Today we continue in the Daniel narrative with Daniel chapter 4. To place us back into the story: chapter 1 recorded Daniel and his three friends being taken from Jerusalem and into exile in Babylon, and then refusing to be fully assimilated into Babylonian culture by eating and drinking what they wanted them to drink. Chapter 2 records Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream that he couldn’t interpret (of the great image made of gold, silver, bronze and iron), and he finally gets Daniel to interpret it and tell him that he was the head of gold and that his kingdom would not last forever.
Chapter 3, last week, was the remarkable record of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refusing to bow down to the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. And God, of course, delivered them from the fiery furnace that they were thrown into. Today, as Curt comes to read it for us, we get to see another dream that Nebuchadnezzar has, and we actually see the meaning of that dream come to fruition in this same chapter. So, listen in, and try your best to really jump into what’s happening, and engage with the narrative. Daniel chapter 4, Curt take it away.
Read Daniel chapter 4
Thank you Curt. It’s a difficult thing to think about God playing a part in humbling people, isn’t it? In Nebuchadnezzar’s case, we’re talking about God absolutely humiliating him. It wasn’t just that God took one thing away, or humbled him in one particular area—God took everything from him and brought him to the lowest point he could possibly be. He lived like a beast; even his MIND was turned into that of an animal.
It’s maybe difficult to think about this because we’ve been taught that God wants what is good for us, which is true! Yes? Romans 8:28, even moreso than for Nebuchadnezzar, we are God’s children, adopted into his family, and he is working out all things for our good. So, what’s the problem? What’s the difficulty with thinking about God humbling or even humiliating us? The difficulty is that while we believe that God wants our good, we seem to think that we know everything about what is “good” for us. We kind of want to be the ones determining what is good.
Surely God would never bring us to rock-bottom. He may allow it; he may allow us to get there by our own decisions. But God wants what is good for us! Rock-bottom is not good, right? I have to say: sometimes rock-bottom is the best thing for us. Sometimes having more than we can handle is the best thing for us, because it’s the only place from which we will see God’s grace for all that it is. If you have absolutely nothing, and nothing for which to be proud, the smallest grace is seen as what it is: a gift from God! And if you have far more than you can handle, and God brings you to the point where you see that you cannot handle all that he has put on you, we’re forced to rely on Him, and recognize our utter dependence upon Him. The best thing for Nebuchadnezzar, the best thing apparently for all the people, was for this great king to be brought down to rock-bottom, absolutely humiliated and humbled.
Why God humbled Nebuchadnezzar
It’s very important from the outset to see exactly why it was that God humbled Nebuchadnezzar, according to the text. God’s going to bring all these things upon King Nebuchadnezzar, why? Verse 25: “until he knows that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” King Nebuchadnezzar apparently does not respect and honor the Most High who rules all things. Even after everything that’s happened in the first three chapters, he is still captivated by his own awesomeness.
In fact, the king says that blatantly in verse 30, right before all this humiliation comes upon him, he says, “Is this not great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” I mean, WOW. Talk about blatant arrogance. The king has somehow, yet again, suppressed this truth that he at least acknowledged with his mouth back in chapter 3. He needs to know, yet again, that the Most High rules, and this is why God absolutely humiliates him and brings him down to rock-bottom. But, even broader than that, God wants ALL to know that the Most High rules.
Verse 17, back in the midst of the dream, this holy watcher (which is an angel by the way) says that the reason all this will come about is “to the end (or purpose) that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.” In other words, the message to the king and to all the living is, “There is only one who truly rules all things, only one who can truly do as he pleases.”
For your notes, the phrasing we’re using is this: Why did God humiliate King Nebuchadnezzar? “So that all may know that only God is God.” That’s the heart of it! So that all may know that God is God. This is not humiliating the king just so everyone will laugh at the king! This is about the very nature and character of God, and people recognizing the very nature and character of God. And guess what, recognizing God as God is for his glory, but it is also for our good. He humbles us for our good. He will not continue to let us live in the false reality that names ourselves as our own Kings. He will humble us for our good. So, how does he do this? That’s where we’re going to spend the rest of our time together.
How God Humbles Us.
- He repeatedly calls us to repentance because we repeatedly turn from him.
If you remember back to chapter 3, you remember that King Nebuchadnezzar is kind-of going back and forth on his respect for the God of Daniel, yes? At the end of chapter 3, he openly honors this god, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, and anyone who speaks against this God shall be destroyed, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” I mean, that’s some pretty good talk! That sounds pretty good! Sounds like a genuine believer to me! But, suddenly, in chapter 4, his attitude has changed, like drastically. Either he no longer sees God as the supreme ruler, OR somehow he doesn’t see the contradiction between thinking this God is supreme, and thinking also that he himself, the king, is supreme!
It’s one or the other right? We either suppress the truth that God is supreme in all ways, that he’s what is most important, most central to all things. Or we suppress the truth that THAT means no one else can be supreme. We either think he’s not supreme, or that we’re somehow supreme along with him. This is an important warning for us. Jesus is your King? That’s great! But is He your only King? Because there can only be one true King of your life. One true king of your heart and mind. Nebuchadnezzar, I think, had himself as the supreme king. And God is calling him to repent, to turn from being his own king.
That’s really the reason that this dream has come to Nebuchadnezzar in the first place, isn’t it? I know it seems primarily like God is just telling the king what is going to happen (like just telling him, and he has no control over it), and that seems to pretty much be the case, but there is also at least a hint of hope here. In verse 27, right after Daniel interprets the dream for Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel says, “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
There seems to be some hope that if the king repents, then that last part: “there may perhaps be a lengthening of his prosperity.” In other words, there’s a chance of avoiding this calamity that is coming! But, it also seems that this king isn’t all that interested in following this God that he so openly honored back in chapter 3.
Think about it: he can’t be truly all that interested in what the God of Daniel has to say. With everything that’s happened up to this point, he had to know that this dream was from the God of Daniel. But, instead of going to Daniel, and calling him to interpret the dream first, he turned to the astrologers and the Chaldeans, the ones that have already proven to be ineffective interpreters! (the ones he called liars!). Daniel’s not looking for the truth, apparently. Not only that, but earlier, in verse 8, when he finally does call Daniel in, he calls Daniel “Beltesshazar, after the name of my god.” He says that explicitly. And, obviously, he’s talking about his Babylonian god. It’s almost like a little jab, or like the king is flexing or something: “I’ll call Daniel; I’ll get the opinion of Daniel and his god.” Where did the awe and worship falling down on his face go?! Why is he acting like this?
Because he is yet again complacent toward this God, even though this God has already shown him to be the Most High that rules over all things. This isn’t NEW information! Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego DID NOT BURN. They LIVED. God DELIVERED them. He saw it with his own eyes. And yet now this king turns back to the astrologers. He knows where to get the truth, where to find God Himself, but the astrologers maybe provided a more appealing so-called “wisdom.” Here’s the truth: He WANTED to be lied to. He wanted to hear what he wanted to hear.
Listen: Complacency is the biggest plague of American Christianity. We SEE what God has done, like King Nebuchadnezzar. We’ve SEEN it! We’ve EXPERIENCED it! Especially His grace through Christ! We’ve been saved from damnation, delivered from a far worse demise than a fiery furnace, and yet it’s so easy to lose our awe, to become complacent, to live like it’s not as big of a deal as we once thought it was. And so we become complacent, we take what God says with a grain of salt, maybe have some competing ideas, and ultimately maybe we even want to be lied to, like King Nebuchadnezzar.
We MUST be brought back, for the glory of God, and for our own good! So he calls us to repent! We’re to live lives of repentance! Yes, that’s a one-time thing you did when you gave your life to Christ, when you turned and believed, but now our lives are marked by repentance. And God will do what it takes to bring his children back to Him. John Calvin puts it this way: “When God, therefore, wishes to lead us to repentance, he is compelled to repeat his blows continually, either because we are not moved when he chastises us with his hand, or we seem roused for the time, and then we return again to our former torpor. He is therefore compelled to redouble his blows.”
Don’t misunderstand this. This doesn’t mean that every bad thing that happens to you is because you were bad. That’s just not true at all! We see from the book of Job that not everything bad that happens to us is because of sin. God uses trials and hard times to build us, to grow us, not to punish. But, that also includes sometimes just needing to get our attention. And sometimes, because we are very forgetful, he needs to get our attention often. How God humbles us, #2:
- He uses all types of circumstances to humble us.
We see the different ways that God humbled Nebuchadnezzar when the dream came to fruition. That’s what makes this chapter of Daniel different. We see the dream, we see the interpretation, and then we see it happen! We see three general ways that God humbled Nebuchadnezzar, which are also ways in which He can humble us:
a. He humbles us socially (v. 33).
Verse 33, sure enough, what the dream said would happen happened! He was driven from among men, and his dwelling was with the beasts of the field! Think about that. Suddenly, his people—his servants, his friends, his family—apparently they all abandoned him! It doesn’t give us any detail as to what happened or how this happened, but it happened. He was driven out from among his own people. God may use your social life to wake you up or even to humble you. He may have friends move away, and use that to bring us back to full reliance upon Him.
b. He humbles us physically (v. 33).
King Nebuchadnezzar lost all the power and riches that he had, and it says he even ate grass like an ox, his body was wet with the dew of heaven until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. Talk about being humbled. I mean, EW. That’s gross! He can and does humble us physically. Maybe he will take away things we think we need. He may use physical limitations on our bodies. A well-known example is the apostle Paul, the thorn in his flesh, whatever it was. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh.” Again, that absolutely does NOT mean that every pain or even most your pain is a sign from God, or somehow punishment for something you did. But, can he use physical limitations to humble us? Absolutely. He humbles us socially; he humbles us physically, and thirdly:
c. He humbles us mentally (v. 16).
Back in verse 16, back when King Nebuchadnezzar was telling Daniel his dream, this watcher, this angel says this: “Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him.” His mind went to that of an animal’s! Today, we’d probably call this lycanthropy, which is a psychiatric condition that makes you think you have been changed into an animal. Now look, God may not humble you in that particular way, at least I hope not, right? No, probably not. That was for King Nebuchadnezzar who was a particular example of a beam of narcissism. He was the most powerful king of the known world, basically.
So that may not be something we should expect, but it is a humbling thing to realize sin does cause us to be irrational! Did you know that? Sin is irrational. It makes no sense in light of truth. God created and sustains all things, he’s working all things out for his glory and for our good, but we turn against him (the One who knows all things) and think we know better and so live for ourselves because we think that will bring us happiness. In light of the truth, that is insanity. It’s irrational to go for immediate temporary pleasure at the cost of long-term, even eternal joy.
I think Psalm 73 gives a really neat picture of how sin is irrational: The psalmist becomes frustrated that all the wicked are flourishing while he is suffering, and he gets so frustrated that he says, “Well, maybe all this living for God and trying to live a pure life is all in vain.” But then he ends up at a different conclusion. Let me read it, and just follow the thought process here, ok? Psalm 73:
1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”
12 This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.
15 If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. (It’s all false, in other words!).
21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (“They may have all those things, but I have you”).
27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
Did you catch the thought process there, and how it moved around some? It reminds me of King Nebuchadnezzar, yes? He’s walking around his garden looking at his glorious accomplishments, his kingdom, bragging out loud about his glory and power. It is in these moments when he did not think straight at all, did he.
The Psalmist talks about the wicked who just live for themselves in verse 20: “They are like a dream. When you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.” He calls them fantasies, but they’re fantasies that he almost bought into, right?! The Psalmist! He was questioning, maybe all this isn’t worth it! All this living for God! But then, in the sanctuary of God, in God’s presence, God brought sanity back to him. He realized in verses 21-22, that when he was upset about his own place in this world compared to theirs he was being senseless and ignorant. And then in the presence of God, with his mind and eyes on God, he was no longer ignorant. Just like King Nebuchadnezzar, when he is restored, he says in verse 34: “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored.” When he lifted his eyes to heaven, his reason returned to him.
God uses all kinds of circumstances to humble us, and God can use our very own sin to reveal to us the insanity of turning away from God. It’s an insanity that we all struggle with! Did you know that? We are all a little insane, because we let the temporary pleasures of this world overwhelm the eternal pleasures of God. So, if you ever thought you were a little quirky, or weird, ever been called insane? Welcome to the club! Because I just called all of us a little bit insane. We’re all a bit insane, and God will use different things to help us to see that. How does God humble us? Lastly, and this brings it all together:
- He humbles us for one purpose: His glory and our good.
This really takes us back to why God did this to Neb. Why did he humble him, even humiliate him? So that all may know that only God is God. Yes, that’s because God is a jealous God who demands to be recognized and respected as He is, the supreme ruler over all things, including all human kingdoms. But here’s the thing about this: That very recognition and honor that he desires from us is for our good. It is the best possible thing for us. It brings the greatest, most meaningful, most lasting joy imaginable. There’s no greater joy than being who we were created to be. In a very real sense, there is nothing more human, if we’re made in the image of God, than to reflect the image of God. That’s why we’re saying he humbles us for ONE purpose, even though, technically, there’s two things listed there: His glory and our good.
This is actually one of our theological distinctives as a church. This isn’t unique to Raintree alone, obviously, but it is something that we want to make explicit. Here’s how it’s stated in our distinctives: “We believe that man’s greatest joy is found only in faithful obedience to God and that our enjoyment of Him is one of the chief means by which He is glorified.” If you want to use John Piper’s phrasing: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
He humbles us not to make us feel terrible about ourselves, but to help us find TRUE value! TRUE worth! Not this self-worth that we’ve made up for ourselves, whatever we find pride in that will not last! He humbles us until we find our self-worth in Him alone as our Heavenly Father, the Most High who rules all things.
When Daniel interprets these dreams for King Nebuchadnezzar, it’s obvious that, even though Nebuchadnezzar is right there before him in all his power and wealth and influence and authority, even with him right there in front of him, Daniel has a different King in mind. Daniel’s final allegiance is to no earthly king. Daniel refuses to marginalize God’s supremacy, his sovereignty. He refuses to compromise with the truth that God is God and we are not. That GOD is the one who sets up kings and takes them down. That anything we have, even the smallest things, we only have because God has given them to us!!
But why, at times, do we not like to hear that?! Because there may be no more offensive statement in the world, especially offensive to our personal pride, my right to do as I please however I wish to do it, there is no more offensive statement than this: God is God and we are not.
That gets right at the very heart of the fall of mankind, the very heart of redemption, and the very heart of God’s desire to humble us, even if it means humiliating us! He’s not like a bully who’s insecure and so he’s bringing us down to pump himself up. He’s bringing us down out of the false clouds in which we’ve convinced ourselves that we are King. That’s the tree in his dream, isn’t it? This massive tree that the king sees in his dream; it’s the king’s self-image, it’s what he thought of himself! Head in the clouds! That was the dream! Not only as the most powerful, but the most benevolent! Providing for all the nations. I’m such a GOOD king. I’m such a glorious KING.
This humbling isn’t just God screaming, “I’m the boss!” This is God providing us truth in the midst of a world of self-deception. This isn’t merely something we’re to say reluctantly, because we have to, “Oh, He’s God, He rules.” It’s something we sing joyfully, because He is the True King and we have been brought near to Him through Christ. This King is not self-deceived. This King is the Most High, the ruler of all things, AND we know Him! The Psalmist that we already read really gave us a picture of humility and the kind of attitude that God desires in us: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”