MESSAGE FOR NOVEMBER 5, 2006 FROM DANIEL CHAPTER FOUR
morning we conclude an important phase of God’s activity recorded in the book of Daniel.
In the first four chapters of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar, who God used to judge his rebellious people in
of course flies in the face of the Biblical worldview as taught in the Old Testament and creates a not unanticipated
challenge for God. One challenge for God in this context is—he must
fulfill his covenant curse to exile his rebellious people from the land because of their repeated, unrepentant
sin. But how does he do that without his own people as well as the
surrounding nations concluding that He, as the God of the Hebrews, has been defeated by this foreign nation and
foreign king? How does he, as the recognized God of a country that
has now become a conquered vassal state under the rule of
We see the first part of God’s response to this context in the
rest of chapter one by the supernatural favor and enabling grace he gives to Daniel and his three friends. They miraculously advance far beyond their Babylonian peers in the
His behavior in chapter four however, proves that he was far from fully convinced of the uniqueness of God’s sovereign reign. The truth is--Nebuchadnezzar was much more enamored with his OWN royal glory as he takes all the credit for the glory of his kingdom. He wasn’t living a life or treating his subjects in any way that showed any heart felt allegiance to the Hebrew God, whose supremacy he had earlier proclaimed. Nebuchadnezzar, in spite of all the evidence God had provided to him of his own vastly superior sovereign power, refused to genuinely submit to the God of Israel as the sovereign King. And so in chapter four, God confronts Nebuchadnezzar with a final and conclusive display of his sovereign reign over him. In chapter four, God, in his intensely personal rebuke of Nebuchadnezzar, conclusively reveals himself as the indisputable King over all the earth.
As we begin this story in chapter four, we see that this account is told from the perspective of King Nebuchadnezzar. That makes this chapter, as Gleason Archer says, “the only chapter in Scripture composed under the authority of a pagan.” God is able to write this completely inspired and inerrant account by the hand of this pagan king. The king begins the chapter by issuing a proclamation written after, and in response to, the events he will subsequently unfold for us. He praises the God of Israel and says, “King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! 2It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. 3How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.”
He declares that God is the “Most High God” and that title speaks to the supremacy of God’s sovereignty—God is King over all things. He says that “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom (in sharp contrast to his own) and “his dominion endures from generation to generation.” Nebuchadnezzar had, in a most unpleasant manner, met the matchless King and discovered he was indeed NOT the one whose face stared back at him in the mirror. After this proclamation, the king proceeds to relate the story and the beginning is familiar to us. As in chapter two, the king has a dream. On this occasion, Nebuchadnezzar vividly remembers the dream and it “alarmed” him and “made [him] afraid.” He has some sense that the meaning of this dream was not pleasant.
As in chapter two the king calls in his pagan, occult advisers and they are once again powerless to interpret
the dream. Once again, we see the supremacy of God over the pagan
gods because Daniel hears the dream and by the power of God, instantly knows its meaning.
It’s important to note what the king says in verse eight in reference to Daniel.
He says, “At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar, after the name of my god…”
Notice that the king still refers to his god, Belteshazzar. He doesn’t say, “the god
I formerly served until I recognized the God of
involves a fairly familiar Old Testament symbol--a large tree. The
Old Testament on several occasions uses this figure of a large tree to represent either an individual or a nation
that has become powerful and proud. Isaiah 2:12 says, “For the
Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against
all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; 13against all the cedars
of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan;” The tall cedars of Lebanon and the impressive
oaks of Bashan are representative of all the proud people in those two dominions.
In Ezekiel 31, the prophet says in verse three, “Behold, Assyria was a cedar in
The dream is of a massive tree that is fruitful and offers protection and food to man and beast. Suddenly, a “watcher”—a heavenly being, an angel of some sort appears and issues a proclamation to “Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump of its root in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him.” [v.14-16] This large tree symbolizing the king will in a moment be removed and stripped of what once made it glorious.
The metaphor is mixed because it refers to the tree as a “him,” indicating that the dream was about the king and not a literal tree. Nebuchadnezzar would be changed into an animal, fit to be bound with bronze and iron. He would act, think and eventually look like an animal, but the stump would remain. The tree stump in Scripture symbolizes future fruitfulness. Isaiah 11:1 is the most familiar example. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” That speaks of the coming Messiah who would spring up from the felled stump of David’s royal line. The stump in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream indicates that this gruesome transformation from man to animal would not spell the end of the king’s reign-there would be a miraculous come-back from this ignominious fate.
Verse 17 tells us why he was stricken with this condition. It says, “to the end 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.” That statement gives three reasons for this judgment on the king. First—so that all the living will know that “the MOST HIGH RULES the kingdom of men.” This was done to establish once and for all that there was no further need to ask the question—who is King, the God of Israel or Nebuchadnezzar? When one “King” is able to instantly reduce the other to the status of a dumb ox, the argument is settled. GOD is KING!
Second, this statement reaffirms the lesson from chapter two. That is—God is not only King, he is sovereign over all kings and He places on all thrones or oval offices in all nations the person HE sees fit. He sovereignly controls the movement of every piece on the chess board of international politics. Finally, this statement testifies to the true nature of all those people God places in power. He says they are “the lowliest of men.” This is not a jab at Nebuchadnezzar in particular. In fact, history tells us that this king was an enormously gifted and dominant monarch. This speaks more to the fact that ALL fallen humans are of the lowliest sort when compared to God. What happened to Nebuchadnezzar simply exemplifies that lowliness. In an instant, this man whose glory was greater than any living human, was transformed into a totally demented, mangy, long-haired, grass-eating, bestial creature—without sense, without clothes and without even the slightest sliver of common dignity. Much of what outwardly separates man from animal was stripped from Nebuchadnezzar and in that sense he like us, is the lowliest of men.
There is not a person alive who might not be one moment away from a crippling stroke, a mentally disabling brain disorder, a flesh-eating infection, or 100 other maladies to which we in our fallen state are vulnerable. We, who can split the atom and land on Mars and build impressive monuments of comparably massive proportion, can be instantly felled by a blood clot no larger than a small pebble. Only a very tiny change in our brain chemistry renders us completely out of touch with reality—responding to our surroundings far more like a tiny baby or an animal than a mature human being. We are all frail and feeble and vulnerable people who desperately need to spend more time in nursing homes and Alzheimer’s units to remind us that tomorrow WE could be lying in that hospital bed having our diaper changed by a complete stranger. As impressive as we can dress ourselves up to appear to be, in the end, we are embarrassingly weak. We are vessels of clay that easily and quickly chip or crack or are rendered functionally useless. And God sets these vulnerable people on the thrones of the kingdoms of this world.
the king in this “manimal-like” state for “seven periods of time” and that probably means seven years. He does this for two reasons. First,
because the king failed to heed Daniel’s warning of verse 27 to “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.” Second, because of the self-glorifying attitude he expressed in verse
30. As he was walking on the roof of his royal palace, the king surveys
his impressive kingdom and says, “Is not this great
for seven years
This response differs from the previous ones. In chapter two, the king says the reason he worships God is because, “for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” God reveals the dream that no one else can and he is worthy of worship. In chapter three, the king’s ultimate motivation for worship is in verse 29, “for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” Do you hear how much weightier and broader this final blessing of God is than the other two? Though it is certainly prompted by God’s judgment of him, it is far more a testimony to God’s comprehensively sovereign nature than simply a response to a single supernatural act. It is also a testimony to the impotence of humanity and human kings in comparison to the God of Israel. No one can stay his hand—no one can block him or distract him or divert him or change his mind. No one can say to him, “What have you done?” That is—no one looks at anything God has done and edits it or corrects it or in any way improves upon it. Everything God decrees is permanently etched in titanium and is subject to NO ONE! He does not seek our approval and he does not need our blessing. He is God and there is no other. He is God—there is none like him!
Let’s close with three brief words of application. First, God is not satisfied with our acknowledgement of his glorious acts. He requires lives of worship marked by joyful submission to his will. Nebuchadnezzar, more than most people in human history had seen the glory of God, but he wasn’t willing to serve him as God or lead his kingdom to worship the God of Israel. As inconceivable as that may seem to us, so often we are just like him. We have seen God work in our lives in powerful ways and can rattle off all sorts of theologically accurate statements about him but our threadbare spiritual lives don’t match our glowing testimonies. His glory mandates that we give ourselves totally to him in joyful submission to his revealed will. That is far more important to him than a thousand hymns of eloquent praise sung with lips that belie lukewarm hearts that are far from him. The difference between the king and Daniel is not in their testimonies about God—those are remarkably similar. The difference is--Daniel loved God with all his heart. Nebuchadnezzar, while acknowledging God’s glory, in the end refused to give up his dead idols. There was no consistency between his profession and his performance. That is the case of so many of us in Christ’s church today.
is willing and able to humble those who live as if they were the king of their lives.
Nebuchadnezzar’s final tribute to the God of Israel is in verse 37.
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and
his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
We see this humbling work of God time after time in the Bible. Pharaoh
would not submit to God as King, even after he had seen his power and glory and so he dramatically humbled him. Nebuchadnezzar is another example as we have seen from this chapter. God’s own people are certainly not exempted from this humbling.
The Jews are miraculously delivered from Pharaoh’s
When we live as if we are the king of our lives, trusting in our own capacities, our own ability to provide wealth or success or acceptable service to God, the Father loves us far too much to allow us to labor under that arrogant delusion too long. So, according to Hebrews chapter 12 he comes into our lives and disciplines us. He shows us just what we frail, sin-riddled, weak, pathetic people can do apart from him. For you here today who are trusting in your own strength to please God or provide for your needs, this is a word of warning: humble yourself so he will not be compelled to humble you. For those who are living in the wilderness right now, living with a continual sense of emptiness and frustration at your own powerlessness, seek after God and discover whether he is humbling you. If you have been trusting in your own feeble efforts, repent and place your trust in God. He can restore you just like he did Nebuchadnezzar.
Finally, in this story we saw a tree representing this great human king who provided for the needs of all kinds of animals and people. But like all such human “trees,” he was cut down and showed himself to be completely unworthy of trust. All those who had depended on Nebuchadnezzar were cruelly disappointed. There is however another tree that will never disappoint, never falter and never fail to do what it was intended to do. There is a tree that symbolizes, not the pride of an arrogant king, but the humility of a Servant King. That tree---as Ernest Lucas says, the ultimate “tree of life,” is the cross of Jesus Christ. Our final point is—The cross of Christ is the never-failing tree of life where we alone find life that satisfies. The only tree worthy of our trust—the only tree worthy of our boasting—the only tree that is worthy of glorying in is the cross of Jesus.
That tree will always provide what it promises—when we are full of self-absorbed, self glorying pride, we can come to that tree and find forgiveness and cleansing. When we are starving, it feeds us—when we are thirsty, it quenches us. When we are feeling self sufficient, it reminds us of the awesome ransom price that God required to release us from the shackles of our guilt and sin. It pours contempt on all our pride and shows us the utter wickedness of our sin—our sin that put God incarnate on the cross and turned him into a heaving, bloody sacrifice. And yet, this cross not only brings us down in humility, it also lifts us up to God—enabling us to stand before his holiness with the righteousness of Christ. As we come to the Lord’s Table, may God give us the grace to humble ourselves before the cross for his glory and so he will not, out of his great love for us, have to humble us by other means.
Page last modified on 11/12/2006
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