Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 17 2019 - Daniel 4:24-37 – Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation

Yesterday we read of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Today's reading begins with Daniel's interpretation of the dream which Daniel concludes with advice to the king, "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" (v. 27). Daniel particularly highlights the need for the king to act as servant to his people, caring for their welfare rather than seeking his own riches and glory at their expense.

The dream and Daniel's advice may have made a momentary impression on King Nebuchadnezzar, but it was soon forgotten for we read:

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 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?" (vv. 29-30).

Nebuchadnezzar was filled with pride in his own achievements and his glory – the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" were one of the wonders of the ancient world. He is full of a sense of self-satisfaction. It is while his boast is still on his lips that a voice from heaven tells him that his terrifying dream of the previous year will now come true:

This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. (vv. 31-32)

King Nebuchadnezzar seems to have had some form of mental breakdown. He left his palace to live in the open air and feed on whatever he could find to hand – even eating grass like an ox. His hair grew wildly and his nails untrimmed. Doctor Monty Barker, a consultant psychiatrist, writes: "As far as Nebuchadnezzar's illness is concerned, the features are of a fairly acute onset of insanity, with the apparent delusional idea that he was an animal. The length of time that he was unwell is not clear, but he also seems to have had a spontaneous remission and returned to sanity and changed his way of life and outlook subsequently. This kind of history is much more typical of a depressive illness with relatively acute onset… Most such illnesses had a spontaneous remission within a period of one, two and occasionally more years. The person who recovered would recover complete insight, as did Nebuchadnezzar, apparently."

After a period of perhaps seven years, Nebuchadnezzar came to his senses when he raised his eyes towards heaven. The chapter then ends with his psalm of praise of Almighty God. Restored to his throne he acknowledges (v. 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.

An exaggerated view of our own importance can literally drive us insane as we find it hard to come to terms with the refusal of the world to bend itself to our demands. On the other hand, a knowledge that the living God is our heavenly Father who cares for us and is in sovereign control of all that happens, fills us with a sense of security and peace. But this is not always an easy lesson for us to learn. It sometimes requires us to be humbled through times of trial before we come to a right mind.

Lord God, we thank you that you have demonstrated the greatness of your love for us in sending your beloved Son from heaven to be our Saviour. Help me to trust in your care for all the details of my daily life, confident in the knowledge that, "all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be", and that you have ordered all things in love. So teach me to be content in you and to rejoice in you no matter what each day may bring.

Peter Misselbrook