The Pride of Nebachudnezzar
Topic: Default Passage: Daniel 4:1–4:37
Today we are in Daniel four where we have our last interactions with King
Nebachudnezzar. Over the last few chapters, God has been revealing Himself more to Nebachudnezzar, but Nebachudnezzar just doesn’t get it. God used Daniel in chapter 2 to not only interpret his dream, but tell him what the dream was in the first place. Then, God used Shadrack, Mishack, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, but Daniel still doesn’t get it.
After all this, how could Nebachudnezzar still not get it and submit to the rule of the God of the universe? The answer is in this chapter and it’s pretty simple: pride.
Nebachudnezzar can’t fully relinquish the idea that he isn’t as powerful as he thought. That he isn’t as in control as he wants to be.
Nebachudnezzar thought he was on top, he thought he had everything he needed. But, what I love about this story (and we see it right at the beginning) is that
Nebachudnezzar lets you know right off the bat that God is going to do something that will show Nebachudnezzar how much he is really missing out on by not submitting to the One True God.
My family has been watching the 10 part documentary on Michael Jordan called The
Last Dance. One of the most fascinating figures in this story to me is Dennis Rodman, the great defensive player whose hair was always dyed a different color. And if you’ve ever seen the 30 for 30 on him, you’ll remember the end of it well. Dennis is sitting on a dark stage in an empty room and he says something like this about himself. “You would think that one of the most famous people in the world, would be happier than this.” Then his lips quiver and he says, “Funny.” Then it’s over.
He was on top of the world. He could have had anything he wanted. But he didn’t realize what he was missing most. In an even bigger way, Nebachudnezzar was on top of the world and could have anything he wanted, but his pride kept him from seeing what he was missing most. That is, until God broke through.
So, I just want to do two simple things today. I want to walk through this story and see the pride of Nebachudnezzar and God’s pursuit of Nebachudnezzar.
- Pride of Nebachudnezzar
We see the pride of Nebuchadnezzar clearly and concisely in verse 30 where he says, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by kmy mighty power as a royal residence and for kthe glory of my majesty?” - Daniel 4:30
Babylon is at the height of its power. Proportionally to the population of the world, Babylon is larger and more influential than New York City today. Nebuchadnezzar is the most powerful man on earth and he can’t let go of the illusion that he is actually in control. That he is the one who single handedly built all this. He doesn’t realize that it is God who sets leaders up. It’s God who allowed Nebuchadnezzar to be born when he did, in the culture he did, and to have the gifts and the opportunities he did. Nebuchadnezzar has no influence over those kinds of things.
Pride is a deadly thing both emotionally and spiritually. Pride is thinking more of yourself than you should and it has many different faces. Face one: pride causes us to think that we, through our hard work and ingenuity, have accomplished something and we should get credit for it. Not other people and certainly not God.
I really can’t imagine the stress that people like Governor Cuomo of New York City are under during a time like this, but as the number of cases of Covid began to decrease, a reporter made an insinuation that God had something to do with that and this was his response. The number is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that...that’s how it works. It’s math. Do you see what’s happening? He wants to get the credit for the hard work he put into this. That’s pride.
And we do this too. How many of you are patting yourself on the back right now because you saw this coming or you saved enough money or you are an ‘essential’ worker? That’s pride.
That’s an example of pride when things are going well, which is Nebuchadnezzar’s situation. But pride has a different face when things are not going well. Pride prevents us from suffering well. Pride in difficult circumstances says that things should be better than they are. That I deserve better circumstances than I have received. Pride doesn’t accept a hard diagnosis. Pride can’t accept financial hardships. I’ve seen prideful pastors and businesspeople who can’t accept when a church or business doesn’t thrive under their leadership.
Pride can prevent us from accepting help from others or reaching out when we really need it. Prideful people don’t want help that they don’t feel like they earned. They don’t want to admit that they can’t do it on their own. And pride robs us of all the joy God wants us to experience in this life.
I have critiqued a democrat this morning, so I’ll critique a Republican too. I don’t think it would be very controversial of me to suggest that our president struggles with pride. Many of the people who have worked in the White House with him and have now left comment on what that was like. A common refrain that you hear is that some of these people never saw Donald Trump smile or laugh. Pride takes that from us.
When we are prideful, we are, in a real way, trying to play God. We are claiming victories that belong to God and we are claiming rights we don’t have. Abraham Kuyper famously said, "There's not one square inch of creation over which Jesus does not delcare, "Mine."
But, the more we declare, “Mine”, the less we manifest the image of God we were made to bear. We become more like a cold, fragile golden statue and less like a living image bearing son or daughter. And because pride is self-exalting, it ultimately leads to hatred of others. And we all had a front seat this week to pride fueled, hatred as a mob of cold, fragile private citizens shot an unarmed Ahmaud Arber. Pride makes us less than human and God is about to show that to Nebuchadnezzar.
Somewhere inside us, we know that pride and reality cannot coexist. This is the crux of the human condition we call sin. Jim Boice calls pride the unforgivable sin. Now, of course, pride can be forgiven when there is repentance, but at our core, pride is what keeps us from submitting to and worshiping God. And in this state, we are blind to the joy God has for us and we will never truly enjoy or love other people for who they are. We will just see them as an opportunity, a barrier, or someone to fix.
Three times in this passage (in verses 17, 25, and 32), the main point is made clear. The king and all those who live would know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.
Now, we get to see how God pursues Nebachudnezzar even in his cold and fragile state.
- God pursues Nebuchadnezzar
The chapter opens up with Nebuchadnezzar saying that he was at ease in his house and prospering in his palace. How quickly life can turn from comfortable to chaos.
Like chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that unsettles him. He dreams about a tree that grows incredibly tall. So tall that it reaches to the heavens and is visible to all on earth. This tree shaded, sheltered, and fed everyone on earth. But, then a being that he called a holy one came out of Heaven and said this in verse 14:
Chop down the tree and jlop off its branches, jstrip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. jLet the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 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 portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from a man's, and let a beast's mind be given to him; kand let seven periods of time lpass over him. 17 The sentence is by the decree of fthe watchers, the decision by the word of gthe holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High mrules the kingdom of men nand gives it to whom he will and osets over it the lowliest of men.’ - Daniel 4:14-17
Nebuchadnezzar tells this obviously ominous dream to his spiritual advisors, but they can’t interpret it, so the king again turns to Daniel who can.
Daniel explains that the tree represented Nebuchadnezzar who had grown strong and whose greatness has spread around the earth. Daniel says that the Most High has decreed that you be cut down and that you be driven from men to dwell with the beasts of the field. He will eat grass like an ox and wake up each day with dew on him just like a breast.
This will happen for a specific amount of time (there is disagreement on how long this period was), but it would go on until the king knew who was really the Most High.
It’s really interesting to me to see the care Daniel has for the king who took him from his home. But Daniel compassionately tells Nebuchadnezzar to repent and seek humility and maybe God will be gracious.
And twelve months after this is when We get to the verse we started with. Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by kmy mighty power as a royal residence and for kthe glory of my majesty?” - Daniel 4:30 So, there is no repentance from his pride.
And the moment he said these words is when the dream came to pass. A voice from heaven said, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you,” - Daniel 4:31
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 4:33
Remember, pride is sub-human so now, the great Nebuchadnezzer has become a physical manifestation of the reality of his heart. This is God bringing a man from the pinnacle of success to the lowest possible station. God is deliberately and drastically humbling Nebuchadnezzar to help him to see God for who He really is.
God is humbling him to accomplish some very specific things. What are those things? Here are a few. First, it gives him proper perspective. After this designated period of time was over, once he truly looked like a beast in a field, Nebachudnezzar says his reason was returned to him. And you get the sense that his reason was much better than it was before because the first thing he does is praise God. Nebachudnezzar is actually seeing that anything other than praise for God is irrational!
Nebachudnezzar is actually a great picture of all of us before we praise God. Many people don’t understand that this is not a debated thing in Ortoidox Christianity. We all believe that our sin is so pervasive, that we don’t even have the ability to see how bad off we are or that Jesus is the answer. God has to do something to open our eyes. Without God moving first, we are all as spiritually insane as Nebachudnezzar in the field.
2 Corinthians 4 says very clearly that just as God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light in the universe, in the same way, He says, “Let there be light!” and our spiritual eyes are opened. Through no merit of our own, we go from spiritually insane to praising God.
This is one reason we should never be spiritually prideful Christians who get angry with people who don’t believe. It’s not like we contributed anything to our salvation. You may have heard the old quote, “the only thing you contribute to your salvation is the sin that made it necessary.”
The second thing God is doing is giving Nebachudnezzar a new security. There are some things we can control and there are other things we can’t. Pride made
Nebachudnezzar think he could control and take credit for more than he could. Remember that a prideful heart is a fragile one. But, now that Nebachudnezzar has the humility to see who was actually the Most High, He was able to confidently trust in the promises of One who is infinitely more in control. This is one of the reasons that repentance is so sweet! There is a deep security that whatever happens around us, we are in the loving and powerful hands of God.
Then, thirdly, we get joy. Tim Keller says, “A joyous life is that which receives everything as a gift, and a self-absorbed, and therefore miserable life, is that which looks at everything and says, ‘I’m owed this. I’m owed this. I’m owed this.’” The joy that comes from humility allows us to see blessings and gifts and joyfully accept it. And the maturing Christian spends the rest of his or her life seeing this more fully. Even us pastors have a long way to go.
I heard a pastor recently say that when he was in his 20s and 30’s he would read verses that talked about Jesus hanging with sinners and tax collectors and his response was, “where are they? If Jesus went to them, I will too.” But now, after a few more years of walking with Jesus, he thinks, “wow, Jesus, you come and hang with me. What a gift that I don’t deserve and joyfully accept.
I think there are certainly gifts to be seen in the past month or so of this craziness. I can see more clearly where my kids' hearts are. I can see more clearly some ways my life and schedule don’t need to go back to ‘normal.’ We all get to consider our own mortality a bit. And, my goodness, what a clear mercy of God that the ages affected by this virus wasn’t inverted. I’m not being insensitive to older people here, but I think we can all agree that if children were the ones dying, our world would be changed for the rest of our lives. There is much to be thankful for when pride is stripped away and humility rules the day.
Then, lastly and most importantly, God is accomplishing the spread of his fame beyond that of Nebachudnezzar and Babylon. There is no question in Nebachudnezzar’s eyes and there should be no question in ours. And we long for the day when Jesus returns and triumphantly declares to all of creation, “Mine!”
So, what does it look like for us to walk in this kind of humility? Where are the places we need to repent of our pride? Are there hard circumstances that God is graciously causing to give you joy through humility?In a sense, the whole world is going through a period of humiliation and as we come out of it, our response must be to lift our eyes to heaven and bless the Most High. The result of humiliation should always be praise.
And if you’re tempted to think for one second that God is in any way unjust for doing this, remember that He’s not subjecting you to anything He isn’t willing to. The only way that our prideful hearts can be humbled is because God humbled Himself by sending His son, Jesus Christ, to be humbled more that we could ever imagine. The humiliation Jesus experienced for our pride, makes Nebachudnezzar’s humiliation look like a walk in the park. But, God will redeem His lost children and they, like Nebachudnezzar, will praise Him in this life and the next.