DANIEL 4, A Picture of Pride
CHCC: October 7, 2012
The last couple of weeks we’ve been learning about King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from Daniel chapters 2 and 3. Now we’re finishing up the story of this King in Daniel chapter 4. King Nebuchadnezzar had developed a deep respect for Daniel’s God, but King Nebuchadnezzar had a fatal flaw --- that flaw was PRIDE.
If you want to know what Pride is, just think of the difference between the nature of a dog and a cat. If you pet a dog, he wags his tail and looks up at you adoringly --- he’s thinking, “You must be a god!” If you pet a cat, he allows you the privilege, and he’s thinking “I must be a god!” Well Nebuchadnezzar had the mind of a cat!
In chapter 4, King Neb tells his own strange --- and kind of horrifying --- story of what PRIDE did to him. There are 3 parts to the story … and we’re going to simplify it by saying that King Neb went from glorifying self – to glorifying grass – and finally he ended up glorifying God.
We start with King Neb glorifying himself.
1. Glorifying self
Look in Daniel 4:4-5, "I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous." It’s like he was saying, “I was just hanging out, minding my own business” when I had a dream that made me afraid.
To make a long dream short: King Neb dreamed about a huge tree that could be seen all over the world. The leaves were lovely, the fruit was abundant. Wild animals could take refuge under the branches. Then a holy messenger shouted that the tree would be chopped down, leaving only a stump. The messenger went on to say something really strange … “Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.” Daniel 4:15-16
King Neb didn’t know what all this meant, but he knew it was BAD news. The dream terrified him. Once again, King Neb called on his magicians to interpret the dream. When they failed, he turned to Daniel.
He said, None of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” Daniel 4:18 You see, King Neb had respect for Daniel’s God … but at this point in the story, Daniel’s God was not yet the king's God.
Daniel told the King “I wish I could say this dream was about someone else, but it’s not. This dream is about YOU.” He said, “This is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven.” Daniel 4:24-25
Daniel then advised King Neb that if he would turn from his sins and start being kind to the poor, he could possibly avoid this awful fate. Maybe King Neb took this advice for a little while --- but a year later, here’s what happened. Look in Daniel 4:29-30. As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
This pin-points that King Neb’s big sin was PRIDE --- He was completely glorifying himself! Of course, if anyone had an excuse for pride, it would be King Neb. He ruled the greatest, most wide-spread and powerful kingdom in the entire world --- possibly in all of history.
But he failed to realize that in the eyes of God, Pride is never a small matter. C. S. Lewis said the following in Mere Christianity. “The essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Un-chastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison; it was through Pride that the devil became the devil; Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
God was about to give King Neb --- and US --- a graphic picture of how human PRIDE looks in God’s eyes. King Neb would go from glorifying himself to glorifying GRASS.
2. Glorifying grass
Daniel 4:33, Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from the people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
Yikes! The dream came true --- and it was a nightmare! The great and glorious Ruler… so sure of Himself … so feared and respected --- This powerful King --- was reduced to the status of a dumb animal, grazing on grass. What a contrast! At least it was a contrast to the human eye. I have a feeling it was not any big change in God’s eyes.
What happened to King Neb was nothing more than a physical picture of a spiritual truth. You see, God looks on the heart. From the very beginning, this prideful, self-aggrandizing King had a spirit that was as dull and senseless as a cow standing around chewing his cud.
Until God brought him down, everybody was impressed with King Neb. People still tend to admire a “self-made man” --- someone who faces life with supreme confidence --- someone who doesn’t need anyone --- especially not God.
The poem, "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley expresses the kind of pride that people usually admire. Recently a soccer movie even took this title to represent an unconquerable attitude. But if we look at the Poem itself, we can see a clear description of the human pride setting itself up against God. Notice how inspirational the words sound … but how the meaning sets itself up against God.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be (unbelief)
For my unconquerable soul. (pride)
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance (unbelief – no providence, blind chance)
My head is bloody, but unbowed. (pride)
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade, (unbelief – earthly life is all there is)
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid. (pride)
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll. (unbelief – Bible images rejected)
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. (pride)
If King Neb had been a Poet, he could have written that poem himself. People still admire that kind of defiant, self-sufficient, prideful attitude --- but it doesn’t impress God! What looks powerful, successful and smart to us looks like a dumb animal chewing on grass to God.
Finally – in Daniel 4:34 - we get to the happy ending of this horrible nightmare. After 7 years, God gave Neb’s life back to him. At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. From that time on, King Neb gave Glory to God.
3. Glorifying God
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:37
What happened to King Neb was unique --- I’ve never heard of anything quite like it --- a King eating grass for 7 years like an animal. But on the other hand, the spiritual experience it represents is more common than we’d like to think.
I remember a father of one of my youth group kids years ago. He didn’t believe in God himself, but he told me, “I like my kids to be at church. It’s good for their moral development.” This guy was an upstanding, well-respected man in the community. He was a good husband and father --- a professor at a near-by college.
But it wasn’t long after we had that conversation that he turned into a grass-eater. What I mean is that he threw everything away --- his wife, his relationship with his kids, his reputation --- for the sake of an affair that ended up lasting just a year or two.
Unfortunately, we’ve all seen people who do this kind of thing. They are like King Neb --- living in their “palace”--- all content and prosperous --- convinced they are “master of their fate – captain of their soul” They may give a “nod” to God --- but they don’t need His help.
And then all of a sudden --- they look across the fence and spot some “greener grass.” The next thing you know, they’ve jumped the fence and started grazing.
We’ve all seen it happen. We scratch our heads and ask ourselves, Why would they ruin their lives … just for Grass?
And “grass” could be any of a number of things … an affair, an addiction, some sort of perversion or entertainment ... but whatever it is, they go after it like a goat goes after grass.
Have you ever tried to talk sense to someone who is in a “grass-eating” phase of life? I have. It’s like talking to a wall … or to a dumb animal. There seems to be no rational understanding at all!
We watch them make a shambles of what had been a good life, and we wonder, “What are they thinking?” Well, that’s the point --- they’re NOT thinking … they are not that different from old Nebuchadnezzar.
If we’re honest, most of us have had a “grass-eating” phase of life in our past. We look back and wonder, “What was WRONG with me? How could I have acted like that? What was I thinking?” And what saved us from that messed-up behavior was the same thing that saved King Neb. It was purely God’s grace: We lifted our eyes to heaven, and our sanity was restored.
There are so many lessons we can take from King Neb’s odyssey. But this is the most important one. You see, all of us have some “grass-eating” area in our lives. We have some place of hidden pride that is holding us back and that has the potential to bring us down.
That’s the thing about pride. It’s usually hidden. After all, if we knew we were eating grass, we’d stop! C. S. Lewis once wrote, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud.”
Pride is an insidious sin because we are too proud to admit our pride. But pride --- especially hidden pride --- cuts us off from God’s blessings. James 4:6 says, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
We can be secretly proud of our reputation, our family, our self-control, our career, our talents, our possessions, even our status at church. We can even be proud of our humility! Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any areas of hidden pride. When we lift our eyes to heaven, God will always restore our sanity so we can live a life that gives glory to God.