King Nebuchadnezzar was an arrogant man. He ruled over the known world, and he knew it.
All nations were to serve him and worship the gods he set up. Defiance and failure had the price of death.
Until, one day, he fell.
Thrice before this, God had demonstrated his perfection to Nebuchadnezzar:
In the first chapter of Daniel, the king’s order to feed the young men food from his table was overturned in favor of Daniel’s resolve to eat only vegetables and water, demonstrating that God’s way surpasses that of the king.
In the second chapter, God forced the king to acknowledge His omniscience by revealing to Daniel the king’s dream and its interpretation that had confounded Nebuchadnezzar and his priests and magicians.
In the third chapter, God displayed his omnipotence, delivering Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego untouched from all the efforts of the king. Nebuchadnezzar then issued a decree forbidding anyone to defy their God.
Yet this change of attitude did not last. Nebuchadnezzar soon recommenced his arrogant dictatorial reign.
God stepped in once again.
“King Nebuchadnezzar, to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you!”
In perspective of King Nebuchadnezzar’s prior behavior, the change is astounding. The ruthless king of the mighty Babylonian empire greets the world, “Peace be multiplied to you!” Instead of calling all peoples to submit to his glory and worship his god, King Nebuchadnezzar calls them to witness the power of God towards him:
“It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders
that the Most High God has done for me.
How great are his signs,
how mighty are his wonders!
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and his dominion endures from generation to generation.”
“I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace. I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me…”
A dream was all it took to shake Nebuchadnezzar from his ease and prosperity. Yet Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not falter in their faithful following of God even when their lives were on the line
The king sent for Daniel, and God revealed to Daniel the interpretation of the king’s dream:
“‘The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth… it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth.’”
Nebuchadnezzar was king of the known world, and that started to get to his head. He “reached to heaven,” seeking glory that did not belong to him. He thought he was the center of the universe. He thought he got there by himself, but everything he had was from God.
“‘And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its root in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,’ this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will…
Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.’”
Daniel pleaded, yet the king could not do this without a change of heart.
King Nebuchadnezzar already acknowledged God’s superior might and wisdom. He even forbade anyone from disrespecting Daniel’s God. However, he did not personally bow before God. Instead, he set aside a bit of space for God, respecting Him when convenient, and maintained his personal space for glorifying himself.
“… At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’ While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you…’ Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar.”
Nebuchadnezzar became like a wild animal, losing his intelligence and humanity.
One big contrast lies between Nebuchadnezzar’s words and God’s. Even at the peak of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had no real power. People started at his words not because of what he might do but what he might command others to do. It was superficial, and it depended solely on God’s permission. In a single word, God overrides and carries out His commands. He not only has power over life and death, but humanity and the afterlife. When Nebuchadnezzar was ready to submit, God restored him.
“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, ‘What have you done?’
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
The change of heart is undeniable. Instead of glorifying himself, he glorifies God. No longer is he focused on himself but on God.
If we are honest, we are all like King Nebuchadnezzar to some extent. We all have to deal with pride. It is the reason we get defensive when accused or maintain that we should make every decision for ourselves. Yet we forget that everything we have is by the grace of God, not by our own efforts.
We are nothing unless the Creator of the universe should choose to love us.
It is easy to be like Nebuchadnezzar, recognizing that God is superior and granting Him some respect. However that is not enough. Faith cannot be compartmentalized to certain areas of life. There is no “here’s my space, and here’s yours,” but only “All I am is yours.”
Hymn Spotlight: “Ancient of Days” ~ CityAlight
Image Credits: GettyImages/tomertu