Preparations for Eternal Life

A Grand Opportunity

“LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear” (Psalms 10:17).

by Tom Ruggirello

I n the Garden of Eden, the human family had not yet been prepared for eternal life. Though created in beautiful perfection, our first parents lacked much in understanding and wisdom. To fail such a simple test (Genesis 2:17) also indicated a lack of trust in the great Creator. Knowing there was much to teach His human family, God’s plan included the lessons that experience would ingrain in the human heart. It has been a difficult time, one filled with suffering. But this life education will reap lovely fruitage as mankind learns the requirements for gaining eternal life.

Lessons in Humility

The serpent’s lies to mother Eve began the learning experience. “And the serpent said unto the woman, ‘Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’ And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:4-6). The desire for wisdom was not wrong. However, the serpent’s words implied that God was attempting to deprive her of something appealing, to “be as gods.” Her first mistake was to give credence to the words of the great deceiver. This is much like the innocence of a child who may easily believe an enticing lie.

Eve displayed a natural ambition in her response. This desire for wisdom was an element that needed to be educated and refined. Sin and death would begin the refining process. The selfish ambition to become “as gods” would someday be transformed to fulfill the words of Jesus, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:27). This reversal of man’s heart desire is part of the ultimate purpose of God to perfect a race of people who, out of abundant hearts, have a servant’s mentality. Pride and misplaced ambition have been a stumbling block for mankind ever since Eve’s fateful decision. These elements will someday be rooted out.

Evil Quickly Takes Hold

As the human family grew, people became more organized. The first city recorded in scripture was built by Cain shortly after his rejection by God. It is interesting where he chose to build. “And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch” (Genesis 4:16,17).

The Land of Nod was outside of Eden proper, and the word “Nod” means “vagabond.” It correlates to the curse God placed upon Cain. “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” (Genesis 4:11,12).

Cain fled the land of Eden as a fugitive. The word for “city” means “a place guarded by a watch” (Strong’s 5892). By building a city, Cain was creating a defensible position against any who might assault him or his family. Naming the city after his son, Enoch, was likely to avoid using his own name which had become disreputable. When Cain left Eden and “the presence of the Lord,” he also severed himself from his relatives and no longer worshipped God. The word “Nod” can also mean “shaking” or “trembling.” (See Matthew Henry Commentary for Genesis 4:16.) This implies a restlessness of spirit within Cain resulting from his being far from the presence of God.

This alienation also put more distance between himself and the influence of his mother and father who still worshipped God. Cain and his family would now continue the long descent into sin and isolation from God. His personal downward course began with jealousy towards his brother which led to murder and eventual life of fear. The Apostle John shares a lesson from the life of Cain. “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:11,12). In Cain then we see some of the qualities that God’s plan is designed to erase from the heart of man — a lack of love leading to jealousy and competition.

Cain’s short lineage, given in Genesis 4, would not survive the Flood. One descendant named Lamech (verse 23) like Cain, had taken the life of another. He said, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me” (Genesis 4:23). Whether this was in self-defense or not, it indicates violence was becoming more prominent. As Cain dreaded retribution for killing his brother Abel, so Lamech became fearful of being avenged (verse 24). Lamech was also the first man mentioned in scripture as having two wives. As a result of accepting this lifestyle, the lineage of Cain may have produced offspring more rapidly than that of his brother Seth. So, when the angels “saw the daughters of men that they were fair” (Genesis 6:2), the descendants of Cain may have been more predominate and likely to fall in with the angels who produced the Nephilim. Evil became so rampant that God determined to destroy the race with a flood. Only Noah and his noble family, from the lineage of Seth, were saved. This destruction served two purposes. First, it rid the world of the evil influence of the hybrid race. Second, it prevented the race from becoming so evil that even a righteous kingdom could not reclaim them to holiness. Here we see another element that must be learned before eternal life can be granted. Man must learn to love righteousness and embrace a pure lifestyle.

Dealing with the Nations

With the world cleansed from the evil influence of the Nephilim, Noah and his family were to begin the process of repopulating the earth. Despite the holy influence of Noah and his sons, mankind would continue to struggle with the same fallen tendencies of pride, jealousy, and ambition. This is well-illustrated in Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the great kingdom of Babylon.

By all worldly standards, Nebuchadnezzar was a great man. He was an accomplished military leader, conquering the nations of the Middle East. He displayed extraordinary skill in building and construction as well as managing a massive labor force. Through his planning and engineering leadership, Babylon was transformed into a rich, prosperous nation. His ambition had been rewarded with great wealth and he was able to say, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace” (Daniel 4:4).

But there was pride in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart and God chose to send a message, not only to him but to all nations, by giving Nebuchadnezzar a prophetic dream. It would eventually affect him for the rest of his life and serve as an object lesson to all Gentile nations. One year after having the dream he gazed out at his mighty kingdom, and said, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

“Thus were the visions of my head upon my bed: I saw, and, behold, a tree in the midst of the earth; and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth. The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was food for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the birds of the heavens dwelt in the branches thereof, and all flesh was fed from it.

“I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven. He cried aloud, and said thus, ‘Hew down the tree, and cut off its branches, shake off its leaves, and scatter its fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from its branches. Nevertheless leave the stump of its roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven: and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth: Let his heart be changed from man’s and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones; to the intent that the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the lowest of men’ “ (Daniel 4:10-17 ASV).

Nebuchadnezzar turned to Daniel for an explanation of this troubling dream. The prophet revealed that the dream was about the king himself. “You O king are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth” (verse 22 NIV).

The tree pictured Nebuchadnezzar and his dominion in all its wealth and prosperity. It was a tree that provided protection and food for those that lived in its branches. But things were not right with Nebuchadnezzar, and the Lord wanted to show that He was not just interested in Israel. All men will learn something important about God and their position before Him. Both Jews and Gentiles must learn humility, one of the prime lessons in the permission of evil.

Daniel went on to give the full meaning of the dream. “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and give them to anyone he wishes.

“The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue” (Daniel 4:26-27 NIV).

If Nebuchadnezzar had listened to Daniel, he could have avoided the awful experience he was about to endure. But, as is often the case, only by experiencing evil can man appreciate the goodness of God. Seven years of eating grass like an animal must have been a terrible experience. Living outdoors, feeling the cold and wet conditions that accompany such a life, could not have been very pleasant. However, the experience had its intended results.

“At the end of the time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High: I honored and glorified him who liveth forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the people of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35 NIV).

Here, was the fruitful harvest for a man who at one time failed to recognize the supremacy of God and thought that he himself was at the pinnacle of power and majesty. Gone was the arrogance and pride that once filled his heart. He acknowledged the supremacy of Jehovah, honored Him and finally understood that his own dominion was, by comparison, inconsequential. He came to see that men rule only with the permission of God.

These were the lessons God wanted him to learn, and it is significant that in the dream the tree was not destroyed. The stump was left in place and would grow back once the punishment had accomplished its work. For Nebuchadnezzar, this meant that after seven times he would be allowed to re-establish his reign over Babylon.

The Bigger Picture

In this personal humbling of Nebuchadnezzar, there is another wider application. Bro. Russell writes, “This remarkable tree, in its glory and beauty, represented the first dominion of earth given to the human race in its representative and head, Adam, to whom God said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’ (Genesis 1:28). The original glory of man and the power invested in him were indeed sublime, and were over the whole earth, to bless, and feed, and protect and shelter every living thing. But when sin entered, the command came to hew down the tree, and the glory and beauty and power of mankind were taken away; and the lower creation no more found shelter, protection and blessing under his influence. Death hewed down the great tree, scattered his fruit and foliage, and left the lower creation without its lord and benefactor” (The Time is at Hand, page 94).

The tree, then, also represented the dominion of man. The description of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom is strikingly similar to Adam’s. “It’s leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.” By failing to submit to God, Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eden and its divine protection. Nebuchadnezzar endured his punishment for “seven times.” Mankind will suffer the effects of sin for 7,000 years. The king was to eat grass as oxen, his body wet from dew. His hair grew like feathers and his nails like birds’ claws (Daniel 4:33). This animal-like condition aptly represented the fallen condition of the human family. The goal in both cases was the same. “Seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will” (Daniel 4:32 KJV).

Promised Restitution

Pride and ambition have hardened the heart of man. But just as God left a stump of the tree, He has promised things will change. Once the brass and iron bands were removed, the stump could grow back. We see the parallel in the words of Peter. “[God] shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heavens must retain until the Times of Restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:20, 21). Just as the stump grew back to its full glory, so our world will be restored to its original perfection and beauty. The parallel to mankind’s experience is unmistakable. In God’s wisdom, He understood the ultimate benefits of the permission of evil. The next phase of His plan then brings the restitution of our race. This remarkable experience will combine with the memory of their animallike state and have the same beneficial effect on mankind as it did on Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to his ordeal pictures the change of heart mankind will someday experience. He said, “I praised the Most High: I honored and glorified him who liveth forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the people of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35 NIV). As this Gentile king did so long ago, mankind will likewise recognize its own insignificance and will glorify the Heavenly Father.

This change will occur after mankind comes to understand that the restitution work will bring prosperity and God’s blessings. Their understanding will be aided when God’s Spirit is poured upon all flesh (Joel 2:28,29). Unlike our first parents, the race of man will learn to trust the Creator and know that His laws provide a necessary standard of righteousness which will uplift the world. The wisdom first sought by Eve will become a reality and people will know the real difference between good and evil and they will finally be prepared to receive eternal life.

Daniel’s advice to Nebuchadnezzar will be realized on a global scale when he said, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue” (Daniel 4:27 NIV).

What a prospect!

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