As we move along in the book of Daniel we can see that God had quite a challenge in the ancient world. How can He discipline His erring children by letting them become captives to a powerful pagan king and still show the world that He is THE MOST HIGH GOD? Not to worry – in chapter four God produced a drama that would win an academy award! At the end of this episode, who can forget that it is God who sets up kings and brings them down? Nebuchadnezzar himself will tell the whole world about this amazing God.
Human men in places of power can be daunting, but God is the governor of His creation. It is God who has delegated authority to human rulers to help rule over the earth. He sets limits and boundaries for His kings and rulers. When men overstep these boundaries, they are subject to a fall. When leaders elevate themselves beyond their proscribed limits, they are brought down. The higher they rise, the greater they fall.
When the writer of the nursery rhyme described Humpty Dumpty having a great fall, he could have had arrogant rulers in mind. In our day we have seen this happen to highly paid CEO’s, Wall Street billionaires, national dictators, church leaders, politicians, sports idols, etc. In chapter four we will behold God’s great example of the results of pride, greed, and arrogance. We will also see a surprising ending to God’s discipline of King Nebuchadnezzar.
DAY ONE: KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR SHARED HIS EXPERIENCES.
Read: Daniel 4:1-3
A. NEBUCHADNEZZAR WROTE TO THE WHOLE WORLD.
Both the beginning and the ending of this chapter take us by surprise. It was highly unusual for an ancient king to have something written about himself that was not altogether flattering. The recording of a nation’s history of battles and accomplishments always cast the leadership in the best light possible. So we are surprised to find the king himself recording his embarrassing experience of a rare form of mental illness brought on as a punishment from God.
We are also surprised at what God did at the end of the experience. When most kings are brought down, they stay down. We are left to wonder why Nebuchadnezzar rose to reign again.
There is nothing small about the way the king thinks. When he gave his testimony, he wrote it to the whole world. He had conquered cities and nations far and wide and had made them colonies that were subject to Babylon. Taxes paid to his government had made him very rich and powerful. For some reason, he felt that everyone should know what he had experienced with the God of the Jews.
Some historians have come to believe that Nebuchadnezzar was a relatively benevolent king, as kings of the ancient world go. When he conquered a nation, he took the best and brightest to Babylon to retrain them for his service and left the rest alone to regroup and work the land. Here we see him greet them with the kind words “May you prosper greatly.”
B. NEBUCHADNEZZAR PRAISED THE MOST HIGH GOD.
The King had adopted a name for the God of the Jews. He called Him THE MOST HIGH GOD. Nebuchadnezzar seemed to understand much about God. He admitted that God performs great miracles and has a kingdom that is eternal. He also seemed to appreciate the fact that God had gone to great lengths to work personally in his life as God revealed this new dream.
1. Several other Bible characters experienced dream messages from God? Look up as many of their unique stories as time permits.
a. Jacob (Genesis 28:10-15)
b. Joseph (Genesis 37:5- 9)
c. Pharaoh’s cupbearer (Genesis 40)
d. Pharaoh’s baker (Genesis 40)
e. Solomon (1 Kings 3:5-15)
f. Joseph (Matthew 1:20; 2:13)
2. Every person’s spiritual journey is unique. Often God spoke directly to people in dreams. Why do you think this king needed Daniel to interpret his dream?
- How does God reveal Himself to you?
- How have you shown that you are eager to share your experiences with those around you?
DAY TWO: NEBUCHADNEZZAR DREAMED OF A GIANT TREE.
Read: Daniel 4:4-17
A. NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S PEACE WAS DISTURBED.
Many years had passed since the Jews had come to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had become very prosperous. He lived in a grand palace. He had every pleasure that his heart could possibly desire. He described himself as “contented” before he had a most troubling dream. He became terrified as he saw images and visions pass through his mind. Often when we have a scary dream, we wake up disturbed and wonder why we have dreamed about a particular set of circumstances. Most often we dismiss it and move on or tell someone about it and then let it go.
The king followed his pattern of calling in his dream interpreters. However, they were unable or unwilling to interpret the dream. Daniel was called in because Nebuchadnezzar remembered that the spirit of the holy gods is in Daniel (Belteshazzar). At this point Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged Bel as his god. He still believed in many gods but recognized that Daniel’s God had power in the area of dreams. Nebuchadnezzar is a brilliant leader but a slow learner in spiritual matters. We often see this pattern in powerful men.
B. THE DREAM WAS REVEALED TO DANIEL.
The king dreamed of a beautiful tree with abundant fruit. This enormous tree was able to provide shelter for animals and birds along with food for all. Then the troubling part of the dream came. A messenger from heaven ordered the tree to be cut down to a stump. Suddenly the dream image turned from a tree to a man. The man was to live with the mind of an animal in the fields for seven years. The purpose was to let men know that The Most High is sovereign over kingdoms and rulers.
- What lesson does the king still not fully understand? (Daniel 4:17)
- How did all of the ancient kings’ understandings about war and prosperity keep them from learning this important lesson?
- How do people today often interpret times of prosperity?
- What does Scripture tell us about the material blessings we enjoy? (James 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:6-10)
- How do you daily acknowledge that all things are from Him and are to be held lightly?
DAY THREE: DANIEL RELUCTANTLY INTERPRETED THE DREAM.
Read: Daniel 4:18-26
A. DANIEL WAS TERRIFIED.
Clearly the dream involved devastating news for the king. This was likely why the king’s own advisors did not want to deliver an interpretation. No one knew how the king would react. No one really enjoys bringing bad news, including Daniel. And no one wants to upset the king who has life and death authority over his advisors. However, Daniel cannot just tell the king what he wants to hear. He must speak truth. As he delayed, it is obvious that he was deeply troubled, so the king finally asked him to speak.
B. DANIEL SPOKE WITH COMPASSION.
He began by expressing his wish that this would happen to the king’s enemies instead of the king. Perhaps Daniel had grown fond of the king over the years in his service. Nonetheless, he went on to reveal the clear message from God.
Nebuchadnezzar is the luxurious tree that was fruitful and helpful in providing shelter for many. This was flattering for the king, just as being told he was the golden head in the statue dream. In the first dream a stone would destroy all of the Gentile empires, but this would happen long after Nebuchadnezzar was gone. He obviously didn’t have to take it personally. In this present dream the cutting down of the tree is for the personal humbling of King Nebuchadnezzar. It will be done in a most humiliating way.
C. DANIEL ENCOURAGED THE KING TO REFORM HIS WAYS.
King Nebuchadnezzar had been a great builder and a great ruler in many ways. However God revealed a weakness in his leadership. He was obviously cruel to the poor people who served him and who had worked hard on his building projects. In his desire to bring greater and greater glory to himself, he took advantage of others. This is always a temptation to ambitious leaders.
- How has God told us to speak to others even when the news is hard? (Ephesians 4:15)
- What did Jesus say about relating to people who have wished us harm? (Matthew 5:43-45)
- How was the news “softened” in verse 26?
- What has God promised to us today in regard to His discipline? (Hebrews 12:5-6)
- How do I react when someone speaks to me about pride?
- When have I secretly gloated when someone else has been brought down in some way?
DAY FOUR: NEBUCHADNEZZAR’S DREAM CAME TRUE.
Read: Daniel 4:28-33
A. NEBUCHADNEZZAR YIELDED TO HUMAN PRIDE.
The king had a year to consider the dream and the advice that was given by Daniel. Perhaps as time passed he thought less and less about this dream along with more and more about the glory of his accomplishments in Babylon.
Babylon was once stunning in its beauty. The hanging gardens were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. They consisted of a series of terraces filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers, connected by marble stairways and watered by fountains. The great walled city was surrounded by a system of double walls, high as an eight-story building, wide and strong enough for chariots to ride on. The walls had eight gates, the most famous being the Ishtar gate. It was made of multicolored bricks with two towers forty feet high on each side. From this gate a road surrounded by walls of decorated, enameled bricks led to the temple of Marduk. Obviously as Nebuchadnezzar surveyed this beautiful city, he was overwhelmed with personal pride. He gave himself full credit for the greatness of the city.
B. A HEAVENLY VOICE ANNOUNCED THE KING’S FATE.
Nebuchadnezzar was struck with an illness called lycanthropy, in which he imagined he was an animal. There have been others documented with this condition in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Europe. His grazing behavior was accompanied with hair and nail growth that resembled the birds. Perhaps the palace staff would have been mystified about how to care for this despot as he wandered about in such a state. It appears that he was kept away from most of his officials during this illness (v.36). This was a most degrading experience for the once proud king. It may have been softened by the prophecy that he would recover in seven years.
- How would this particular illness (causing the king to act like an animal) paint a vivid picture of the king’s behavior among his oppressed people?
- Can you think of other Biblical kings or leaders or modern day celebrities who became proud when they had achieved some amount of success?
- Often God makes the punishment fit the crime in creative ways. What is the warning given to us in Proverbs 16:18?
- What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment in your life?
- How have you acknowledged God’s hand in your successes?
DAY FIVE: GOD RESTORED THE KINGS SANITY AND KINGDOM.
Read: Daniel 4:34-37
A. NEBUCHADNEZZAR ACKNOWLEDGED GOD’S GREATNESS.
Eventually King Nebuchadnezzar looked up and acknowledged God. In modern day language we might say he came to the end of his rope. With no other option, he finally turned to God for help and healing. This caused him to view life from God’s perspective. He was forced to acknowledge his own weakness and God’s power over everything. He composed a poem of praise revealing that no one can control God
This was a huge confession for the king who had been the most powerful ruler on earth. At this point in time kings had to present themselves as all powerful with absolute power over all of the human beings in their kingdoms. Yet, he was reduced to an animal in one single act by the powerful God whose dominion is in actuality all of the peoples on earth. He sees that any human being can be raised up or brought down as The Most High pleases. God is the sovereign ruler of the world He has created. He has ways of reminding all of us of this fact.
B. NEBUCHADNEZZAR WAS RESTORED TO POWER.
Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was now restored to him and God even permitted him to return to his former power and glory. His advisors and nobles once again submitted to his rule. His kingdom became even greater than before. However, the king’s greatest accomplishment was his letter to all the people of the world telling them about THE MOST HIGH GOD and acknowledging that “everything He does is right and all His ways are just.” The last word we have from this great king is the revelation that God is able to humble anyone who walks in pride.
- What is the most surprising part of this strange story to you?
- Obviously this is near the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign of 43 years. What do you think is the most important lesson he learned as a king?
- What did Jesus say about ruling over people? (Matthew 20:24–26)
- What did Jesus say about the leader’s role? (Matthew 20:27-28)
- Daniel was faithful to encourage the king to repent in v. 27. Who needs a word of encouragement from you?
- Are you guilty of boasting about your accomplishments? What does Scripture say about boasting in Jeremiah 9:23-24?
We are left with several questions at the end of this story. Did Nebuchadnezzar become a true believer? Did he accept Daniel’s God as his only true God? Was this last dream for the benefit of the people of the world and their need for an introduction to the one true God, was it for the benefit of God’s chosen people who are in this hard place, or was it for the benefit of Nebuchadnezzar in his lifelong search for answers? We can’t find all of the answers but we can know the great benefit it has for us today. The descriptions of God penned by the king are some of the greatest words in Scripture about the majesty and purposes of our Sovereign God.
God has made His point. All leaders should take heed. Pride goes before a fall. And God will not be upstaged by haughty kings who oppress people. However, we are left with another question at the end of the story. Why did the king become more rich and powerful than before? God’s ways are not our ways. Sometimes He defies our human logic. We would likely have left the king in the pasture!
PRINCIPLES FOR THE WEEK:
God goes to great lengths to humble the proud.
Trusting God may mean accepting God’s wisdom in what we don’t fully understand now.
CHALLENGE: Honestly evaluate your potential areas of pride and submit them to God for His cleansing. Acknowledge God’s role in your successes to someone this week.
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