We last left King Nebuchadnezzar at a bit of a cliffhanger, with an ominous dream and a tenderly spoken prophecy of warning. What would become of this great king?
The Bible actually doesn’t leave us wondering for long. “All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar” (Dan 4:28).
For twelve months, the Lord tarried. Twelve months, no judgment fell. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar had grown a little overconfident in that time period. Maybe he assumed he had dodged the bullet. Maybe he had persuaded himself that his most reliable advisor was wrong, just this once. There’s a first time for everything, after all. This powerful monarch failed to realize that the longsuffering of the Lord is for our salvation.
So here it was, a full year after the king’s dream. The king was enjoying himself in his palace, observing the splendor of his city. Make no mistake about it; Babylon was a fantastically wealthy, grand city. It was the home of the famous hanging gardens, considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world. As historians look back upon it, Nebuchadnezzar will invariably be credited with Babylon’s greatness. He had poured incredible amounts of creative energy, tons of resource, and hours of slave labor (remember Daniel’s words of warning?) into the furtherence of his empire, and especially his capitol city. Anyone with basic human common sense would say that Nebuchadnezzar had every right to be proud of his accomplishments.
Nebuchadnezzar’s words betray how much pride he did take in himself. “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty” (Dan 4:30, emphasis added)? Evidently, he had forgotten the message of Daniel 2:37, “The God of heaven has given you a kingdom…” Evidently, he had also forgotten his own dream from a year past that declared, “…the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will…” Nebuchadnezzar may have been the golden head (Dan 2:36-37), but he was set in place by the God of heaven and owed every ounce of his greatness to Him. And if you consider the amazing demonstrations of power he faced in chapters 2 and 3, he had absolutely no excuse to plead ignorance. He was about to learn, in the most direct of ways, that he was not nearly as impressive as he made himself out to be.
The Lord’s response to the king’s boasting is terrifyingly swift. Before the words were fully out of Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth, God cut them off with as thunderous a rebuke from heaven that one could ever expect to hear. “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you” (Dan 4:31)! The same God of Daniel 2:20-22 who raises up kings and removes them was still on His throne, and He was by no means encumbered by Nebuchadnezzar’s politcal prowess and economic power. With one declaration, in one instant, the prophesied judgment was complete.
Nebuchadnezzar, the brilliant, wealthy, honored king, was to be driven by “the watchers” out from his palace to live like a beast in the fields. Many commentators speculate that Nebuchadnezzar was struck with boanthropy, a rare (but documented) mental disorder that causes people to believe that they’re an ox or cow. During those seven “times”, his hair grew unkempt to where it looked like feathers, and his un-groomed nails grew long and thick like talons. There was not a shred of prestige left to this master of Babylon.
Yet there was a merciful, divine motive behind this madness. Nebuchadnezzar was essentially getting the world’s worst time-out, until he figured out “that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses”. And perhaps even more of a miracle than the punishment is the fact that it actually worked. “And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High…” (4:34). We can only speculate as to what happened, but something clicked inside Nebuchadnezzar’s cow-like brain. Something — or perhaps more accurate, Someone — awakened him to his senses and to clarity on who really held the reins on this planet. Perhaps he saw a vision in heaven. Perhaps the Lord shocked him back into reality. Who is to say? But one thing is for sure: Nebuchadnezzar was not the same man he was before.
He doesn’t rage against God for what He had done to him. He does not shake his head and grudgingly admit defeat. He actually blesses, praises, and honors His holy name. I would not be the least bit surprised if we meet this man in heaven–at long last, he seems to have really understood what was going on.
Notice that one of the primary revelations Nebuchadnezzar received was that of God’s eternity. He now knew, as very few people ever really see about themselves, that his accomplishments, his prestige, and his kingdom could be taken from him in a heartbeat. For possibly the first time in his life, Nebuchadnezzar had to come to terms with how small of a blip on eternity’s radar he really was. In contrast, however, “the Most High lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation” (4:33-34). God is always sovereign. Period. His rule never weakens and extends infinitely beyond even the grandest king on earth. Nebuchadnezzar’s rule was brief and fragile; God’s is eternal and unshakeable.
Verse 35 contrasts the absolute sovereignty of God with the insignificance of human strength. Worldly kings have to continually struggle for power, and have to attempt to dominate all opposition in order to finally get their way. But the Lord simply does according to His will. Whatever He decides to do, He gets to do, every single time. While warring factions on earth are constantly trying to hold each other in check, no one can restrain God’s hand. No one can oppose His perfect judgments and leadership. He commands angels, and they move. He orchestrates things on earth, and it comes to pass. His plan cannot be thwarted by any king or army, no matter how wealthy, powerful, or ingenious. Even great kings like Nebuchadnezzar have no power to restrain God’s movements in the earth. The Lord is powerful and wise enough to overcome any political, cultural, or religious opposition in any nation in the earth. His hands are not tied by the raging of the nations. He is the LORD. He is sovereign.
As Nebuchadnezzar exulted in these two things, that the Lord is eternal (and by implication, Nebuchadnezzar is not), and that He is sovereign (and by implication, Nebuchadnezzar is not), reason returned to him. He became himself again, although a much wiser, humbler version of himself. This next part absolutely blows me away: God restored his kingdom to him.
How merciful of a God do we serve? Who else would take a man who was prideful, hard in heart, oppressive, boastful, and stubborn, teach him a difficult lesson — and then give his kingdom back? Most of us would probably dust our hands, say, “That will teach you,” and leave him to steep in the humiliation of his mistake for the rest of his life. Probably, most of us would have let him finish out life thinking that he was a cow. But God saw the real turn in Nebuchadnezzar’s heart and gave the kingdom back.
Nebuchadnezzar’s closing statements are fantastic. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice…” (4:37). In other words, “What the Lord did to me was right. It was just.” It is stunning to me that he had no shred of accusation towards God, no underlying resentment of, “Geez, I get the point, but that was really harsh.” On the back end of this season of discipline, Nebuchadnezzar learned from the Lord’s hand and bore testimony that everythihng was done in truth and justice. That takes serious humility to say at all, much less to broadcast to your entire kingdom.
The final sentence really drives home this chapter: “And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.”
If you didn’t feel the zip on that, you may want to go back and look at it again. This is a little scary. I know that I have random areas of pride popping up in my heart all the time. And personally, I would rather not be sent out to pasture to graze for awhile and sort it all out. I see how God radically and effectively turned Nebuchadnezzar’s heart, and I’m going to choose to agree to this humility thing on the front end. I would much rather humble myself in the Lord’s sight than have to be “put down” by His gentle, but very mighty hand.
This verse (well, really the whole chapter, but this verse in particular) also speaks volumes to our world context, and especially to the political climate at the end of the age. We’re already seeing society rebel against God in massive, overt ways. There are all kinds of unrighteous governments in place all across the globe. There are all sorts of unjust laws in place in our own nation and the nations of the earth. But hear this well: God is not threatened by any of it. Of course, this does not mean we kick back and relax like everying’s fine, but it means that as we actively engage in intercession and in spreading the Gospel, we have confidence that we are not fighting a losing battle. There is no way God is going to fail, even in the face of an entire planet that curses Him.
Psalm 2:1-4 tells about this conflict as clearly as you’ll ever see it:
Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: “Yet I have set my King on My holy hill of Zion.”
We are going to see a lot of prideful people ascend a lot of thrones between now and Jesus’ return. It’s going to culminate with the man of sin setting up in God’s temple, demanding worship and claiming to be the only real god. Yet we can be sure that he, along with all his predecessors, will not prevail against the God of gods and the Lord of kings. Those who walk in pride, God is able to put down. All it took for Nebuchadnezzar was one decree from heaven. All it will take for the demise of the world’s most wicked regime is the breath of the Lord’s mouth and the brightness of His coming (2Thes 2:8). We will see this concept graphically illustrated again in Daniel 5, the next chapter in this series.
I do have one more post I would like to make on this chapter before I move on–be watching for that post in another few days.