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Nebuchadnezzar's Strange Testimony


by Dennis Pollock

It was through the Jews that God has given us the Bible. The authors who wrote the books that make up the Scriptures were all Jews, with one exception: one chapter from Daniel was written not by a Jew but by a Babylonian king. His name was Nebuchadnezzar, and his story is amazing.

In the fourth chapter of Daniel we find Nebuchadnezzar's testimony. He writes with tremendous enthusiasm and conviction, and his language is filled with praise to God. It is written "to all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth" which surely includes you and me. What follows is the story of how the proud king of Babylon lost his mind and kingdom and then had both restored to him, and it is the quintessential Biblical proclamation of the sovereignty of God.

The word sovereignty is a good Bible word and understanding it is essential to learning the ways of God. Sovereignty is defined as "pertaining to a sovereign, a king, the supreme authority," and it implies holding the authority and power to make your own rules and do as you please without hindrance from anyone. In the Psalms we read, "But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases" (Psalm 115:3). That is about as good a definition of sovereignty as you will find.

Human Sovereignty

As much as we might like it, none of us ever comes close to doing what we please. We are hampered by culture, laws, policemen, armies, family, peer-pressure, and our own inability to make things fall perfectly in line with our wishes and dreams. Sometimes little children, recognizing that the president is the leader of our nation, assume that he can do whatever he wants. "If I were the president," they say, and then go on to tell what great improvements and changes they would make if only they had that coveted position. But of course presidents cannot simply snap their fingers and make all things work as they desire. They are hindered by Congress and the Supreme Court and of course the voters who can drive them from their position a mere four years from the time they assume office.

The closest any human ever came to sovereignty occurred back in the days when kings ruled with absolute authority – kings like Nebuchadnezzar. These men had no congress to deal with and certainly no voters to please. Daniel described Nebuchadnezzar thus: "Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down" (Daniel 5:19). In those days in Babylon a king's decisions were final, and there was no appeal. No one in his right mind would dare challenge or confront a king. These kings reigned with absolute power and it typically corrupted them absolutely. With zero accountability their lives were steeped in pride and clothed with arrogance.

Nebuchadnezzar was no exception, but something happened in the course of his life that totally changed his demeanor. God took him through a course in humility 101. The Bible declares that one of God's job descriptions is to humble the proud person. In the book of Job, after hearing Job's many complaints about God's justice, God finally appears to Job and challenges him to do what He does: "Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low…" (Job 40:11,12). It should give us pause to realize that God's very character compels Him to bring down proud people. Of course some of them He does in this life and with others He waits until afterwards.

Prophetic Dream

Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson in this life, which is far more preferable. The first sign he was headed for trouble was given in a dream. He dreamed of a beautiful, massive tree whose height "reached to the heavens." Its leaves were lovely, its fruit abundant, and it provided food and shelter for all the beasts and the birds. Yet while he admired the beauty of the tree he heard a chilling voice, "Chop down the tree and cut off its branches. Strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit." Only a stump was left.

The king was troubled and mystified and after his advisors could not give him a satisfactory answer, he called for Daniel, the Jewish prophet. Daniel instantly realized that the proud king was dreaming about himself. He was the tree that was about to be cut down. He told Nebuchadnezzar that God was about to take his kingdom from him, he would lose his mind and live like an animal for "seven times" (most think this meant 7 years). He gave the king some good advice: "Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity."

We are not told what Nebuchadnezzar's reply was to Daniel, but clearly the proud king refused to change his ways. A year later he was walking in his palace admiring the great building projects he had accomplished and the beautiful gardens that made the city of Babylon the most fabulous city in the world. He couldn't resist a little self-congratulation, saying to himself, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?" That simple sentence, reeking with pride, offended the One who "looks on everyone who is proud and brings him low." Immediately the king heard a voice from heaven, "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you, and they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field…"

Mad Life

Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind. For the next seven years he lived as a madman, eating grass like a cow and sleeping outdoors on the ground. His hair grew long and his fingernails grew to resemble birds' claws. The once proud king now was a spectacle and an object of ridicule.

True to His word (as always) God restored the man's mind at the appointed time. His sanity returned and amazingly (perhaps the greatest miracle of the entire story) he was able to assume his position as king of Babylon once more. There was no bitterness toward the God who had stripped him of his reason and his dignity however. Quite the contrary. Nebuchadnezzar concludes his testimony with these words:

And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding 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 is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34,35)

What had King Nebuchadnezzar learned? Several very fundamental truths that relate to the sovereignty of God: 1. God rules. 2. He rules forever. 3. He does whatever He wants in heaven and on the earth. 4. No one can stop Him or question Him. What He wants, He gets.

Applicable to All

This is a great story and a valuable lesson about the sovereignty of God, but sometimes we miss it by assuming that this sovereignty only applies to kings and world leaders. Of course God is sovereign over the big, international aspects of our world, but surely we don't expect Him to be sovereign over and controlling every aspect of the lives of ordinary people: truck drivers and school teachers, sales clerks and bank tellers, janitors and Wal Mart employees?

The Lord Jesus seemed to anticipate this kind of thinking, and answered it definitively with these words: "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will" (Matthew 10:29). The almighty Creator who governs the destinies of nations and world leaders also controls the lives and deaths of sparrows! The same God who puts kings and presidents in their positions has also helped you to get that job, that husband, the car that you drive, the house you live in, and the television you watch. The apostle Paul asks, "What you do have that you did not receive?" This is a rhetorical question. The answer Paul is calling for is nothing. There is nothing we have that did not come through the generous hands of God. James tells us that every good gift is from God.

Sovereignty is never supposed to rest alone; it must always dwell together with two major responses on our part: humility and gratitude. As we survey our "kingdom" we may not consider it particularly impressive. But whether we have little or much, whether we have accomplished great things in the eyes of the world or small things even in our own eyes, we can be sure that every good thing we have and every achievement to our credit was given and made possible by the benevolence of our loving and kind Heavenly Father.

What We’ve Worked For

Most folks might agree that blessings that come our way which we did not work for and weren't expecting are truly gifts from God. But we tend not to feel so grateful for those things for which we have worked hard to make happen. Here is a man who worked two jobs for years in order to save up money for a house. He chooses the layout of the house. Then, to save money he does the contracting, and actually does about half of the work himself. He does all the painting and caulking, tiles the floors, and does the entire roof. Finally the house is finished and it looks gorgeous. He and his family move in with great excitement. After all is settled, one night while his family is in the living room watching TV, the man goes outside just to get a broader view of his creation. From the road he takes in the house for which he has worked so long and hard to make a reality. His heart is filled with joy and satisfaction at his accomplishment.

So far, so good. There is nothing wrong with taking satisfaction at what we are able to accomplish. It only becomes a problem when we leave God out of the picture. If the man is a Christian his response must be, "Father thank You so much for this amazing house. Thank you for giving me the grace to make this dream a reality." For the secular man, however, the response is totally different. He says to himself, "You are really the man! Not many men in this world could have done what you did. My wife and kids are sure lucky to have me."

To humbly recognize that all that we have is a gift from God is not a mere religious nicety. It is the absolute truth. Take the afore-mentioned man. He may say that he has worked hard for the house and he is right. But who gave him the health and strength to do the work? It is God who gives us our next breath, our life, and the ability to do hard work. Nebuchadnezzar had worked very hard in making the city of Babylon beautiful, but he was most foolish to assume he had been able to do it without the enablement of the One who upholds all things by the word of His power. We may pride ourselves on our great ambition and work ethic, and look disdainfully at others who seem to be less motivated than we, but who gave us the drive to excel? Again, in the words of Paul, "What do you have that you did not receive?"

Through Jesus

Not only must we respond to God's sovereignty with gratefulness, but we must give thanks to God through Jesus Christ. For it is only through Jesus that all God's goodness and grace flow unto flawed, grumpy, impatient, whining, sinful humans as we all are. On the cross of Calvary Jesus took our sins and paid the ultimate price in order that we might be justified in the sight of our holy Creator and become the objects of God's lavish grace. The death and resurrection of Jesus was itself a sovereign act. God took no polls; He asked no one's counsel. Of His own sovereign love He chose to become flesh in order to redeem mankind from the power and penalty of sin. All praise and glory to the One who "does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth."


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