Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What God Really Wants From Nebuchadnezzar

I must admit that if I found myself in Daniel's shoes, I'd actually want Nebuchadnezzar to be humiliated. It would fill me with great joy to know that he was going to be removed from power and made to live like a wild animal for a season. I'd actually want to see that happen.

Not Daniel. Daniel actually warns Nebuchadnezzar and gives him an idea that may potentiall spare him from the humiliation to come. Daniel has compassion and mercy; I struggle with those virtues.

But, as often as I've heard this passage taught, I've never seen what God really wants from Nebuchadnezzar until recently. Here's the specific statement: "Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed."

Did you catch that? It may help to look at the statement through the lens of parallelism. In Hebrew writings (especially poetry), it was common to repeat an idea with different language as a way of emphasis. That's what this sentence is: one idea stated twice in two different phrases.

Renounce your sins by doing what is right,
and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.

"Sins" and "wickedness" are the same.

"Doing what is right" and "being kind to the opressed" are the same.

Every time I've heard this passage discussed, it's been about Nebuchadnezzar switching loyalty to the right God. Certainly, that's part of it, but it's more specific and tangible than that, too. God wants Nebuchadnezzar to stop oppressing people. That's specifically how God wants him to do what is right.

Nebuchadnezzar lives in opulence and comfort while others barely survive. He builds his great statues and hanging gardens with slave labor. He gazes at the magnificent walls of his city and overlooks the marginalized people who live within them. Withholding kindness to these people is wickedness and sinful in the eyes of God.

God is never just interested in our attitude towards him; he is most keenly interested in how we treat others.