Bible Text: Daniel 4:19-37 | Preacher: Ray Galea | Series: In His Hands | In Daniel 4 we hear the testimony of King Nebuchadnezzar. A king of Babylon who is cut down in his prime and in his mind until he looks up to the God most high who truly rules over heaven and earth.
I love testimonies. I love hearing how God has transformed the life of a person through Jesus Christ to the glory of God. The mark of a testimony is that you learn how awesome God is. I often say that the best sermons preached at MBM are those written in the lives of our people.
We have seen the Lee family reminding us how to trust in God when your baby girl dies at 77 days. Dan and Teresa write:
We’ve shed a lot of tears but are comforted by our God who declares resolutely that death is not the end. Jesus himself has conquered the grave and while we grieve and mourn, we don’t do so without hope.
Today in Daniel chapter 4, we have a testimony by King Nebuchadnezzar. It’s his story told by him. It’s a testimony about how the most powerful man alive came to his senses. It’s about how he finally woke up to the fact that God alone rules the world. Daniel 4:1-2:
King Nebuchadnezzar, 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. (NIV)
Let’s invite King Nebuchadnezzar to tell his story. So King Nebuchadnezzar, what were you like before you submitted to God?
Through his story, we get a picture of the man. Like my barber in Plumpton, Nebuchadnezzar is Babylonian. But unlike my barber, his job was to be king of the biggest empire of the day. He has also managed the strange mix of being wealthy and content. Daniel 4:4:
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. (NIV)
Here was a man who had power and peace. He was both rich and relaxed. He had it all—but not for long. Nebuchadnezzar was also a king who ruled harshly. Daniel’s advice to him after the dream was, in Daniel 4:27:
Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue. (NIV)
He is both contented and cruel. Understand friends, that if you think you are entitled to your power, chances are you will show no mercy to those over whom you have authority.
Stalin, the father of Russian Communism, studied to be a priest. He then rejected God. He said that, “Gratitude is the disease of the dogs”. He ended up killing 20 million of his own people. Daniel 4:29-30:
Twelve months later [after the dream], as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (NIV)
Nebuchadnezzar certainly had no self-esteem problem here. So much power, so much success, so much boasting—it would have been intoxicating. There was no human on earth more powerful. He stood alone. “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Yet while the boast is blunt, we each have a touch of that same attitude, as we each build our little reputations, and live out our petty dreams, grow our businesses and churches, and achieve our insignificant successes. Our culture has made an art form of this bravado: it’s embedded in every personal development course, as they bang on about how we should “believe in ourselves”.
Have you noticed that when a person gets an award—“the Oscar for best actor goes to”—then the winner says, “It’s true that you can achieve whatever you want”, forgetting that 90% of actors in Hollywood are unemployed. So we ask Nebuchadnezzar, “What changed you?”
What changed me? It was a God given dream. In it there was a tree in the middle of the earth, a tree that reached the heavens, a tree so large that it could be seen by the whole world, a tree that was so prosperous that all creation found shelter in it.
My in-laws took a photo while they were in Turkey. It is of goats which have climbed a tree to eat the skin of the argon nut. When I saw the goats in the tree, I thought of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
The tree represented Nebuchadnezzar in all his power and glory. But the dream did not end there. A messenger from heaven comes, and brings a word from God, and the word is, “Cut down the tree, so that it remains as a stump bound in iron and bronze?” God predicts that Nebuchadnezzar would be cut down in his prime, cut down in his mind. He becomes like a 6 year old who wakes up crying from a nightmare. He is so powerful, yet so petrified by a dream. In the midst of his power he is cut down, not by an army, but a mental breakdown.
It’s strange to see so much power and wealth co-existing with mental fragility. Australia’s James Packer is worth $3.5 billion. He is the owner of Crown Casino. Yet early this year he checked himself into an exclusive mental health facility in the USA. Even the most powerful of us is fragile. But with Nebuchadnezzar, it’s not mental illness but the judgment of God. For 7 years Nebuchadnezzar would lose his mind.
This king will turn feral. He will be found outside with the animals, eating grass, with fingernails like eagle claws. The king will not only lose control of his kingdom, but he will lose control of his own mind. Again, I’m reminded of Howard Hughes.
Howard Hughes died in 1976. He was one of the first billionaire business tycoons. He was an excellent golfer, an award winning movie director, and a brilliant aviation engineer. He broke air speed records, survived four plane crashes, and yet toward the end of his life, he became a paranoid hermit whose hair grew wild and whose nails were never cut. He developed OCD, so that he had a special fork made so that he could separate peas of different sizes on his plate.
King Nebuchadnezzar did not heed the warning of the dream. A year passes and nothing happened to him. The dream was a fizzer. But while the words were still on his lips—how he had built the great Babylon by his mighty power—a voice came from heaven, Daniel 4:31b-33:
“King Nebuchadnezzar, Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (NIV)
One moment he walked on the palace roof boasting of his power. Then in a moment he was reduced to an animal. Then seven long years pass.
Many of us here have a story about how we were humbled until God got our attention. It might have been sickness, broken relationships, addiction, anxiety, sports injury, bankruptcy, moral failure, public shame.
I think of my friend Doug. He and his brother drank hard and fought often. I prayed for them for over 30 years. I got an email two years ago from Doug, about how he and his brother independently submitted to Christ as Lord. He later came to church. I was so thrilled. I said, “How did you become a Christian?” He said, “God got my attention the hard way. I had to lose my health, my job, my wife, and my house.”
It was only when the king looked to the heavens that he was restored. So we ask of king Nebuchadnezzar, “What do you now understand about God?”
And Nebuchadnezzar then declares that God rules completely and absolutely, Daniel 4:35:
All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done? (NIV)
God rules over the powers of heaven and the people on earth. There is no corner of the universe that is off limits to God. No one can defy him, oppose him, or stand up to him, and hope to win. He gets whoever wants. He does as he pleases. He appoints whoever he likes to whatever position he chooses.
Nebuchadnezzar realizes that his power was given to him. It did not come from him. And anything that is given can be taken from him.
General Schwarzkopf during the first Iraq invasion led an international team of 750,000 soldiers. With a word he could command hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Two months after he retired, he said that he couldn’t get a plumber to fix his taps.
The whole purpose of this exercise wasn’t just for his sake, Daniel 4:17:
The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people. (NIV)
Please understand, Nebuchadnezzar, that God had this word written just for you. God gives power to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men. God chose a virtual animal to be king over Babylon.
We have been reminded this week how power is both given and taken. Wow, we’ve had six prime ministers in 11 years. Rudd comes and Rudd goes. Gillard comes and Gillard goes. Rudd comes back again and Rudd goes again. Abbott comes and Abbott goes. Turnbull comes and Turnbull goes. Morrison comes and sure enough Morrison will go. Whatever the process—death, sickness, general elections, internal party challenges—either way, the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.
Nebuchadnezzar also knows that this God rules justly. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, who himself ruled with a vicious hand, the king now says, Daniel 4:37:
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the king of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
How different is the king of Babylon from the king of heaven. Everything that he does is right and all his way are just. In contrast, everything the king did was wrong and all his ways are evil.
God rules mercifully. Nebuchadnezzar also knows that God is so merciful. God restored his sanity. He restored his honor and splendor. And then God gave his kingdom back. Daniel 4:36:
At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. (NIV)
What an outrageously gracious God? He not only forgives Nebuchadnezzar, he not only restores Nebuchadnezzar, but he is now even greater than before. What! That is ridiculous grace! It’s the grace that would later turn the worst of sinners into the greatest saint. It is seen when God gives us his best when we are at our worst.
So what difference has it made to Nebuchadnezzar?
First, he goes from praising and boasting in himself to praising and boasting in God as the ruler of the world. Daniel 4:34:
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. (NIV)
The chief mark of a person who knows that God rules is that praise and thanksgiving is found on their lips. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. Know this friends, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus is Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Willingly or unwillingly, whether from the height of heaven or the pit of hell, the world will all have to admit that there is one Lord and one King, and he is Jesus Christ.
Second, Nebuchadnezzar starts to behave like his God. There are hints of a changed man, a man who was renowned for his cruelty and willing to wipe out anyone who would not worship him, has been transformed. Daniel 4:1:
King Nebuchadnezzar, To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly! (NIV)
He wants to do good to them. That may be standard language for a king. He may have actually meant it this time. This is the thing friends: train yourself to look up to heaven, and you realize you are not God. Train yourself to look up to heaven and know that whatever authority you have can be taken from you. Train yourself to look up to heaven and know you have to give an account to the one who truly rules. Train yourself to look up to heaven and you will more likely act justly and be gracious to those below you.