Nebuchadnezzar, Part 2

The night was never peaceful for
The king of Babylon. Before
The blood-red harvest moon each year,
Before that night, he felt more fear
Than any other month. That night
The cult of Raku swore to smite
A human sacrifice before
The fullness of the moon would pour
Its light once more upon the plains
Of Babylon. Again the stains
Of human blood would soak the stones
Outside the capital, and groans
From foreign gods would satisfy
With death once more the hungry eye
That glowers from the midnight sky,
Like a celestial Cyclops high
Above the blood-soaked kingdom, ruled
With fear and so-called wise men, fooled
By royal arrogance. And when
The oath was made this night again,
That one would die within a space
Of thirty days, the secret place
Was shaken, and a voice was heard:
“Tonight, Nebuchadnezzar, word
Will come to you in visions on
Your bed. And in a dream, the dawn
Of distant times will be revealed
And fullness of the time unsealed.
I give you this in payment for
The blood that next month you will pour.”

And so it was. Or so he thought
It was. The dream did come. But naught
In this night’s dream flowed from a grim
And petty fiend, or from the whim
Of any oracle in hell,
But from the God of Israel.

So in the morning, full of dread,
Nebuchadnezzar left his bed
And called his sorcerers, and all
Magicians, to the counsel hall,
And said, “Tell me the dream I had
Last night. And tell me, good or bad,
The meaning of this dream.” But they
Replied, “Your majesty, just say
The dream and we will gladly tell
You what it means.” “You would compel
Me how to deal with sorcerers?
I know your trade. If someone errs
In prophesying distant times,
Who knows it now? And when your crimes
At last appear, you will be dead,
And no one hangs a corpse. Instead,
I vow you will, before you die,
Be severed limb from limb, and I
Will lay in ruins everything
You own, until they say, ‘The king
Of Babylon will not be duped
By clever charlatans who trooped
Across his stage in prophets’ clothes,
As if their play would not disclose
Itself to royal eyes.’ No, I
Have called you here not to reply
With counsel back to me. But by
My gods! Say what I dreamed, or die.”
“No man upon the earth,” they said,
“Can meet the king’s demand. No head
Of state in any empire put
A yoke like this, or set his foot,
On man. This is the business of
The gods, not us. Some pow’r above,
Alone, not on the earth, could tell
The king his dream.” At this, there fell
The wrath of all his royal pride
Upon the heads of those who tried
To justify their impotence.
And he decreed: “The consequence
Of your enfeebled magic skills
And brazen insolence that spills
So freely from your mouths will be
The end of all your sorcery,
And death to every so-called wise
Man in this realm who wears the guise
Of truth, and cannot tell to me
What I just dreamed or even see
The past—six hours old. As though,
With ease, the future you would know!
Be gone. I will appoint a day
To put your folly on display.”

The captain of the royal guard
Walked slowly through the palace yard
To bear this news to Daniel and
His friends. The exiles from the land
Of Judah proved themselves tenfold
More wise and gifted than the old
And seasoned charlatans the king
Had leaned upon. But now the sting
Of royal rage would reach to them
As well. “You mean, he will condemn
Us all?” Daniel enquired. “He must
Have gone insane. We had his trust.”
“He had a dream last night. And he
Demands that someone have the key
Not only to its meaning, but
The very dream itself and what
Was in his head. There’s something more
Than meets the eye. I sense a war
Inside his head, and some dark foe
He cannot crush or even show
To anyone. The death of all
His counselors! There is a thrall
To this, and he is not his own.”

“Please, tell the king the dream is known,”
These words came forth unbidden from
The mouth of Daniel. “I will come
And tell the king the secrets in
His mind. Ask him: Might we begin
Tomorrow night? First, I must speak
With Shadrach, and my friends, and seek
Their prayers. Please, ask the king if he
Would stay his hand until he see
If Daniel’s God can know his mind.”

The king agreed to wait, and signed
A stay of execution for
The counselors. Behind the door
Of their small dwelling Daniel prayed
That God would now come to his aid,
Then counseled with his friends. “Shadrach,”
He said, “What do you think? More’s back
Of this than meets the human eye,
The captain said. Do you comply
With that assessment? Arioch,
I think, is able to unlock
The secrets of the king. What do
You think?” The question was not new
For Shadrach. Ever since the king
Had given him this name, the sting
Had stirred in him more insight to
The royal mind than any knew.
“I think,” he said, “that when the moon
Is full again, there will be strewn
Across the plains of Dura shards
Of broken secrets, and the guard’s
Opinion will be proven true.
Indeed there’s more to this than you
Or I yet understand. But on
That night we’ll know the truth. And gone
Will be the powers that enslave
The king, but not without a grave.”
The friends looked deep and long into
Each other’s steady eyes. They knew
The stories of the prophets, and
The ancient truth that life will stand
At last because of death, and all
The ropes of evil bondage fall
Forever, severed by the knife
Of one who freely gives his life.
No more was said. The time had come
To tell the king his dream.

The dumb
Enchanters trembled in the ring
Of sorcerers around the king,
Awaiting execution if
The Jews should fail. The king was stiff
With unbelief. And then he heard
The voice of Daniel and this word:
“A great and brilliant image stood
Before the king. There was no wood.
The head was gold; the arms and chest
Were silver; bronze was all the rest,
Down to the knees; connecting thighs
And feet, the legs, of mammoth size,
Were made of iron and joined the feet
Of clay and iron mixed. The seat
From where you watched was shaken as
A little stone was cut, which has
No maker—none to cut or fling
This stone like David from his sling.
And yet it flew against the clay
And iron of the feet, and they
Were shattered by this little stone.
And then the gold and bronze was thrown
Down to the earth, and silver lay
With powdered iron, blown away
Like chaff. And not a trace of them
Was found. And then the stone, the gem,
Became a mountain there before
Your eyes, and then forevermore
It filled the earth.”

Then Daniel stopped.
Nebuchadnezzar never dropped
His eyes from Daniel’s face, but stood
Without a word and wondered: Would
This Jewish prophet also know
The meaning of this dream? “From toe
To head, your majesty, it stands
For nations. You, with all your lands
And wealth and power, are the head
Of gold. And after you are dead
A lesser will arise, and then
A third, of bronze, and rule all men
Upon the earth. And then a throne
Of iron that crushes ev’ry bone
Before it will prevail. Then clay
Will mingle in and bring the day
Of dissolution. Then, O king,
Almighty God will come and bring
To pass, in ways that neither you
Nor I can comprehend, the new
And everlasting reign of One
Whose age is older than the sun,
And yet appears by birth, and gains
His crown, not by the sword, but pains,
And finally by death. His reign
Will have no end, and by his pain
He will obtain the heavens and
The earth. All this, O king, is planned.
And in the end, the silver, gold,
And bronze and iron, the kings of old,
Will be forgotten. So beware,
O golden king, God does not share
His power with the sun or moon.
Your dream came from the blazing noon
Of God’s all-knowing pow’r and light,
Not from the borrowed pow’rs of night.
Take heed, O king! How close the brink!
Full moons do not mean what you think.

The truth of candle two must shine:
Kings have their thrones by God’s design.
Not by their sword or intellect,
Or by black arts or secret sect.
And if in Babylon a king
Is proud, and blind in everything,
And thinks that Raku rules the skies,
He will soon find it otherwise.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org