My kids and I are reading the Bible for the third time now, and I’m amazed by how God keeps teaching us new things about Him, even in the most familiar stories.
This past week we were in Daniel 4. Here Nebuchadnezzar has a dream, and in it there is (as my children would say) a ginormous tree that is visible to the whole earth and provides food for all. “A holy one” comes down from heaven saying “cut down the tree” but let the stump remain.
Read chapter 4 for the rest of the dream, but after this disturbing night, Daniel is summoned to interpret the dream and with some alarm he tells Nebuchadnezzar the meaning:
24 ”This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.
Daniel urges the king to repent and perhaps the king’s prosperity will continue.
Twelve months later we find the king walking on his roof boasting about the kingdom he has built, and, while the words are still on his lips, a voice comes from heaven to inform him that the kingdom will be taken away.
Immediately he is driven out to live like an animal for what some think was about seven years.
I’ve heard this story in church since I was a kid, and I am pretty certain I have read it several times on my own. But until now, each time I read or heard this account, I had the same response toward Nebuchadnezzar, and God, for that matter.
My initial response was typically something like this . . . well, Nebuchadnezzar was an evil and oppressive king who deserved the punishment. But then I would consider the punishment. And inevitably it would seem that God’s punishment was, well, severe. I mean seven years of being crazy and living like an animal, your hair growing long like an eagle’s feathers and your nails like a bird’s claws. That seems extreme. But I would settle on the idea that he must have deserved it, and I would be grateful that Nebuchadnezzar came to his senses in the end.
This time when I read this account, something entered my mind that I had never thought of before. God was gracious to Nebuchadnezzar. This was a new concept for me and for my kids.
Think about it. God went to great lengths to turn Nebuchadnezzar to Him. He could have just let Nebuchadnezzar continue on in his pride and oppressive ways never turning to God. He could have struck him dead on the spot. He even gave the king twelve months to repent before this judgment was carried out.
And when God did exact the punishment on Nebuchadnezzar, He didn’t leave him to die out there in the wild. His senses returned to him and the chapter ends with . . .
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol 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.”
Now, I’ve never lived like a beast in the wild (although sometimes I look around my house and wonder). However, this incident in the life of Nebuchadnezzar has given me a new appreciation for just how far God is willing to go to make one person aware that He rules. This is a gracious thing.
When God’s discipline seems severe it can actually be comforting to know that He is willing to go to great lengths to make me look to Him. If my pride takes over He can humble me and help me recognize Who gave me all that I have. And if He chooses to use the works of my hands or give me a “kingdom,” it is so that I may praise, extol and honor His Name.
I don’t know if Nebuchadnezzar continued to praise God for the rest of His life. In the words of Matthew Henry, “if our charity may reach so far as to hope he did, we must admire free grace, by which he lost his wits for a while that he might save his soul forever.”
We finished Daniel this week and we are moving on to Hosea, but I want always to remember to “admire free grace.”
Lord, thank you for reminding me through the life of Nebuchadnezzar that you rule. And that you have gone to great lengths to turn our hearts and lift our eyes toward you.