Nebuchadnezzar is a significant political figure not only because of the role he played in the antithesis between God and Satan at the time of Daniel in Babylon, but also because through the ages other tyrants had similar visions of establishing a lasting world empire. Recent examples of such tyrants are Louis XIV, Napoleon, Hitler, the Japanese emperor – who was also considered a god – and such murderous Marxists as Stalin and Mao Zedong. As with Nebuchadnezzar, there was no place for God’s will in their visions of what they wanted to set up. Consequently, like Nebuchadnezzar, their plans were doomed from the outset. And that is a great comfort to God’s church at a time when the media continually implies that our future is in the hands of political leaders. God, who has revealed Himself to us in His Word, the perfect Truth, has all history in His hands.
This is something political leaders, the media and we all, could of course have learnt from what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. For Nebuchadnezzar was a political visionary who, like many powerful tyrants, dreamed of creating a world empire which would last not only for the duration of his life – something he is permitted to achieve – but which would last through the ages. Yet even while he contemplates how to achieve this, God shows him a dream outlining His vision of the future. And as we know, God’s purpose never fails. What He reveals in that dream (Daniel 2), and Nebuchadnezzar’s response to that dream (Daniel 3), is very instructive.
In that dream Nebuchadnezzar sees an image in which the head is of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the loins of bronze, the legs of iron and the feet of iron mixed with clay. And he sees that whole image demolished by a rolling stone which continues to grow. When all his wise men cannot tell him the dream or its meaning, he learns through Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon is that head of gold and that it will be followed by less impressive world empires (the chest of silver followed by the loins of bronze, and so on), all of whom must disappear for the sake of that rolling stone (Christ’s Kingdom). Thus God shows Nebuchadnezzar, that power hungry tool in Satan’s hand, that not he but God determines the course of history.
Although Nebuchadnezzar rewards Daniel we read immediately after this, in Daniel 3, that Nebuchadnezzar sets up a huge image completely of gold. And the question that now arises is: Is there any relationship between that image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2 and the huge golden image in chapter 3? We read that the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represented different world empires, but what does this huge image standing in the plain of Dura represent? Why did Nebuchadnezzar put it there?
It appears that this image represents a Babylonian god, but one that symbolises Nebuchadnezzar’s might. This god, this idol, represents Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. Rev DK Wielenga points out that Nebuchadnezzar sought to establish a permanent welfare state. He promises the peoples and nations peace, happiness and salvation through the almighty state. And he wants that state to continue, eternally. Therefore this image is entirely of gold. Not just the head must be of gold, for that would imply a temporal golden era which will soon pass away and be replaced by another. No, Nebuchadnezzar’s golden era is to be permanent. Thus this image is Nebuchadnezzar’s answer to God’s revelation through Daniel. God had revealed that Nebuchadnezzar’s empire would be replaced by a less glorious empire but he, Nebuchadnezzar, would ensure that his glorious empire would last throughout the ages.
The worship of this image is as much a political as a religious act. How do we know? Because the image was not placed in the city, or the temple, where the gods are worshiped. Instead, it is placed well outside the city in the plain of Dura. Moreover, it is not the priests who are invited but politicians, governors, treasurers, military chiefs, magistrates – people who belong not to spiritual but to civil government.
Prof B Holwerda points out that this explains why Daniel was not there. He was not a political leader but one of the wise men, personal adviser to the king. After all, hadn’t he shown, through his interpretation of the dream, that he was in contact with God? His three friends, however, were political leaders.
So, no priests, no wise men, but rulers are called. It is a state, a political gathering. If the image were just another idol, the people would not hesitate to bow to it, but now they are forced to bow with the threat of death in a huge fiery oven hanging over them.
So, why this image? And why this threat? Because Nebuchadnezzar is worried. He is worried about the future of his kingdom. That is why he had that dream. Chapter 2 indicates that he was tossing and turning on his bed, thinking about the future of his kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar lives for his kingdom, for power. He lives for that great vision of all times: one state, one people, one religion subject to him, the One and Eternal Sun-God. He can’t stand the thought that the realisation of this vision will slip through his fingers. And the dream interpreted by Daniel has not dispelled these fears. In fact, Nebuchadnezzar has become more fearful as a result. For hadn’t he been told that his kingdom would be taken over by another? How can he prevent this? He must rebel against God’s plan. He must torpedo it. Did God say that only the head was of gold, he would make the entire image of gold. His kingdom was not about to end but he, Nebuchadnezzar, would ensure that it would endure.
And behind Nebuchadnezzar stands Satan. Satan must prevent that stone, Christ’s kingdom, from demolishing worldly kingdoms which serve Satan. Nebuchadnezzar is a willing tool in Satan’s hand. Is there treason somewhere? Will all those eminent people of all tongues and nations subdued by Nebuchadnezzar commit themselves to him? Will they worship his kingdom, his ideal? They’d better, hence the fiery oven. The whole world must swear allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, must worship him and his ideals and thereby publicly reject the prophecy of Daniel. Did God say that the future lay with the rolling stone, with the kingdom of Christ, he, Nebuchadnezzar, would show that his kingdom is eternal.
Hence, the struggle here is the struggle of the antithesis. In essence it is as much religious as it is political because it deals with the question: whose word and whose plan will prevail – God’s or Nebuchadnezzar’s. Who will be served, God or Nebuchadnezzar? Christ or the antichrist?
Therefore the three Israelites refuse to bow. For to bow to this image, to this ideal, is to publicly deny their God. It is to transgress the first two commandments: You shall have no other gods before me and you shall not bow down to a graven image. And therefore the three Israelites remain upright. They stand out clearly amongst the sea of kneeling figures.
Here then lies the threat to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. These Israelites belong to that rolling stone, the Church, the kingdom of God (LD 48).
They are given another chance. Just one word, just one bow. It couldn’t be simpler. Here you have the satanical alternative to the Gospel of Israel’s God. Just a simple act of worship will save them from a horrible death. Satan would prefer to have them serve him; but if this aim is not attainable they must be destroyed. Such a clear rejection of the image and what it represents can not be tolerated. For their faith in the God of Israel shows Satan that there are still faithful believers, faithful members of Christ’s Church. It means that the Church has not been wiped out, and until the Church is completely wiped out the prophecy concerning the coming Messiah threatens Satan’s supremacy. So, they must bow or be wiped out.
How is it possible that in the face of death these three Israelites remain faithful? It is because their God triumphs in them. Their faithfulness is His work. They are immeasurably richer entrusting their future God – even if it means going through the gates of death – than to remain alive without an everlasting future as governors in Babylon.
And God rewards their faith – also temporally. A divine miracle occurs. Rev D K Wielenga says that the fourth figure in the furnace was none other than the Son of God, the Saviour. He saves them from death. And the attention of all those VIP’s is drawn away from the golden image and focusses on the three Israelites and what their God had done for them. Everyone’s worship is now demanded for Israel’s God. Thus God triumphs over Nebuchadnezzar and, through him, over Satan.
The great struggle of the antithesis will remain. Indeed, we have seen many tyrants trying to copy Nebuchadnezzar. I have already mentioned Napoleon, Hitler, and others. They stand in the service of the antichrist and tolerate no opposition. Just consider, for example, how China’s present leader, Xi Jinping, has clamped down on Christians.
But you don’t need to go to communist countries, or radical Muslim countries, to experience strong antichristian ideologies. We see it around us daily, don’t we, infiltrating and breaking down the fabric of western society bit by bit, almost noiselessly. And we think to ourselves, it’s not so bad. We still have our jobs, our own Christian schools and the freedom to go to church every Sunday. But do we see that here in Australia, as in other western countries, antichristian policies and new laws that reflect those policies are steadily being implemented? And that the media promotes the same values, daily bombarding society with its humanistic outlook on women’s roles, authority and a host of ethical issues in society, daily questioning the Christian principles on which our Western civilisation was based? And do we realise that the government is spoon-feeding the children at public schools with these same godless ideologies, children who will later become the rulers and moulders of society? As never before, Western countries are experiencing a wholesale unwillingness to submit to God’s laws. And we see some of these attitudes taking root in our own midst – think only of the changing role of women in society and the increasing tendency to look to the government for our needs instead of to God and the communion of saints.
The antidote to this for us is to delve daily into God’s Word, to put our trust completely in Him, to love Him wholeheartedly and to walk in His ways. Only in God’s Word, the Truth, do we find the wisdom needed to test the spirits, the encouragement to stand strong and to confess Christ in the face of Satan’s attacks, and to find true comfort. For Christ’s victory through his faithful believers in Babylon was another proof that the future and the glorious victory are in His hands. That was the comfort for those in Babylon who put their trust in God, and it is the same comfort for us today.
B Holwerda, Een Levende Hoop (A sermon on the Book of Daniel). Boersma, Enschede, 1954
D K Wielenga, Het Book der Waarheid, Oosterhuis en LeContre, Goes, 1977