Message 4 | Daniel 4:1-37 | November 26, 2017

Introduction

The light of the great cathedral was limited to one candle on the casket of King Louis XIV. This King, who ruled France for 72 years from 1643 to 1715, desired to be referred to as Louis the Great. King Louis had given specific instructions to Massillon for his funeral service. He desired that the entire cathedral be completely dark, lit by only one candle positioned above the coffin so that everyone would be awed by his presence, even in his death. Amidst this cathedral, packed with mourners, and this one lone candle, walked Massillon. Massillon came forward for his funeral sermon, and to the surprise of all, snuffed out the single candle and proclaimed, “Only God is Great.”[1]

Sadly, to many of us learn that truth too late in life. In this fourth chapter of Daniel, we find one additional interaction in which God humbles Nebuchadnezzar. Before we go much further, I think we need to all be honest with ourselves. Pride is an integral part of our flesh.  We inherently think too highly of ourselves, and it can affect nearly everything we do and every decision we make.

Hugh of St. Victor. Pride is the worst of all vices, because it attacks the soul through its virtues as well as through its evil habits. Pride is hateful to God and men.… It is the first prompting in the committing of sin; it remains the last in the struggle against sin. Indeed when the servant of God has overcome other vices and has reached the heights of virtue, she still has to face the battle against pride, and if she does not engage in the struggle her labor in other directions will be in vain.[2]

Purpose Statement. God uses Nebuchadnezzar to show us that no one ought to boast in anything they have accomplished but instead acknowledge and proclaim the power and sovereignty of God.

Author of Chapter. There is much conjecture whether or not Nebuchadnezzar wrote this chapter or whether Daniel placed Nebuchadnezzar’s declaration in his writings.  The possibilities are that (1) Daniel wrote this on behalf of Nebuchadnezzar, (2) Nebuchadnezzar wrote this as a letter to all the nations and Daniel simply inserted it into his writings, or (3) Nebuchadnezzar wrote this for the purpose of Daniel including it in his writings. To some degree there is little relevance to who wrote it, because we believe, regardless of the human author, it is part of scripture and is therefore inspired by God and worthy of our attention.  One note of relevance. If Nebuchadnezzar wrote this himself, and it was inserted into scripture (which we see that it was); there seems to be some indication of Nebuchadnezzar being a believer.  I would be hard pressed to imagine an unbeliever writing a portion of scripture.  Either way we have a Gentile emperor writing part of scripture.

Date of Chapter. Likely the incidents in this chapter begin around 570 B.C.  We have little information concerning Nebuchadnezzar during the years between 569-562 B.C.  Second and Third Century B.C. historians allude to Nebuchadnezzar’s sickness happening late in his life.  It appears that the majority of his building was complete at this point in his life, which would make for a date later in his reign. This chapter happens probably around 25 years after chapter three.  If the above dates are correct, Daniel is around 50 years old.

Storyline

Nebuchadnezzar request an interpretation. To some degree we see similarities to chapter 2.  Nebuchadnezzar has a vision and desires an explanation. He calls in his wise men for the interpretation.  Unlike chapter 2, he does not ask the wise men to tell him the vision, he simply wants the interpretation.  They are unable to help him. At this point Daniel is called.

Daniel interprets the vision. Nebuchadnezzar’s response to Daniel seems to display a healthy respect for Daniel even though it had likely been 25 years since chapter 2.  As well Nebuchadnezzar refers to Daniel as the chief of the magicians.  There seems to be enough indication that Daniel was in good standing with Nebuchadnezzar, but did not come immediately for some unknown reason. Maybe he was gone, or maybe he desired that the inability of the wise men be displayed so that once again, God could be seen as glorious.

Daniel’s God was, once again, the only powerful God who was able to reveal and supply the interpretation.  This is just one more experience used to draw Nebuchadnezzar to Himself and another opportunity for God to reveal Himself as all powerful and sovereign.

Content of Dream: The Prosperous Tree (4:10-12). The Prosperous Tree is in  the midst of the earth, focal point of the world. The tree had worldwide power (its strength and height reached to the sky) and worldwide benefit (abundant fruit and food for all).

Content of Dream: The Fallen Tree (4:13-16). The tree is cut down per the command of an angelic watcher (4:14).  A stump is left which signifies that the tree was not completely destroyed.  As well the tree had the ability to be restored (4:15).  Not only is it not completely destroyed, but it is as well protected from complete destruction (a band of iron and bronze around it).  The tree is displayed in human terms, although that human would become like a beast (4:15-16).

Daniel’s Prolonged Answer. Why was Daniel dismayed or upset (4:19) as his thoughts alarmed him?  It appears that his silence was not due to the fact that he could not answer but that the interpretation was not good for Nebuchadnezzar. There could be a number of different reasons why Daniel paused in telling Nebuchadnezzar the bad news. (1) Daniel appreciated Nebuchadnezzar and (2) Nebuchadnezzar was an unbeliever who was going to be judged and Daniel didn’t look forward to announcing that judgment.

The Interpretation: Nebuchadnezzar’s Greatness (4:20-22). Nebuchadnezzar was the great tree.  He was near the pinnacle of his greatness.  He had built an incredible kingdom that had prospered the whole world.

The Interpretation: Nebuchadnezzar’s Punishment (4:23-26). His punishment involved him living outside like an animal for 7 years.  During this time his kingdom would remain secure until the point he came to realize God’s greatness.

God extends grace (4:27-29a). Daniel Implores Nebuchadnezzar to Repent (4:27). Daniel is not promoting a works based salvation.  A common theme throughout the Old Testament was for a believer to show their trust in God by their good works.  Daniel first encouraged Nebuchadnezzar to repent or turn away from his sin.  Nebuchadnezzar’s right actions would display that he had truly repented.

Daniel may very well have been also wanting to help Nebuchadnezzar avoid the impending calamity that was pictured in the vision.  Ridding himself of pride and doing good might help Nebuchadnezzar avoid the judgment.  Daniel may not have been specifically thinking of eternal salvation as much as he was thinking of temporary salvation from the judgment.  If that were the case, the remedy may have been simply good deeds (stop doing bad and start doing good). This would not have reconciled Nebuchadnezzar to God but it may have helped him avoid impending judgment.

God offers time for Nebuchadnezzar to repent. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream occurred 12 months before its fulfillment.  Nebuchadnezzar had many opportunities to repent and acknowledge God.  He chose not to.

Nebuchadnezzar chooses pride (4:29b-30). “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built” (Dan 4:6).  (1) There were double walls around the city.  The outer wall was 25 feet thick and 17 miles long. The two walls were 40 feet apart. The walls had 360 towers along them. One of the walls was wide enough to have two chariots ride on it. (2) The Ishtar Gate was 35 feet tall and opened to a 75 foot paved processional leading to the main temple. Each side of the path was a 40 foot wall covered with blue enameled brick. There were 6 foot lions made of red and yellow enamel tiles along the path. The gate was covered with lapis lazuli which would be equivalent in value to gold and silver. (3) A seven level ziggurat. It was 288 feet tall and 130 square yards at the base. It is estimated that there were nearly 60,000,000 bricks in the tower. Each of them was 13 x 13 and had imprinted on them “Nebuchadnezzar the builder.” The lower half consisted of brown glazed bricks and the top half of blue (resembling heaven and earth). There was a small temple at the top. (4) There were 50 temples inside the walls. (5) Hanging gardens. He built the Hanging Gardens, one of the 7 wonders of the world. He built it for one of his wives, Amytis, who was homesick for the mountains of her home in Media. The artificial mountain was watered from the Euphrates using an ingenious pump and well system.

God Chooses Judgment (4:31-33). The judgment was in the immediate context of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride. A voice from heaven immediately declared the judgment and Nebuchadnezzar’s fall.[3]

At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 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?” 31 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, 32 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 periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:29–32 ESV).

Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. (Prov 16:5 ESV).

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov 16:18 ESV).

Nebuchadnezzar Glorifies God (4:34-37). It is likely that this restoration was short lived.  If we are correct in our timing of this in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, he would have died a year or two after his seven years of insanity.

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; 35 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?” 36 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. 37 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. (Daniel 4:34–37 ESV).

Conclusion

Purpose Statement. God uses Nebuchadnezzar to show us that no one should boast in anything they have accomplished but should instead acknowledge and proclaim the power and sovereignty of God.

I would like to draw a few characteristics of a humble person from this chapter, but before I do, let’s be quick to acknowledge up front that humility is not natural to any of us. This simple reality is displayed in the short story about a frog and his two friends, two ducks.

In a certain pond on one of the farms in the East were two ducks and frog. Now these neighbors were the best of friends; all day long they used to play together. But as the hot summer days came, the pond began to dry up and soon there was such a little bit of water that they all realized that they would have to move. Now the ducks could easily fly to another place, but what about their friend the frog? Finally it was decided that they would put a stick in the bill of each duck, and then the frog would hang onto the stick with his mouth and they would fly him to another pond. And so they did. As they were flying, a farmer out in his field looked up and saw them and said, “Well, isn’t that a clever idea! I wonder who thought of it!” The frog said, “I did …”[4]

Who wouldn’t have been like the frog? We all desire credit for everything we think we have accomplished – that is good. We all struggle with pride. So then, let’s draw some practical characteristics of the humble by looking at the reverse of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride.

Characteristics of the Humble.  (1) Acknowledge God’s power and give him credit. The humble person will realize that all their accomplishments are due to the empowerment of God. God will alone be exalted for any achievements. No one has accomplished anything in and of themselves of which to be proud.  Nebuchadnezzar accomplished much, probably more than most men throughout history, and yet he also came to realize that any man’s success is due to the ability and empowerment given to them by a Sovereign God.

(2) Realize their own weakness in light of God’s power. A humble person will consider themselves weak in light of God’s power.  John Flavel wrote, “They that know God will be humble. And they that know themselves cannot be proud.”[5]

(3) Quick to repent. A humble person will be quick to repent. Due to one’s awareness of the greatness of God and their comparable weakness, a humble man is quick to be aware of his sin and repent of it. Nebuchadnezzar is a bad example of this type of quick repentance, whereas David is a great example for us. When Nathan confronts him with his sin he is quick to repent.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:1–4 ESV).

(4) Quick to proclaim the excellencies of God. Nebuchadnezzar does offer us a great example in this passage.

Thomas Brooks. Here is a wonder! God is on high; and yet the higher a man lifts himself up, the farther he is from God; and the lower a man humbles himself, the nearer he is to God. Of all souls, God delights most to dwell with the humble, for they do most prize and best improve his precious presence.[6]

 

 

[1] I originally found the story in Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations by Paul Lee Tan. I then found additional stories online, and rewrote this brief introduction.

[2] Elliot Ritzema and Rebecca Brant, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Medieval Church, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

[3] Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity is assumed by many as the first noted case of boanthropy. Boanthropy is the mental sickness in which one thinks they are a cow or ox and as a result begin to act like these animals. This is similar to lycanthropy which is when someone thinks they are a wolf man.

[4] Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 1100.

[5] Elliot Ritzema and Elizabeth Vince, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

[6] Elliot Ritzema and Elizabeth Vince, eds., 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Puritans, Pastorum Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

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