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Daily Devotional • April 24

Sarah Puryear
Have a Little "Humus"
A Reading from Daniel 4:19-27

19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was severely distressed for a while. His thoughts terrified him. The king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or the interpretation terrify you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies! 20 The tree that you saw, which grew great and strong so that its top reached to heaven and was visible to the whole earth, 21 whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and which provided food for all, under which animals of the field lived and in whose branches the birds of the air had nests — 22 it is you, O king! You have grown great and strong. Your greatness has increased and reaches to heaven, and your sovereignty to the ends of the earth. 23 And whereas the king saw a holy watcher coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, and let him be bathed with the dew of heaven, and let his lot be with the animals of the field, until seven times pass over him’ — 24 this is the interpretation, O king, and it is a decree of the Most High that has come upon my lord the king: 25 You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will. 26 As it was commanded to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be reestablished for you from the time that you learn that Heaven is sovereign. 27 Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.”

Our English word “humble” comes from the Latin word humus, which means ground. This reminds us of the Bible’s most fundamental understanding of human nature found in Genesis. God forms Adam from the dust of the ground and makes him into a living being (Gen. 2:7). God gives humans a unique place in his world, above the other creatures, one that is meant to “rule” and steward their resources, as shown in Adam’s naming the animals and tending the garden of Eden.

Pride, then, is a disordering of that God-given order, ranking ourselves too high by putting ourselves in the place of God. As an ironic consequence for his pride, God lowers Nebuchadnezzar’s place so that he becomes sub-human. Driven away from human civilization, he eats “grass like an ox,” and his hair and nails become like those of birds. God’s intent in humbling Nebuchadnezzar is not to grind him into the dirt. Rather God’s intent is to bring forth an understanding and acknowledgment that his power and authority have come from God.

What surprises me most about this story is Nebuchadnezzar’s response. Rather than becoming bitter or resentful toward God, he “raises his eyes to heaven” in acknowledgment of God and is immediately restored to his human state (Dan. 4:34). He then responds in thanks and praise of God, whom, Nebuchadnezzar says, “those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan. 4:37).

Most of us can recall an experience when circumstances have cut us down to size and humbled us. Perhaps we are living through such a situation right now. We have a choice in how we respond; we can take the opportunity to examine ourselves in humility, to consider where we have erred, and to ask for God’s grace to have an accurate view of ourselves — not too high and not too low — and an accurate view of him whom Nebuchadnezzar calls “the king of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just” (Dan. 4:37).

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

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Shyira – Eglise Anglicane du Rwanda
St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church, Ridgewood, New Jersey
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