Daniel 4

Bill McFarland

July 30, 2006


There is a King of kings and he rules from his throne over his kingdom, and we have the great privilege in Christ of being citizens of that kingdom with all of the privileges and all of the hopes that that kingdom provides.  How blessed we are.

A little book entitled “Who’s Who In The Bible” says that Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful and energetic ruler of the new Babylonian empire.  His capitol, Babylon, became the greatest center of trade, architecture, art and astronomy of the times.  Nebuchadnezzar became the ruler of Babylon in 605 BC succeeding his father.  He was a ruthless and a powerful military leader and conqueror.  In fact, history says that Nebuchadnezzar never lost a battle.  He was fully capable of enforcing his will even to the point of roasting people.  One of the passages in Jeremiah’s book tells how he took the sons of the king of Judea along with the king.  He put the sons to death before the king’s eyes and then put the king’s eyes out and took him back as a captive to Babylon as a testament to Nebuchadnezzar’s power. 

As cruel as he was as a military man, Nebuchadnezzar’s greatest accomplishments were in the form of what he built.  His work on the city of Babylon and then his palace there was so impressive that it involved what some have called “one of the seven wonders of the world.”  The city had fortified double walls a length of 17 miles.  It had eight gates and more than 50 temples within it testified to the fact that Nebuchadnezzar was a very religious man, honoring the pagan gods, so called, of his nation of his people.  His greatest boasts were in that city which he built for himself.  He rebuilt the sacred procession way from the gate of Ishtar and flanked it with 120 forms of lions.  The gate itself had 575 dragons and bulls on it in the form of enameled brick work, and the way from that gate to the temple was almost a mile to the two temples to which it led.  These temples lay at the foot of a big tower, a zigarod it was called, which had as its foundation a base which was 130 yards square, and it rose 7 stories up to a height of some 300 feet with a temple on top of it.  The hanging gardens of Babylon are most famous.  They were created by Nebuchadnezzar on terraces overlooking the palace in order to impress people with his grandeur and his wonder.  This vast city was safeguarded by an immense artificial lake off to the southwest, and it was supplied by canals that Nebuchadnezzar built for his city.  It was marked with inscribed, stamped brick to testify with every one of them that this was his work and that it was the result of his might and it was for his glory.  Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty king, but he wasn’t the mightiest king.

The chapter we are going to study this morning is the reminder from heaven that there is a mightier king, still and that even somebody with this much power and this much ability could do these many wonderful things. 

When we begin Daniel 4, it helps to remind ourselves that Nebuchadnezzar has by this time already been acquainted at least twice with someone who is a greater king than he is.  Remember that about 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar in conquering Judea had taken a first group of captives back to Babylon with him, and these captives included four young men, one of whom was Daniel.  You will remember that beginning with those four young men’s refusal to defile themselves with what the king provided, Nebuchadnezzar had had the opportunity to see what someone more important than him could do.  As his life went along, remember that he soon suffered a very troubling dream.  Daniel 2 tells us the story of how he summoned all of the wise men of his realm and all of those who were supposed to be able to discover secrets and to tell what the heavens would do.  In order to make sure that they were actually telling him the truth about what his dream meant, he insisted, according to Daniel 2:9 that they tell him first what the dream was and then tell him the interpretation of it.  Well, of course the wise men of Babylon said “there’s not a man alive, O King, who could do that kind of thing.”  He flew into a rage and rather than understanding that he was asking the impossible of any mere man, he determined that everyone of those men and every other so-called wise man in his whole kingdom would be put to death to show what he would do with people who did not meet his demands.  Daniel, who served in the king’s palace at the time because of God’s blessing on him, went to the manager of the household and asked what was going on.  The man told him.  Daniel said, “Tell the king to appoint me a time to see him and I will explain his dream.”  Daniel said that first and then he went to his three friends, whom we know as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and asked them to pray that God would make that mystery known to him.  He made his commitment first without knowing and then asked his three friends to pray for him that God would show him the answer. 

The next day when he went before the king, he gave God the glory first and he said to the king in effect, “I am no greater than any other man.  This is not from me, but there is a God in heaven.”  I love Daniel’s statement.  “There is a God in heaven,” he says, “who reveals mysteries and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” (Daniel 2:28).  You remember then that Daniel explained to him that this vision was this huge image in the form of a man, and this great image had, first of all, a very impressive head of gold and then it had arms and a chest of silver and then it had a belly and thighs of bronze, and then it had legs and feet first of iron and then of iron mixed with clay.  And Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that these four parts to this image represented four kingdoms that were to be in God’s providence.  “The first one,” he said, “this head of gold, Nebuchadnezzar, is you in your image.”  That must have played to the king’s pride quite well.  “The second one was the kingdom coming after you.”  Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was going to last barely 70 years.  And after him there was coming another king.  History makes clear that it was the Medo-Persian Empire that followed.  And then the third part of that image, the bronze part, was the kingdom that would succeed him, the kingdom of Alexander the Great of Greece.  By the way, Alexander’s soldiers had helmets and breastplates and shields of bronze.  It is amazing the details of this image. 

Then there would be another kingdom that followed that one.  This kingdom would last longer, but it would be made up of different parts that didn’t fit together as well, and it would be fragile in that way.  In the days of those kings, it would have to have been the Roman Empire.  There was going to come a stone not cut by human hands, and it was going to strike that image and cause that image to fall to pieces.  That stone would then become a mighty mountain and “the God of heaven would set up a kingdom”, Daniel said, “that shall never be destroyed nor shall the kingdom be left to another people.  It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end and it shall stand forever.”  (Daniel 2:44)

You and I are so privileged to just look back on God’s wisdom and power and to remember the kingdom that he set up through his Son, a spiritual kingdom which includes people from every tribe and tongue and nation and kindred, who are willing to be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, to be redeemed from the clutches of sin and unrighteousness as a way of life, and to be reconciled to God.  It is a kingdom which spreads all over the earth and has endured from that day to this.

That so impressed Nebuchadnezzar.  Nebuchadnezzar said in Daniel 2:47 to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”  That was a wonder that Nebuchadnezzar was impressed with and he should have stayed with what he said about Daniel’s god.  Unfortunately, what Daniel said about him being the head of gold apparently stuck in his mind more than anything else.  And it wasn’t wrong until we read in Daniel 3 that Nebuchadnezzar “made an image of gold whose height was 60 cubits (90 feet) and its breadth was 6 cubits and he set it up on the Plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.”  And he said that this image represented his glory.  He called the dedication of that image, and he insisted that everybody who came would hear the sound of the horn, the pipe, the lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe and every kind of music and right then they were to fall down and worship that golden image. 

The day came, the gathering was there, the music started and everybody fell down to worship that image except for three.  That, of course, provided occasion for jealousy.  This king has promoted these three young men and given them responsibilities in his service in Babylon and now they have not fallen down.  So, there began to be some who maliciously accused these three Jewish young men.  They pointed out to the king he had made a decree.  These people he had favored had paid absolutely no attention to him.  They weren’t going to serve his gods or worship the golden image he had set up.  The king called the three before him.  He said, “It has been reported to me that you are not worshiping my image I have decreed.”  They said, “That’s right.”  He said, “There is not a god who will be able to deliver you out of my hands.”  They said, “Our God is able to deliver us.  But even if he doesn’t, we are not going to worship that image that you have set up.”  Remember that the king prepared the fiery furnace.  He had it heated seven times more than it usually was heated.  It was so hot that even those who took these three young men to cast them into the furnace were consumed by the heat.  They tie them up good; they throw them into the furnace; they die in the process; Nebuchadnezzar watches.  He looks into the furnace and he says, “Wait a minute!  Didn’t we cast three fellows bound into that fiery furnace?”  His servants said, “Yes, that’s what we did.”  He said, “Why do I see four walking around unbound and one of them looks like the Son of man.”  They had no explanation. 

Nebuchadnezzar came near to that fiery furnace.  He called Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the most high God, and told them to come out.  They did.  They had not been affected by the fire, neither their clothing, their hair or any part of them.  And Nebuchadnezzar said in verse 28 of chapter 3, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him and set aside the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their God.”  Nebuchadnezzar decreed that nobody in his realm was to say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  He should have remembered that. 

Years went by.  You see, Nebuchadnezzar ruled in all 43 years over the kingdom of Babylon.  In chapter 4 he himself describes something that happened apparently some years later toward the end of his reign.  Nebuchadnezzar had another dream, a troubling dream.  It was one of the signs and the wonders that the most high God did for him out of his grace to try to turn him away from a tragic mistake.  He should have listened.  Nebuchadnezzar saw this time a tree, and this tree occupied the center of attention in the earth.  It was in the central place of the earth.  It was so high it reached up to heaven, maybe like the tower that he had built in the middle of Babylon.  This dream so troubled him because this tree, which had been there in the midst of the earth and which was so tall and had all of the birds and creatures in its branches with food for all of them and being protected by its branches, suddenly has a watcher as he calls it (remember he is a pagan king and thinks in terms of what his religions taught about angels).  This watcher demanded that this tree be chopped down and all of its branches be removed, that there be nothing but a stump left and that this stump be bound so that it could come to life again, and that this stump then be out there in the field, wet from the dew of heaven, and have its portion with the beast and the grass of the earth and then that its mind be changed from a man’s to a beast until seven times pass over him.  (Daniel 4:1-16) 

This was a troubling and alarming dream.  Maybe Nebuchadnezzar had an inkling that it involved him somehow, and it was supposed to be a warning.  Anyway, he saw it as a sentence by decree of the watchers to the end that the living may know that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.  (Daniel 4:17)  In other words, Nebuchadnezzar had an inkling that the God of heaven was trying to remind him that there is a mightier king than Nebuchadnezzar.  He called all of his wise men and nobody was able to give him an answer.  Last of all, he brought Daniel before him.  Daniel was alarmed when he first saw this.  Maybe he was afraid the king would lash out at him.  Daniel said, in beginning to interpret it, that he wished this was for some of Nebuchadnezzar’s enemies instead (v. 19).  Then he explained to Nebuchadnezzar that “the tree is you.  This is not a decree of the watchers at all.  This is a decree of the Most High God” (v. 24).  “It means that you are going to be cut down from your proud place.  It means that you are going to live like a beast in the field.  It means that you are going to be out where the dew will fall on you like a wild animal.  You are going to eat grass like you were an ox, and you are going to stay in that condition as long as it takes (Seven times may mean seven periods of time or seven months.  Some even think it means seven years.) until you know that the Most High God rules in the kingdoms of men and gives it to whom he will” (v. 25).  “There will be a stump there, and when you change your mind that stump will come to life and you will get your kingdom back.” 

Twelve months later Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of his palace (v. 29) and he began to think, even to speak to himself, (30) “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”  And while those words were still in his mouth, the sound still ringing in his ears, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.  And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”  Immediately it happened.  Nebuchadnezzar was driven out; he ate grass like an ox; his body was wet with the dew of heaven until his hair grew as long as eagle’s feathers and his nails were like bird’s claws.  (Daniel 4:33) 

Finally, after seven times had passed over, Nebuchadnezzar lifted up his eyes to heaven and his reason returned to him.  He confessed what God had been trying to teach him forever: “I blessed be the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”  Nobody prevents God from doing what he decides and nobody corrects him because he is the Most High.  He is the Mightiest King.  He is capable of allowing even the lowliest of men, men like Nebuchadnezzar, to exercise rule in the kingdoms of men.  It doesn’t mean they are anything.  It means that God is something.

There are three applications made of this truth in this wonderful passage.  First, God is sovereign in his world.  He has the rule over all things.  It does not mean that he makes everything happen that happens.  That would be fate.  It does not mean that everything that happens in this world is God’s will or that he decides it.  That would be mechanical.  Sometimes God allows things to happen.  It does mean that he is capable of using what happens and of still exercising his will and exercising his rule over his creation.  We want to remember that the Christian view, the Biblical view is that history is not merely seeming to swirl out of control through meaningless circles, but that God is ruling and he moves it toward his will and finally it will end in defeat of all his enemies with the heavenly kingdom delivered up to him as I Cor. 15 says.

Secondly, God’s word comes true, and all of us ought therefore to repent.  Maybe Nebuchadnezzar thought after ten months, eleven months or a year, there was nothing to the prediction that God made.  But when his pride lifted him up, God dealt with him.  Daniel pleaded with the king in verse 27 of chapter 4, “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.”  Isn’t that a powerful call for repentance?  Break off your sins by righteousness and by mercy to people who need mercy!  God still commands that all men everywhere repent.  His kindness ought to lead us to repentance.  (Rom. 2:4)

Third, God exalts the humble.  He brings down the proud and exalts the humble.  The last verse of Daniel 4 says, “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.”  Isn’t he though!  This so reminds me of a lesson we studied at camp about Herod who, when they were saying, “It’s the voice of a god,” was eaten with worms.  God can humble the proud.  God can also exalt the humble.  He wants to.  He will.  Proverbs 3:34 says it.  James 4:10 says it.  I Peter 5:5-6 says it.  God will exalt the humble.  If we will listen to him enough to say to him, “Have your own way in my life,” “Through Jesus let your will be done in my life,” he will take our lives and will exalt our living to a higher level and will finally bring us home to live in that kingdom he established through his Son those centuries ago.

If you are here today and you need to confess that you believe the King Most High rules, being baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, or in humbling yourself to a father you have drifted from and asking him to take you back and make you clean, and there is a way we can help you in responding to the gospel will you come and let us help if we can right now while we stand and sing?