From Sovereign to Saint

From Sovereign to Saint (Conclusion)

The story of Nebuchadnezzar

ALGER F. JOHNS, Professor of Old Testament History, Andrews University

ACCORDING to the historical records, when Nebuchadrezzar went to Jerusa­lem, he found there Jehoiakim's son and successor, Jehoiachin, on the throne. Jehoia­chin surrendered without much of a strug­gle, and submitted to the authority of Nebuchadrezzar. Perhaps he did this at the advice of Jeremiah, we do not know. Je­hoiachin reigned for only three months and ten days, and Nebuchadrezzar took from the land of Judah in punishment 10,000 captives of the best of the land.

The actual Babylonian chronicle record as found in the book by D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings, page 73, tells about this capture of Jerusalem. "In the seventh year, the month of Kislev, the king of Akkad [that was Nebuchadrez­zar], mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, [Palestine and neighboring countries], and encamped against (i.e. be­sieged) the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Adar he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice (lit, heart), re­ceived its heavy tribute and sent (them) to Babylon."

Loyalty or Intriguer

Nebuchadrezzar must have had some confidence still in the professed followers of God, for he put Zedekiah on the throne of Judah and he made Zedekiah swear alle­giance to him. Zedekiah was another wor­shiper, at least a professed worshiper, of Jehovah. His very name Zedekiah means "Jehovah is righteousness," or, "Yahweh is righteousness," and so Nebuchadrezzar had the opportunity to again test a leader of the professed of God. But we find that in Zed­ekiah's fourth year, 594 B.c., he fell into the temptation of rebellion. There were ambassadors from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, and all of them probably prompted by the new king of Egypt, Psam­matichus II (or Psamtik the Second), who had just ascended his throne. These ambas­sadors were intriguing for rebellion against the Babylonian Empire, against Nebuchad­rezzar. They were pro-Egyptian, and there was a pro-Egyptian party in Judah itself. Back in Babylon among the Jewish exiles there were some false prophets who tried to stir up the Jews, and Nebuchadrezzar did not deal with them in a gentle Christian spirit, for the Bible record says he burned them in the fire because of their agitation of treason (Jer. 29:22).

Fate of False Prophet

Back in Judah the prophet Jeremiah tried to stem this tendency to rebellion on the part of the pro-Egyptian party. The story is told in chapters 27 and 28 of Jere­miah. Jeremiah said the Lord had put a yoke upon the king of Judah and on the kings of Moab, Ammon, Sidon, and all the other surrounding countries, and he made wooden yokes as an object lesson. A false prophet, Hananiah, came, and he took one of these wooden yokes and broke it and said: "Thus saith the Lord, I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon from upon you." The message of Jeremiah from the Lord was to the effect that, "You have broken yokes of wood, I will see to it you will have yokes of iron. You will serve Babylon."

It was in the plan that God had for them, and the sudden death of this false prophet, Hananiah, as recorded in Jere­miah 28:17 apparently swung the balance in favor of Jeremiah and the pro-Baby­lonian group. Zedekiah the king, weak of will, who had flirted with the idea of re­belling against Babylon, turned it down, at least for the present, not from principle, perhaps, nor because he had sworn faith­fulness to the God of heaven, but maybe because he felt discretion was the better part of valor. He knew that Nebuchad­rezzar must have known what was going on, or something about it, and the Bible says that he hastened in person to Babylon to renew his allegiance (Jer. 51:59).

Nebuchadrezzar accepted this renewed oath of allegiance. I read in Prophets and Kings, page 447: "The unrest caused by the representations of the false prophets brought Zedekiah under suspicion of trea­son, and only by quick and decisive action on his part was he permitted to continue reigning as a vassal. Opportunity for such action was taken advantage of shortly after the return of the ambassadors from Jeru­salem to the surrounding nations, when the king of Judah accompanied Seraiah, 'a quiet prince,' on an important mission to Babylon. During this visit to the Chal­dean court, Zedekiah renewed his oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. Through Daniel and others of the Hebrew captives, the Babylonian monarch had been made acquainted with the power and supreme authority of the true God; and when Zede­kiah once more solemnly promised to re­main loyal, Nebuchadnezzar required him to swear to this promise in the name of the Lord God of Israel. Had Zedekiah re­spected this renewal of his covenant oath, his loyalty would have had a profound in­fluence on the minds of many who were watching the conduct of those who claimed to reverence the name and to cherish the honor of the God of the Hebrews."

Jerusalem Captured

Now Nebuchadrezzar had the promise of Zedekiah, and in the name of Jehovah whom he honored. Sad to say, the weak-kneed Zedekiah yielded to the nobles who were pro-Egyptian and rebelled in 588 B.C. Can we blame Nebuchadrezzar, with his heathen background, for anything he might have done at this time? Could we blame him if he had said: "This is the last straw; no more nonsense along this line. I believe there is nothing to the religion of the Hebrews or to their God. I will end their rebellious ways once and for all"?

So Nebuchadrezzar assembled his armies and marched to Jerusalem, for he was go­ing to put down this rebellion. There was a long and bitter siege and finally the city was captured and burned by fire. Zedekiah the false king, the false follower of God, was captured, his sons were killed in front of his eyes, and then his eyes were put out and he was taken in disgrace to Babylon.

We don't know for sure, but the events recorded in Daniel 3 could very well have taken place right after this. Both of the major Greek versions, the Septuagint and Theodotian, place these events in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar (that is the nineteenth year by the fall-to-fall reckoning), traditionally after the fall of Jerusalem. Whether or not they belong here they certainly seem to fit. The king was going to make an image of gold and all must bow down. In this way he would find out who was loyal and he would weed out the disloyal.

Nebuchadrezzar Not Truly Converted

There are many possible explanations as to why Daniel was absent when the events of Daniel 3 took place, but to me the logical explanation is that at that time he was not a Babylonian official and so was not required to come there and swear allegiance to the golden image. At any rate, God once again performed a miracle and touched the heart of Nebuchadrezzar, for he accepted the miraculous evidence. We read in Daniel 3:28, "Then Nebuchad­nezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his serv­ants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God." And I want you to notice the next verse. He acknowl­edged God, but he wasn't really what we would call a converted man because this is what he said, "Therefore I make a de­cree, That every people, nation, and Ianguage, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed­nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort" (verse 29). He was still an absolute despot at heart, even if at this time he was for Jehovah, the true God.

But apparently there was still another rebellion and another deportation of the Jews from Jerusalem a few years later (Jer. 52:30). And it seems only logical to believe that there was another relapse into idolatry by Nebuchadrezzar. At any rate, in a list of officials found in the Babylonian records dated to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadrezzar's reign (570 B.c.), there is no Daniel on the list, not by that name nor by the name Belteshazzar. And there is no hint of any other Hebrew being on the list. This date was either just before or during the seven years of Nebuchadrez­zar's madness.

God's Last Appeal

Now we come to the events of Daniel, chapter 4. This was God's last appeal to the heart of the monarch. Nebuchadrez­zar would probably be about 50 or 55 years old at this time, and we know he had done great things. He had conquered all that opposed him. His kingdom was not world­wide in the Mediterranean area, but cer­tainly it was world dominant. Multiplied thousands of inscribed bricks dug up by archeologists attest to the fact that he was the one who built Babylon. And so in his pride of heart, as he looked over the beau­tiful city set in a land well irrigated by ca­nals from the Euphrates River, a fruitful spot, a golden city, pride welled up and he said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" (Dan. 4:30). The Lord knew that was what he would say and so had given him a dream and told him what would happen. God gave Nebuchadrezzar one last message. You might say God took away his senses in order to bring him to his senses. So we have the Bible record of the seven long years of madness.

Babylon must have been ruled by a re­gent or by regents, we do not know. Obvi­ously in this heathen court there would be no hint of the king's madness given in the official records. At the end of the seven years, when his senses returned to him, we find that this proud monarch was a hum­ble, converted man. He was now finally truly converted, and the words of Daniel 4:34-37 represent the confession made by this king.

The sovereign was now a saint and this is the last picture we have of Nebuchad­rezzar in the Scriptures. He apparently was a child of God until the end of his reign, and those who are Christians can confidently expect to see him in the king­dom of heaven. 0 how wonderful was the love of God manifested to bring this heathen monarch to a knowledge of the true God, to make him a child of God! And how marvelous it was that this man in the highest place that earth could offer finally, after some thirty or forty years of work, yielded to the Spirit of God and ac­cepted the salvation that God offered to him.

God Seeks Witnesses

But think of those whom God sought to use as witnesses. Some were good and some bad. What kind of witnesses are we? When the people of the world see us what do they think of Seventh-day Adventists? What do they think of the worshipers of the true God? Are we Daniels? or are we Jehoia­kims and Zedekiahs? Oh, I suppose we all probably would admit that we are not so good as Daniel; and, on the other hand, I doubt that any of us feel that we are quite so bad as these wicked kings. But what is our influence?

What Kind of Citizens Are We?

The world does not look at our spiritual experience first; they look to see what kind of citizens we are. Are we who are Advent­ists good citizens who obey the laws, and that includes the speed laws, or do we set bad examples? When we see the police of­ficers are not around do we cut through the stop signs? Do we drive around the wrong side of the street just to save a few paltry yards to get up into our driveway? Yes, the world watches some of these out­ward things.

Only when people know us better do they then look into our hearts. Do we have love for our fellow man? What kind of wit­ness do we give of our God to the people around us? 0 I pray that we may have a good witness. Think of God's love to bring Nebuchadrezzar to a knowledge of salva­tion. Sometimes we neglect those who are in high places. We neglect the rich, we neglect the powerful, yet God loves all, high and low, rich and poor, great and humble.

The final lesson we should get from this story is that our loving Father in heaven, and our loving Saviour, would do as much for you and for me as they did for Nebu­chadrezzar if it were necessary to bring about our salvation. So while we may not be sovereigns, yet we too can accept the love of God and we too can become one of the saints who will receive, not a kingdom on earth, but an eternal kingdom that will never end.

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ALGER F. JOHNS, Professor of Old Testament History, Andrews University

August 1967

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