Lord willing, I’m covering the pulpit this weekend. Don’t do it very often so, when I do, it can become a source of anxiety (don’t know if that’s the right word, exactly) as the immensity of preaching God’s word is not something I normally carry into a week. The other thing I carry into this week is the text I’ll be preaching. Acting as a lens through which my morning readings can’t help but be seen, by default the week’s text becomes at least a “side dish” to whatever I’m chewing on.
We’re working through Exodus at LTCC and next Sunday we’re scheduled to cover the first thirteen verses of Exodus 7. And so, part of what I carry into this week is a “Pharaoh filter.” As in God saying, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” (Did I mention the anxiety part earlier?)
So I’m thinking that’s why another hostile king has so grabbed my attention this morning. But in his case, instead of hardening his already cruel and callous heart, God goes to great lengths towards leading him to become a worshiper of the God of heaven. And honestly, this morning I’m a bit in awe of the effort for one man.
First, God determines to reveal to Nebuchadnezzar “what will be in the latter days” (Daniel 2:28) through a dream in the night and dream interpreter in his courts. To which the volatile and unpredictable king starts to gain clarity that Daniel’s God is truly “God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries” (2:47).
But that insight doesn’t prevent the pagan king from building an incredible image of gold for all to bow to, intending that they look past the shoulder of this golden god and worship the golden king who built it and commanded homage be paid to it. But three faithful men refuse to bow. Aren’t too impressed with the idea of of worshiping some creation rather than the Creator. Into the fire they go. Out of the fire they walk. And the somewhat fickle king again blesses the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego confessing “there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (3:29).
But the king’s not done yet. And neither is God. Despite being warned in another Daniel interpreted dream of the danger of puffing out one’s chest before the God who “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He will” (4:25), as the king’s accomplishments grow so does his ego. And one night, while walking on the roof of the magnificent palace he had built, he looks around and says, “Look at me! I have built great Babylon by my mighty power for the glory of my majesty!” (4:28-30).
If, at that moment, the king had looked back over his shoulder, he would have seen the line. And he had just crossed it. God shares His glory with no one! (Isa. 42:8)
And while God swiftly and strongly brings the king to his knees, He also graciously and wholly brings the king to his senses. This king of earth sees the light that the Most High is the King of heaven. And “all His works are right and His ways are just; and those who walk in pride He is able to humble” (4:37).
And I think, that’s a lot of effort for one man. One man not a lot different than the guy who’s stuck in my “Pharaoh filter”. Cruel to God’s people. Opposed to God’s authority. Slow to pick up on God’s power.
But while God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (will be working that explanation through this week), He chooses instead, through great patience and persistence, to turn Nebuchadnezzar’s heart toward Himself. A lot of effort for one man.
But two things occur to me. First, the effort pales in comparison to the effort to redeem this guy in this seat this morning. The cross a reminder of the price, patience, and persistence of a God who so loved a hostile world that He sent His Son to rescue it through the shedding of His blood and the power of an empty tomb.
Second, it’s clear from this text that the effort was less about one man being brought to his senses, and all about a great God being known. While sin was punished, though the idol of ego was crushed, the greater result was that the glory of God had been seen and declared.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever, for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”
(Daniel 4:34-35 ESV)
A lot of effort for one man? I’m thinkin’.
Too much effort for the glory of God? Apparently not.
Such is His abundant, overflowing grace toward men and women.
To Him be glory now and forever more.