The Mad King
Nebuchadnezzar was one of the greatest kings ever. As a prince he had begun rapidly conquering and bringing under subjection all nations round about him. After his father’s death, he ruled wisely and greatly valued education and knowledge. As he conquered nations, he collected up some of their wisest men and then trained them to work in his court. As we know, Daniel the prophet of God, was among those he had brought to Babylon for this purpose.
The King had supervised the building of what was probably the most beautiful city ever built this side of the flood. Its hanging gardens were a wonder of the world and have never been duplicated. He made great walls around the city so thick that two chariots could drive side by side on top of them. The river, channeled to flow through the city, provided water and there was a system of storage for food that would make the city able to withstand the longest siege. Truly, Babylon was a great city and its king a great king.
But as happens with all monarchs as they become rich and powerful, he became proud and tyrannical. He began to oppress his subjects and bring cruel burdens and severe taxation upon them, so he could become even richer. He also began to take honor to himself that only was due to the God of Heaven.
"Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.” Daniel 4:1-3
In Daniel 4 we have an amazing account written, not by Daniel, but by King Nebuchadnezzar himself. It tells about a lesson that he had to learn the hard way. When he wrote this, he was the richest and most powerful man on earth. He was wise also, and highly educated. He had a lot to be proud about, we would admit. But God changed him from being a proud monarch, boasting about himself, to a humble child of God.
Already God had taught a few important lessons to Nebuchadnezzar. In the dream of the image, he had been shown that God is the one who sets up and brings down kings and kingdoms. On the plains of Dura he had been shown that his power was limited.
"I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me. Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream. Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof.” Daniel 4:4-7
But the lesson had not completely sunk in. So now we see Nebuchadnezzar awakening from yet another disturbing dream. He could remember this one, so again he sent for the wise men and magicians.
It is a fact that if God sends a prophetic dream to a person who is not a follower of God, they will have to find a true worshipper of God to correctly interpret it. The psychics and astrologers will not be able to do so. They do not understand spiritual truths. It was that way back then; and it is that way today.
Those who neither loved nor feared God, could not understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. They could not approach unto the throne of Him who dwelleth in light unapproachable. To them the things of God must remain mysteries.
“But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, saying, O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof.” Daniel 4:8, 9
Once more in this idolatrous nation, testimony was to be borne to the fact that only those who love and fear God can understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. The king in his perplexity sent for his servant Daniel, a man esteemed for his integrity and constancy, and unrivaled wisdom, and told him the dream that had made him feel afraid. Now this King was a mighty warrior, he did not panic easily, but when God chooses to frighten someone, even the bravest man trembles.
"Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;” Daniel 4:10-13
This heavenly being approached the tree, and in a loud voice cried for the tree to be cut down.
“He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches: Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth:” Daniel 4:14-15
"Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. This dream I king Nebuchadnezzar have seen. Now thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation: but thou art able; for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee.” Daniel 4:16-18
Notice in the account of the dream the Bible mentions ‘seven times’. In prophecy this expression is associated with God’s punishment for rebellion against Him. In Leviticus 26:18, where Moses lists the blessings and curses, we see this phrase: “And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.” The same phrase appears four times in this chapter in the curses that would come upon Israel if they refused to remain loyal to the God of Heaven and adopted the customs of the heathen. Prophetically it adds up to 2520 days or prophetic years. Here in the case of Nebuchadnezzar it is to be seven literal years. Daniel knew this phrase and sought to warn the king.
“Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.” Daniel 4:19
The King told the strange dream to Daniel and then asked him for the meaning. But Daniel didn’t answer right away. For an hour he was ‘astonied’. He didn’t know what to say. It was not an easy thing to tell to the king. Sometimes God’s people have to tell things that are not easy to say. But they are true and have to be said.
Finally Daniel said; “This dream be to your enemies!” Slowly Daniel explained the dream. ‘The great tree that you saw where the birds nested and the beasts found shelter is you and your government.’ The tree in the dream making shelter for birds and beasts, was what a government is supposed to be. Governments are meant to serve the interests and needs of the people; not the other way around.
“The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth; Whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all; under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: It is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth.” Daniel 4:20-22
Nebuchadnezzar was at one time a superior ruler, a man more compassionate toward his subjects than was the ruler of any other heathen nation, and his rule was symbolized by a lofty tree. But the man who thinks it is his right to command his fellow men and says, “You shall,” and “You shall not,” is entirely out of his place, especially in the realm of religion. He takes upon himself that which was never given him and lords it over God’s purchased possession. Every man is accountable to God for his actions.
The man in a position of trust who is guided by the spirit of God will always protect the weak, relieve the needy, and look after the widow and the fatherless.
“And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him; And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule. Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.” Daniel 4:23-27
Daniel continued to tell about the Watcher, the Holy One who commanded the tree to be cut down and only leave the stump. But the stump was to be bound with brass and iron. Solemnly he told the king that he would be driven from men and eat grass like an ox and live with beasts out in the dew and rain for seven ‘times’.
‘Seven Times’ = Seven Years of Literal Time
When Daniel said this to the king, it seemed impossible it could ever happen. The king had powerful body-guards to protect him, who could ever drive him away?
Daniel knew that God is very gracious and forgiving so he advised the king to be humble, kind and gracious and consider the poor. He hoped by this, that the terrible judgment would not happen to the king.
Nebuchadnezzar did this for a while, but he gradually forgot the fear he had felt when he saw the Holy Watcher in the dream. A year later, he was walking in his palace and looking at the beauty and might of what he had built, and he started again to boast. For twelve months he was tested and proved of God, to see if he would humble his proud heart. At the end of the twelve months he walked in his palace in the kingdom of Babylon.
“All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.” Daniel 4:28-32
Instantly the king went mad! He began to act like a wild animal. He didn’t know he was even human, much less a king. He didn’t know his own name; he tore his clothes and began to live like a beast.
They had no choice but to drive him out to the fields, where for seven years he ate plants and grass like a grazing animal. He even stayed out in the rain. His hair grew shaggy and matted and his nails like bird’s claws. What a change from the rich robed and well-groomed king to this thing, growling in the field.
“And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest thou? At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.” Daniel 4:33-37
Now just imagine this picture; seven years later, here is the king-beast out in the field munching grass, and all of a sudden his mind comes back to normal. He remembers everything that happened before and he looks at his body, his shaggy, matted hair and bird-claw hands. He is all dirty and scratched up from bushes. Now the truth comes home to him very clearly that God is the one who is in charge of kingdoms and kings.
At the end of the seven times, his reason was restored to him, and looking up in humility to the God of heaven, he recognized the divine hand in his chastisement. The transformation had come. The mighty monarch had become the humble child of God, obedient to His will. The despot had been changed into the wise, compassionate ruler.
Here is the greatest miracle about this whole happening. When Nebuchadnezzar comes in from the field, gets cleaned up and dressed again. He goes back to his throne and nobody has any problem with that. They accept him back as king again and he reigns for the rest of his life and his son after him.
This is amazing, because in those days a king had many enemies and people would plot to overthrow him and take his throne. But God said in the dream that the stump would be bound with brass and iron and his kingdom would be returned to him once he knew who was God and who really rules in the affairs of men. And so it was, just as God had said it would be.
These words honouring God and showing he had learned his lesson, are the last recorded from Nebuchadnezzar, so we will meet him in heaven, if we too are faithful.
In Daniel’s life, the desire to glorify God was the most powerful of all motives. He realized that when standing in the presence of men of influence, a failure to acknowledge God as the source of his wisdom would have made him an unfaithful steward. His constant recognition of the God of heaven before kings, princes, and statesmen, detracted not one iota from his influence. King Nebuchadnezzar, before whom Daniel so often honored the name of God, was finally thoroughly converted, and learned to “praise and extol and honour the King of heaven”