Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nebuchadnezzar's Fall (part 2)

The fall of Nebuchadnezzar well mirrors the fall of man. How so? Firstly, he assigned himself the place of God. He deified himself. Having previously spoken of Daniel’s God by declaring “How great are His signs! How mighty are His wonders! His kingdom will last forever, and His authority continues from one generation to the next” (Daniel 4:3), effectively, by his declaration concerning “the great Babylon that I have built for my royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor” (4:30b), he assigned the words that had been offered up in recognition of the God of Israel, to himself. How does this mirror the fall of man? Turning to the third chapter of Genesis, we find the serpent speaking to Eve in regards to the “forbidden fruit” and saying, “God knows that when you eat from it your eyes open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil” (3:5). So what was the temptation offered to Eve? Essentially, it was that she could be like God.

As we move forward, we are sure to place flesh and blood on the story, imagining that, having eaten and not died (at least not physically in that moment), she communicated similar information to her husband Adam, and he also ate the fruit. In this, he too, not satisfied with having been made in the divine image, humbly and faithfully serving as a steward of the creation over which he had been given dominion, Adam desired to be like God. In the eating of the fruit, in what was a likely a full knowledge of what it was that he hoped to attain (being like God), like Nebuchadnezzar, Adam (and Eve) appropriated to themselves that which was not theirs. For Nebuchadnezzar, the awful announcement came with rapidity. The voice from heaven rang out, informing the self-idolatrous king that had put himself in the place of God, thinking of himself along the same lines that he had previously thought of God, “that your kingdom has been removed from you” (Daniel 4:31b). Adam’s experience was no different. “And the Lord God said, ‘Now that the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not be allowed to stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God expelled him from the orchard in Eden to cultivate the ground from which he had been taken” (Genesis 3:22-23). In Adam’s situation, the last thing that God wanted was for Adam to eat of the tree of life, and therefore, be able to live forever in his now corrupted state.

Adam had been given complete dominion over God’s good creation, but through his acts, as creation’s representative before God---the creation’s king and ruler---that creation had been marred. In what amounted to bringing himself honor through self-worship, in full knowledge of his desire to be like God, Adam fell from his place of authority. Due to this, he was told “cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground” (3:17b-19a). How do we find this reflected in Nebuchadnezzar’s story? Just like Adam had been driven from the garden, because of the king’s self-worship, when he was stripped of his rule and authority, God said to him, “You will be driven from human society” (Daniel 4:32a).

In his fall, Adam gave up and rejected what it meant to be fully human. Adam, having been made in the image of God, to trust and honor and worship his Creator, lost that which God had intended for humankind. That makes Nebuchadnezzar’s plight of being “driven from human society” all the more fascinating. To this fact of being driven from human society, God added that Nebuchadnezzar would “live with the wild animals” (4:32b). With his dominion over creation taken from him, in which he was clearly placed, by God (much like Nebuchadnezzar had been given power and a kingdom by God for a particular purpose), in a stewarding superiority over the beasts of the field, Adam’s expulsion from the garden meant that he too was going to live with the wild animals. Why? Why do we have this parallel in the stories of both Adam and Nebuchadnezzar? It is because we become what we worship. Adam turned his thoughts upon himself, worshiping the creature. Nebuchadnezzar did the same. With that being so, God drove both of them to join the realm over which they had previously ruled, and to live like the remainder of the created order---to live like that which they had worshiped. By over-reaching, both of them denied God’s purpose for them.

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