A useful tip for the Bible student who wants to truly get a better understanding of the text is this: always use more than one translation when doing an in-depth study. Most often translations will agree with one another, but sometimes you will come across differences in wording which will cause you to have to examine the meaning more closely.
A case in point: Daniel 2:5, 8. Reading through the King James Version, one encounters King Nebuchadnezzar in these verses saying, “the thing is gone from me.” A casual reader would be excused for thinking that the king was saying he had forgotten a certain dream. However, when reading another translation, the words are often rendered quite differently. The New King James says, “my decision is firm,” and the ESV reads, “the word from me is firm.” Which raises the question, which translation is right?
An investigation reveals to us an interesting thing. All three are reasonably correct, and, properly understood, all three are saying much the same thing. This becomes most clear when one finds that the word translated “thing” in the King James, can be understood as “word,” or “command.”
In the context, Nebuchadnezzar is in the middle of issuing a decree, threatening to kill all his wise men if they cannot do as he commands. His wise men think the request somewhat unreasonable. But the king will brook no argument from them. He essentially says, “The words have left my mouth.” In his mind, once he had given a command, there was no changing it.
The Persian government had codified a very similar concept, as detailed in Daniel 6:8-9, 12, 15 and Esther 8:8. When the Persian king signed a law and sealed it, it was impossible to ever revoke it. It was a law for all time. The Persians seemed to have the idea that there king was infallible, divinity in human form, and to show they meant it, they didn’t let even the king nullify his own laws. To do so would have meant confessing that he was less than perfect.
Can you imagine the responsibility that accompanies such a power? One would hope that if a person knew his words, once they had gone forth from him, were unalterable, that person would be very careful about what they said, giving careful thought to utterances, statements and commands. Historically, this was not, of course, always the case. Even the king might come to regret the decree he had issued with undue haste and a lack of consideration.
We may not be kings, but each of us still has a certain responsibility with our words. The Bible reminds us, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) Unfortunately, we tend not to think carefully before we speak. And when the words are gone from you, having left your mouth, while they may not carry the power of life and death, it is very difficult to get them back. Rash promises, words of anger, foolish and hurtful jesting; all these and more are examples of speech we too often end up regretting. Better to be slow to speak, giving careful consideration to the consequences of our words before ever we say them.
A second lesson, from this meditation, is the need for a little humility about the things that we say. Nebuchadnezzar lacked such humility, but he is not being held forth as a role model for us.
To the contrary, it was foolishness and pride which compelled these kings of old to imagine that their words, once issued forth as a decree, were perfect. It was common for monarchs of antiquity to elevate themselves by comparing themselves to gods, many even claiming to be gods in human form.
We know that God is infallible. His words are truth and He cannot lie (cf. John 17:17; Titus 1:2). As it is written, “For the word of the Lord is right, And all His work is done in truth.” (Psalm 33:4l NKJV)
But man is not God. No man is always right in everything he says. Not only are we going to say things we regret, but quite often we are going to be wrong in the things we say, and even the things we expect of others. We need the humility, when the words have gone out from our mouths, to have the willingness to revisit them and consider the possibility of admitting we were wrong.
Thankfully, God is willing to be patient with us when we are in the wrong, and has given us His holy word to guide us in the truth. If you would like to study more about God’s word, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.