Monday, June 1, 2015

3 Puzzles, 2 Interpretations, 2 Outcomes

You’re called upstairs to the executive vice president’s office. He has a report with numbers suggesting web trends, or something clearly happening on social media. “What does it mean?” he asks. “No one seems to know. Should I be concerned?”

This is your area of expertise. You look at the data; they conform what you had already been seeing and warning about for some time. You pull out your mobile and do two searches. You look quickly at Google Analytics.

As you look at the executive VP, you know you have two options. You can tell him what he wants to hear, that there’s no problem and someone is just overreacting. Or you can tlel him the truth.

“It’s bad news,” you say.

The prophet Daniel was called before King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon on two different occasions, to interpret the king’s dreams after all the diviners and court magicians had either failed or claimed they didn’t know. Both times it was difficult news – first, the eventual end of the Babylonian Empire, although not in Nebuchadnezzar’s lifetimes; and second, because of his pride and disregard for God, he would live among the animals for seven years.

Daniel’s interpretations were correct. And both times, despite the bad news for the king, Daniel and Daniel’s God were honored by Nebuchadnezzar. Chapter four of the book of Daniel is in Nebuchadnezzar’s own voice, and he recounts how, at the end of seven years of what we would likely today call insanity, he called out and paid homage to God.

After Nebuchadnezzar’s eventual death, the empire experiences a rather extended period of instability, with relatively short reigns by the succeeding kings. Daniel is still around when Nebuchadnezzar’s great-grandson, Belshazzar, is holding a state dinner for 1,000 nobles while the city of Babylon is under siege by the Medes and Persians. The king and his guests are startled to see words being mysteriously written on a wall, and Daniel is called to interpret the meaning of the “handwriting on the wall.”

It’s bad news. In fact, the Babylonian empire would fall that very night. Too late, the king realizes it was a mistake to take the golden vessels of the temple in Jerusalem to use as banquet dinnerware.

“Belshazzar did not act ignorantly,” says John Lennox in Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism. “As Daniel forcefully pointed out to him, he was responsible for his attitude and behavior. He acted against the evidence.”

The worlds of business and politics are far removed from the days of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon and absolute rule. But the basic human condition of pride, relying on our own strengths and deliberately ignoring the obvious, is not.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been discussing John Lennox’s Against the Flow. The post covers Chapter 4, “The Testimony of Nebuchadnezzar,” and Chapter 5, “The Writing on the Wall.”

Painting: The Feast of Belshazzar by Rembrandt Van Rijn (1635); National Gallery, London.

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