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Chapter 2. Nebuchadnezzar: The Early Years
Review Daniel 1:1-2 and chapter 2.
Battle of Carchemish 605BC
Nebu, the crown prince of Babylon, aligned his forces with his allies of Medes, Persians, and Scythians, on the east side of the Euphrates River. The Assyrians and Egyptians, 40,000 strong, were encamped on the west side. Nebu was perhaps restless and anxious with his smaller force of 18,000. It was less than two years before that the Babylonian army was routed by Pharaoh Necho II here in the region of Kimuhu, in what was left of western Assyria. While he was experienced commanding troops in battle, it was the first battle he would lead giving the orders without his father, King Nabopolassar, at the helm who was in ill health and had returned to Babylon. Using all the speed and swiftness of a lion with wings, he led his forces across the Euphrates and attacked the Assyrians and a large contingent of Egyptian forces and utterly wiped them out.
While shocked and awed at the decisiveness of his total extinction of the remnants of the Assyrians once great army, and the rapidity of the Egyptian cowardly flight from the battlefield, Nebu knew he had had no time to waste. He then overran and defeated the Egyptians as they retreated south at Hamath. Then Nebu went on to subdue Judah, the feeble Egyptian vassal state still weakened without its Godly leader King Josiah, taking plunder to include royal captives and sanctuary vessels. In all his years of tutorage from his father and their military campaigns together, he had never seen a victory so successful and complete. Nebu marveled at the greatness of Marduk, the god of gods, who had defeated the gods of Egypt – Ra, Horus, Atum, of Assyria – Ashur, Dagon, and that of Judah – Yahweh. Worshiping in the immaculate temple Esagila was his top priority upon his return to Babylon. Oh, what a great Feast of Akitu to Marduk they will have next spring! Not only for the spring harvest but to celebrate Markuk’s victory over other gods. Little did he know at the time it was really the God of Judah whose dwelling was in heaven who had led him to victory and was seeking victory of his heart.
This God, called the Ancient of Days, knew the end from the beginning and spoke through His servants had already pronounced the downfall of both Assyria and Egypt. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the judgment on Assyria and likens it to the total destruction of the Northern Tribes of Israel some hundred years before:
The prophet Jeremiah tells of the destruction that befell Egypt during this campaign.
they have stumbled and fallen.
Daniel Chapter 1:1,2 gives us this brief account:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.
In Nebu’s total triumph over the Assyrian army and chasing the remnants of Egyptian forces to their original border, Nebu had not had time to take plunder. News from Babylon came with the message his father, Nabopolassar, had died. He must now hasten back Babylon and take the hands of Marduk to legitimize his rule by submitting to the guidance of the city’s, and now empire’s patron god. He had such a great and overwhelming victory, but how could he be seen at home coming down the Processional Way as triumphant and taking offerings for Marduk without any plunder? Jerusalem was on the road home! Judah, the vassal state of Egypt was now his. The city was still weak from the defeat of their king Josiah by Necho of Egypt four years prior. It was easy pickings! While the main body of the army with captives, temples vessels, and other loot, followed the slow, northern route home by way of Carchemish, Nebu went directly east through the desert and each Babylon
Who was Nebuchadnezzar?
Nebuchadnezzar, means, “O god Nabu, preserve/defend my firstborn” and was king of Babylon from 605-562BC. Nebu’s father, Nabopolassar, had taken advantage of the Assyrian instability after the death of their king Ashurbanipal and in 626 BC, he established a kingdom with its capital at Babylon. He reigned between 626-605 BC and allied with King Cyaxares of Medea to confront the weakened Assyrians with the Egyptian allies. Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrians at Nipper in 615, at Nineveh in 612, and Harran in 610. The remainder of Nabopolassar’s life was spent fortifying Babylon and repelling attacks from Assyria who still controlled the region of Kimuhu in western Assyria until he died in 605 BC. As read earlier, his last act as king was to send his son, Nebu, out to crush the remaining Assyrians. He was married to Amytis of Medea and possibly had other wives.
Nebu took the throne in 605 BC, his Ascension year, so 604 was his first years and the events in chapter 2 must have occurred in 603 BC. Daniel and his three friends had completed their 3 years of training just prior to this incident.
603 BC Nebu's Dream of Daniel 2
In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.
Dreams were thought to be messages from the gods, and Nebu was so impressed with this forgotten dream, he had to know what it was and what it meant. Since it was the specific job of the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to communicate with the gods, this is who Nebu calls.
And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” Then the Chaldeans said to the king in Aramaic, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.”
You see, if they knew the dream, they could figure a way to make something up by using divination and shaking arrows, consulting the idols, and looking at sheep livers. Or, if he gave them time, they could likewise make something up.
The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, “The word from me is firm: if you do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins. But if you show the dream and its interpretation, you shall receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. Therefore show me the dream and its interpretation.” They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show its interpretation.” The king answered and said, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see that the word from me is firm— if you do not make the dream known to me, there is but one sentence for you. You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.” The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king's demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.”
Because of this the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. So the decree went out, and the wise men were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them. Then Daniel replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king's guard, who had gone out to kill the wise men of Babylon. He declared [answered and said] to Arioch, the king's captain, “Why is the decree of the king so urgent?” Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. And Daniel went in and requested the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king.
Daniel was a pragmatist. If he did nothing, he, his friends, and all the wise men would die. Nevertheless, if he went to the king and asked for time, he could be killed immediately, or the king may just give him time to pray overnight about it. Daniel, unbeknownst to Arioch, goes to the king on his own. Nebu’s anger had subsided by this time but still was befuddled about his dream. Nebu no doubt remembered this Hebrew with his three friends who he recently gave a diploma to and the young men were ten times smarter and stronger than their peers. What did Nebu have to lose?
Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. Daniel answered and said:
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king's matter.”
Therefore Daniel went into Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He went and said thus to him: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon; bring me in before the king, and I will show the king the interpretation.”
Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus to him: “I have found among the exiles from Judah a man who will make known to the king the interpretation.”
Here, if we did below the surface, we can see into the character of Daniel. He went to the king on his own so no one else would be killed if the king did not receive him. He protected his friends and Arioch. When Daniel has the answer, he does not go straight to the king. First, he prays and gives Yahweh thanks. Then he wanted to see the wise men saved and Arioch brings him to the king. Arioch sees his opportunity for self-advancement and seizes it with, “I found…” in contrast to Daniel’s humility and his compassion for others.
The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be. But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind.
Daniel, with his three companions at his side, now preaches a short homily on the futility of Babylon’s gods though the mediation of the wise men, enchanters, magicians, and astrologers. Only the great Yahweh, the God of heaven could interpret dreams and reveal mysteries. God not only told Daniel the dream and its interpretation but also what Nebu was thinking on his bed! No god had ever done that and if Daniel’s God knew his thoughts, the dream and interpretation must be the message his God is trying to give him.
“You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of exceeding brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This was the dream.
Can you see Nebu jumping up from his throne and declaring, “YES! That’s what I dreamed!”?
Now we will tell the king its interpretation. You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.
Can you see the proud monarch, smile nodding his head in approval, thinking, “Yes, that’s me and my kingdom!” Yet, the smile soon faded.
Another kingdom inferior to you shall arise after you, and yet a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. And as you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom, but some of the firmness of iron shall be in it, just as you saw iron mixed with the soft clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay.
Nebu’s ears perked up again, not believe what he just heard! Gold, silver, bronze, iron, clay…marriage? That is a strange insertion, but wait, he, himself, was in a mixed marriage. His father, Nabopolassar had made an alliance with the King Cyaxares of Medea who gave his daughter to Nebu in marriage and this alliance was strong. How did this Hebrew who had only been in his kingdom for just over three years know that? During Nebu’s time, these alliances effectuated through marriage were generally strong, and it was certainly strong between Babylon and the Medes. After all, they united with him in defeating the oppressive and tyrannical Assyria. He loved his wife, Amytis of Medea, and had great plans to build her beautiful gardens to remind her of her homeland. What an illustration that these latter-day kingdoms would do as they had done and yet their marriage alliance would not stand with the inevitable results of war and disunion.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. A great God has made known to the king what shall be after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation sure.”
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him.
Imagine the scene! Can you hear the gasps of the revered and honored Chaldean onlookers as their great king, the representative of Marduk, prostrate before a lowly Hebrew captive whose God had been defeated? Now he is demanding offerings and incense be presented before Daniel like he is some kind of god! Even so, the more rational wise men knew this lowly Hebrew captive had just saved their necks!
No doubt, Daniel and three friends are shocked at the reaction and immediately wave off the offerings and incense and insist it has Yahweh the true God in heaven that made this known. They were just the messenger.
The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king's court.
Nebu knew that there was a great God in heaven, but with all who come to this understanding, he needed time to grow. He continued in his polytheistic practice, burning incense and praying to the gods, but this event left a lasting impact on him, and now Daniel, as prime minister, would be in his court guiding him according to the will of Yahweh… with the diviners for Marduk and the other gods.
597BC: Siege of Jerusalem
In his new position, Daniel would have known of the reports from all the provinces of the empire. Of particular concern was the rebellious spirit of King Jehoiachin in Jerusalem. It must have broken his heart as he saw Nebu assemble the army with military provisions and head out to the “Hatti-land” modern Palestine and Syria. We read in the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle:
In the seventh year the month of Kislîmu, the king of Akkad (Babylon) mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and besieged the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice, received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon.
The Bible gives greater detail on the siege in 2 Kings 24:10:
At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.
During the long trek over the slow route from Jerusalem to Babylon, the army of Nebu tormented their captives and demanded they sing joyous songs about their humiliated, defeated God Yahweh. A Psalm was written depicting the plight of the exiles during one of the three raids of the city of Zion.
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the Lord's song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
How heart-wrenching it was for Daniel to watch the victory parade through the gate, down Processional Way now paved with limestone, and to the Temple of Marduk. Typically, idols and plunder from a foreign temple were kept in the temple of that city’s god, in this case, Marduk’s Temple. We know it was stored someplace safe because we are told in Ezra 1:7, “Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods.” We can imagine Daniel meeting the caravans at the temple and telling them precisely where to the cut-up temple vessels for safe storage. Oh, how he would have yearned for his city if only they would repent and turn back to Yahweh!
What Lessons Can We Learn from Daniel chapter 2?
Nebu could not control the destiny of nations; they were in the control of the Most High God in heaven. While we may have some impact on things outside of ourselves, we only have control over our thoughts, actions, and reaction. Death, disease, finial loss, and natural disasters are out of our control. Yet, there is hope! The Rock that smashed the image is no ordinary rock. Paul tells us clearly that the Rock in Old Testament times was Jesus.
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
Undoubtedly, the Rock in Nebu’s dream was the Kingdom of Christ. Even so, we do not need to wait the be His kingdom people. And Jesus tells us we can come to Him, our Rock, to find rest and peace from the chaos around us.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
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