Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Power of Story (Part I).

One of the biggest lessons I learned from Africa and from Africans began when my daughter Clara was about 4 or 5 years old.My daughter Clara loves stories and she always wanted me to tell her stories. So I told her all the stories that I felt were appropriate and I ran out of stories but she wanted me to tell her more stories. Now I could have given her various statements of what the Bible teaches on a various topics with proof texts and that may have put her to sleep but I wanted to engage her with God's word. I wanted her to know God and His will for her life. So I asked myself, ‘how many Bible stories have I internalized so that I could tell them accurately and naturally in my own words?’ My answer was maybe the same as your answer to that question might be… practically none!
Now I had been teaching a class on Daniel at a Bible College in Malawi so I started telling Clara stories from the book of Daniel. She loved it so I started telling those same stories to the prisoners at Maula prison in Malawi. I will never forget what happened when I told the story from Daniel 4 where Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that frightened him. Do you know that that story?
Nebuchadnezzar was the world’s most powerful ruler but his nightmare scared him. The king called for his council of Babylonian ‘wise men’ but they failed to interpret the dream. They may have been afraid to bring the explosive king the ‘bad news’ depicted in the dream (Daniel 2:12, 3:13-15). The king would need Daniel, the exiled Jewish prophet, to discern his dream. As a subjugated Jewish exile the king referred to Daniel as Belteshazzar after the name of Nebuchadnezzar’s god. Yet, Nebuchadnezzar understood Daniel to be indwelt by the ‘spirit of the holy gods’ and capable of interpreting the dream.

Nebuchadnezzar saw a tree that touched the sky that was visible throughout the earth. The tree had beautiful leaves, abundant fruit and the birds and the beasts sheltered in it. A holy one from heaven said that the tree would be chop down, stripped of its leaves and branches, its fruit would be scattered and the birds and beasts chased from it. This superior power commands that the tree be stripped of its authority and its abundance, but the stump would remain bound with a strap of iron and bronze. The tree is depicted as having a mind that is to be changed to that of a beast for period of seven times. The reason for all this is so that all may know that Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men (4:17).

Daniel was also upset by the dream, but the king insisted that Daniel interpret the dream. Daniel was genuinely concerned and told the king and wished that the dream applied to the king’s enemies. Then Daniel freely tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is the tree that touched the sky; visible throughout the earth. The decree of the Most High God was that the king, the personalized tree, would be driven from people to live among the beasts for a period described as seven times until the king acknowledged that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men.

Nebuchadnezzar had risen to prominence but his rule was oppressive so he would be stripped of his kingly glory. Evidently, the king had ignored the hardships of the oppressed and now the king’s authority and prosperity would be removed from him. Nebuchadnezzar was an inhumane king who used people like beasts. Now he would be given the mind of a beast and he would live among the beasts in the bush like a beast. He would remain in this condition until the time when the king acknowledged that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of men. The remaining stump meant that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be restored when Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that heaven rules.  Again, concerned for the king’s welfare, Daniel exhorts the king to turn from his sins by doing what was right and by being merciful to the oppressed then the king’s prosperity might continue.

A whole year passes but Nebuchadnezzar is unchanged. We find him walking on the roof of his palace admiring his achievements. The king was boasting of the greatness of Babylon which he evidently built at the expense of the poor and oppressed. Nebuchadnezzar had urged Daniel to interpret his dream and having given the king the interpretation Daniel urged the king to change his ways. Unconcerned and unresponsive we find the boastful king is interrupted by the voice from heaven announcing the removal of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. He would be driven from people to live like a beast among the beasts. This would last for a period of seven times until Nebuchadnezzar learned that the Most High rules the kingdoms of men. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to heed Daniel’s warning but now a voice from heaven tells Nebuchadnezzar directly without any symbolic imagery that his kingdom is removed and that he would be driven from people to live like a beast among the beasts. Nebuchadnezzar would remain in that beast-like condition for a period of seven times until Nebuchadnezzar learned that heaven rules.

Nebuchadnezzar was driven into the bush to live like a beast among the beasts. He was given the mind of a beast, and his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails grew like the claws of a bird. When the period of seven times was completed, Nebuchadnezzar lifted his eyes to heaven and came to his senses. Now being found in his right mind Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that the Most High does what he pleases with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. As was promised Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was restored the king praised God saying, ‘all God’s ways are just and He is able to humble the proud’. This Nebuchadnezzar knew by experience for in his arrogance he had lost his kingdom but then after confessing that ‘heaven rules’ his kingdom was restored.
Those prisoners at Maula prison loved that story. We had a great time following the telling of that story as we discussed how that story depicts the Most High God of Daniel (Daniel 4:17) as being sovereign over the kingdoms of men. The discussion was going well when one of those inmates stood up and said, “Guys, Nebuchadnezzar was the king of all the kings of his time, he had everything but he had to lose everything before he repented. Then he said this, “guys we have nothing, who are we not to repent!”

Now that relatively uneducated prison inmate really understood the implications of the difficult doctrine of the ‘Sovereignty of God’. When I taught at a Bible College in Malawi I used to tell my students what I had heard the Theologian John Frame say, ‘you don’t know or understand a doctrine until you know how that doctrine applies’. That relatively uneducated man in that Malawian prison understood the practical implications of the doctrine, the teaching of the ‘word of God’ regarding the Biblical doctrine of the ‘Sovereignty God’.  He responded to that clear and straight forward story from the Book of Daniel (Daniel 4) about the ‘Sovereignty of God’ by doing what Daniel had urged King Nebuchadnezzar to do, to turn from sins.  

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