I still send letters, honest to goodness letters, through the mail. (I’d say I still write letters, but that’s not true. I type them.) When I tell people this, they look at me funny. (I try to avoid telling them at the same time that I don’t carry a cell phone.) Sometimes I consider it my contribution to the preservation of culture, but usually I do it to make my friends smile when they sift through the day’s pile of “we don’t love you, but we love your money” mail.
Letter writing has been around for a long time, and in Daniel 4, we find the great King Nebuchadnezzar engaged in the time-honored tradition. His letter looks a lot like other letters from the time. In fact, it’s not so different from letters we (used to) write. Think way back to when you wrote or received real letters. You usually started with a greeting and then some small talk about everyone’s general well being: “Dear Aunt Sally, How are you? I hope you’re doing well. I’m fine…” After making this small talk for a short paragraph, you moved into the real reason for writing: “I’ll be in Houston next month. Will you and Uncle Fred be around? I’d love to see you…” You get the idea. Then when you’ve talked long enough, you wrap things up in a similar way to how you began: “Well, I’d better get going. I hope you & Uncle Fred have a great week.” And then you sealed the envelope, licked the stamp (I’m going waaay back), and dropped it in the mailbox.
Nebuchadnezzar’s letter was more like a presidential press conference than a personal missive to friends, but it follows a typical format for Aramaic letters of his day.
King Nebuchadnezzar (this is like the return address)
To all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth (“Dear Aunt Sally,”). Nebuchadnezzar’s empire included all the nations he had conquered, but it certainly didn’t cover all the earth. Commentator Ernest Lucas thinks these words of Nebuchadnezzar “make him an epitome of human kingship in their claim to universal rule.” He’s probably on to something there.
Peace be multiplied to you! (“How are you? I hope you’re doing well. I’m fine…”). “Peace” is the Aramaic version of the Hebrew word “shalom,” a rich word that we’ll have to talk about another day.
It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me… (“I’ll be in Houston next month…”) Having taken care of the formalities, Nebuchadnezzar moves to his reason for writing, which we’ll get back to another day.
This most powerful king has something important to say, so he says it an open letter, which was spread throughout the land by the ancient version of the practically contemporary Pony Express. And you thought stamps were outdated.
P.S. Bible translation used here is ESV. Also, if you want to see other Aramaic letters in the Bible, check out Ezra 5:7 and Ezra 7:11.