10/03/2005

Letting our theology trump the “literal interpretation” of the text

I recently heard a local evangelical preacher speak on Daniel chapter 4. It generally was a good message, focusing in on Nebuchadnezzar’s pride—and the extreme measures God used to humble him.

But there was one moment that I found perplexing. At verse 27, the Bible reads that Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar this:

“Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

At this point, the pastor read out loud only this part: “Renounce your sins by doing what is right,” and then he stopped. He came out from behind the pulpit and explained that (and I paraphrase here), “we, at this church, believe that you are not saved by what you do. One of the largest churches in the world has made the gospel a matter of doing certain things to be right with God, and we find that the Bible tells us that we are made right with God only by having faith in Jesus Christ.”

Then the rest of the preacher’s message interpreted the Nebuchadnezzar story as a man who needed to become humble and renounce his pride by accepting God as Lord instead of relying on his own “majesty” as King. Nebuchadnezzar needed to repent from his pride.

Now, I do think that Nebuchadnezzar’s sin was one of arrogance and pride, but that is not all—it was an arrogance and pride rooted in his power and prosperity. And I found that the sermon did not stress the actually meaning of this text: Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.” That is what the text says!

Is this a case where our theology trumps the “literal interpretation” of the text? It seems to me that the purpose of this text being in our Bibles is to teach us that power and wealth corrupts—and that if we are to humbly acknowledge Yahweh as Lord, then we MUST (no ifs, ands, or buts) do what is right—and that is to “be kind to the oppressed.”

A follower of God (i.e. a Christian) cannot claim to be so if he or she is rich and powerful and is also willingly part of a system that is wicked in the oppression of people. King Nebuchadnezzar is re-granted his prosperity only when he renounced his pride and decided to change his systems of making the rich richer and the powerful more powerful.

technorati: ,

5 comments:

Scott said...

Excellent thoughts, Bob. I have never noticed that in the text before (another example of letting your theology trump the text). It made me think of Zacchaeus - it was after he decided to make restitution with his wealth for his oppression that Jesus said, "Today salvation has come into this house."

No, it isn't that the works save you, but without a change of action can it be said that there has been a change of heart?

burttd said...

"King Nebuchadnezzar is re-granted his prosperity only when he renounced his pride and decided to change his systems of making the rich richer and the powerful more powerful."

The abuse of power part can be clearly seen in the text - but where is the economics? I don't find that there, or anywhere else in Daniel. Are you sure *you're* not reading things into the text...?

Bob Robinson said...

"I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous." (Daniel 4:4)

Daniel's warning to Nebuchadnezzar: "Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” ... "Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he (Nebuchadnezzar) said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence? (vv. 27, 29-30a)

This last statement are the words of one who has been economically successful or "prosperous." Power and Economics go hand-in-hand, always has, always will. Check out just how many times the Prophets identify the "oppressed" as "the poor." In other words, power and oppression is almost always an economic issue.

"Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people."
(Isaiah 10:1-2)

It is clear that in Daniel chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar's power AND prosperity are interlinked.

So, upon hearing Nebuchadnezzar's failure to repent as Daniel pleaded with him to do (as he walked along and proudly boasts about his lush residence and of his own glory in building majestic Babylon), God takes him out of power and out of his "prosperity."

Phil Steiger said...

Bob-wonderful thoughts on an important issue. This kind of problem always faces pastors as they examine a text and "pick" what they deem applicable and/or important. In my opinion, exegetical/verse-by-verse teaching is the best way to overcome some of those missteps (not a guarantee, but the best way).

Bob Robinson said...

The irony of it all is that this pastor is known as one of those exegetical/verse-by-verse teachers!

In fact, this message flowed right through the passage, verse-by-verse, except at that point where he paused and interjected his theological correction to the text!