to show that the great King of Heaven, that any earthly king is under the jurisdiction of the great King of Heaven.
And one symbol you might look for here is the great tree of Life, the world tree that reaches into the heavens and down into the underworld. And this symbolizes the strength and power of rulership, and that God himself really is the tree. And so this idea of a world tree or Tree of Life shows up in lots of world religions, lots of world literature, and shows up here in the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon. So what do we take away from this today? That ultimately, any human power or privilege is ultimately derived from God.
And we should not take anything too seriously here down below without first acknowledging that all good comes from God, that our first loyalty should be to God, who is the King of Heaven.