Summary: Drawing on strengths and weaknesses of King Nebuchandezzar to become better Christians
Nebuchadnezzar: Mightiest King
The first four chapters of the book of Daniel tell the story of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty and powerful king. In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Necho of Egypt and brought Judah under his control. It was during this time that the first Jewish captives were carried away to Babylon. In this group were the young men Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. All of this took place fulfilling the prophecy made to King Hezekiah over 100 years before (Isaiah 39:3-6).
Nebuchadnezzar was an arrogant and pompous ruler. Under his reign, Babylon had crushed all her enemies. History records that he never lost a battle. Despite his generally benevolent attitude towards the people he conquered, he was personally cruel, violent, and vindictive. He once roasted two young men in a fire (Jeremiah 29:22). He cast Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into a fiery furnace (Daniel 3). In his final conquest of Jerusalem, he had King Zedekiah’s sons killed right before his eyes and then put out the king’s eyes before taking him to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-21).
Could such a cold, heartless leader be changed by God’s discipline?
The bible tells us of two previous times that Nebuchadnezzar was convicted by God (Daniel 2:47; 3:28-29), though they failed to last.
As chapter four opens, Nebuchadnezzar is recording what happened to him. He wrote that he was "at rest in my house and flourishing in my palace" (Daniel 4:4). With Babylon well fortified and his mighty army to defend it, he had nothing to fear. He was safe and secure.
In history, God used various methods for getting man’s attention. He called Moses in a most dramatic way, through a burning bush. Some were very simple, like when he visited Abraham on the Plains of Mamre. To unsettle the proud, boastful king of Babylon, God used a simple dream. Nebuchadnezzar was so disturbed over the dream that he called for his wise men to interpret the dream but they all failed.
Finally, Daniel was called to interpret the king’s dream. Nebuchadnezzar related his dream to Daniel in Daniel 4:10-17. The king saw a large tree under which the beasts of the field slept, and birds nested in its branches. God commanded the tree to be cut down, but the stump was to be left and protected. At that point, the figure of the stump was changed to a man who was given the heart of an animal. The man would remain in this condition for seven years.
When Daniel first heard the dream, he was astonished. Through God’s power, Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Daniel told the king that he was the tree that had grown strong and powerful. The cutting down of the tree to a stump that became a man meant that Nebuchadnezzar would be driven from among men and would live with the animals. Nevertheless, during this time, his kingdom would be kept secure for him. Daniel told the king that God would do this to humble the arrogant king so that he would know that "the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses." Daniel warned the king that unless he turned away from sin toward righteousness his kingdom would be taken from him.
None of what Daniel described to Nebuchadnezzar had to happen. However, he did not listen to Daniel’s warning and one year later, every detail of Daniel’s prophecy came true. As Nebuchadnezzar walked through his palace and admired his accomplishments, he failed to acknowledge that it was God who raised him up to rule over Babylon.
At the end of the seven-year period Nebuchadnezzar’s illness left him just as quickly as it came upon him. As he looked up into the heavens, his understanding returned to him, and he immediately began to proclaim the glory of God. He also worshipped God and every indication is that he continued to do this throughout the remainder of his life.
The last picture we have of this once wicked and cruel king is that he had been made a true believer in God.
One of the most important lessons from this story is about the sovereignty of God. Nebuchadnezzar was lifted up with pride, but God humbled him through that terrible illness, and he was forced to acknowledge that God is sovereign.
Nebuchadnezzar learned that the sky is not the limit, God is! One day he was admiring all of his accomplishments, and the next moment he was eating grass like a cow. Seven years later, with his mouth still full of grass, he looks into heaven and his illness goes away. Solomon wrote, "There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel that will stand (Proverbs 19:21). There is nothing wrong with making plans and having dreams for the future, but those plans had better start and end with God.