First, protests all across Tunisia saw their president of 23 years flee to Saudi Arabia and then resign. Within days, it inspired a revolution in Egypt that resulted in Hosni Mubarak being ousted after 30 years. Then, in Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh was removed from power after ruling since 1978. That’s 31 years!
And, most recently, we’ve seen Muammar Gaddafi in Libya come to a grizzly end after 42 years of brutal rule.
Who would have thought that ANY of those powerful regimes would have come to an end, let along ALL of them!
And it all happened SO QUICKLY. From HERO to ZERO in a matter of days.
And that’s the sort of thing we see happening in the Book of Daniel today. Two Babylonian kings go from HERO TO ZERO in a flash.
And it just goes to show that NO ONE can take their position for granted. No matter HOW powerful or secure. That God is the One who ultimately raises people up, and he’s the One who ultimately brings them down. Whether it’s Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar way back THEN. Or Mubarak and Gaddafi TODAY.
Now, we’re looking at TWO chapters again this morning. At King Nebuchadnezzar in Ch 4, and his son, King Belshazzar, in Ch 5.
But we’ll focus mainly on Ch 4. Which begins in an unusual way. The TOPIC is familiar. But the STYLE is different. King Nebuchadnezzar’s had A DREAM. But he’s going to tell us all about it HIMSELF. V1.
4:1 King Nebuchadnezzar, To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: May you prosper greatly! 2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! HIS KINGDOM IS AN ETERNAL KINGDOM; HIS DOMINION ENDURES FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION.
It’s like reading the last page of a mystery novel FIRST. We know “who did it” before we find out what he DID. God’s done something amazing that shows he’s king over every kingdom. That he endures, while everyone else fades into history. But we don’t know WHAT.
And then Nebuchadnezzar goes on to tell us about the dream. He’s got a feeling it’s about HIM. And so, it scares him SILLY. Once again, v6, the wise men are no use explaining it. So Daniel gets the call.
And if we jump down to v19, Daniel DESCRIBES the dream, then EXPLAINS it. He says to the king, “It’s not good news. I wish it was about someone else. But unfortunately, it’s about YOU.”
V20. He saw a tree that was large and strong, that stretched up to the sky. So big the whole earth could see it. And it provided food and shelter for the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. And v22. It represents Nebuchadnezzar.
22 You, O king, are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.
That’s the GOOD part. He’s great and strong, and people over the whole world are ruled and protected by him. Problem is he’s starting to believe his own publicity. That he’s great and strong BECAUSE OF HIS OWN ABILITY. Rather than because God’s made him what he is.
So v23, we get to the SCARY bit. A heavenly messenger announces the tree is to be cut down and destroyed. But the stump is to be left in the ground and bound with iron and bronze.
Daniel explains what it all means in v24.
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. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.
God’s decision is that the King will be cut down to size. He’s too big for his boots. He’ll have some sort of mental breakdown. But once he learns his lesson. Once he acknowledges that God rules. Then God will RESTORE him.
That’s the dream and its meaning. But we’re also told what the PURPOSE of the dream is. V27. It’s a WARNING! Change your attitude, and it won’t happen!
27 Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: RENOUNCE YOUR SINS by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”
SHOW you know your rightful place. Show it by the way you TREAT people.
When you recognise your place before GOD it affects how you treat OTHERS.
Christians should be the most forgiving, accepting people there are. We know we’re sinners. We know we deserve nothing from God’s hand. But he shows us grace and mercy anyway. We SHOULD be willing to cut other people the same slack God’s showed us.
And yet, we seem to have this reputation as judgmental and bigoted and non-accepting.
Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar to SHOW his changed attitude to God in the way he treated people with kindness and justice. We should so the same.
We’re not told how the king RESPONDS to Daniel’s warnings. Until 12 months later. V28. Perhaps he DID change his ways – kept his pride in check – for A WHILE. But then his TRUE PROUD NATURE just bubbles back out. V29
29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, BY MY MIGHTY POWER AND FOR THE GLORY OF MY MAJESTY?”
And God’s TRUE to his warning. No delay. Instant consequences. V31
31 The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. 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.” 33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled.
He has some sort of breakdown. He lives like an animal. Even LOOKS like one. His hair grows like eagle’s feathers. His nails like bird claws.
It’s ironic that the man who thought he was A GOD is made like AN ANIMAL so he could learn that he’s ONLY A HUMAN.
And he stayed like that until GOD decided it was time. Seven times could be weeks or months or even years. The point of “seven” is that it’s GOD’S time. He’d PREDICTED it, he’d brought it ABOUT. And he ENDS it. v34.
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and MY SANITY WAS RESTORED.
And Nebuchadnezzar’s response was what it should have been in the FIRST place. Rather than honouring HIMSELF, he honours God.
Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified HIM WHO LIVES FOREVER. HIS dominion is an eternal dominion; HIS kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 ALL the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. HE does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back HIS hand or say to him: “What have you done?”
otice the change in attitude from v30?
“Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by MY MIGHTY POWER AND FOR THE GLORY OF MY MAJESTY?”
And the moral of the story? Down to v37.
(37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt 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
Don’t I KNOW it, he thinks!
Learn the lesson of Nebuchadnezzar
And so we come to think about learning the lessons of Nebuchadnezzar. After all, that’s what the chapter’s WRITTEN for. Back in v1 he writes to peoples, nations and men of every language who live in all the world. He writes to tell us about how great God’s signs are, and how his kingdom never ends. He wants US to learn from his experience.
But before I get to US. I want to look at how well the lessons were learned by those CLOSE to NEBUCHADNEZZAR. How well his own DESCENDANTS learned from his mistakes. I think that’s reason we jump straight to the reign of Belshazzar in Ch 5.
It’s another story about a king, about a message from God, about Daniel, and about how the king goes from hero to zero. You see, Belshazzar might be called Nebuchadnezzar’s SON, but he’s not learning any lessons from DAD.
The very next sentence after Nebuchadnezzar’s lesson – “everything God does is right and those who walk in pride he’s able to HUMBLE.” We read
5:1 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 As they drank the wine, THEY PRAISED THE GODS OF GOLD AND SILVER, OF BRONZE, IRON, WOOD AND STONE.
The contrast is like black and white. He’s learned NOTHING from the fall of his Father. And he’s headed for the same fate. Much WORSE actually.
Instead of RULING with justice and wisdom. Instead of acknowledging God’s power and glory. He’s partying with his subjects. He decides a good drinking game is to praise the Babylonian gods, while they skoll from the Jewish temple cups. The very OPPOSITE of acknowledging God.
So a hand appears and writes some words on the palace wall. A heavenly hand, but just normal words. But what do they MEAN? Once again, none of the wise men except Daniel are any use. He’s called to the palace. Again!
But before Daniel provides the interpretation, he gives Belshazzar a talking-to. A lesson he SHOULD have learned from his father. There from v18.
18 “O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor.
People everywhere FEARED him. Then v20.
20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.
I can imagine young Belshazzar impatiently squirming in his throne. “Who cares about HISTORY?! Get to the point!”
So Daniel DOES. V22.
22 “But YOU his SON, O Belshazzar, have NOT humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 23 INSTEAD, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. BUT YOU DID NOT HONOR THE GOD WHO HOLDS IN HIS HAND YOUR LIFE AND ALL YOUR WAYS.
And THEN he gets to the meaning of the words. Mene means NUMBERED. God’s numbered his days. Tekel means WEIGHED. God’s weighed him up, and he’s come up short. And Peres means PERSIA. That’s who’s going to DELIVER THE BLOW.
And the chapter finishes very differently to Ch 4.
30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.
God had raised UP. And God had brought LOW. And set someone ELSE up in Belshazzar’s place. Just like Daniel had described.
And whether you’re God’s people BACK THEN, with Babylon or Persia in charge. Or God’s people TODAY, with dictators or presidents in charge. There’s COMFORT in that. And CONFIDENCE. And HOPE.
Because God IS on the throne. He’s the one who’s raised these rulers to where they are. The just and the unjust alike. He knows everything they’ve done. And he knows how long they’ve got.
And when he calls them to account. Everything will be done with perfect justice.
And, PRACTICALLY, that means we should PRAY for our leaders. We should OBEY and SUPPORT and RESPECT them, as best we’re able under God. Because they’re God’s agents.
But it’s not just a lesson for RULERS. Nebuchadnezzar wants EVERYONE to learn a lesson from him. We’re not all rulers of KINGDOMS. But there’s a sense in which we ARE rulers.
Back in Ch 2 Nebuchadnezzar was told (v37),
The God of heaven has GIVEN YOU DOMINION AND POWER AND MIGHT AND GLORY; 38 IN YOUR HANDS HE HAS PLACED MANKIND AND THE BEASTS OF THE FIELD AND THE BIRDS OF THE AIR. WHEREVER THEY LIVE, HE HAS MADE YOU RULER OVER THEM ALL.
And there’s a sense in which that’s the rule that’s been given to EVERY ONE of us. When God made human beings back in Gen 1. Here’s what he said to Adam and Eve.
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
God gave HUMANITY the responsibility to rule over his creation. With HIM ruling over US. He made us his IMAGE-BEARERS. His representatives. Every ONE of us.
And the big story of the Bible is about how humanity RESPONDED to that job. Instead of recognising God as OUR ruler. And serving and ruling under HIM. We chose to rule instead. Decided WE knew better than God.
The same sin of PRIDE that was Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall. The same sin of pride that was Belshazzar’s downfall. Adam and Eve chose it. And every human being SINCE chooses it. We all think we know better than God. We all want OUR way, rather than God’s way. We all think what we have and where we are is because of OUR OWN abilities.
But the reality is GOD is on the throne. And NOT us. We need to REPENT, to RETURN to God. Recognise his right to rule. Submit to HIM. Submit in our attitudes, and our choices. In our words and thoughts and actions. And then SHOW that in the way we treat HIS WORLD. Show that in living out justice and mercy.
THAT’S the lesson Nebuchadnezzar wants us to LEARN from him.
But there’s one FINAL point I want to make. And it’s about good rulers. The reality is, no matter how good or bad a ruler is, there’s ANOTHER who’s on the throne. One who’s been given all authority and power just like Nebuchadnezzar. One who despite it all, not ONCE, grabbed for more than he was entitled to. Not ONCE let pride turn the right order of things upside down. One who ALWAYS lived in submission.
We looked at him a couple of weeks ago in Daniel Ch 7.
God’s on the throne, but there’s One who comes with the clouds of heaven. He’s THE SON OF MAN. And, v14, God gives him authority, power, glory and sovereign power. All peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
Daniel only saw it in a vision. But we’ve EXPERIENCED it. Jesus is that Son of Man. Jesus, God’s eternal, loved, and ONLY son, was born as a human. He lived a perfect life of submission, love and humility.
Then he died a criminal’s death in our place. And then God raised him to life. Declared him Christ and King. And seated at his right hand.
And that’s where he is NOW. Seated and ruling over everything. Ruling over Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen and Libya. Ruling over global financial crises, and environmental crises. Ruling over presidents and governments. Ruling over YOU AND ME.
But for all that power and might. All that authority and right. There’s none of the pride and injustice that goes with HUMAN rule. None of the rebellion and self-serving that we found in Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar.
And he calls us to THAT SAME ATTITUDE in the way we live our lives serving him. That’s the way to learn the lesson from Nebuchadnezzar.
Listen to how Philippians 2 challenges us to learn those lessons. And I’ll close with these words. Phil 2 v3
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.