Think of your most humbling moment. Now think of telling it as your most defining moment on national news and social media. This is what happens in the story today, only the main character’s experience of his humiliation-turned-triumph gives the glory to someone else, not himself. Only God could produce such an about-face.
There have been three stories so far in Daniel about who God is. There was the story of Daniel and his three friends who refuse the king’s food and wine in order to obey God. God makes them the wisest among the king’s wise men. There was the story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s strange dream of the statue with the golden head. God gives Daniel understanding about what it meant and many lives were spared. And there was the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and their refusal to worship the statue. God saves them from death by fiery furnace, (for these stories, see November 24 and November 26).
In each story, God has been teaching anyone paying attention that he is the true God, who honors the righteous and humbles the rebellious, who alone is worthy of praise. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, is the prime pupil for these lessons, though there are others in the stories who had to have been taking notes, too.
Among them would have been the other young men of Judah who ate from the king’s table. Along with the king’s wise men–the sorcerers, enchanters, and astrologers–who couldn’t interpret the king’s dream. As well as the advisors and governors, satraps and prefects who noted the unsinged hair of the friends fresh out of the furnace. What was the response of all of these?
We aren’t told, but when Peter writes his letters during the days of Nero 650 years later (about 60 AD), there were believers in Babylon, 1 Pe 5:13. Where did they come from? I have a hunch faith was planted in other folks besides the king during the time of his lessons. Since the nation of Judah was exiled in Babylon for almost a century, surely others were introduced to the God of the Jews and believed.
But what did these extraordinary events do for King Nebuchadnezzar himself? We aren’t told this either, beyond his brief exclamations of praise afterwards. But there’s another recorded event that happens in the king’s life, more mind blowing, literally, than the others thus far. This event is the subject of Daniel 4, and we learn about it in Nebuchadnezzar’s own voice. He writes his testimony of God in a letter to his subjects on his version of national news.
He begins, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: 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,” Da 4:1-2.
And right from the starting block, I’m impressed that the king shares his story with everyone who will hear it, because it’s a story of insanity and humiliation, not the sort of subject this loud, proud king would glory in. The fact that he shares it and doesn’t hide it at a time when he had conquered and ruled the known world tells me he was utterly overwhelmed by the God of Real Glory, so much so that he forgot himself.
Human greatness pales in comparison to God’s. And when a person experiences the truth of God, praise for God is what erupts. Nebuchadnezzar gets right to the heart of his take away: he praises “the Most High God” in the first words after his greeting:
“How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation,” Da 4:2-3.
This from the king who was famous for military brilliance and brutality, the same king known for worshipping every god of his day and building magnificent temples for them in Babylon. It’s no small surprise that this king writes a letter of praise to the Most High God to everyone who will hear it. And his message is clear: God is mighty, he reigns forever, and his dominion endures. I’m guessing this is the thing the king most wanted, that his own dominion would endure. His 90-foot gold statue hinted as much, (for the story of the statue, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/27/november-26).
These first words of Nebuchadnezzar are written in the form of poetry. I like to think that the king was so undone by what happened that when he shared it, he was also moved to the point of poetry about it, a response to God from his deepest depths.
An outpouring of the Spirit in a person’s heart frequently erupts in praise or lament in the form of poetry throughout the Bible. This is most often seen in the Psalms, all of which are considered to be poetry, but also happened when Hannah worships God after Samuel is born, 1 Sa 2; when Job laments to God, Job 6 (and other chapters); and Mary’s song of praise after the angel visits her with the news of a baby son, Lu 1:46-55.
Some of our deepest words of thanks and praise bubble up in utterances of the soul, utterances that aren’t written with proper grammar in standard sentences but come like showers or springs or floods, resonant feelings in rhythms, rhyme, cadence, and verse. The responses of human beings to God can be felt in these familiar patterns in all the arts, a bursting forth of praise and glory in brilliant displays of paint, pattern, movement, sound, color, and words. It’s God, after all, who strikes the creative spark.
What’s happened to elicit such a response in this rash-and-unreasonable braggart of a king? He’s not reluctant to share all the details, and here they are: he’s had another disturbing dream that none of his wise men can interpret. He turns again to Daniel, who he’s named Belteshazzar, his favorite wise man for explaining difficult dreams, 4:4-9.
The dream is of a magnificent tree that gives shade and shelter and feeds all life that looks to it, “Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.” But an angel comes from heaven and says to cut the tree down, strip its branches, and scatter its fruit. The animals and birds flee. And the stump and roots, bound in “iron and bronze, remain in the ground,” 4:10-15.
The angel says to let the stump be drenched with dew and live with the animals and plants of earth. “Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.” The purpose of the cutting down and stripping is also given: “…so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men,'” Da 4:15-17.
Daniel’s interpretation isn’t good news for the king, and he agonizes over it before telling him. Maybe he’s afraid he will be punished? Often the messenger of bad news was killed right along with the message. It’s not a hard dream to understand, which makes me wonder if the other wise men passed on interpreting it for fear of what the king might do. Or maybe Daniel is fond of the king and is grieved for him. Whatever the reason, the king notices his concern and says, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you,” 4:19. Nebuchadnezzar frees him to speak without fear.
So Daniel tells the king that he is the tree who has “become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.” But the king will be cut down and driven away from his kingdom because of madness that will overcome him, 4:16, 22, 25, 34.
He will live with wild animals out in the open, eat grass like cattle, and “be drenched with the dew of heaven” until “seven times” pass and he acknowledges God as sovereign ruler over all. The stump of the tree will be allowed to remain in the ground because his kingdom will be restored to him “when you acknowledge that Heaven rules,” 4:25-26.
Daniel ends with advice for the king, to repent of his sinful ways before it’s too late. Judgment is coming, so “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,” 4:27.
But the king doesn’t take the dream or its message to heart. A year later, he’s strolling along the roof of his royal palace in Babylon and says, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” And right at that moment, a voice speaks from heaven with news that judgment has come: he will be driven away from his kingdom just as was foretold, live with wild animals and lose his mind, until he acknowledges God is king over all, 4:28-32.
“Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled…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,” 4:33.
Nothing more is said about what that time was like or how long “seven times” means. It seems most likely that it means seven years. Because he became like an animal, he likely lost language and the ability to describe that season of time. Maybe even the memory of it wasn’t accessible to him, except to know that it happened.
It’s interesting to note that this incident isn’t verified in records of that time. Maybe there was an effort by others afterwards to cover it up? Being crazy as a loon was one thing, but praising the God of Heaven and Earth might have been downright embarrassing to those who cared how stories were passed on to future Babylonia. The strongest outside validation for this having happened is the seven year silence in the public record for Babylon, from 582-575 BC, that was otherwise kept in that day, (Guzik, http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/daniel-4/).
It ended as had been foretold in the dream, and by Daniel’s interpretation, and by the voice from heaven. Nebuchadnezzar can’t say he wasn’t given a clue, “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes to heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever,” 4:34.
When his sanity was restored, he praised God profusely. But what restored his sanity? The text says it happened when he looked toward God. This was when God healed him. And that was when he praised.
The process of transforming the inhuman tree into a sane human being came through cutting it down and its roots spending time in a lowly place. The stump had to “remain in the ground.” It also came through spending time in a mentally unstable place, as a wild animal. This is disturbing news on both accounts. Who wants to believe that there is such a lowly, beastly time for a person? 4:14-16.
But I think our experiences of others in their animal-brain seasons of life confirms this truth for us, not to mention our own. We are all capable of being brute beasts, when our flesh takes control, when we live “senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” even if only to be committed to our own life hacks and perspectives in a determination to do life our own way, Ro 1:31. Asaph, one of the psalmists, went through his own time of wild-animal-brain, “I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you,” Ps 73:22.
It takes time, often longer than we’d like, to become a real boy from a wooden toy (Pinocchio), a real rabbit from a stuffed animal (The Velveteen Rabbit), a real friend from a dragon (Voyage of the Dawn Treader). It’s only after a humbling sort of savage time that these characters are moved to delight in the one who’s said all along what pleases him and is good for them. God’s way is always a win-win.
Was the king able to look to God before God reached down and restored his mind? It sounds like he did. The text says, “I…raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored,” 4:34. But I’ve learned in my own beastly season that the ability to look toward heaven wasn’t my doing; it was God’s.
And this is the part I love most. The king didn’t stop being an animal before he turned to God. With his animal brain, he looked up to heaven, and it was then that he was changed. The power to change wasn’t in the looking. After all, his sanity was restored to him. He couldn’t do it for himself. But he could look to the one who could. It was the look of faith, a look in-and-of itself that is God-given.
I’m reminded of the prodigal son. He, too, had animal-brain, hanging out with the pigs and longing to eat their pods. It was when he turned and headed home that the father came running, the father who “saw him a long way off” and came before his son had a chance to say, “Sorry,” Lu 15, (for more of the story of the prodigal son, see http://onetruelove.blog/2020/09/24/the-comeback/).
This is God at his best in my book, the one who does all the work to reclaim us with only a thought, a look, a tear. It’s the grandest exchange on earth: One thought of God for a healthy mind. One look for eternal life. One drop of faith for an ocean full of love. It sounds too good to be true. But that’s the tell-tale heart of God. He’s too good not to be true. If he could be fully understood, he wouldn’t be God. Anyone can make up a god you have to be good enough to please.
But our God, the Most High? He knows we can’t be good enough, so he does it all for us. And his tell-tale heart beats all around us in a bounty we don’t deserve–in the smallness of snails and the grandness of canyons, from the new life of spring and the glory of fall leaves, with the surprise of fresh snow and the comforts of home.
All of life is stamped with God’s upside-down mark, where to lead is to serve, to live is to die, to get up you go down. He is both unfathomable and irresistible. Tender and severe. Soft and hard. Just and dear. He gives rest and work, lifts failure into triumph, turns pride into humble pie. He brings down kings, raises up fishing men. He humbles priests, offers oppressors relief. He makes loose women God-lovers and mean men sweet.
And that’s just a start.
What’s the end of the story for Nebuchadnezzar? At the same time his sanity was restored, so was his kingdom and his splendor. “My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.” He became the guy who can’t stop talking about God’s goodness and glory, “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,” 4:36-37.
He even writes more poetry,
“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?'”
For the one who only thought to honor himself, this is grand praise indeed. When God moves in a person’s life, there are unmistakable changes. They’re not often immediate and sometimes they’re agonizingly small and slow, but they’re undeniable when they come.
God cannot be mocked, and he cannot be stopped, and he chooses to display his glory in the changed lives of his people. If you’ve ever tried to change anyone, yourself included, then you know that it’s the greatest tell-tale sign of God there is: only God Most High has the power to change a life, to turn a brute beast into a son or a daughter, who will one day reign with him.
2 Peter 1
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self control; and to self control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins,” 1:4-9.
While Nebuchadnezzar showed us what the first steps of faith look like–belief in God and praise for who he is–there’s always more to be had in our journey with him. There’s also growth in increasing degrees of faith, goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love.
The one who doesn’t have growth in these ways has forgotten how she gets cleaned up. It was both a one-and-done washing and an unlimited car wash pass.
The one-and-done was when Jesus’ blood covered my sins and let me into the throne room, with the King as my kin, my Father who reigns, He 10:22.
But I also need a continual clean up, and that’s where the carwash pass comes in. The work to make me like Jesus–to be effective and productive–never ends. I am to become more like the Son in “increasing measure,” v 8.
This is where the Spirit’s work through his word comes in. He shows me where I need scrubbing and polishing, and he brings the soap and the power sprayer. I help by agreeing that it needs doing and trusting him to do the work. I repent (that’s the agreeing part) and believe (that’s the trusting part), 1 Co 6:11; Mk 1:15; 1 Th 2:13.
I can “work out [my] salvation with fear and trembling” because “it’s God who works in [me], both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” Ph 2:12-13. It’s not up to me, and yet I get to participate by repenting and believing.
This always makes me breathe deep with relief: I’m to follow after Jesus, to become more like him in increasing measure, but I don’t have to do it by myself. I’ve got Jesus himself and his Spirit to help. Jesus who washed me, and the Spirit who sanctifies me–a pretty good car wash team.
“Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
for they are ever with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts…
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
Psalm 119:97-100, 102-103.
Here the psalmist tells us how to be wiser than our enemies, how to have more insight than our teachers, and how to have more understanding than our elders–by meditating on God’s words “all day long” and obeying them.
This would sound like a vain boast–to be wiser, more insightful, and more understanding than others–if not for verse 102, and then it just sounds honest: “for you yourself have taught me.”
When God is our teacher, of course we grow wiser than others who aren’t taught by him. It’s not our doing, it’s his. It’s not our smart brains or good hearts that are key for this kind of wisdom. God is the teacher who uses his words in the Bible–this is the key.
And the end result? Besides growing wise, insightful, and understanding, we find his words to be sweeter than honey in our mouth. We can say with honest humility what the psalmist claimed, “Oh, how I love your law!”
My take away today is God’s glory in his story with Nebuchadnezzar. Such kindness of God toward this arrogant king, to confront him and show him himself (Daniel). I see his glory in the clean up he does in our walk of faith, making us more like his Son as we repent and believe (2 Peter). And I see glory in God as my teacher through his words, allowing me to be changed by them and making them taste sweet (Psalms).
me with treats
on the way.
as I am
but never left
there to stay.
No matter where
he finds me,
and shines me.
to tend me,
he bends down
and mends me;
he kindly cares