The God of Heaven – Rules the Future
Daniel ch.4 :1-37
This is the last time we meet an active Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible and this chapter is unique in the Book of Daniel in that a large part of it is recounted not by Daniel himself but rather by Nebuchadnezzar.
Two things to take note of right at the outset:
Firstly, some people take a long time to come to faith and God does not give up quickly.
The fact that there is this chapter 4 where God continues to deal Nebuchadnezzar should encourage us. We have already seen that Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t an atheist indeed he recognised a wide variety of different gods and when confronted by that the God Daniel served he easily found a place in his belief system to accommodate this God as a great God.
But as of yet Nebuchadnezzar had no genuine biblical faith in him.
It does takes some people a considerable time before they come to a true faith and it is encouraging for us to know that God does not give up quickly. Whether Nebuchadnezzar did come to such a faith remains unclear though the declarations he made at the end of this chapter are the most promising yet.
Nebuchadnezzar looks back upon yet another significant event in his life and reflects upon his experience of the Living God.
Secondly, there is great value in spiritual reflection. Much of this chapter contains Nebuchadnezzar’s own reflections upon an experience that had a profoundly humbling influence upon him and he wanted others to know what he had been privileged to understand.
Do you ever stop to reflect upon what God has been doing in your life? what he has been saying to you? If you don’t then perhaps there lies the reason for your lack of faith and trust.
In case you switch off and miss the point let me begin where Nebuchadnezzar does with the new and fresh understanding of God that he has come to embrace – this is the God you too must come to know and trust: he is a great God, indeed he is the Most High God and he has done great things:
v.3 "How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation."
Nebuchadnezzar Speaks vv.1-18
The thing that caused Nebuchadnezzar to stop and think was another troubling dream. It came to him at a time when everything seemed to be going so well for him too (v.4). As before, he was convinced that this dream was important for him to understand. The dream itself told him that the Most High rules over the kingdom of men but he didn’t see clearly how it all related to him; he simply didn’t understand what it was all about as his somewhat confusing account of it makes clear – here is a tree with the mind of a man that is about to be transformed into the mind of a beast! (cf. v.16)
He didn’t understand but he did want to and he took steps to find out.
Once again the experts are called in – the wise men of Babylon with their magical powers were summoned and told about the dream but once again they proved incapable of helping the king with an explanation. One wonders why the king went to them rather than immediately going to the man who had helped him before, Daniel, a man he knew to be extraordinarily gifted.
Before we become too critical of Nebuchadnezzar we should recognise that men and women love to think they know best and are reluctant to get too close to the Living God – we may even be like Nebuchadnezzar ourselves in being quick to turn to the wisdom of this world rather than to consult the God who made it all.
Well Daniel is finally brought in and Nebuchadnezzar gives him a detailed account of his dream. Nebuchadnezzar is about to find out how it all relates to him.
God spoke to Nebuchadnezzar by dreams and sent Daniel to him to explain what they meant. Had God left him to his own devices and to the wisdom of this world Nebuchadnezzar would have remained forever in the dark.
God’s usual way of speaking to us is not by dreams but by the Word of God, the Bible. Yet we too left to our own devices will never grasp the importance and the significance of its message; we too need help and the help we absolutely need is that of the Holy Spirit for he it is who opens the Word to us and us to the Word. Yes, God uses preachers and others but our need is of God’s Spirit – we will never appreciate the gospel, our needs and his provision to meet those needs without his help.
Daniel’s Response to Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream and his Explanation vv.19-27
As Daniel is told the details of the dream that so troubled Nebuchadnezzar he too is troubled but he is troubled because he does understand what it is all about! The message he will have to transmit to Nebuchadnezzar is bad news and Daniel did not delight in sharing it – he would have preferred that the revelation concerned Nebuchadnezzar’s enemies rather than Nebuchadnezzar himself.
What a wonderful spirit Daniel exemplifies! It must characterise those of us who are believers too – we should not take pleasure in messages of judgment but rather long for that change of heart that will render judgment unnecessary!
Nebuchadnezzar picked up on Daniel’s distress – it was obvious to him that Daniel cared and he urged him to speak on.
Daniel repeats most of the details of the dream that Nebuchadnezzar gave him but he did more than repeat them he explained them.
The central feature of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was a tree and not just any old tree, it was a great tree, one that could be seen throughout the world and which provided food and shelter for animals and birds alike.
If Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t see how God’s message related him he was about to find out:
vv.20, 22 "The tree... it is you, O king."
How similar this is to an important occasion in the life of King David. David had committed grievous sin but was unconcerned by it all yet when Nathan came and told him a story David became enraged against the principal character. Nathan probably took a deep breath before he spoke but speak he did: "You are the man" he said and David at once saw how God message was so relevant and appropriate.
Now Daniel does the same for Nebuchadnezzar – the dream is relevant because is speaking to you, about you.
I wonder, do you know anything of that in your own experience? You read something in the Bible or you hear a truth explained and suddenly you are aware that this is not third person stuff written for others but it is God speaking directly to you. You no longer see yourself as an outsider looking on as a disinterested spectator but you are suddenly brought right in – you are involved, it’s you to whom God is speaking.
If you are a Christian then you have known something of that and you have not run away from God but paid attention and trusted him. The Bible says all are sinners and you’ve realised that that means God is saying "you are a sinner" that "you must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" etc.
The tree then is Nebuchadnezzar and the watcher sent from heaven is a means of declaring that it is God who reigns and rules and that it is he who determines which king will rule over which empire. King Nebuchadnezzar is about to be cut down to size.
The cutting down of the tree is necessary because Nebuchadnezzar has foolishly imagined that he is somehow autonomous and not dependent upon the One True Living God. Yet the stump that is left behind is not to be uprooted but bound in iron and bronze for a certain specified period of time. Nebuchadnezzar will be restored but only once he has comes to his senses and realizes the sovereignty of the world belongs firmly in the hands of the Most High. It is then that his own period of madness and exclusion will be brought to an end.
The dream has been explained but Daniel has not finished his task and now he boldly pleads with Nebuchadnezzar. Judgment will fall if he continues unchanged and so Daniel with a brave mercy calls upon the king to take onboard what he has been privileged to hear for it is indeed a great mercy that God has shown him.
Daniel calls upon Nebuchadnezzar to repent and be converted. He must change his ways for he has not ruled in righteousness nor with compassion and that is his sin. Your sin may be very different from that of Nebuchadnezzar but sin is sin in God’s sight and sin that is not dealt with will draw down his judgment upon you.
Have you heard the voice of Jesus softly pleading with your heart? If so then don’t turn and walk away but repent of your sin, give up on your old ways of living to please yourself and cry out to the Lord to have mercy on your never dying soul.
Daniel longed for Nebuchadnezzar to experience true prosperity and was concerned enough to tell him what he needed to hear. The ball was now firmly back in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.
The Failure to Respond to Grace leads to Judgment vv.28-33
What an opportunity Nebuchadnezzar had been given! God had spoken clearly to him and he knew what he had to do. But time went by and he didn’t act – perhaps he thought he’d do it later – and before we know it a year has gone by and Nebuchadnezzar has not changed – perhaps he had just simply forgotten all about it.
How easily people convince themselves that God’s delays are a sign of his inability to act or that his warnings were merely words that could be safely ignored. The apostle Peter writing in the NT had this to say about God’s delays:
2Pet.3:9 "The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
Please don’t you mistake God’s patience for something else. Paul adds:
Rom.2:4 "perhaps you despise his great kindness, tolerance, and patience. Surely you know that God is kind, because he is trying to lead you to repent." GNB
Walking on the roof one day Nebuchadnezzar gazed out over his empire and his heart overflowed - this is mine, he said, I did all this. It was his old arrogance and pride bursting out all over again. How foolish the sinner can be to imagine that he can face down God and endlessly get away with it!
At that very moment a voice spoke from heaven and the divine plan rolled into action. And it all took place as God had said it would. The kingdom is taken from Nebuchadnezzar and the king finds his importance humbled to the dust. No longer a respected and feared king Nebuchadnezzar was now reduced to nothing but a long-haired madman who behaved like a wild beast.
God had spoken to him and warned him and God had now kept his word. Do you really think he will make you the exception to his rule?
And so the time went by until finally the last of the seven periods came to an end and Nebuchadnezzar was at last restored. Again God’s word had proved to be true!
A Changed Man
Nebuchadnezzar remembered what happened. His reason returned – indeed the fool had said in his heart that there is no god – but now his reason returned and having learnt his lesson he openly praised the Most High.
He recognised that the Lord’s reign was an eternal one
He recognised that the Lord does exactly what he wants to do and none can oblige him to do otherwise
He recognised that none can or does hold him to account or question his actions
So he doesn’t question the Lord either but praises and extols him for doing all things well
God had humbled him but he had not done so to crush or destroy him – it was but a prelude to restoration and yet more blessing:
v.36 "and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me."
Now what about you?
Some foolish folk see the Christian faith as negative and restrictive as though our Father in heaven is kill-joy God but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus declared that he had come:
Jn.10:10 "that they may have life and have it abundantly."
In other words he came seeking the very best for us and his call to repent and be converted is a call to abandon every other path for they will all ultimately lead us away from the best and give us only the worst – a life forever alienated from the One True Living God.
O learn the lessons from Nebuchadnezzar’s life and don’t lose any more years as he did in the wastelands but as Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost when asked by others who suddenly realised that God was speaking to them:
Acts 2:38-39 "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."
And to God be the glory.