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Daily Devotional • April 23

Sarah Puryear
The Beginning of Sin
A Reading from Daniel 4:1-18

1 King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages that live throughout the earth: May you have abundant prosperity! 2 The signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me I am pleased to recount.

3 How great are his signs,
    how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and his sovereignty is from generation to generation.

4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was living at ease in my home and prospering in my palace. 5 I saw a dream that frightened me; my fantasies in bed and the visions of my head terrified me. 6 So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, in order that they might tell me the interpretation of the dream. 7 Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not tell me its interpretation. 8 At last Daniel came in before me — he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god and who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods — and I told him the dream: 9 “O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods and that no mystery is too difficult for you. Hear the dream that I saw, and tell me its interpretation.

10 Upon my bed this is what I saw:
    there was a tree at the center of the earth,
    and its height was great.
11 The tree grew great and strong,
    its top reached to heaven,
    and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.
12 Its foliage was beautiful,
    its fruit abundant,
    and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it,
    the birds of the air nested in its branches,
    and from it all living beings were fed.

13 “I continued looking, in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and there was a holy watcher coming down from heaven. 14 He cried aloud and said:

‘Cut down the tree and chop off its branches;
    strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit.
Let the animals flee from beneath it
    and the birds from its branches.
15 But leave its stump and roots in the ground,
    with a band of iron and bronze,
    in the tender grass of the field.
Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven,
    and let his lot be with the animals
    in the grass of the earth.
16 Let his mind be changed from that of a human,
    and let the mind of an animal be given to him.
    And let seven times pass over him.
17 The sentence is rendered by decree of the watchers,
    the decision is given by order of the holy ones,
in order that all who live may know
    that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdom of mortals;
he gives it to whom he will
    and sets over it the lowliest of human beings.’

18 “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, saw. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are unable to tell me the interpretation. You are able, however, for you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods.”

Today’s and tomorrow’s Old Testament stories from Daniel focus on the themes of pride and humility. The great Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar has become proud of his achievements and forgets God’s role in appointing him ruler. He is about to find out in a dramatic way that those who put their trust in themselves instead of God should prepare themselves for a serious dose of humility.

St. Augustine describes pride in the following way: “Pride is the beginning of sin. And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation: when the soul abandons him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself.” Pride can be seen as the “beginning of sin,” because in pride we turn away from God as the source of wisdom and power. When we turn from God, who is the true source of our good, of our purpose, and of our life, an idol of our own making will take God’s place, and most often that idol is ourselves. We will then begin to exalt ourselves in God’s place, and give ourselves credit for what is properly God’s. 

In his success as ruler, Nebuchadnezzar lauded himself as the source of his accomplishments without regard for God’s role in his success. Proverbs 16:18 warns that “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Nebuchadnezzar’s dream predicts that this bout of pride will be followed by an epic fall.

The remedy for pride is found in agreeing with the acclamation we make as we bring our offerings before the altar in the Eucharist service: “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given thee.” When we have fallen prey to the sin of pride, recognizing God as the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17) can lead us back to a place of humble gratitude before him.

The Rev. Sarah Puryear lives in Nashville with her family and serves as priest associate at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Church of the Province of Uganda
Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Olney, Maryland
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