Daniel is meditating in his chambers at the end of a long day. His duties have been extraordinarily taxing since King Nebuchadnezzar went mad. The court, fearing an uprising from the people, have been working feverishly to keep the King’s absence a secret. Daniel, as well as the other eunuchs, are loyally serving the court and administrating the needs among the people. Tonight, Daniel feels the time may be at hand to reach out to his old friend, Nebuchadnezzar.
A loud “KNOCK, KNOCK” sounds at the door. Daniel, startled but not surprised, gets up to answer the door. Waiting outside stand the heads of the court and palace council. “Excuse us, Daniel, but we are in need of you help. Gossip has grown too rampant among the people. They grow suspicious of their King’s lack of public appearances. We fear there will be an uprising if we do not give them their King soon.”
“What is it you are asking of me?” Daniel nudges, though he is pretty sure he knows the request already. “We wish for you to go find the King in his madness and try to bring him out of it. This is a great task, we know, but if anyone can do it, surely the servant of the God of Abraham can.” Daniel holds back a snicker. He is well aware that the court resents his faith in the Lord Most High, and are only invoking that name because of their need.
“I was in prayer when you came, and my heart was already heavy with the condition of my friend.” Daniel says this to make it clear his participation will be of his own choice, and no small reminder of his status with the King. “I agree it is time to seek reconciliation for the King of Babylon. Leave me to rest tonight and in the morning I will go and seek him out.”
There is no “thank you,” just a forced bow of courtesy as the visitors leave Daniel for the night. Though tainted with a hint of indignance, Daniel can make out a look of relief across their faces. As tense as their relationship, they are truly terrified of failing to restore the King before rebellion breaks out. Daniel finishes his prayers and rests for the day ahead.
As the sun rises and morning asserts itself, Daniel sets out into the wilds beyond the boundaries of the city. He thinks to himself there may be some challenge in finding a madman in the wilds, but then again man smells fouler than beast in the open elements. He stays close to the nearby river, knowing the King couldn’t survive too far away from water. Sure enough, after a few hours a terrible odor invades his nostrils.
Daniel follows the odor until it brings him to a small nook in the earth. It is a little hole of shade composed of mud along the exposed roots of a mighty tree. Within the nook is what looks like a freshly unearthed rock, still covered in the soil it emerged from. It would look exactly like a rock, except that is was moving. Not only moving, it is breathing. Daniel takes a moment to adjust to seeing his old friend like this, and feels great pity for him.
“O King Nebuchadnezzar!” Daniel speaks audibly, but not too loud. He wants to make his presence known to the King and is eager to diagnose his response. “Your people grow restless, your court grows anxious, and your friend has come to claim you in the name of the Lord Most High.” Daniel stops, and he stares with anticipation at the rock-like ball of flesh.
He has no idea what to expect. From the once-King’s appearance he could awake and lash out as a wild animal or run away in terror. He leans in cautiously to see if there is any response at all, or if he was even heard. The rock begins to stir, and begins to stretch out into a form more resembling a man. Daniel steps back, he is sure is presence is now known, but not sure of the response.
Nebuchadnezzar looks up slowly, squinting at the daylight behind Daniel. As he stands up, the dirt and grime covering his body flakes off, the leaves which make up his bed rustle under his feet, his hair makes the sound of small broom with all its crust and debris. Daniel wonders, for a moment, if mad men of the woods such as his friend are where fables of ents and tree-folk come from.
The King looks at Daniel, and then past Daniel. He slowly walks, with a slight tremble of the legs, and stands at the edge of the river. “King?” says Nebuchadnezzar in almost a whisper, as if asking himself. “King?” he says again, and looks at his hands. A still silent moment passes, and then suddenly he yells “KING!”
Daniel startles as Nebuchadnezzar runs past him, apparently remembering the strength of his legs. The mad King runs around and begins picking up twigs and rocks. He acts hurried, but not anxious, as if he is actually excited. Then he falls to his knees with arms full of bits and pieces, drops it all into a pile, and begins digging around in the mud with his hands.
Nothing is said, and Daniel decides to wait and see what is going on in the mad King’s head. Finally, the King stands up, holding his hand to his chin as if critiquing his work. Daniel looks to the ground to see what could possibly be a mud-city, much like sand-castles the children often make. “KING!” Nebuchadnezzar shouts, pointing his finger in the air.
“See, I AM King! Aren't I?” Nebuchadnezzar looks at Daniel, for the first time, intentionally in the eyes and awaits a response. Daniel is lost for words, he opens as if to speak but nothing comes out. Apparently tired of waiting, the mad King continues. “See what I made with my hands! I made a city of earth, so I must be the KING OF EARTH. I am king of mud, king of stone, and king of twigs. See all I make with my mighty hands!”
“I see.” says Daniel, that is all he can think to say. Then the mad King grows a look of anger. He turns back to his “city of earth” and stares at it, as if anticipating something. “Now look what I can do!” the King shouts and then proceeds to stomp upon his newly crafted city with tremendous vigor. Once satisfied his destruction is thorough, he pauses to catch his breath. Again, he just stares at Daniel, intensely and awaiting a response.
“Tell me, sage.” says the King. Daniel’s eyes light up, “sage” was the King’s nickname for Daniel when they were arguing. Daniel thinks to himself, “There must be some sanity in the mad King’s head to use such an inference.” But there is not enough time to linger on the thought, the King’s voice continues. “If I can build the city and be a king, then what does it make me to destroy the city?”
Daniel pauses, he is now lost in conviction as to if he is talking to a madman or not. Is this a crazy person asking this to him, or his old friend engaging in one of their lively discussion. Is it both? “I don’t know, King. What does it make you?” Daniel felt at least he could be polite and offer some kind of response. “God!” replies Nebuchadnezzar, “If I can make a city and destroy it, then that makes me God, right? After all, that is what God does isn't it? Hmmm!?”
Taken aback, Daniel can only think to ask for clarification, “Is that what you think, my friend? Do you think that you are God?” The mad King recoils, as if in disgust. “Damn you! Damn you, sage!” the King shouts in angered frustration, “The one person I have ever known with half a brain and you can’t understand a simple riddle.” The King stops, the anger turns to what looks like despair. He starts to turn away and says calmly, “There is no hope then, is there?”
Never has Daniel been so confused and lost for what to do. He still cannot tell if the King has lost his mind completely, or is simply outwitting him. The two stand in silence, the King staring back into the forest. “Why don’t you ask your God for the answer?” asked the King in what sounded like a genuine plea. “After all,” the King continued, “that answer is what robbed me of mine.”
Again, Daniel is stunned by continued clarity and simultaneous ambiguity of the King’s words. However, this was an old arrangement which had worked well for both of them, for Daniel to ask the Lord on High for an answer and then to share it with the King. The least he could do was just say, “Yes, of course.”
“I will go and sit by the river and await my Lord’s response.” Daniel assured the mad King. The King didn't not seem to acknowledge the response, but went and sat once again under the tree he was found in. The evening came, and then the night, all in stillness. Daniel staring into the river, the King curled under a tree, the movement of the sun the only clue as to if it was a painting or life itself.
“O King Nebuchadnezzar,” Daniel breaks the silence of a still morning, greeting the mad King once again to try and reach through to him. “I have waiting on the Lord, and the Lord has revealed to me what it is which has happened to you.” The curled-up man under the tree looks does not resemble a rock this time, with less accumulated grime, which makes Daniel wonder how long he had been in that position upon their first encounter.
The King does not stand, but acknowledges Daniel by moving into an attentive sit, leaning back against the roots of the tree and arms holding his knees together. There is a look of skepticism and anticipation on the mad King’s brow, but he does not speak.
Daniel begins, “Seven years ago you were walking in your gardens. Surrounded by their beauty, the accomplishments of your people, and your status among them; your mind fell into depravity and delusion. You allowed yourself to be deceived by temporary things such as possessions and praise of men. After all our discussion and time together, after all the wonders of the Lord you have witnessed, you chose to wallow in your own false grandeur. You declared yourself God in your heart.”
The King looks away, as if he cannot bear Daniel’s gaze any more. “I am aware of my own sin, old friend. But if reminding me of it is the best you can do, then leave me.” In that moment, Nebuchadnezzar sounded more human and more sane than any interaction so far. Daniel now knew for sure that the King is not truly gone.
“Fear not, my friend.” Daniel starts again, wanting to reassure the King. “The Lord Most High revealed to me the rest as well. It may seem hard to accept, but the Lord has looked favorably upon you. Your soul was so close to freedom, to understanding, that the Lord did not want you to be lost in your own delusion. So in your deepest moment of deception, the Lord gave you clarity.”
“CLARITY!” the King leaps up, “Your God took away everything! He showed me our world as it truly is, from the view of the angels and the sights of universe. How can I ever again live in this pointless life of self-important walking dust. All people live with such arrogance, and I, the so-called great King, was the most diluted of all. Yes, I am King. King of dirt, king of dust, king of fools. What purpose is there is any of this? Why am I here?” Nebuchadnezzar stops, looking not as if he is actually finished, but as if he is too flustered to find his next words.
Even though Daniel understands what has happened to the King, he cannot not escape the cathartic irony of the moment. Despite all his self-control and empathy, he fails to stop himself from breaking out into a roaring laugh. Sometimes there is nothing more potent than the naked truth, spoken bluntly and plainly, that the brain has no other way to respond other than to laugh or to cry. The King looks insulted at first, but then cannot help but contract the feelings of his friend and begins to laugh himself.
The two of them stumble to the ground for a bit, the laughter draws all their strength from them. For a moment, should a wanderer stop by, it would seem as if two madmen are now lost in the woods. As they exhaust their laughter, and catch their breath, the King’s laughter now moves into tears. He calmly and sincerely looks to Daniel, “How do you do it, Daniel? How do you live in our world? To know all the glories and wonders of creation, but still live every day as if your movements have any value at all? How do you not despair?”
Daniel replies, “The Lord has given you clarity of mind, but such a thing is madness to the hard of heart. Truly, what purpose can man construct for his life that is not vanity in the end? But where the mind can find no purpose, the heart can find fulfillment. Our task at hand, O King, is not to decipher what man cannot fathom, but to learn what the heart truly needs.”
“Doesn't the heart feel pride in accomplishments?” The King’s countenance lifts as he feels invigorated now having someone to guide what has been years of jumbled thoughts. He engages Daniel in hopes of reconciling them. “Doesn't the heart swell when the mind solves problems or defeats opponents? Doesn't the heart NEED the mind?”
“No, my King,” corrects Daniel, “the mind needs the heart. When your heart is lost, your mind cannot reach the world around you, it becomes lost in itself.”
Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes grow wide, “You have identified my madness. I have had no solace or relief from my mind. Nothing has made sense, I have felt no purpose, and feel no joy from anything. The only relief has been the chaotic disorder of the wild, which gives me no heed and bares no expectations. But tell me then, why does my mind feel clear at this moment. Why do I feel better talking to you?”
“You are so close.” Daniel says intending to encourage the King, “Please, reflect now. How do you FEEL about me?”
“You are… my friend. I feel… valued.” The King replies with hesitation but certainty. “I was so lost in our roles in court I never realized that you are probably the only person in my life to knows who I really am, and still care about me.”
“And so you taste a moment of sanity.” Concludes Daniel.
“Thank you, my friend.” The King’s posture relaxes, he leans back as if to take in the moment. A warm silence passes between them and the King starts again. “But explain this, you come to bring me back to court, to rule a people, as a King, who I am no better than or more fit than any other. You ask me to return to the madness and delusion of a self-important society that worships its greatness, but will be forgotten in years to come. Why, Daniel? Why am I here?”
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.”
Daniel recites to the King.
“I remember those words.” The King smiles slightly at Daniel, acknowledging the subtle “I told you so.” “So you say I am King because God made me King, so that should be enough for me?”
“No, my King. I am saying that God is in charge of your position, your kingdom, and your court. So then, you must learn to see yourself as something else entirely.”
“A steward?” Guessed Nebuchadnezzar.
“Yes, good. You are tending to a part of humanity which exist with our without you. Humanity has chosen to function under rule of a king, it is a part of our childhood. We are not ready to govern ourselves directly, but one day we will. Even the children of Israel demanded a king when the Lord offered them freedom. It is a but a season in our history.”
“But you still aren't answering a greater question.” Insisted the King, “Why me? Why am I here. At what purpose do I continue to wear a royal costume and live my life?”
“What I have brought to you this day, so may you join me in bringing into the world. For whatever breath is in you, there is no end to the need in this world for love, compassion, and a declaration of our value to each other. Rejoice and understand that God invites you to participate in his most holy and divine work of all, to bring light into this dark world!”
“But how much can one man truly do compared to the drought of savagery that is upon us?” Pushed the King.
“Not much. But two can do more, and three exponentially more than that! You are not alone, my King. And our purpose is not to fill this void, but simply to play our part in another generation of growth. That each new child born may be a step closer to the reality and inheritance that awaits us. I think that is a great purpose, don’t you?”
The King paused, a big smile formed on his crusted face. Tears dripped down his cheek. With his eyes alert, and his posture straight, the King no longer looked like he fit into the robes of dirt and soil he currently wore. “Yes,” the King confidently replies, “yes it does.” And once again, they laughed at the obscurity of it all.
The King returned to court that night with Daniel. The court attendees were overjoyed and rushed the King through orders of business and lavished upon him with grooming and perfume. The court advisers eagerly and anxiously approached the King, “Glory to Our King! We have kept your court and tended your people. The kingdom is stable, but it needs your presence! Please hold a public festival so that your people know their King is strong and in charge.”
“I will do ask you ask,” Nebuchadnezzar replied, “and for the evening dinner, I wish to make a speech to the guests of the court.” The advisers looked at each other for a moment, surprised the King was in shape to engage a room at such a level. “Yes, your greatness. Whatever you desire, it shall be done. You are too generous!”
That evening, the court was full of festivities and celebration. Everyone, especially those who knew the King was missing, was jubilant. It was as if a great burden was lifted off all of Babylon. As dinner wound down, and people’s bellies were full enough to listen, the King rose from his seat and the crowd eagerly hushed in order to hear.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
The King’s closest advisers sat wide eyed, and in shock. Now questioning whether they had made the right choice in putting the King on display so quickly. They glanced over at Daniel, who was helping the staff collect dirty plates. Daniel seeing their expressions, just winked and then continued cleaning the tables.
1. Daniel 2:20-22 (ESV)
2. Daniel 4:34-37 (ESV)
This is part two of my ongoing short story series "The Lost Tales of Daniel." If you missed part one, you can read it here: