I was just reading the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s state of humility in the book of Daniel and wanted to write some brief thoughts about his remarkable arch of pride, humility, and restored exaltation.
To recap the story of Daniel prior to my thoughts; when Babylon besieged Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and exiled the Jews to Babylon he took several young men of good learning to be trained in Babylonian culture. Daniel was one of these chosen few. God gave Daniel favor in the sight of the Babylonians and he was able to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar when none of the king’s magicians and enchanters was able to. Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to ruler over the whole province of Babylon and he was made chief prefect over all the wise men (D. 2:48). Daniel then requested that Nebuchadnezzar promote his three friends Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon as well.
Here’s where Nebuchadnezzar’s life-arch starts to get crazy. After he’s promoted Daniel & Co. he decides that he’s going to create an image of gold (or a colossal chocolate bunny for us VeggieTales fans) that everybody must bow down and worship. As many of you are familiar with, the fab three Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refuse to do this and Nebuchadnezzar throws them into the fiery furnace that he’s turned up extra high for them (so high it killed the people he sent to toss them in!). After standing strong against idol worship their lives are spared and they are seen alive in the furnace with a fourth figure (thought to be either an appearance of Christ pre-incarnation or an angel), and so they walk out completely unscathed. What does Nebuchadnezzar say about this?
“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.” – Daniel 3:28-29
After this he promoted the trio again in the province of Babylon.
So it sure seems like at this point that Nebuchadnezzar should know how awesomely powerful and in control of all things God is. After all, at this point in his life he has seen many miraculous things that he credited correctly to the God of the Hebrews and acknowledged His majesty verbally. Sounds good right? He even proclaims the “signs and wonders” God has performed for him by saying: “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” – D. 4:3
After this, Nebuchadnezzar had a second dream which struck fear in his heart. Instead of going to Daniel first (I imagine Daniel stroking his cat and saying “Why didn’t you come to me first? I can’t remember the last time that you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee..”), he went back to his gaggle of charlatans and didn’t get an answer. He finally went back to Daniel and Daniel was not happy to tell him the interpretation. The dream basically says that Nebuchadnezzar will be cut down and lose his kingdom and his sanity if he continues to sin and oppress people. The dream is a big “if,” in which if Nebuchadnezzar refuses to rule in the way that God is instructing him to that his kingdom will be taken away and if not then God will not have to teach him humility in that way.
Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar did not listen and a year later goes out one night on his roof and was feeling prideful of all his accomplishments. He said “Is this not great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” Way to word your sentence to be extra-prideful and dishonoring to God! Daniel says that while the words were still in Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth the kingdom had been taken away from him and he had been driven insane. He was driven away from civilization and ate grass, and let his hair and nails grow crazy long. That must have been quite the sight for all the mocking school kids!
After God’s appointed time had ended Nebuchadnezzar looked up to the sky and his reason was restored, and along with it his kingdom. He praised God whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” and says that “now I praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (D – 4:37)
Now to the question of the title: why can’t we remember God’s power? Why is this so difficult for us to keep in mind? Nebuchadnezzar clearly struggled to keep God at the center of his life and work and God tore down everything he had to make him realize who was really in control.
Many of us are like Nebuchadnezzar even though we don’t rule the predominant kingdom in the whole world. “We have seen his glory” as John 1:14 says, and we do know Him and are without excuse (Romans 1:20). Nebuchadnezzar was certainly without excuse as he saw sign and wonders beyond what many of us have ever seen. He surrounded himself with believers who knew the truth in top positions, but that didn’t make his own ways righteous. God called him out specifically for sinning and not showing mercy to the oppressed. God gave him a warning and a chance to turn his life around, but he refused and instead touted himself as responsible for all his accomplishments.
When we do not acknowledge God as the author of all good and the sole author of the story of our lives and humanity and give ourselves credit, we are forgetting who’s really in charge; who is really king over the everlasting kingdom. We want to be the accomplished king of our lives, but if we do not practice righteousness and humility in keeping what God has allowed us to steward, then He will have to humble us and return us to Him as He did with the most important ruler of that time.
Let us not be like Nebuchadnezzar and clearly perceive the glory and power that God has, the control that He has over the world, and give ourselves more credit than Him. Remember these words of Nebuchadnezzar’s, lest God need to bring you down to humility as well:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and His kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and He does what He wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can hold back His hand
or say to Him, “What have You done?” – Daniel 4:35