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People who say the Bible is all legend are all wrong. Many of the people in it are well known to historians. Among these is one of the most renowned kings of ancient times, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He was a force to be reckoned with, and the history books give us many details about his life and conquests. But only the Bible contains the story of the proud and mighty king going thoroughly insane. The one who was resplendent on the gilded throne of power became like a beast of the field.
We get our first glimpse of Nebuchadnezzar in 2 Kings 25. He did what powerful rulers did in those days: made war on other nations, conquered them, and made slaves of the people. His armies laid siege to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Zedekiah, king in Jerusalem, attempted to flee the city, but the Babylonians captured him. They slaughtered his sons right before his eyes, then blinded him and took him in chains to Babylon. Kings in those days did not mind being called "meanspirited"-in fact, they loved to be feared. Their chief pleasure in life was flying the pennants of their pride.
The Babylonians burned the king's palace in Jerusalem and, even worse, the temple of God. They left only the poorest people in the area and carted the leading citizens off to Babylon. This was standard procedure: if you conquered an area, you were wise to get rid of the people who would likely try to revolt against you. They took those people to Babylon, too far away to hatch a conspiracy in Israel.
This happened in 586 B.C., a date worth remembering, for the Israelites never forgot the destruction of the famous temple that Solomon had built. Even while living in exile in Babylon, they never stopped thinking about Jerusalem.
One of the Israelites deported to Babylon was Daniel, whose story appears in the book that bears his name. The Babylonians chose Daniel, who was young and bright, to serve in the king's court. Again, this was a prudent use of conquered people: choose the best ones to serve you, get some use out of them, and at the same time wean them away from their homeland and the religion they had embraced all their lives. Many young men in such circumstances would do the obvious thing: convert to the culture and religion of their conquerors. Daniel didn't. He stayed faithful to his God even while waiting on the idol-worshiping king of Babylon.
Daniel had an ability that dazzled people in the ancient world: he could interpret dreams. This puzzles us today, because we wonder: when someone claimed to interpret a dream, how did the person with the dream know that this was the correct interpretation? We don't know. The Bible doesn't tell us. Perhaps there was something in the interpreter's face or voice that seemed extremely convincing. We only know that when Daniel spoke, Nebuchadnezzar listened.
Chapter 4 of Daniel tells us that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that baffled all his Babylonian court soothsayers. So he turned to Daniel, who learned that the king dreamed of an enormous tree, whose "top reached to heaven" (Dan. 4:11 RSV). In the dream, a heavenly being ordered the tree cut down, with its branches lopped off and its leaves and fruit stripped away.
Daniel understood the dream, but he knew the interpretation wouldn't please the king. The tree was, of course, Nebuchadnezzar himself. He was going to be "cut down"-not killed, but driven from his throne. Oddly, the Bible does not tell us how the king reacted to this news. It says only that in twelve months he was walking on his palace roof, boasting to himself of his power and wealth, when suddenly he was "driven from among men, and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws" (Dan. 4:33 RSV). He was, eventually, restored to his sanity and his throne-but only after he acknowledged that God ruled, and that God was able to humble the proud.
What happened to him during this "beastly" period? Obviously he was insane. Psychologists are aware of certain forms of schizophrenia in which a person believes himself to be an animal, and acts accordingly. We don't know what triggered this, mentally or physically. The Bible gives us the spiritual meaning: the proud king who conquered nations and held sway over an empire faced God's punishment, which made him less than human. He regained his power when he admitted that men are not gods, that only God is supreme.
Only the Bible mentions Nebuchadnezzar's madness. Does this mean it never really happened? Not at all. Certainly the Babylonian court chronicles would not have recorded such an embarrassing incident. The Babylonians would have kept the story hushed up, while the people of Israel would have passed it on, since it taught a wonderful moral: God can humble the proud-as happened to the proud Babylonian who sacked Jerusalem and burnt God's temple. Nebuchadnezzar was neither the first nor last arrogant soul to fall from a great height.
If you like browsing the Internet, find your favorite search engine and type in "William Blake Nebuchadnezzar." This will lead you to websites where you can view the famous picture of mad Nebuchadnezzar drawn by the English artist William Blake. If you've ever seen Blake's image of the long-haired, long-nailed, wild-eyed, naked king down on all fours, it will stick in your memory. Blake could have given it the caption: "This is what pride leads to."
Excerpted from Talking Donkeys and Wheels of Fire by J. Stephan Lang Copyright © 2003 by J. Stephen Lang. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Israelite Meets Cellulite||4|
|Honey-Baked Lion, or Lion-Baked Honey||7|
|Curse That Donkey||11|
|The Great Artemis Pep Rally||14|
|The Ark, Pre-Hollywood||22|
|The Child-Eating Hell God||25|
|Raising Cain a Wife||28|
|Moses' Snakebite Cure||30|
|The One and Only Original Scapegoat||33|
|Sons of God, Human Beauties--and Fallen Giants||36|
|Moses the Mountain Goat||38|
|The Maltese Viper||41|
|Dancing for Fun and Prophet||44|
|The Ultimate Dysfunctional Family||49|
|Saul the Heretic||52|
|Mountain of Metamorphosis||55|
|The Original Camel Jockeys||58|
|Peter's Rooftop Buffet||60|
|The Big Wedding Night Switcheroo||62|
|The Seven-Day Wonder of Israel||64|
|Red or Reed, Awesome Either Way||67|
|Revisiting the Tongues-of-Fire Story||71|
|Striking Down the Number One Son||76|
|Herod the Great (Killer)||80|
|Saul, Paul, Paulus, Etc.||82|
|Pinned to the Mat by God||85|
|The Small Poultry and "What Is It?" Diet||87|
|The Prostitute's Son, and His Poor Daughter||94|
|A Splitting (Literally) Headache||97|
|Window to Heaven||99|
|Jonah, the Runaway Prophet||102|
|The Samson Angel, Up in Smoke||106|
|The Daniel Diet||108|
|The Syrian Skin Man||112|
|Raising the Roof (Literally)||115|
|Call Him "Hash" for Short||117|
|Old Sol, Stopped Dead in Its Tracks||120|
|As Old as ... You Know Who||126|
|Fleecing the Lord||128|
|Hot Pillar, Smoky Pillar||131|
|Leviathan, and Other Fearsome Things||135|
|Heavenly Porter, with Attitude||138|
|It's Cool in the Furnace||139|
|Lying and Dying||147|
|Goaded to War||150|
|Making a Fire in the Desert||152|
|The Knock-Kneed King of Persia||155|
|The Old Testament's Teetotaling Hippies||158|
|Righteous Noah--Well, Usually||160|
|Great Special Effects--Ancient Israel Style||162|
|Heads Are Gonna Roll||164|
|The Old Testament Trinity||166|
|Yep, That Old Lions' Den Story||168|
|Death by Eunuch||172|
|Not Exactly Cupid's Arrow||175|
|Tamar and the World's First ID Bracelet||178|
|The Unheard-of Sin of Gibeah||180|
|Rocking Out the Water||183|
|A Relative Matter||188|
|Gabriel the Tongue-Stopper||190|
|Why de Walls Come Tumblin' Down||193|
|Smooth Man Versus Bear Man||196|
|Assyrian Death in Massive Doses||199|
|A Truly Heavenly Spa||202|
|Isaiah's Temple Trip||204|
|Dropping Dead, After a Deadly Drop||206|
|The Lord Giveth, the Lord Taketh||208|
|Zeke and the Extraterrestrials||210|
|Israel's King, Naked (But Not Really)||213|
|Outfoxing the Philistines||215|
|The Valley of Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones||217|
|The Leprosy Lady||219|
|Peck Up Your Groceries||223|
|Organic (and Recycled) Food in Famine Time||225|
|The Ancient Version of Workplace Theft||227|
|Earthly Powers Versus the Rebels||230|
Posted March 5, 2004
If you say 'talking donkeys,' people probably think of the gabby donkey in the movie 'Shrek,' but as this collection of stories shows, there was a talking donkey centuries ago, way back in the Bible. The book looks at some of the weird stories in the Bible--not only the talking donkey (it's found in the Book of Numbers), also King David's extremely dysfunctional family (sibling incest, murder, etc), Elijah's chariot into heaven, and my favorite one, 'The Great Artemis Pep Rally,' a colorful story in the Book of Acts about an almost lethal anti-Christian riot on behalf of a pagan goddess. Although the book seems to be written to entertain, each chapter does conclude with a 'moral,' which I guess is expected in a religious book. Anyway, it is easy to read and (much as I hate to say this) probably more of a pleasure than reading the Bible itself. I could highly recommend it for Sunday school teachers (especially those who teach kids) who want to get their group's attention with a neat story.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 24, 2004
I think what grabbed me on the store shelf was the cover, with its wide-mouthed donkey, which is connected with the story of the prophet Balaam and his talking donkey. (Yeah, really!) The book is a collection of some of the weirdest and most amusing stories in the Bible. While some chapters are better than others, I think the book does a good job of making the Bible come to life, since it's obvious the author is fascinated by the many intriguing people and incidents in the Book, and his interest in the subject comes through on every page. No one could read this and still continue to believe that the Bible is only a boring book of 'Thou shalt nots.' However, even though the chapters make for easy and light reading, there is a 'moral' at the end of each chapter, which is fine, since I imagine lots of pastors and Sunday school teachers will probably use this book. It is a great book just to thumb through at random, with some very catchy chapter titles like 'Reptilian Chitchat' (a fresh look at the serpent in Eden) and 'A Splitting (Literally) Headache,' the violent story of the murder of Sisera. A favorite chapter was 'The Ultimate Dysfunctional Family,' a look at King David's squabbling kids, which seems like something off the Jerry Springer Show.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 2, 2003
This reviewer had no plans to read this inanely titled book, but fleetingly glanced at it over coffee. About an hour or so later, I finished a most entertaining biblical reference guide that is aimed at the younger set, but adults will enjoy it as testified by my spouse and adult son who subsequently read J. Stephen Lang¿s terrific work. The eighty-six stories come from the Old and New testaments and provide an intriguing looks at people and events that hook the audience. How can one not be curious about the raven who fed Elijah, Cain¿s wife, the link between food and religion, and Jacob falling for a similar switcheroo to that he and his mother pulled on his father. The collection is easy to read, and quite entertaining while educating. Perhaps the only objection by this reviewer is portrayal of Isaac as possibly not being impacted by his near death experience as a sacrifice. Of the three founding Fathers, he is the sole introvert needing his wealthy dad to find him a woman and then it was his cousin. TALKING DONKEYS AND WHEELS ON FIRE: BIBLE STORIES THAT ARE TRULY BIZARRE is fun for the whole family. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.