Daniel: Nebuchadnezzar’s Ruin

It's Lon Chaney as The Woflman.  Did Nebuchadnezzar suffer a similar fate?

It’s Lon Chaney as The Woflman. Did Nebuchadnezzar suffer a similar fate? 

This is the proclamation of Nebuchadnezzar the king, which he sent to people of every language in every nation of the world:


I want you all to know about the strange thing that the Most High God did to me. It was incredible—a mighty miracle! And now I know for sure that his kingdom is everlasting; he reigns forever and ever.  (Daniel 4:1—3  TLB)

These are the last recorded words of King Nebuchadnezzar.  They were written after the events of chapter 4.  The way this chapter is written and its use of familiar expressions found elsewhere in the Old Testament, suggests that Nebuchadnezzar had Daniel’s help in writing it.  It gives us more information about the king of Babylon than we had before, and we discover that Nebuchadnezzar had a real problem:  a mental problem.  He suffered from some sort of insanity.  He was a little different from other people.

Nebuchadnezzar…ate grass like the cows, and his body was wet with dew; his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.  (Daniel 4:33  TLB)

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet, thought to have similar mental disturbances, was sent from Denmark to England because, it was decided, everybody in England suffered from mental disturbances.  But what happened to Nebuchadnezzar graphically shows how truly small man is and how tenuous his grasp on the world is.  What happened to Nebuchadnezzar also illustrates perfectly these verses:

The whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right.  It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone.  (2 Timothy 3:16, 17  TLB)

Nebuchadnezzar had his problems, but so do we.  We can learn a lot about God’s dealing with us by looking at how God dealt with this king of Babylon.

1.  Nebuchadnezzar’s privileges

God made Nebuchadnezzar into the great king he was.  In chapter 2, the king saw, in a dream, a great statue, topped by a head of gold.  That head of gold represented Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom, Babylon.  When Daniel interpreted the dream for the king, Daniel made it clear that Nebuchadnezzar was where he was because God put him there.

Your Majesty, you are a king over many kings, for the God of heaven has given you your kingdom, power, strength, and glory.  You rule the farthest provinces, and even animals and birds are under your control, as God decreed. You are that head of gold.  (Daniel 2:37, 38  TLB)

Later on, Nebuchadnezzar witnessed the incredible power and grace of God in the deliverance of the three Hebrews from the fiery furnace.  After seeing this great miracle, the king declared:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, for he sent his angel to deliver his trusting servants when they defied the king’s commandment and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own.”  (Daniel 3:28  TLB)

In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar was solemnly warned:

“O King Nebuchadnezzar, listen to me—stop sinning; do what you know is right; be merciful to the poor. Perhaps even yet God will spare you.”  (Daniel 4:27  TLB)

This man, Nebuchadnezzar—a pagan king—had more communications from God than anybody else of his time, save the prophets.  He was given dreams and visions from God.  He was specifically warned by God to shape up.  How many chances does one man need to get right with God?  A better question might be, how many believers are ignoring God when He tries to get through to them?

God does not speak to most people in the world because most people in the world don’t know God and aren’t listening to God.  But God does speak to His people, all the time.  And many of His people seem deft at turning a deaf ear to Him.

2.  Nebuchadnezzar’s pride

Twelve months after this dream, he was strolling on the roof of the royal palace in Babylon, and saying, “I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city as my royal residence and as the capital of my empire.”  (Daniel 4:29, 30  TLB)

This king had a lot to be proud of.  Archeology has shown how magnificent Babylon was.  The accuracy of Nebuchadnezzar’s boasting has been confirmed historically.

About a year had elapsed since Nebuchadnezzar had been warned by God.  It was a year of grace before his judgment.  God is patient, but that patience doesn’t last forever.

Because God does not punish sinners instantly, people feel it is safe to do wrong.  (Ecclesiastes 8:11  TLB)

That bit of wisdom, courtesy of the Preacher, says a lot.  Nebuchadnezzar, instead of changing his life during that year of grace, started to feel safe in his sin.  And when anybody starts to feel safe in their sin, they become “dark in their thinking” and they don’t see things in perspective.  He got prideful.  He forgot all that God had shown him, done for him, and told him.  His outburst of pride came just before his fall.  He was on the very verge of a mental break and he didn’t even know it.  Even though God warned him, Nebuchadnezzar felt safe in his sin.

3.  Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall

While he was still speaking these words, a voice called down from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you: You are no longer ruler of this kingdom.  You will be forced out of the palace to live with the animals in the fields and to eat grass like the cows for seven years, until you finally realize that God parcels out the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he chooses.”  (Daniel 4:31, 32  TLB)

Like the old saw goes, “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.”  God gave Nebuchadnezzar so much, including his sanity.  And God took it all way; but He gave the king plenty of warning and he gave the king an entire year of grace to make things right.  Nebuchadnezzar squandered that entire year.  God wrought this terrible judgment at the height of the king’s most blasphemous attitude and statement.   Consider the great patience of God; that He allows such words and attitudes at all!

Believe it or not, medicine has given a name to Nebuchadnezzar’s strange kind of insanity:  boanthropy (ox-man).  One stricken with boanthropy takes on the behaviors of an ox, especially in his diet.

There is a school of thought that says the king suffered from lycanthropy—as in werewolf-ism.  In this case, the full moon causes the inflicted one to think he is a wolf.

What really caused Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity?  It was a case of simple rebellion against the Word of God.  In refusing to heed the warnings and turn to God in true repentance, the king lost his mind.

4.  Nebuchadnezzar’s restoration

When my mind returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My counselors and officers came back to me, and I was reestablished as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before.  (Daniel 4:34—37, verse 36 cited  TLB)

Exactly as God had promised, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom had been returned to him.  It took seven years, and during this time some scholars believe Daniel was the one in control of the government.  He was the only one who knew the king would return to his senses after seven “times” or seven years.

“Now, I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of Heaven, the Judge of all, whose every act is right and good; for he is able to take those who walk proudly and push them into the dust!”  (Daniel 4:37   TLB)

Bible scholars and students have wondered about this verse and Nebuchadnezzar’s exaltation of God.  Was he genuine?  Did he have a real change of heart?  Some scholars, like Calvin, say no.  They say Nebuchadnezzar never genuinely turned to God; he never recognized God’s grace and mercy.

At the same time, however, others have argued that near the end of his life, the king finally acknowledged God and recognized that He had dealt graciously with him.    When we read what Nebuchadnezzar said, it’s hard to believe God didn’t get through to him.

Something else that bothers some scholars and students of the Bible is why God restored Nebuchadnezzar’s fortunes at all.  Why did God bless such an ego-centric man in such a way?

This is the sovereignty of God at work.  God had designed this experience specifically as a way to discipline the king the only way that could reach him.  Everything Nebuchadnezzar went through—the good, the bad, the humiliating—had a single, sovereign, divine purpose:

…until you learn that the Most High God dominates the kingdoms of men and gives power to anyone he chooses.  (Daniel 4:25  TLB)

We should also note that Nebuchadnezzar’s recovery didn’t happen until he did one thing:

I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned…  (Daniel 4:34a  TLB)

This is what it takes for the “spiritual sanity” of all people to return!  When man looks to God, he gains perspective.  Nebuchadnezzar gained perspective.  You can to, if you would just look to God.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  (Psalm 121:1, 2  NIV2011)



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