King Nebuchadnezzar might have built the greatest city in the world, he might be the most powerful man in the world, but he is about to be humbled by the creator of the world. In chapter 4, God shows Nebuchadnezzar who is really in charge of human kingdoms and human affairs. Chapter 4 also warns us of the danger of pride in our lives.
It has been a long time since the king’s first dream where he saw the statue and the rock. It has been a long time since the fiery furnace. The king is an old man now. It appears that Daniel has served him for years and the two have become friends. Chapter 4 is an epistle written by King Nebuchadnezzar. This is his own personal testimony. Apparently, Daniel has converted the old man, but as we read the chapter we see that it wasn’t easy!
“King Nebuchadnez’zar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has wrought toward me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:1-3 RSV)
Can you imagine if a president opened up a state of the union address in this way? “Congressmen, distinguished guests, and all who dwell on the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! I have decided to use this platform to tell you what God has shown me. God has done amazing things in my life. He has shown his greatness. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom. . . . . ” Can you imagine the uproar? The staff would be having heart attacks trying to figure out how to spin it. That is what we have in chapter 4. After the events that we are about to read about the king is proclaiming to everyone his own personal testimony.
“I, Nebuchadnez’zar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace. I had a dream which made me afraid; as I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me. Therefore I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chalde’ans, and the astrologers came in; and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation.” (Daniel 4:4-7 RSV)
If you have been reading through the Book of Daniel you will find this quite familiar. This is the same thing that we saw in chapter 2. The king has had a nightmare and he has called in the same people to try to help him, but nobody knows the interpretation. The obvious question is after what happened last time why does he not call Daniel first? I think it is because he knows that it is bad news. The king is wanting someone to tell him that it will be all right and he knows that Daniel will tell him the truth. We have a habit of doing this. Nebuchadnezzar is not a believer at this point. If nonbelievers have a problem they will try to fix it any way they can before they finally give up and ask their Christian friend for advice. They will go to the doctor, get advice from Oprah, tune in to Dr. Phil, talk to other nonbelievers, and do everything else they can think of, but when nothing else can fill that void, when nothing else feels right, they will finally come to that Christian friend and it gives the Christian the perfect opportunity to give a testimony. Daniel is that friend to Nebuchadnezzar. The king trusts Daniel. He respects Daniel, but Daniel is the last resort. First, he tries everything else that he knows to do, and then, finally, he turns to Daniel, and Daniel does what we should all do, he tells him the truth.
As Christians, people do want to hear what we have to say, even if they roll their eyes, and pretend that they don’t. People are curious. Also, they will never admit it, but people who don’t know God have a void in them and deep down they know it. Nebuchadnezzar is saying, “You wouldn’t know how I really feel. I look great on the outside, but I don’t feel right on the inside.” People can have all the friends, all of the girls or guys, and all of the money, but something is missing. When they are alone at night they just want to cry, because there is this void. Something troubles Nebuchadnezzar. There is something wrong with him, so he calls all of the soothsayers and astrologers, and he tells them about this dream, but they can’t help. He saves Daniel for last, because he is still wrestling with the last thing that his God did, so he is saving him for last.
“At last Daniel came in before me–he who was named Belteshaz’zar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods–and I told him the dream, saying, “O Belteshaz’zar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is difficult for you, here is the dream which I saw; tell me its interpretation. The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth; and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its leaves were fair and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the air dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it. “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus, ‘Hew down the tree and cut off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit; let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven; let his lot be with the beasts in the grass of the earth; let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven times pass over him. The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men.’ This dream I, King Nebuchadnez’zar, saw. And you, O Belteshaz’zar, declare the interpretation, because all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation, but you are able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” (Daniel 4:8-18 RSV)
The fact that Nebuchadnezzar uses the language, “Divine watchers,” instead of angel, or messenger, is evidence that he did indeed write this. The Babylonians looked at angels as divine watchers, or beings who watched over humanity. Angels were a part of a divine council who watched over the affairs of humans.
Nebuchadnezzar knows that Daniel is a true friend. Daniel will tell Nebuchadnezzar the truth, even if the king doesn’t want to hear it. That’s what true friends do. They do it with love, but they tell the truth. I hope that you have someone in your life that will tell you the truth. Not someone who will say, “I saw you drinking yourself to death, but I loved you too much to tell you. I didn’t want to make you mad.” I wonder how many of us will have friends one day who will say, “You knew that Jesus was the Savior? You knew that Jesus was really God, but you didn’t tell me?” “Well, I didn’t want to make you mad. I didn’t want to offend you.” I hope you have someone who loves you enough to tell you the truth without worrying about offending you, someone who has your permission to pull you to the side and say, “You have to change your path.” It’s hard to find those people. Those are real friends.
“Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshaz’zar, was dismayed for a moment, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king said, “Belteshaz’zar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.” Belteshaz’zar answered, “My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies!” (Daniel 4:19 RSV)
The text says that Daniel was dismayed. He didn’t want to tell the king what the dream meant, but at this point in their lives, Daniel is Nebuchadnezzar’s friend, and he tells his old friend the truth. No authentic Christian believer should relish God’s judgment on others. We never proclaim doom with a smile, Jesus wept at Jerusalem, and here, Daniel doesn’t want to tell the king what is going to happen to him. If you relish the fact that someone is going to judgment you should question your own judgment. Daniel says that the king is the tree. The king has grown strong and his dominion reaches the ends of the earth, but because of his pride, he will be chopped down until he admits that God is in control. Daniel says, “Nebuchadnezzar. . . dear friend. . . you need to repent, and swallow your pride, before it’s too late.
“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; whose leaves were fair and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all; under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the air dwelt– 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. And whereas the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Hew down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots 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 lot be with the beasts of the field, till seven times 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 times 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 tranquility.” (Daniel 4:20-27 RSV)
Notice towards the end of the segment when Daniel says, “therefore. . . . ” This is Daniel’s own friendly advice. The interpretation has ended and now Daniel is giving his own commentary. In other words, Daniel says, “Dude, if I were you, I would repent right here and now!” God is saying that if Nebuchadnezzar does not stop being so prideful he will spend seven years thinking that he is a cow. This is a mental illness called Lycanthropy, a disease where someone thinks that he or she is an animal. Believe it or not, Lycanthropy is alive and well in our world. Studies have been done on people who think that they are gerbils, dogs, wolves, cats, birds, rabbits, and tigers. In 1946, R.K. Harrison observed a patient in a British mental institution with an illness virtually identical to the one described in the Book of Daniel. The patient wandered around the grounds of the institution eating grass as if he were a cow. His drink consisted of water. Harrison stated that, “The only physical abnormality consisted of lengthening of the hair and a coarse, thickened condition of the fingernails.”1
There are two places in secular history that give evidence that Nebuchadnezzar really had this illness. The first is recorded by Flavius Josephus. The Jewish historian quotes a Babylonian historian by the name of Berossus, who cited that Nebuchadnezzar had a sickness at the end of his reign.2 The other is a Greek historian, by the name of Abydenus, who in 268 BC mentions that this story occurred historically, where Nebuchadnezzar’s life was reduced to that of an animal for a period of years.3
We have finally ventured far enough into this chapter to see that this is a story about pride. The battle against pride is one of the most significant battles that you will find in Scripture. Pride is what got Lucifer kicked out of heaven. It’s the reason that Lucifer is still here stalking us, because he is too prideful to play second fiddle to God, but the story of pride doesn’t end with Lucifer. Pride is the reason that we live in a fallen world. Pride caused the first sin when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Pride got us kicked out of paradise. It separated us from God, but the story of pride doesn’t end in the garden. Pride caused the Pharaoh of Egypt to refuse to let the Hebrews go, even after it was demonstrated over and over again that he couldn’t win. So on that first Passover, pride caused his oldest son to die, and pride caused his army to get washed away in the Red Sea, but the story of pride doesn’t end with Pharaoh. Later, in Ezekiel, God compares the prideful nation of Assyria to a tree. God says that Assyria was once a cedar tree rising over the rest of the land. This tree of Assyria was lush with beautiful branches. It majestically overshadowed the forest and all of the birds flocked to its branches. No other tree could match its beauty, but because of its pride, it was chopped down, and became nothing. God also compares the nation of Egypt to a tree that is chopped down because of its pride, but the story of pride doesn’t end with these nations. In chapter 4 of Daniel, God again uses the metaphor of a tree to describe pride, this time Nebuchadnezzar’s pride. Daniel gives the king the interpretation which is very similar to what was described of Egypt and Assyria.
“All this came upon King Nebuchadnez’zar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king 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 Nebuchadnez’zar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field; and you shall be made to eat grass like an ox; and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled upon Nebuchadnez’zar. He was driven from among men, and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:28-33 RSV)
Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t swallow his pride. In fact, it gets worse. One day, Nebuchadnezzar is on the roof of his palace looking at the amazing city that he has built. He looks around him and is just overcome with pride. He sees the 355 foot walls in the distance, walls that were sixty miles in circumference, that were 80 feet thick, that were wide enough for a six lane interstate, that were so thick that they had chariot races on top of them. Then he looks at the Ishtar gates, gloriously decorated in the distance, that people from all over the world marveled at, that were coated with splendid pictures, that was part of the seven wonders of the world. He looks at the huge statues of the gods and goddesses. He looks at the manmade mountain that he built right in the middle of the city, he looks at the hanging gardens that people from all over the world marveled at. These gardens were so huge, high and glorious, that they could be seen from outside of the 355 foot walls. He looks below at the mighty Euphrates river flowing right through his great city. Nebuchadnezzar is walking around the roof, from one side to the other, just admiring everything that he has done. He has built the greatest city that the earth had ever seen! It is breathtaking. He can’t hold it in any longer. He screams out as loud as he can, “Is this not the great Babylon? Which I have built by my mighty power, and for my glory? Look what I have done! Look at these gates! Look at these walls! Look at these hanging gardens! Look what I built!” Before the words are even out of his mouth, he hears a voice from heaven, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, until you learn that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he wills.” And just like that it is all taken away from him. Just like that, the tree is chopped down. Nebuchadnezzar spends the next seven years thinking that he is an animal. He is unable to rule his kingdom. He is literally put out to pasture. In one second, Nebuchadnezzar goes from the most powerful man in the world, to acting like a cow, and the story of Pride adds another chapter.
Why is pride such a bad thing? Why does the story of pride bother God so much? Because if the whole world is looking at you it can’t see God. If the whole world is hearing about how great you are it’s not hearing about how great God is. If the whole world is loving you, and adoring you, and worshiping you, it’s not loving, adoring, and worshiping God. Pride is also bad for us! If you come to the conclusion that you are responsible for your success in life it produces anxiety. Pride actually causes stress. If you are responsible for every good thing in your life, your reaction is fear. If I think I am responsible for my money, what if the economy crashes? If my beauty is the only reason I have a strong marriage, then what happens as I age? You see, when you are responsible for anything it causes stress and anxiety.
Apparently, God likes to use the metaphor of a tree to show a kingdom, with the birds symbolizing people flocking to it for protection. He uses it to show the kingdom of Assyria being humbled, he uses it to show the kingdom of Egypt being humbled, and he uses it to show King Nebuchadnezzar being humbled. A few centuries later, John the Baptist says that, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. John the Baptist said that all of our trees will be cut, and all of our pride will be chopped down. The story of pride will eventually come to an end, either in this life or the next.
Just like Lucifer was thrown out of heaven for wanting to be greater than God, just like Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden for wanting more, just like Pharaoh’s armies were destroyed in the Red Sea, just like his first-born son was killed, just like the mighty tree that was Assyria was chopped down and their nation was never to be heard from again, just like the mighty tree that was Egypt was chopped down never to threaten its neighbors again, and just like the mighty tree that was Nebuchadnezzar was chopped down, in one instant, God will eventually humble anyone who lets their pride get the best of them, both individuals, and nations. No matter how prideful we are, no matter how rich we are, no matter how beautiful we think we are, or how smart we think we are, or how special we’ve been told that we are, the day will come when every single one of us will bow down before Jesus Christ and give HIM all of the glory. . .So why not start practicing now?. . . . Because there is one tree that will never be cut down. There is one tree where liberty, truth, love, sacrifice, mercy, justice and a thousand other fruits are free to flourish. And this tree is like a little mustard seed, that grows into the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air will come and make nests in its branches. Every other tree will be cut down. So why not work to glorify the mustard seed or the kingdom of God?
“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnez’zar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives for ever; 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 in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What doest thou?” 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, Nebuchadnez’zar, 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 abase.” (Daniel 4:34-37 RSV)
In the end, Nebuchadnezzar realizes why we should give glory to God, and is healed of his illness. Then Nebuchadnezzar writes us this chapter, to give his testimony to us. Guess what, if Nebuchadnezzar maintained this testimony to his death we’ll actually be in heaven with him! Imagine that, we will see the man who threw the three Hebrews into the fiery furnace. Anyone can be saved. And do you know why we’ll see Nebuchadnezzar in heaven? Because one person cared enough to tell him the truth. Daniel was a good enough friend, that he told him the truth over and over again, until finally, as an old man, Nebuchadnezzar listened to his old friend, and was saved. We should never give up on anyone. It’s funny, we’ll jump online, and get on facebook to tell everyone about a good trip to a restaurant. We’ll tell everyone about what we thought of a movie, or a cruise that we took, but what Jesus has done in our lives, our own personal testimony, that has to be pried out of us! What would happen to this world if every Christian in the world was like Daniel. What if we all found a couple of Nebuchadnezzars, people who seem unsavable, and made it our lifelong mission to befriend them so we could one day save them? What would the world look like?
Not to sound like a party pooper, but one day we’re all just going to be little scribbles in the history books. Even the most famous of us will just be a little scribble. So what if all of us, instead of working so hard to be the greatest little scribble that we can be, instead, glorified the kingdom of God? What would happen to that mustard seed if we stopped glorifying ourselves and only pointed people to God? What if every Christian actor or actress, comedian, speaker, singer, athlete, musician, or writer, only wanted to sing, or write, or be interviewed about Jesus? What would happen to that mustard seed? If the story of pride was over and we gave all of the glory back to God? What would happen to this world? If people acted that way there would be consequences. It would take courage. It would take faith under fire, but instead of one day just being little scribble in history, we would be doing something that actually mattered and our actions would echo throughout eternity.
Here is a link to the sermon that accompanies this Bible study: “The Story of Pride”
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What are some ways that pride gets the best of people today?
How do you struggle with pride?
How did lifelong service to King Nebuchadnezzar help Daniel convert the old man? What does that teach us?
Do you have a good friend who will always tell you the truth no matter what? Is it easy to be that friend?
Does the world want to hear the truth about Jesus? Why or why not? How can we present that truth to them in a culture like ours?
What can we do to fight pride in our own lives and give the glory back to God?
1) R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 1116-17.
2) Thomas E. Gaston, Historical Issues in the Book of Daniel, (Oxford: Thomas E. Gaston, 2009.) 59.
3) Euseb. Praep. Evan., l. 9. § 41, p. 456, Edit Colon., and Chron. Armen., p. 59