In Daniel Chapter 4, God had graciously warned Nebuchadnezzar of His impending judgment through the king’s dream, and Daniel’s interpretation and call to repentance: “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity” (v 27). Sadly, the proud king of Babylon chose to ignore Daniel’s wise counsel. But “God is not mocked” (Gal 6: 7). Soon, the monarch would be brought down from his lofty position to face the deepest humiliation of his life.
o Divine judgment
In his palace twelve months later, Nebuchadnezzar was surveying with pride, the splendours and grandeur of his kingdom (v 29). Attributing his great achievements to himself, the king boasted: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (v 30). Note his self-exalting spirit: “I have built … by my might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty”.
While the words were still “in the king’s mouth”, Nebuchadnezzar was struck down with a type of insanity which made him behave like an animal. His hair grew long, his nails became claw-like hoofs, and all human knowledge and understanding left him: “The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws” (v 33).
Immediately, “he fell stark mad, distracted in the highest degree that ever any man was. His understanding and memory were gone, and all the faculties of a rational soul broken, so that he became a perfect brute in the shape of a man. He went naked, and on all fours, like a brute, did himself shun the society of reasonable creatures and run wild into the fields and woods, and was driven out by his own servants, who, after some time of trial, despairing of his return to his right mind, abandoned him, and looked after him no more” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible). Nebuchadnezzar lived in that deplorable state for seven full years (v 32).
For twelve months, God had dealt patiently with Nebuchadnezzar. But His warnings were set aside as the king continued to live wickedly. Instead of turning to God and giving Him due glory, the haughty king chose to glory in the works of his own hand. Had he heeded the call to repent, the divine sentence might have been averted. Inevitably, God’s judgment, as foretold one year earlier, was executed. Having despised God’s grace, Nebuchadnezzar had to learn his lessons in a hard and painful way.
At the end of seven years, God mercifully restored the proud king: “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me …” (v 34a). His kingdom was also returned to him as foretold by Daniel: “I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me” (v 36a cf v 26).
Enlightened and humbled after his terrible seven-year ordeal, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the sovereign power of the God of Daniel: “… and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me” (vv 34b – 36). Moreover, he admitted that the judgment meted out to him was what he had fully deserved: “… and those that walk in pride He is able to abase” (v 37). The haughty king had learnt his lesson well.
Many evangelicals believe that Nebuchadnezzar repented and turned to the Living and True God after his seven-year affliction. Did God extend His saving grace to him? Was the king truly saved? Though God’s wondrous power was evidently at work in the monarch’s life, the Scriptures are silent on this point. Perhaps it is not expedient for us to know or else the Lord would have revealed it to us.
What can we learn from these narratives of Nebuchadnezzar’s life?
1. God is gracious. He gave the heathen king many opportunities to witness His power in the lives of the young Hebrew captives. The Lord even gave him a clear warning through his dream, and Daniel’s interpretation and call for repentance. Without doubt, the king had heard God’s Word. But he chose to harden his heart against it.
Though God is kind and loving, we must not presume upon His grace. There is a limit to His forbearance: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12: 29).
2. God hates pride (Prov 8: 13). Nebuchadnezzar was brought low because of his lofty spirit. He lived like an animal for seven years. Scripture constantly warns of the sad consequences of pride: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18); “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (Jas 4: 6). May we learn to humble ourselves under God’s Almighty hand. Acknowledge the Lord as the Giver of all that we own or achieve in life.
3. Be open to godly counsel to turn from our sins. Nebuchadnezzar paid a heavy price when he ignored Daniel’s warning to forsake his wicked ways. When corrected for wrongdoing, let us resolve to change our ways, that we may please our Lord.
We thank God that we can learn lessons even from the life of this heathen king. Let us not take God’s patience and love for granted. Let us also cultivate a humble spirit and be receptive to godly counsel. May the Lord grant us grace and help to apply His precious truths to our lives.