Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth. Daniel 4:19-23 (NIV).
This wasn’t idle flattery. This was Daniel revealing to Nebuchadnezzar what God had told him (Daniel) about the dream. It may have sounded flattering (because it was), but in reality it probably shook Nebuchadnezzar even more.
Have you considered how truly awesome some ancient civilizations actually were? There are magnificent cities and nations that exist today and are fantastic beyond any previous society’s wildest expectations. Our technology is astounding, and human liberty is the most wonderful of all our qualities. ALL of it is due to God and God alone; any honest admiration of anything in humanity must always, first recognize that we’re nothing without the active blessing of God. Without Him, we’re manure.
Our culture has the advantage of becoming what we have because we live in a time where God has revealed Himself through Christ in ways He never did to previous civilizations. Now, consider Egypt, Akkadia and Sumeria, Phoenicia, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Inca, Toltec, and Aztec empires, ancient China, ancient India, and Cahokia in America. Especially consider Babylon, which first surpassed all in grandeur, architecture, military power, economic prowess, and cultural influence. It’s no coincidence that one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was in Babylon, or that this wonder – the Hanging Gardens – was built by Nebuchadnezzar.
He built Babylon the Great in the desert, along the banks of the Euphrates River, over the thousand-year-old ruins of the earlier Babylon of Hammurabi. In only a few years, Nebuchadnezzar transformed this (now) Iraqi by-water into the largest city in the world, replete with science, beauty, commerce, and the arts. He did it without electricity, or steel, or modern building techniques. If I could go back in time to visit just one place of antiquity, I might very well choose the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar.
But neither Nebuchadnezzar nor any of those empires knew Jesus. They were majestic but damned.
When Daniel flattered Nebuchadnezzar with these honest words, they told the mighty king that he was nothing. And it terrified him.
For further reading: 2 Samuel 12:7, Jeremiah 27:7, Ezekiel 31:3-6, Daniel 4:24
Lord Jesus, thank You for the blessings of cities of old, of learning our history and the lessons You teach from it.
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