I. Introduction – The Humility of Zebuchadnezzar
A not-so-well-kept secret for those of us who are challenged to teach from God’s Word is that the primary audience for the lesson is for the teacher. I spend usually around 10 hours putting a lesson together so that I can tell you what I’ve learned in 30 minutes or less. But I receive 10 hours of one on one instruction from the Lord.
My very first lesson that I taught in Firm Foundation was just a short 4 months ago from the book on Philippians, about finding joy through humility. Imagine my surprise when I began studying this week’s lesson on Daniel 4 and discovering that this week’s lesson is on humility.
So simple math tells me… lessee… 10 hours times 2 lessons… that’s a lot of studying about the topic of humility. Last year, I shared with you the trophy I award to myself for my exceptional humility.
I’m proud to say I’ve already won 2022’s Outstanding Humility Award, though it’s only February. Seriously, nobody else has a chance of catching up.
Ok, no really seriously, humility is such a unique virtue. I think it’s the only virtue that is difficult to practice, and it’s impossible to talk about. Even asking the question, “Am I humble?” is a failure in humility because I’m asking about myself.
But while the previous lesson from Philippians 2 focused on humility towards others, today we are going to focus on humility toward our Lord and Creator.
Today we are going to study the humility of Nebuchadnezzar, but let’s review where we are in history.
II. Background and History
In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar attacks Jerusalem and takes hostages back to Babylon in fulfillment of God’s discipline on Israel for idolatry. Daniel and two of his friends are now vegetarians, and while they have been pressed into service to King Nebuchadnezzar, they remain in faithfulness to the Lord. Chris covered this part of history 2 weeks ago, that we should eat our vegetables. Two years later, Nebuchadnezzar has his first dream, and only Daniel through God’s provisions is able to translate it. How did Nebuchadnezzar respond? Daniel 2:46-47,
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”
Surely the king sees the majesty of our Lord. But 5 years later, Nebuchadnezzar returns to sack Jerusalem and takes 10,000 captive, including the prophet Ezekiel. Nebuchadnezzar spends 9 years sacking Jerusalem this time.
He returns to Babylon in 587 BC and builds a large statue, commanding all to worship it. Jim Armstrong taught last week that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not bow down, so Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace cranked to “high” and Daniel’s friends to be thrown in. They did not know if God would rescue them, but God did. They emerged from the furnace unsinged, not even their clothes were burned. How did Nebuchadnezzar respond now? Daniel 3:28-29,
Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
Surely the king sees the majesty of our Lord. But the very next year, Nebuchadnezzar completes his sacking of Jerusalem, the walls and Solomon’s temple is destroyed, and the remainder of the people that are not killed are taken to Babylon.
Another 20 years goes by and it’s 567 BC. Daniel has been an influence on King Nebuchadnezzar for 38 years. And we begin the book of Daniel, Chapter 4, the final years of Nebuchadnezzar’s life.
III. Nebuchadnezzar’s Testimony
Unlike the previous 3 chapters of Daniel, the 4th book of Daniel is written by Nebuchadnezzar. It begins, Daniel 4:1-3,
To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth:
May you prosper greatly!
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation.
The words from Nebuchadnezzar are amazing. He praises Jehovah God for His miracles.
This is a unique chapter in the Bible. Daniel 4 is written by Nebuchadnezzar; these first three verses seem to be a proclamation to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, praising our Creator.
Most of that we know about the king up to now is that he’s the king of the mightiest nation on earth at the time. Up until now, the king has not only conquered, but taken credit for his accomplishments, despite the fact that it was Jehovah God that was disciplining Israel by using Nebuchadnezzar. Still, there’s a change of tone in the king that has begun.
Nebuchadnezzar gives testimony of one who is greater. It is a step in the right direction. Nebuchadnezzar has shown nothing but pride and arrogance, but now something has changed. Perhaps it’s the miracle and testimony from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Perhaps it reflects 38 years of Daniel’s unwavering faith upon the king. Nebuchadnezzar proclaims, “His signs, His miracles, His kingdom, His dominion.”
Once, Nebuchadnezzar forced everyone to bow down to the statue he had built (Daniel 3:4-7), but now he is declaring the greatness, majesty, and miracles of Jehovah God. He recognizes the miracles God has performed. He recognizes God’s eternal authority and power. God’s Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom. God’s kingdom is forever.
But I read two words in the king’s proclamation that says he has not yet truly submitted to the Lord. At the end of verse 2, Nebuchadnezzar says God performed these miracles “for me.”
According to Nebuchadnezzar, as I see it, the purpose of God was to do these things for Nebuchadnezzar. Yes, God’s signs, God’s wonders, God’s kingdom, God’s dominion. All for my benefit, says Nebuchadnezzar.
IV. Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream
The next verses in Daniel 4 change from a proclamation to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom to what almost appears as an entry into Nebuchadnezzar’s diary. Daniel 4:4-6,
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and happy in my palace. I saw a dream and it startled me; and these appearances as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me. So I gave orders to bring into my presence all the wise men of Babylon, so that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.
This is the second time God used a dream to communicate an important message to this king – the first time was in Daniel 2, describing the rise and fall of the Babylon empire. In that dream, Nebuchadnezzar was ready to put to death all of the wise men in his kingdom because Nebuchadnezzar wanted them to 1) guess the dream and then 2) interpret it, which they couldn’t. But then Daniel received wisdom from the Lord, received the dream and the interpretation, and explained all of it to the king.
Now, 38 years later, Nebuchadnezzar has had another dream. The dream startles him and occupies his thoughts. He can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s causing him concern and confusion.
As before, the king summoned wise men so as to get their interpretation. As before, the wise men could not interpret the dream. The king then turned to Daniel, verse 8-9,
But finally Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar according to the name of my god, and in whom is a spirit of the holy gods; and I related the dream to him, saying, ‘Belteshazzar, chief of the soothsayer priests, since I know that a spirit of the holy gods is in you and no secret baffles you, tell me the visions of my dream which I have seen, along with its interpretation.
I see a couple of signs here that Nebuchadnezzar isn’t fully on board with worshipping Jehovah God. It’s like Nebuchadnezzar recognizes God’s power but not God’s holiness. Nebuchadnezzar refers to Daniel as Belteshazzar, which mean “Bel protect his life.” Bel was one of the king’s favorite gods. Not Jehovah God. Bel, with a little “g” god.
Still, the king knew Daniel was different from the others. He knew there was something inside him that gave him confidence and wisdom. But the king didn’t fully understand the God that Daniel worshipped.
The king doesn’t make Daniel guess the dream this time. The king describes his dream of a beautiful tree that reached to the sky and was visible throughout the entire earth, full of abundant fruit for all living creatures.
But then the dream takes an ominous turn in verse 13-14.
I was looking in the visions in my mind as I lay on my bed, and behold, an angelic watcher, a holy one, descended from heaven.
He shouted out and spoke as follows:
“Chop down the tree and cut off its branches,
Shake off its foliage and scatter its fruit;
Let the animals flee from under it
And the birds from its branches.
The tree was mighty, powerful, beautiful, and admired. But now the tree would be chopped down. The branches would be cut off, the animals and birds would flee. The mighty tree would fall. Only the stump would remain, and even then, the stump would greatly affected. Verse 15-16,
Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground,
But with a band of iron and bronze around it
In the new grass of the field;
And let him be drenched with the dew of heaven,
And let him share with the animals in the grass of the earth.
Let his mind change from that of a human
And let an animal’s mind be given to him,
And let seven periods of time pass over him.
Nebuchadnezzar found nothing uplifting about this dream and commands Daniel to interpret it.
Daniel sits there quietly. The scripture says Daniel was appalled and alarmed by his thoughts. At the prompting of the king, Daniel provides the interpretation. He tells the king, “You are the beautiful, powerful, abundant tree that will be cut down. Verses 24-26,
This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place be with the animals of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. And in that it was commanded to leave the stump with the roots of the tree, your kingdom will remain as yours after you recognize that it is Heaven that rules. Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: wipe away your sin by doing righteousness, and your wrongdoings by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.’
There would be consequences based on how the king had led his life. He had ignored and rejected God. He had elevated and embraced his own power and authority. But God was going to make Himself known to Nebuchadnezzar in a dramatic way that could not be denied.
V. Nebuchadnezzar’s Humility
This dream wasn’t fulfilled right away. A year later, Nebuchadnezzar is walking on the roof of his royal palace. Ever heard of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? One of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, created by Nebuchadnezzar, and he’s having a little stroll on this incredibly amazing palace a little place to relax in the city. He begins to pat himself on the back for being so amazing. He is awarding himself a trophy for his accomplishments. In verse 30,
The king began speaking and was saying, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty?’
I wonder what size hat Nebuchadnezzar wore to fit such a big head? The prophecy of the dream came true while the king was still speaking, including having the mind of an animal and eating grass like cattle. The great Nebuchadnezzar would finally have to acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty and dominion. Fulfilling prophecy, Nebuchadnezzar ate grass like cattle for seven years.
Did the Lord finally get Nebuchadnezzar’s attention? Verses 34-35,
But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward 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.
All the inhabitants of the earth are of no account,
But He does according to His will among the army of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can fend off His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
The first thing Nebuchadnezzar did upon his recovery? “I raised my eyes toward heaven.”
He did not look in the mirror. He didn’t look to his own power and authority. He did not look for his servants or wise men. He did not look at his armies. He did not look toward his wealth. He looked toward heaven.
It was clear who was in charge of all things, and it was not Nebuchadnezzar.
There was a change within the king. He did not curse God for putting him through such circumstances, for humbling him in such a dramatic way. He blessed and honored the Most High. He had had a reckoning.
Nebuchadnezzar had previously marveled at the power of God before, but his new attitude goes much further. Nebuchadnezzar no longer claims that God did all these things for Nebuchadnezzar. God does things for His glory.
And King Nebuchadnezzar once led an army. He had sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, took prisoners. But now he realized that sort of power paled compared to what the angelic army of Jehovah God could do.
The Most High God has authority and power beyond that of this world. God was in charge of everything.
I think this understanding must come to all believers who put their faith in Christ Jesus. Man’s natural state is to claim power and authority for himself. Like Nebuchadnezzar, I claim I am responsible for my past, present and future. I made good grades, I worked hard, I saved my pennies, I will live forever in the luxury I created. This sort of thinking is bondage. If I am responsible for my success, I am responsible for my failures. I am responsible for my death. I am responsible for my salvation. I am in bondage to my pride.
To be free, we must surrender to the sovereign will of God. We either trust in God, or we exalt ourselves and attempt to become our own savior.
For the first time, Nebuchadnezzar sees God as the creator of all things, both in the heavens and on this earth. He has captured the fullness of God in nature and men. With this new realization, King Nebuchadnezzar continues to proclaim truth, verses 36-37,
At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the honor of my kingdom, and my state counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just; and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
Nebuchadnezzar was delivered from his insanity and grazing like a cow. He had been delivered from his pride and a false sense of power. He fully recognized God as God and gave God all honor due Him. The grace of God allowed him to be restored mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.
Nebuchadnezzar’s words in verse 36 do not indicate pride. The king recognizes that his success and greatness were not of his own doing; he took no credit for it. He was a changed men, delivered from the pride that had been such a driving force in his life.
His closing remarks proclaim the truth he had learned of God,
“He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
Nebuchadnezzar had all the knowledge he needed about the Lord. Daniel provided 38 years of his life demonstrating faith in the one true God, and Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that power every time he saw God’s power and wisdom in action. The problem, though, was the pride of Nebuchadnezzar. The king of Babylon thought it was all about him. In his mind, it seems, the purpose of God was to make Nebuchadnezzar great.
The first of the Ten Commandments is
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
What sort of gods do we place in front of the Lord? Oddly, we place God’s creations on the throne. God provides money, we put money before God. God provides people, we put people in front of God. But the most egregious is that God created us, and we too often put ourselves before God. Instead of putting God’s creations on the throne, maybe we should focus on putting the Creator on the throne. That’s where He belongs.
But sometimes we act, just as Nebuchadnezzar did, as though the purpose of God’s existence is to make us great.
Who is our best role model for demonstrating humility? The answer, of course, is the Lord Jesus. Philippians 2:5-8,
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Jesus had no reason to be humble and demonstrated ultimate humility for us. When we exalt ourselves, we get in our own way of letting the Lord bless us. Instead, in all humility, let us recognize that God is our provider, our Creator, our salvation, our everything.
What was the first thing Nebuchadnezzar did?
But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven.
This is good advice when you’re looking to give credit where credit is due. It reminds me of Psalm 123:1,
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Let us give all credit to our Father in Heaven, to whom all glory is due and from whom all blessings flow, now and forever.
All glory to God through Christ alone. Amen.