Summary: Daniel was faithful to God in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream foretelling his illness in punishment of his arrogance but it ended in the king’s conversion.
DANIEL 4 - THE CONVERSION OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
The book of Daniel, in its early chapters, tells us as much about Nebuchadnezzar as it does about Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was a man given to dreams. He had a whole range of wise men on his payroll in the different disciplines of magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He must have paid a lot of attention to what dreams were trying to say. No doubt a lot of the time it was nonsense and quite irrelevant to life, but because of the importance of dreams to him that same medium was the one that God chose to break into his consciousness to bring him to conversion.
How good is our God to reveal himself to individuals, in ways which are meaningful to our own particular circumstances. This chapter is written as Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony but God had his hand on him. God was working to a plan to reveal himself as the Most High quite unbeknown to Nebuchadnezzar by allowing Daniel to be brought to Babylon as a deportee. Then more specifically through the dramas of the golden image and the fiery furnace. To use a theological word, it was God’s "prevenient grace" in action, which means that even before Nebuchadnezzar repented, God was making himself known so that eventually Nebuchadnezzar would turn to him.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (1 : 20). In the story of Nebuchadnezzar, given in his own words, we’re going to look at the Vision, the Interpretation and the Conversion. First then:
Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a great tree which reached to heaven and could be seen from the ends of the earth. It sheltered animals and birds and supplied food to all living things. That was fine, but then the king heard something which sent a shiver of fear through him - it was a command that the tree should be cut down and only the stump should be spared.
Nebuchadnezzar had gone to bed in his palace that night, in his own words, "contented and prosperous" (4). He was complacent of spiritual values. His culture and achievements had lulled him into a false sense of security. There’s a verse of poetry that goes, "God’s in his heaven. All’s right with the world" (Browning). That is what he thought. His capital, Babylon, was a marvel of engineering with its new canals and waterways; he had erected magnificent buildings and laid out extensive parks. His city was one of the wonders of the world with its famous hanging gardens.
Nebuchadnezzar had surrounded himself with culture. Now there is nothing wrong with culture. God is not against beautiful things as such. Beautiful things are a gift from God. When God created the world in its perfection he said "it was good". As someone put it, "Would you take a friend who is in hospital a bag of potatoes and carrots as a present? No, you’d take a bunch of flowers to lift the mind and give the will to live." Why? Because flowers are beautiful to look at. It’s all a matter of getting things in the correct perspective. The trouble with Nebuchadnezzar is that not only was he complacent in his ease, he was arrogant in his prosperity. He had made his culture and material surroundings into his god. They became his curse, his delusion; the danger which was to bring him to his tragic undoing.
Nebuchadnezzar had become proud of his achievements. Is it possible for us to become like Nebuchadnezzar? If our hard work has brought us some solid achievement and career success, whether it be academic, commercial, professional or ecclesiastical, we might be tempted to think it is the result, or even the reward, of some spiritual merit.
But even worse than complacency in his culture and arrogance in his prosperity, was the hardness of his heart. God had shown amazing forbearance with Nebuchadnezzar. In each of the three preceding chapters, God had revealed himself to Nebuchadnezzar in unmistakable ways through his young servants, Daniel and his three colleagues, Shadrach. Meshach and Abednego. The young Hebrews in their faithfulness to their God’s dietary laws had proved to be the best scholars of their year; then Daniel had been able to unravel the dream of the image which had within it the destiny of great empires; and then the Lord himself had stood with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. But even this was not sufficient to make the king forsake his heathen ways.
Romans 1 warns that there is a line that can be overstepped beyond which God leaves people to their own lost cause, as their irrevocable choice. Nebuchadnezzar had virtually reached that point of no return. It is a dangerous game to play. If we fail to listen to God’s voice it can have dire consequences. God is a patient God. When he wants to teach us, convert us, and conscript us into his service he first tries the most gentle way. He prefers the way of calling us to follow through our willing co-operation. Of course, when we think that God is speaking to us, we have the duty to test the spirits to see if they are of God, but one thing we must not do is to ignore it. If God’s first approach fails to get a response he may well have to turn the volume up a bit to make sure the message is received loud and clear. To change the metaphor: the ride is likely to be uncomfortable.