NEBUCHADNEZZAR, SERVANT OF YAHWEH

alternate textOne of the most interesting personalities in Scriptures who was never part of the people of Israel, is Nebuchadnezzar, the famous King of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar is primarily connected with the prophet Daniel, and with the three kings of Yehudah, Yehoyakim, Yehoyakin and Tsidkiyah. The name of Nebuchadnezzar appears more than 90 times throughout Scriptures, which, significantly, is more than the appearances of any of the names of his Jewish contemporaries, like Daniel, Yehoyakim, Yehoyakin or Tsidkiyahu. The name that we know as Nebuchadnezzar is generally written in two different ways in Scriptures – sometimes as Nevuchadnezzar and sometimes as Nevuchadrezzar.

It is often said that Nebuchadnezzar is an Anti-Christ-like or Anti-Messiah-like figure in Scriptures – especially because (according to Daniel 3) he was responsible for erecting a massive golden image, demanding that “whoever does not fall down and worship (before the image) … will be thrown into a burning fiery furnace” (Dan 3:6). To add fuel to the fire of the Anti-Messiah hunters, it is pointed out that according to Daniel 3, the height of the image was 60 cubits, its width 6 cubits, and when it was dedicated, the people had to bow down before the image while an orchestra consisting of 6 instruments was playing! One can almost imagine the number 666 hiding behind this very dramatic description! And what is more, in the book of Revelation, although we do not hear the name of Nebuchadnezzar, we find frequent references to the Great Babel or Babylon, the Mother of the whores and the abominations of the earth, reminding one of what is elsewhere called the “Anti-Messiah”.

So, is Nebuchadnezzar then the personification of the Anti-Messiah? Probably not. Not every person or thing with an association with two or three sixes, is representative of the Anti-Messiah. 2 Chronicles 9:13 tells us that the weight of gold that came to Shelomoh each year was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold. So is Shelomoh then the Anti-Messiah? Or is it the Ant-Messiah who provided him with the gold? Most certainly not! Ezekiel tells us that the door posts of the temple (that is yet to be built) are going to be 6 cubits on the one side and 6 cubits on the other, while the door opening will be 6 cubits high. Three sixes. Does that mean that this temple is going to be a platform from where the Anti-Messiah will perform his evil works? Most certainly not!

Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty warrior and a dangerous king. Above all, he was an ardent follower and worshiper of Marduk, the god of Baylon. The former dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, considered himself as the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar. He, Nebuchadnezzar, was responsible for Shadrach, Meshach and Avednego being thrown into a fiery furnace. He battled and conquered many nations, but focused particularly on the kingdom of Yehudah. In the year 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem (for the first time) and Daniel and a few others were taken into exile to Babylon. In the year 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege of Jerusalem again, for approximately three months, a time during which the kings Yehoyakim, Yehoyakin and Tzidkiyahu came into the picture and the prophet Ezekiel was exiled. In the year 588, Nebuchadnezzar once again laid siege of Jerusalem (for a period of about two years), utterly destroyed the temple and took a great number of Jewish people into captivity, including Jeremiah the prophet. The book Daniel describes how Nebuchadnezzar was later humbled by Yahweh for boasting. He was stricken with insanity and lived like an animal for 7 years.

Significantly, there is a specific date in connection with Nebuchadnezzar that is repeated at least four times throughout Scriptures, namely the 10th day of 10th month. This year, going according to the same Scriptural calendar that was used in those days, the 10th day of the 10th month will be in two days’ time, this coming Monday (6 January 2020). The significance of this day is summarized in 2 Kings 25:1-2: “And it came to be in the ninth year of the reign of Tzidkiyahu, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and all his army came against Yerushalayim and encamped against it, and they built a siege wall against it all around. And the city was besieged until the eleventh year of king Tzidkiyahu.” This, of course, is a description of the third siege of Jerusalem that we have mentioned above – the one in which Jeremiah and the majority of the people of Yehudah were taken into captivity. The event that is seen as the official beginning of the 70 year period of Babylonian exile and is viewed in such a serious light that an annual day of fast was introduced some time afterwards and is referred to in Zecharyah 8:19: “Thus said Yahweh of hosts, ‘The fast of the fourth, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth months, are to be joy and gladness, and pleasant appointed times for the house of Yehudah – and they shall love the truth and the peace.’”

When Scriptures speak about Nebuchadnezzar, he is usually called “Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon”. However, there are a few surprising exceptions to this rule. One of these is Jer 27:6: “And now I (Yahweh) have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant.” Notice the words, “the king of Babylon, my servant”! And this is not the only verse where Nebuchadnezzar is called the servant of Yahweh. The same honour is ascribed to Nebuchadnezzar in Jer 25:9; Jer 43:10; Jer 51:20 and Ezek 29:18. Why is that? What makes this man so special? Is it because of the Jewish tradition that Nebuchadnezzar saved Jeremiah’s life when Jerusalem and the temple were burned to the ground and many other people were killed during the dramatic events of 586 BC? Is it because of the view of ancient Jewish writers that Nebuchadnezzar was the Almighty’s instrument against wrongdoers? Or because of the excuse offered by some that initially, Nebuchadnezzar was deceived by bad advisors, but that he had a change of heart, later on, and became a follower of Yahweh?

There may be some element of truth in these comments on the life of Nebuchadnezzar. But the simple fact and the clear message of Scriptures is that Nebuchadnezzar was a servant of Yahweh – not because of something that he did to one Jew (Jeremiah) or to wrongdoers in general or to other nations, not even because of some change within himself, but quite simply because of the fact that he became an instrument in the hand of Yahweh, in Yahweh’s ongoing dealings with the nation that He chose as his people, forever. For the people of Israel as a nation, the exile was one of the most catastrophic events ever, but even within this catastrophic event, Yahweh had not turned his back on them or deserted them. He spoke to them, He reprimanded them, He urged them to return to Him, He showed them his power and his mercy, He kept on speaking to them through his prophets and He kept on working with them, even by making use of outsiders like Nebuchadnezzar. In that sense, Nebuchadnezzar was a servant of Yahweh.

The people of this world are going on about the first day, and even the first week of January as being an important landmark on our calendar – a time of transition, new beginnings, new ideas, new resolutions, and so forth. But none of this has its roots in Scriptures – not the idea of January as the first month of the year and neither the idea of having special wishes and celebrations and resolutions when a new year is believed to begin. I know it is humanly impossible to change the traditions around New Years’ Eve and New Years’ Day and Second New Year. But even the 10th day of the 10th Scriptural month (the 6th of January this year) has more Scriptural significance than the 1st of January. It was the day of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar that lead to the 70 years of Babylonian exile. For the orthodox Jews it is a day of fasting (they call it Asarah B’Tevet). It was one of the four great Jewish fast days recorded by the prophet Zecharyah. But above all it is a day that reminds us that even in our times of severe suffering and tragedy, Yahweh will not terminate his involvement with us. If needed, He will use setbacks and calamities and exiles to get us back on course. He will even send Nebuchadnezzars along the way, who may seem to us like types of the Anti-Messiah, but may very well be servants and instruments in the hand of Yahweh. Servants commissioned by Yahweh to restore the joy and the gladness and the love of truth and the peace in our lives, exactly the way it was prophesied by Zecharyah: “The fast of the fourth, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth months, are to be joy and gladness, and pleasant appointed times … and they shall love the truth and the peace.”

Approximately 180 years ago the composer Verdi wrote his masterpiece “Va, pensiero”, also known as the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”, which formed part of the well-known opera “Nabucco”. “Nabucco” is the Italian form of “Nebuchadnezzar” and the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves revolves around the theme of the exile and was inspired by Psalm 137, beginning with the words, “By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down …” In verse 4 of this Psalm the question is asked, “How could we sing the song of Yahweh on foreign soil?” In the song written by Verdi, the answer to this question is given in the final words of the lyrics: “We shall be inspired by the Master to fortify us to endure our suffering!” Yahweh is our inspiration, and even though He may put us through suffering – even though we may find ourselves on foreign soil – He will fortify and strengthen us to endure and sing songs again in honour of his Name!

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