In a rebellious world where most souls turn away from Him, Yahweh is very interested in protecting what reverence He finds. The problem with His little humans is that whenever Yahweh places them in positions of power, it goes to their heads and they start taking the bows for all the things that Yahweh accomplished through them. Such rebellion can’t be allowed to persist forever, and by now Yahweh has struck down countless rulers in the prime of life because they wouldn’t submit to His Authority. King David of Israel was a refreshing exception: he stayed loyal to the end. Before him there was Moses, Abraham, Job, and Joshua—men who Yahweh could give great power and influence to without them running amuck. But these days the pickings are slim. Israel is a shattered nation, the Jews are mocking Yahweh from the many nations where He scattered them, and it’s hard to find souls who are loyal to Him. Happily, there is Daniel. Daniel is quite a shining star in Yahweh’s eyes, and his devotion is so deep that Yahweh has been able to build him up into quite a powerful figure in the government of the Babylonian Empire. Now Daniel is shining a bright light for Yahweh all throughout Babylon–and especially in the face of King Nebuchadnezzar [NEBB-uh-cud-NEZZ-er].
Nebuchadnezzar is very dear to Yahweh’s heart. The superstitious little pagan has made quite a bit of spiritual progress as of late. When He saw that Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was open to truth, Yahweh hauled His faithful Daniel over many miles of land just to put him right up close to the king. Back in Lesson 29, we learned how Yahweh gave Nebuchadnezzar a very disturbing dream with prophetic meaning. Then He used the dream to show the king that his advisers were a bunch of bumpkins. When faithful Daniel gave Nebuchadnezzar an interpretation of the dream, he put it in the right terms—emphasizing that Yahweh was the Source of his wisdom. Since then, Nebuchadnezzar has shown much more interest in Yahweh. This is very good. Yahweh loves all people, and He really wants this Babylonian king to end up on the right side of eternity.
Now while Yahweh has been working on Nebuchadnezzar’s personal illumination, He has also been using the king as His rod of Divine discipline. The Babylonian Empire has gobbled up every nation in its path, including the kingdom of Judah. As Nebuchadnezzar kicks back in his royal palace in Babylon and reflects on all of his successes, he starts feeling proud—much too proud. He begins to forget that it was Yahweh who gave him all that he had—that it was Yahweh who predicted all of Nebuchadnezzar’s successes in advance and made it very clear that He was the One placing the king in such a lofty position of power. It’s all been a gift, yet now the king is taking it for granted. Why do the humans always do this? If Yahweh doesn’t intervene, Nebuchadnezzar will turn away from Him for good and be lost in a delusion of pride like so many before him. No, no, no, this cannot be. Nebuchadnezzar has come too far to fall away like this. Yahweh is going to fight for this little man.
Perhaps another prophetic dream will drive the king back to his senses. One night Nebuchadnezzar has a very disturbing dream indeed.
I saw a large tree in the middle of the earth. The tree grew very tall and strong, reaching high into the heavens for all the world to see. It had fresh green leaves, and it was loaded with fruit for all to eat. Wild animals lived in its shade, and birds nested in its branches. All the world was fed from this tree.
Then as I lay there dreaming, I looked and I saw an angelic watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven.
He shouted out, “Chop down the tree and cut off its branches! Strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit! Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches! 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.
Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Change his mind from that of a man to that of a beast and let seven periods of time pass over him. For this has been decreed by the angelic watchers; it is a command of the holy ones, so that everyone may know that the Most High is ruler over all the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone He chooses—even to the lowliest of men.” (Dan. 4:10-17)
What is the meaning of all this? Nebuchadnezzar anxiously calls on Daniel, who has been given the Babylonian name of Belteshazzar [bell-teh-sha-ZAR], to interpret his dream for him. By now Daniel and his boss have struck up a friendship and Daniel is appalled at the interpretation Yahweh gives him to pass on to Nebuchadnezzar. The tall tree in the dream represents the king himself—and that tree is about to be cut down. Then Daniel comes to the really upsetting part:
“You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone He chooses. But the stump and roots of the tree were left in the ground. This means that you will receive your kingdom back again when you have learned that it is Heaven that rules.
King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.” (Dan. 4:25-27)
But Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t follow Daniel’s advice. A year later he is walking on the flat roof of his grand palace and he thinks to himself:
“Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” (Dan. 4:30)
My power, my majesty, the city that I built? Oh no, little man, this will not do at all.
While these words were still in his mouth, a Voice called down from heaven, “King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to whomever He wishes.”
That same hour the judgment was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. (Dan. 4:31-33)
This is a seriously bizarre situation. One minute your king has all of his faculties and he’s bossing you around, then suddenly he’s acting like a total fruit loop. What do you do? Do you hold his throne for him and hope he recovers or do you kill him and claim it was a suicide? You certainly don’t want word to get out that your emperor is crawling around in a field somewhere gnawing on grass.
Notice the reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s hair growing like eagle’s feathers. Most of the pictures you’ll find of this event depict the king with some clothes on and bare skin. Many just picture the king with extra-long hair on his head and perhaps a long beard. But this isn’t what is being described here. Eagles have feathers all over their bodies. Th feather reference isn’t talking about hair length, but about hair proliferation. God causes Nebuchadnezzar’s normal body hairs to go berserk and grow out all over his skin. He would have ended up looking something like this: We’re talking about one very hairy dude. This man is going to need a major shave just to look human again.
But how awesome that there is more to this story, for God could have easily left Nebuchadnezzar to die out there with a mouthful of grass. Human stomachs aren’t designed to digest grass, so the fact that Nebuchadnezzar survived in this condition is utterly miraculous. God not only altered the man’s inner organs and his appearance, but He also saw to it that the king didn’t become food for wild animals during this period. Don’t miss all of the effort Yahweh is going to in order to get one little soul back on track. Yahweh loves His Nebuchadnezzar.
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 accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my 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.” (Dan. 4:34-37)
Wow, what an awesome turnaround—and talk about gracious! What did Yahweh do to Nebuchadnezzar’s advisers and servants to make them welcome the cow man back and actually respect him again? What an amazing display of God’s redemptive power. A man can’t sink any lower than Nebuchadnezzar did, yet when he finally humbled himself before God, God raised him up.
Humility is a very freeing thing. In Daniel 4, we find Nebuchadnezzar voluntarily sharing this whole embarrassing episode with the entire world. He wants everyone to know that he was a pompous idiot and that Yahweh is gracious, powerful, and awesome. When we turn away from pride and get honest about our total depravity and our dependence on God, we become free. We stop trying to take credit and glory that we don’t deserve and we are glad to step aside and let God take up the entire spotlight. He really is the only One deserving of praise. What could we ever accomplish on our own?
Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t last long on his throne. Yahweh doesn’t want to risk having His little man drift away again so a very short time later He takes Nebuchadnezzar home. That’s one more soul in Heaven. How nice.
BABYLON BEGINS TO FADE
The death of Nebuchadnezzar marks the end of the Babylonian Empire’s glory days. Nebuchadnezzar’s son Evil-Merodach [e-vill-MARE-uh-dock] begins to reign in his father’s place. About a year later, the prophet Jeremiah dies around the age of eighty-eight—that’s another soul in Heaven. It turns out that Evil-Merodach isn’t Mr. Popular and he’s soon murdered by his brother-in-law, Nabonidus [nab-o-NIGH-duss]. Nabonidus is married to Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter and they have a son named Belshazzar [BELL-sha-zar] who is old enough to reign in his dad’s place when Nabonidus goes off on a military campaign to get more land. Now while all these changes are taking place in Babylon, trouble is brewing in the north in the form of another empire which is rapidly expanding. It’s the Persians. By now the Persian Empire has surpassed the size of the Babylonians and King Cyrus of Persia is feasting his greedy eyes on Babylon. Oh, how nice it would be if he could just topple that glamorous capital city and add an entire empire to his own. The more Cyrus ponders the idea, the more he likes it. Meanwhile, down in Babylon, King Belshazzar is proving himself to be quite the irreverent twerp. In the middle of a large, gluttonous party, he decides it would be fun to pass out the gold and silver cups that were taken out of Yahweh’s Temple in Jerusalem. Why not? If you’re going to get drunk, you might as well use fancy dishes. Well, Yahweh doesn’t approve of His sacred things being used in such a disrespectful manner, especially when He sees His special cups being raised in toasts that honor other gods. This Belshazzar brat has gone too far. Yahweh has a message to say to him, and just to make it extra clear, He’s going to write it on the wall for everyone to see…
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