Emptying in Philippians 2: 5-11 Is Illustrated in Daniel 4:1-37

By Eusebio Tanicala

In my reflection of King Nebuchadnezzar’s story in Daniel 4, I find the section as an excellent illustration of the emptying which was done by Christ in the epic of redemption. A study of Daniel 4 will increase one’s deeper analysis of Philippians 2:1-11 about Christ having emptied himself of His “form of God” yet he remained fully God.

Some explain “”who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equalaity with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men,” (6-7, KJV) to mean that Christ emptied or discarded Himself of the essence of deity. Some take this position and yet they are very aggressive in their affirmation that Christ was God during the 33 years he was on earth. The two positions would be contradictory.

In a previous article, we explained that “form of God” does not mean “essence of God.” We have explained that “form of God” are the detachable-restorable characteristics; while the phrase “essence of God” compose the inherent attributes of deity that could not be emptied of. Humanity is the essence of being man. A man could not stop being human. Deity is the essence of God. God could not stop being God.

King Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest and most splendored king of the powerful Babylonian Empire. The king had a splendid palace (v.30), a tall, towering dominion (vs. 10-12), he was a powerful despot (vs. 20-22), with honor, splendor and majesty (vs. 30,36); surrounded and adored by a fawning retinue of counselors and nobles. But Yahweh humbled this King-god Nebuchadnezzar From a pedestal that was attended by royal splendor, despotic power, and honor, the king was brought down to a level below the normal human subsistence. Down to the level of beast: human reason lost (v. 36), possessed heart of a beast, ate grass like a beast, naked as a beast, tied down as a ferocious beast, hair unwashed/untrimmed that hardened like eagle’s feathers and nails that grew and sharpened like bird’s claws (vs. 23, 25, 32, 33).

From the form of a clean, glittering, majestic, godlike, powerful, adorable, royal personality, King Nebuchadnezzar took another form: he became a dirty, greasy, dull, lowly, beastly, powerless, demented person. His characteristics are that which are lower than the normal beast. He was a demonized-beast. But he remained human. The essence of humanity remained intact in him. The externals of royalty were, however, discarded or emptied of for a season (possibly 7 years). Then after a given period of time, the detachable attributes of kingship were restored back to him (v. 36).

A similar story is found in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the unfathomable eternal past, long before the invisible powers, thrones, authorities and dominions of angelic hosts were created (Col. 1:15-17) Christ has existed as a spirit persona. He has been existing as the Second Person in the Godhead Trinity. Christ created the angelic hosts. He was worshipped by angels. See Deut. 32:43; Psalm 97:7. Brightness and intense light surrounded the dwelling of the Godhead. It is suggestive of celestial royalty. God shines brighter than the intensity of one thousand exploding atomic bombs which the naked eye could not behold onto. See Daniel 2:22; Psalms 4:6; 44:3; Hab. 3:4; Matt. 17:2; Rev. 1:16.

Before the creation of the visible universe, Christ had heavenly glory says John 17:5. Christ had riches far greater in value and volume than all the wealth of the whole world multiplied a hundredfold says 2 Cor. 8:9. Angels served Him says Psalms 91:11, 12; Matt. 4:6. But Christ emptied Himself of these detachable royal attributes of glory, honor, majesty, and splendor befitting a King. However, His essence, his reality as Deity was not detached from His person when he was commissioned to take the form of a servant as described in Phil. 2:5-8. It is therefore wrong to say that the meaning of “He emptied Himself” means He emptied Himself of the essential attributes of God.

The New King James Version renders v. 7 this way: “but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant and coming in the likeness of man.” At the margin it reads, “emptied himself of His privileges.” The translators of the NKJV understood that the “emptying” is not discarding his deity. Rather, the emptying refers to the suspension of privileges and glorious appearances. But when he ascended back to heaven all these were restored back says Phil. 2:11 and Rev. 1:9-20; Rev. 7:9-17.

This period of emptiednness for King Nebuchadnezzar of his royal splendor and privileges was possibly 7 years while that of Christ was 33 years. (Comments or critiques are welcome.)