Monday, November 5, 2012

Response to John Nugent: Part 2 - Daniel

This will begin a series of posts responding primarily to John Nugent's third post on Elections and Idolatry. Unlike my response to his first two posts I will be responding point by point, as Nugent has finally offered the Biblical basis for his criticisms of Christians who are involved in politics. I thank Nugent for this, as it gives me the opportunity to respond in full to points that have previously been made to me only in conversation rather than in writing. Let me stress that I am not judging Nugent or anyone else for not voting or being involved in politics, certainly not in the way he judges those who do. If Nugent's conscience restricts him from taking part in politics it is his freedom in Christ to do so, just as I support the right of conscientious objectors not to be forced to fight in a war against their beliefs, a protection quite rare in the history of nations. I am only concerned with Nugent's accusation against myself and others among his brothers and sisters in Christ who exercise our freedom in Christ to positively participate in politics. Specifically, Nugent accuses us of idolatry and acting irresponsibly with respect to our role as Christians in the world, claiming Biblical authority to do so.

If one is to make a judgment, one must have a full grasp of two things: the standard, and the object of judgment. Without a standard separating right and wrong, no fair judgment of anything can be made, and this standard must be clear and defined. A judgment cannot be considered fair if an unfair or illegitimate standard is used. Similarly, no fair judgment can be made unless one has a clear understanding of the thing which is being judged in order to compare it with the standard. No judgment can be considered fair unless the judge has accurately discerned the judged. A failure on either side of this equation results in an unfair judgment. Amazingly, Nugent has failed on both counts. He has failed to come up with a clear, fair and accurate standard and has also failed to accurately determine the precise nature of the object of his judgment, namely American conservative Christians. Hence my disgust with his position, which I will now begin to detail.

Part One

Part Two will focus on Nugent's argument from the book of Daniel.

Part Three will focus on Nugent's general outline of the Biblical narrative, or the "Biblical story" as he referred to it in other posts.

Part Four will focus on Nugent's argument from the Levitical priesthood.

Part Five will focus on the sin of idolatry: what it is and what it isn't.

Part Six will address Nugent's accusation of brainwashing. Two can play at that game.

Part Seven will focus on conservative political ideology in light of the previous discussions.

Part Two

Daniel 4

Daniel 4 is the hilarious story of king Nebuchednezzar's divine inspiration to insanity, whereupon he turns to eating grass and preferring rather poor personal hygiene. The more sobering aspect of the story is why God did this to him. It's an important question, because the answer reveals the standard God holds to political leaders.

In Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar has his second dream, whereupon he calls Daniel to interpret it. Daniel does so, exclaiming, "My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!" (19) Daniel then interprets Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a tree that is cut down and a voice declares that the stump is to be left but made to become like an animal "so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.’" (17) Daniel clearly tells Nebuchadnezzar that the tree is a representation of Nebuchadnezzar, not a representation of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom. He also affirms that Nebuchadnezzar has become a great king over a great kingdom, saying "You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth." (22) Daniel offers his advice in light of this prediction: "The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 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." Daniel suggests that Nebuchadnezzar do two things to avert God's wrath: acknowledge that God is Sovereign, and do what is right by being kind to the oppressed. I don't know any other way to interpret this than as Daniel's opinion of what Nebuchadnezzar is doing wrong and thus the reason for his coming punishment. There is no indication whatsoever that Nebuchadnezzar's error was to view his kingdom as "special," and even Daniel's call to be kind to the oppressed is not echoed either in the dream or in the next part of the story. The story presents Nebuchadnezzar's entire punishment to be the result of Nebuchadnezzar's belief that his own strength made his kingdom great without reference to God.  "Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven..." (29-31) And so Nebuchadnezzar's punishment begins. When his punishment ends, Nebuchadnezzar praises God. Then relates, "at the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before." (36) Again, the clear implication is that God has rewarded Nebuchadnezzar's change in attitude by returning him his kingdom, indeed, making his kingdom "even greater than before."

So how does Nugent misinterpret this passage? Let me count the ways:

1. He wrongly attributes the tree metaphor to Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom, when the tree is clearly identified both in the dream and by Daniel as a representation of Nebuchadnezzar himself. I don't know how it could be any more obvious than Daniel saying, "You, O king, are that tree!" How Nugent misses this obvious point is a mystery to me.

2. Nugent wrongly attributes the vision of the tree as Nebuchadnezzar's own view of himself. The story implies that this dream is a vision from God (as all the dreams in the book of Daniel are presented), and therefore the tree is actually God's view of Nebuchadnezzar as well as Daniel's. Certainly Nebuchadnezzar had the same view, but it was not a mistake to view himself as powerful because both God and Daniel shared that view, as would anyone.

3. Nugent says that Nebuchadnezzar was restored to "a more modest position," when the story clearly says his position was actually greater than before. It is Nebuchadnezzar himself who has become more modest, not his position in the world.

4. Nugent claims that Nebuchadnezzar was punished "because he entertained the notion that his kingdom was special..." No, that was not the reason. The reason had nothing to do with what Nebuchadnezzar believed about his own kingdom. It had everything to do with what Nebuchadnezzar believed about himself. Nebuchadnezzar believed his kingdom had been built up "by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty." This was his error, and once he corrected it his kingdom was restored to him even "greater than before." Even the passage Nugent cites from Habakkuk contains this view in chapter 2, verse 11: "Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—guilty men, whose own strength is their god.”

Nugent has tried to build a false standard out of this Scripture. He has tried to suggest a standard that those who view their own kingdom as "special" are wrong to do so. He does this not by taking the passage at face value, but because he wishes to indict anyone who thinks the United States is special. The actual standard to be taken from the passage is that those who believe their kingdom is great because of their own strength are wrong to do so. It is actually God who makes kingdoms rise or fall. If there is any application from Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon to today's American Christians and the United States, it's to view the greatness of the United States as an artifact of God's will, and not dependent upon our own positive attributes.

This interpretation has the added value of correlating to at least two other examples in Scripture that I know: Moses and King Herod. In Numbers 20:1-13 Israel is running out of water, so God commands Moses to "take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink." Moses does so, and water gushes from the rock just as God said. In comparison with all the other miracles, signs and wonders from the period of the exodus, this one doesn't rank very high. But the passage is greatly significant because of verse 12: "But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” What?! Hold on a second. What did Moses do wrong? Why did God punish him? Let's head back a bit to find out. When Moses did as God had asked him to do, he said to Israel, who had been grumbling against Moses' leadership, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" Must we bring water from the rock. "We" meaning Moses and Aaron, not God. Moses, the man who had devoted his life to bringing Israel from slavery to the promised land, was denied entry into that land because he implied that he himself was responsible for something God had done. Like Daniel 4, this should serve as a stark reminder to anyone in a leadership position to give God glory and credit as often as possible for fear of His wrath.

We see a near exact parallel to this story in Acts 12:19b-25. Just as with Moses, there was a quarrel between Herod and his people. Verses 21-23: "On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died." Again God punishes a public figure and leader for taking praise and credit for himself when it belongs to God. Again a stark warning to public figures who neglect to give God credit for their successes as leaders of nations.

Daniel 7

Nugent does not end his argument from Daniel in chapter four, however. In fact he immediately ties it to chapter seven, the penultimate chapter in the book in my opinion. After chapter seven the subject changes from predictions of the coming Christ to predictions specifically about the Jewish nation. Nugent's argument from the end of chapter seven is on much more solid ground than his argument from chapter four, and here I find we are much in agreement, so far as it goes. Nugent says:

"In Daniel 7, the great empire of Babylon is properly seen as one in a string of beasts that temporarily roam the earth eventually to be replaced by others. The only everlasting kingdom, according to the book of Daniel, is that of the “saints of the Most High” (v. 27). These are the chosen people that God has formed, set apart, and appointed to show all kingdoms what the divine reign looks like."

That last part about showing "what the divine reign looks like" is a bit of extra interpretation, but it's not egregious. Taken by itself, I could agree completely with this statement, but Nugent means something a little different than I would. If I'm interpreting him correctly, Nugent believes in an open-ended "string of beasts that temporarily roam the earth eventually to be replaced by others." But is he taking this belief from Daniel chapter seven?

There is a succession of four beasts in Daniel 7, but listen to the end of the story (23-27): 

"The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.

“‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’"

So what we have here is four beasts, then the establishment of God's kingdom, then a fifth beast rises, followed by a sixth beast after that, and then a seventh and so on and so forth forever and ever. Right? 


There are no more beasts!

Get it?

There are no more beasts!

Got it?

There are no more beasts!

Can you hear me now? Good!

Indeed, how could God's kingdom be everlasting if there was another beast such as the four that came before rising again? How is the fourth beast "completely destroyed forever" if there's just going to be a succession of similar beasts after it? The passage makes no sense if one believes that there are more beasts in the line of the first four after God destroys them completely and establishes His kingdom forever, giving the saints all the "sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven." God's victory is final. His kingdom is forever. Praise be to God, upon whom all glory and honor rests! There are no more beasts.


Nugent is entitled to write fantasy fiction if he wants. I might enjoy something of that nature. I suggest using my favorite, a black panther somewhere in the succession (RWAR!), but he can do whatever he wants because it would all be coming from his own imagination. It certainly would not be coming from this text. 

I would love to continue a discussion of Daniel and Revelation, but it would get very long because I have much to say. I've been planning a separate series of posts on all of that, but for now I think it's safe to say that Nugent is once again twisting Scripture to fit his own agenda by being loudly suggestive where Scripture is silent.