They answered a second time and said, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will show its interpretation.” The king answered and said, “I know with certainty that you are trying to gain time, because you see that the word from me is firm- if you do not make the dream known to me, there is but one sentence for you. You have agreed to speak lying and corrupt words before me till the times change. Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation.” The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Because of this the king was angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be destroyed. Daniel 2:7-12
A Good Fight
“But this is not a light matter, your Highness. You already bear the weight of the world on your shoulders; would you bear the weight of heaven as well?”
“Who doesn’t bear that responsibility, Beletir?” the king patiently responded. “Only slaves are permitted the luxury of allowing someone else to think for them.” Short-fused as he was, he had grown up under Beletir and was indebted to the steadfast care of his father’s aged vizier. Nebuchadnezzar could remember boyhood days when he owned a treasured seat on the learned man’s lap. An older man even then, this seasoned veteran had grown to be the beloved grandfather of the court. As a man well past his prime, his logic often lapsed, and he was frequently out of touch with the realities of the current day. Yet for all this, his legacy remained unimpeachable. Everyone seemed to recognize Beletir as a vestige of a generation to whom they owed a great debt. Fortunately, the young monarch had seen the conversation coming and was determined not to allow these precious minutes to be spoiled on account of his own pride and impatience.
“But even Adapa was unable to discern what Ea, the god of wisdom, plainly spoke to him,” persisted the courtier. “Would you fare better, your Eminence?”
“Beletir, listen to me. The more I examine the story, the less I believe it. Consider the conclusion—if the wisest of men could not understand the simplest instruction of the god, what hope is there for any of us? If the story of Adapa is true, then we do well to destroy the wise men and diviners because they lead us on a fool’s errand that will only amount to anguish and despair. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that we would exalt such a story on the one hand yet ardently pursue knowledge on the other? Can we maintain this hypocrisy without damaging ourselves?”
“But no king has ever ruled without diviners, my Lord! Please consider!” the elder insisted. But it was no use. It was plain as day that he had merely jumped from one assertion to another. The appeal, so empty and emotional, made it very clear that his reservations arose only from fear of the unknown.
The Glory of Kings
The king bit his lip and tried to take a deep, imperceptible breath. It would not do to yell. It wasn’t necessary and it wouldn’t work, “The fact that every king has kept diviners establishes neither their necessity nor their legitimacy. Wouldn’t their absence be the best way of verifying their worth?”
“So you are certain of this, Sire?” spoke the ancient. There was a quiet strength in his words now, not unlike the soft shade of a Zagros oak tree—though silent and serene, it was unquestionably strong.
The king’s stoic expression softened. It was apparent that his old friend was willing to trust him, and that was a gift to his young heart. His eyes smiled at the older man, “Beletir, you know the histories better than I do. Divining didn’t keep Babylon alive as it hid and fought for its survival in the southern marshes. There was no ziggurat to ascend, or even an altar to promote our prayers to the gods. Divining didn’t foresee that Emperor Sennacherib would flood Babylon with its own river, nor did it rebuild the city one brick at a time. You served with my father. Did divining capture Nineveh and destroy Assyria, or was the victory won through sound counsel, constant surveillance, good alliances, and an iron resolve?”
The elder looked at his companion and quietly nodded. Teaching would not suit the moment for the boy was no more. In his place sat the king, a king indeed. Would he have had it otherwise? His weathered face smiled as pondered the gladness all this would have brought Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar. With eyes upon the man, he joyfully thought “Long live the king!”
Illustration by Elesha Casimir