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Karma Chameleon

King Nebuchadnezzar

Daniel 3:13–15

13 Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? 15 Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”

Daniel 4: 18–19

18 “This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare its interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you.”

19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you.”

Nebuchadnezzar is the worst boss you have ever had. He sets unrealistic goals and impossible demands. He sets traps to catch you when you break policy and humiliates you in front of the whole company. He wants you to guess what he is thinking and waits impatiently for an answer. Nebuchadnezzar is the boss who one minute wants to be your best friend and the next minute flies into a fit of rage.

We have all worked for or known people like Nebuchadnezzar—except this boss might have you executed if you forget to put the cover sheet on your TPS report.

This, then, is the hostile work environment that Daniel finds himself in and he has no HR department to which to file a complaint.

What do we make of Nebuchadnezzar by the time we reach Daniel, chapter 4? He has had terrifying prophetic dreams, made worse by the coming doom they reveal. He has discovered Daniel, a prophet of the one true God among his captives who has proven his value as interpreter of these dreams—a true “employee of the year” so to speak. He switches threats and praise on and off as here he butters Daniel up with reassurance:

19a So the king spoke, and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you.”

Nebuchadnezzar has lavished praise on his advisors one moment and gone on a bloodthirsty rampage the next when his pride is bruised. He is a man without conviction, even as God puts ever finer points on His will for him. In his insecurity Nebuchadnezzar seems to embody the lyrics to the pop song “Karma Chameleon:”

If I listen to your lies, would you say
I'm a man (a man) without conviction
I'm a man (a man) who doesn't know
How to sell (to sell) a contradiction

I guarantee you that this is the only devotional that includes words from the 1980’s music group “Culture Club.” Now, the meaning of the above lyrics is about “fear of alienation.” The song describes a man who bends to the popular tide and is afraid to stand for one thing (I had to look up this information because this is one of the few pieces of pointless 1980’s trivia that my brain did not retain).  

Scottish Pastor William Still compared Nebuchadnezzar to a chameleon as well.

Nebuchadnezzar might be the slipperiest customer out: dashing from one extreme to the other and holding on to his personal options, whatever the circumstances, and whatever even the great God of heaven had to say about him or to him—but he could not shake Him off. — William Still

Do we not do the same thing as Nebuchadnezzar? The temptation in this world to “hold on to personal options” can make you a consumer of Christianity rather than a person of faith. This can be the difference between confidence and conviction: you can have confidence in what you believe but it is your convictions that allow you to stand for truth and help you most along the difficult path that the Gospel calls you to walk.

That conviction comes from Christ alone:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. — Hebrews 11:1-2

Nebuchadnezzar was confident in one thing: Nebuchadnezzar. He was like you and I when we adopt a chameleon-like habit of bending and weaving to make others happy, to anticipate social demands or simply to ally our nagging fears. I have personally struggled with this over the years as I wrestled with keeping a job in a troubled economy, felt the pressure of demands from others and sought ultimately to please my own happiness. Focusing only Christ and the promises of our heavenly father is what strengthens our convictions.

Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, his fits of rage and praise reveal him as an unmoored vessel. Standing in front of him is Daniel, the Prophet of God: a man of conviction.

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