Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Living in an Alien Culture: Daniel 4

Living in an Alien Culture
Daniel 4

·     Some Summary Thoughts on Daniel 1-3

o   Public faith and theology—not merely a privatized faith

"Daniel's story is one of extraordinary faith in God lived out at the pinnacle of executive power in the full glare of public life.  It relates pivotal events in the lives of four friends--Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah--who were born in the tiny state of Judah in the Middle East around two-and-a-half thousand years ago.  As young members of the nobility, probably still teenagers, they were taken captive by the empereor Nebuchadnezzar and transported to his capital city Babylon in order to be trained in Babylonian administration.  Daniel tells us how they eventually rose to the top echelons of power not only in the world empire of Babylon but also in the Medo-Persian empire that succeeded it....

"What makes the story of their faith remarkable is that they did not simply continue the private devotion to God that they had developed in their homeland; they maintained a high-profile public witness in a pluralistic society that became increasingly antagonistic to their faith. That is why their story has such a powerful message for us today.  Strong currents of pluralism and secularism in contemporary Western society, reinforced by a paralysing political correctness, increasingly push expression of faith in God to the margins, confining it if possible to the private sphere.  It is becoming less and less the done thing to mention God in public, let alone to confess to believing in anything exclusive and absolute, such as the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour.  Society tolerates the practice of the Christian faith in private devotions and in church services, but it increasingly deprecates public witness.  To the relativist and secularist, public witness to faith in God smacks too much of proselytizing and fundamentalist extremism.  They therefore regard it more and more as a threat to social stability and human freedom.

"The story of Daniel and his friends is a clarion call to our generation to be courageous; not to lose our nerve and allow the expression of our faith to be diluted and squeezed out of the public space and thus rendered spineless and ineffective. Their story will also tell us that this objective is not likely to be achieved without cost."[1]

o   Bringing value to an alien culture andchallenging idolatry 

o   Creative resistance for the honor of God

o   Focus, Dependence, and Worship in regards to the Sovereignty of God

o   Both daily faithfulness over years andmoments of public confrontation and manifestation of God’s power

o   Prayer: a great view of God should lead to great, empire-shaking prayers

Daniel 4

·     Sovereignty of God

o   Book-ends the chapter: vv 1-3 and vv 34-37

o   Deep theology expressed by a pagan ruler

o   “Nothing is more important, especially at this point in the history of theology, than for God’s people to be firmly convinced that Scripture teaches God’s universal control over the world, and teaches it over and over again.”[2]

·     v. 8: “… Belteshazzar according to the name of my God…”

o   “Nebuchadnezzar’s polytheism is still not far from the surface.  He is a man on a journey: still confused, but wishing nevertheless to testify to what Daniel’s God has done for him.”[3]

·     Imagery of the tree: vv. 10-12, 20-22

o   Imagery of kingdom 

§ See also: Ezekiel 17.22-24; Matthew 13.31-32

·     God’s action against Nebuchadnezzar: to humble and instruct him

o   v. 17: “… in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whom he wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men.”

§ in order that” speaks of purpose; the reason why God does this

§ know” speaks of knowledge; God wants to impart an accurate knowledge of himself and reality

§ ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whom he wishes

·     God is powerful

·     God is active in human history (not Deism!)

§ the lowliest of men”—even the greatest of rulers are considered lowly in light of God!

·     Isaiah 40.23-24  23He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.  24Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but he merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble.

·     v. 19—Daniel is disturbed; not rejoicing at the news of Nebuchadnezzar’s judgment 

o   “The dynamic between Daniel and the king is a remarkable one, considering that this is the king who destroyed Jerusalem, but God’s prophet shows concern for the well-being of the king, not vindictiveness.”[4]

o   Q: Why does Daniel respond this way?    

·     Judgment pronounced on Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 23-25, 32-33)

o   Becomes like an animal—not fit to rule (cf. Genesis 1.26-28; Psalm 8.5-8)

§ Something distinctive about humanity in comparison to animals[5]

§ Some comments from Wesley Smith’s book A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement (New York: Encounter, 2010).  

1.     “…the term ‘animal rights’ actually denotes a belief system, an ideology, even a quasi religion, which both implicitly and explicitly seeks to create a moral equivalence between the value of human lives and those of animals.” (p. 3)

2.     Ingrid Newkirk (the head of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—PETA) in 1986: “A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.  They are all mammals.” (p. 3)

3.     Alex Pacheco (cofounder with Newkirk of PETA): “The time will come when we will look upon the murder of animals as we now look on the murder of men.” (p. 36)
4.     Peter Singer in his 1976 book Animal Liberation speaks of “speciesism” as: “a prejudice or attitude of bias in favor of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species.” (p. 19)

5.     “To avoid speciesism we must allow that beings who are similar in all relevant respects have a similar right to life—and mere membership in our own biological species cannot be a morally relevant criterion for this right…. We may legitimately hold that there are some features of certain beings that make their lives more valuable than those of other beings; but there will surely be some nonhuman animals, whose lives, by any standards, are more valuable than the lives of some humans.  A chimpanzee, dog, or pig, for instance, will have a higher degree of self-awareness and a greater capacity for meaningful relations with others than a severely retarded infant or someone in a state of senility.  So, if we base the right to life on these characteristics we must grant these animals a right to life as good as, or better than, such retarded or senile human beings.”  Peter Singer (p. 27)

6.     R. G. Frey (bioethicist at Bowling Green University):

“I know of nothing that cedes human life of any quality, however low, greater value than animal life of any quality, however high.  If, therefore, we are going to justify medical/scientific uses of animals by appeal to the value of their lives, we open up directly the possibility of our having to envisage the use of humans of lower quality of life in preference to animals of higher quality of life.” (p. 29)

“If ... not all human life has the same value, then the possibility arises that the quality of life of a perfectly healthy baboon can exceed that of a human.  So, if one is going to appeal to human benefit to justify animal research, and if the benefit in this case can be realized either through experimenting on the baboon or the human, then why use the baboon in preference to the human?  A quality-of-life view of the value of a life gives a consistent answer over taking a life and saving a life; so, if either the baboon or the human has to be used in order to realize the benefit, the human must, all other things being equal, be used.  Clearly, my view on the value of life is not speciesist.” (p. 30)

7.     “[I]n 1991, David Larson, the co-director of the Center for Christian Ethics at Loma Linda University, suggested taking the hearts of disabled children to keep monkeys alive.  Asked about the ethics of the Baby Fae case, the first human to receive a heart transplant from a baboon, Larson replied, ‘If a primate’s capability was higher than that of the human—say a severely mentally handicapped child—I think it would be appropriate to support the opposite approach of a Baby Fae, a transplant from a child to save the life of a healthy baboon or chimpanzee.’”  (p. 30)

o   New Testament: 2 Peter 2.12, 16, 22; Jude 10

·     v. 27—Daniel’s counsel to Nebuchadnezzar in light of the coming judgment

o   Break away from sins and iniquities (negative)

o   Do righteousness and show mercy to the poor (positive) 

o   Issue of pride

§ Daniel 4

·     v. 26—“after you recognize that it is heaven that rules”

·     v. 30—“Is this not Babylon the great which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”

·     v. 37—“… and he (God) is able to humble those who walk in pride.”

§ Nations and national leaders

·     Obadiah 2-4

·     Acts 12.20-23

o   v. 23—“And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

§ Individual life

·     1 Peter 5.5 (quoting Proverbs 3.34)

·     James 4.6 (quoting Proverbs 3.34)

·     1 Corinthians 4.7

·     vv. 34-37

o   “my reason returned to me” (vv. 34, 36)

§ Living with the grain of God’s reality: Proverbs 1.7; 9.10; 21.30; 28.4-5

§ Living against God and his reality brings intellectual darkness: Romans 1.21-25; Ephesians 4.17-19

o   Sovereignty of God

§ Q: How does the sovereignty of God affect our view of our nation and its political rulers?

§ Q: How does the sovereignty of God affect our prayer lives?  Does it dampen it or enflame it with passion?

     [1]John C. Lennox, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Monarch Books, 2015), 1-2—emphasis added.  Also see my essay “Courts and the Cause of Christ: Why Christians Need to Care”—online: https://www.academia.edu/37984947/Courts_and_the_Cause_of_Christ_Why_Christians_Need_to_Care.
          [2]John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 76.  For a listing out of some of the biblical material on the sovereignty of God see my blog post “God’s Comprehensive Control” White Rose Review(December 8, 2015)—online: https://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2015/12/gods-comprehensive-control.html.
     [3]John C. Lennox, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Monarch Books, 2015), 154.
     [4]Tremper Longman III, Daniel—NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999), 120.
     [5]See my blog post “Animal Rights: Some Quotations and Resources” White Rose Review(January 7, 2014)—online: https://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2014/01/animal-rights-some-quotations-and.html.