************ Sermon on Daniel 4:37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 2, 2006
"God, Not Man, is King"
It seems some people just never learn. When I was a student a Seminary-friend of mine had his ten-speed bike stolen twice; both times he didn't bother locking up his bike. Perhaps you heard of the man in New York City who had all his Christmas presents stolen out of his home 2 years in a row; both times he put the presents under his Christmas tree which was in front of a large picture window. Or, perhaps you heard of the rich widow here in California who has twice been bilked of thousands of dollars by religious groups who pretended they cared about her.
Nebuchadnezzar is one of those people who just don't seem to learn. Most intelligent people need to learn important things only once and will never forget it or need to be reminded of it. But Nebuchadnezzar has to be taught something 3 times, and even then he doesn't really take it to heart.
What is it that Nebuchadnezzar has such a hard time learning and remembering? He has to be taught on 3 separate occasions that the Lord God is the ruler and king of the universe. It is Daniel who best expresses this:
(Dan 2:20-21) "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. (21) He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning."
Let me review with you for a moment the previous occasions Nebuchadnezzar was taught this most important lesson. Remember Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2? None of the king's magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers are able to tell him what he had dreamed or what it means. Daniel tells the king both the dream and its meaning because the Lord God has revealed both to him. King Nebuchadnezzar knows what this means:
(Dan 2:47) The king said to Daniel, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery."
Remember also when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to serve Nebuchadnezzar's gods or worship the image he set up? They are thrown into the fiery furnace and saved by the Lord.
(Dan 3:28) Then Nebuchadnezzar said, "Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!"Can there be any doubt? God is almighty, He is Lord and King, He is sovereign.
In today's Scripture reading we see and hear King Nebuchadnezzar being taught this same lesson a third time.
I Nebuchadnezzar Warned in a Dream
A As in chapter 2, God comes to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream and reveals to him what will take place in the future. In his dream Nebuchadnezzar sees a great tree, an immense tree that draws everyone's attention and can be seen from any point on earth (vs 10b,11). This tree is benevolent:
(Dan 4:12) Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
After this Nebuchadnezzar sees a messenger, a holy one – probably an angel – coming down from heaven. This messenger in a loud voice orders the tree to be cut down and destroyed; however, its stump and roots can remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
B What does this dream mean? Nebuchadnezzar right away suspects that the dream isn't good news for he is terrified when he wakes up. He summons his wise men – magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners – but they are not able to tell him the dream's meaning. Therefore he turns to Daniel who, by the Spirit of the Lord, discerns its meaning. Daniel is so upset by the dream's meaning that he is rendered speechless for a time. When Daniel finally does speak, he declares:
(Dan 4:19) "My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!"
Don't forget, Nebuchadnezzar is the oppressor of Daniel's people; yet, there is no desire for revenge in Daniel's heart. Daniel takes no pleasure in the thought of the king's punishment. What is evident is that Christ's spirit of love is at work in Daniel. But love is never in conflict with the truth. So Daniel faithfully and truthfully proclaims the Word of the Lord.
What does the dream mean? What does the Lord's Spirit reveal to Daniel? Daniel discerns right away that the tree symbolizes King Nebuchadnezzar – a mighty, glorious and benevolent ruler. Under his shadow all peoples, nations, and men of every language can find safety, security, and prosperity. Daniel says,
(Dan 4:22) 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.Daniel warns the king that like the tree there will come a time when he is stripped of his glory and his power and forced to live like an animal.
C Why this verdict? Why this harsh punishment? The reason is stated two different times:
(Dan 4:17) "... so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men" (cf Dan 4:25).You see, Nebuchadnezzar already forgot his earlier confessions about the Lord; he forgot what he had been taught.
Nebuchadnezzar's sin is an arrogant pride. Time after time he puffed himself up and said, "Look at me. Look at what I have done. Look at how great and wondrous and glorious I am." Even God plays but a supporting role. We see this kind of thinking reflected in the opening verses of our Scripture reading:
(Dan 4:1-2) 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. Did you catch Nebuchadnezzar's boast? He has to remind us that He is the world emperor! He wishes prosperity upon all as if prosperity and blessing are his to give to whom he wills. As for God, He performs signs and wonders "for me," says King Nebuchadnezzar. What an egotistical, self-centered, arrogant maniac.
Nebuchadnezzar desperately needs to relearn the lesson he has already been taught. He needs to know that
(Dan 4:17b) ... the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the loweliest of men.
D The Lord's judgment is tempered with mercy. Every sinner, great or small, is given an opportunity to repent and humble himself. Nebuchadnezzar is given this opportunity too. It is Daniel who pleads with the king to repent:
(Dan 4:27) 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.Daniel's advice: repent, be just, be righteous.
Do you know what Daniel is saying to Nebuchadnezzar? Daniel is telling Nebuchadnezzar that his reign should be like that of the king that we read of in Psalm 72. Listen to the words of this psalm as it speaks of the perfect rule of the perfect king:
(Ps 72:1-14) Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. (2) He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice ... (4) He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor ... (7) In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more ... (11) All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. (12) For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. (13) He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. (14) He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.Psalm 72 speaks of the rule of Christ Jesus. If only Nebuchadnezzar's rule will show some resemblance to the reign of Christ, God's judgment will be stayed.
II Nebuchadnezzar's Punishment
A Nebuchadnezzar hears the meaning and interpretation of his dream. Daniel's call to repentance rings in his ears. It appears that Nebuchadnezzar has again learned that God is Lord and King. However, Scripture makes clear that the old arrogance and self-centeredness again asserts itself.
It needs to be understood that Nebuchadnezzar was primarily a builder, not a warrior – though he did conquer many lands and peoples. Within Babylon itself he restored and renovated at least 17 temples erected to various gods. He built 2 large walls around the city. He restored a famous old palace. In just 15 days he built a beautiful palace for himself. It is he who commissioned one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World" – the beautiful "Hanging Gardens of Babylon"; these were roof gardens laid out on a series of rising terraces and irrigated by pumps from the River Euphrates. He maintained and enlarged the canal system to increase agricultural production. He built the largest temple of the ancient world; its base measured 900' long, 900' wide, and 900' high; it was twice as big as its nearest rival. Under Nebuchadnezzar's stewardship Babylon was turned into one of the richest and most magnificent cities of the ancient world.
B One day, about a year after his dream, Nebuchadnezzar stands on the roof of his palace in Babylon. He looks over the city and sees all that he has accomplished. He says to himself,
(Dan 4:30) "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"
The old arrogance and self-centeredness again asserts itself. "Look at me," says Nebuchadnezzar. "Look at what I have done." Nebuchadnezzar's refrain is "Glory to man! Glory to me!" Instead, it should have been, "Glory to God!" As Daniel puts it,
(Dan 2:20-21) "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. (21) He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
It is easy, really easy, to condemn Nebuchadnezzar. But don't we, like Nebuchadnezzar, take credit for what God has done? Don't we, like Nebuchadnezzar, fail to recognize the rule of God? Don't we, like Nebuchadnezzar, exalt ourselves? Don't we, like Nebuchadnezzar, ascribe to ourselves the honor and glory and majesty that is the Lord's alone?
We must all avoid the sin of Nebuchadnezzar who exalted himself and looked at Babylon as his own personal accomplishment. A musician may exalt his or her ability to sing or to play and forget that it is God Who gives gifts, talents, and abilities. A farmer may bask in his crops and a dairyman in his milk production and fail to give the credit to God Who makes the sun shine, rain fall, and created cows to give milk. A student may glory in her good grades and college scholarships and not acknowledge that God has blessed her studies. An athlete may exult in his victories and not recognize that God has created the human body and formed the muscles. A businessman may brag about his prosperity and neglect to see the hand of God at work.
Like Nebuchadnezzar it is so easy for all of us to exalt ourselves. It is so easy for us all to glory in ourselves. It is so easy to take the credit for what we have done. It is so easy to ignore the Lord's rule and to pretend that we are on the throne which only God can occupy.
C Nebuchadnezzar boasts to himself, glories in himself, exalts himself, and is literally interrupted by God's judgment. He hears a voice from heaven announcing he is to be punished. His royal authority is taken from him. God strikes him with madness and drives him into the field like a beast. He is put out to pasture like a cow, and like a cow he eats grass. His hair grows long and stringy. His finger nails become long, sharp, pointed, and jagged. When King Nebuchadnezzar exalts himself it is God Who humbles him to the dust. In and with King Nebuchadnezzar God clearly demonstrates His sovereignty over arrogant, self-glorifying, self-centered rulers.
D God's sovereignty over arrogant rulers is especially fascinating these days. In 1974 Richard Nixon came crashing down in the Watergate scandal. And the time since then has not been pleasant for arrogant rulers the world over. The Shah of Iran lost his throne. Duvalier's reign in Haiti ended in disgrace and exile. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos fled the Philippines. Noriega's grip on Panama was broken. President Doe of Liberia faced a firing squad. The Communist leaders who controlled Eastern Europe were stripped of their powers. The Taliban in Afghanistan are in hiding. Saddam Hussein is under arrest.
The kingdoms and rulers of today's world are no more difficult for God to topple or raise than in Daniel's time. That is clear from the Bible, from the history books, and from current events.
As we witness political upheaval, we had better listen to Nebuchadnezzar's lesson: "Those who walk in pride he is able to humble" (Dan 4:37b).
III Nebuchadnezzar's Confession
A After seven horrible "times" – which we can only presume to be years – Nebuchadnezzar is restored to his throne. He says some beautiful things about God:
(Dan 4:3,35) How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion 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?"
You know what Nebuchadnezzar is saying here? He is saying, "God is king, God is ruler, God is Lord, God is sovereign, God reigns; God is the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Host of hosts." Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that "the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes" (Dan 4:25).
B God wants us all to learn Nebuchadnezzar's lesson. He wants us all to recognize and acknowledge Him as King. We know that God rules us in and through Christ. So what we must do is recognize and acknowledge Christ as King.
Now, we don't have kings, real kings, today so it is hard for us to understand what God is saying to us here. But people in Bible times knew what a king was. They knew that before the king all people either bow or perish. Christ is King. We must bow before King Jesus. We must serve and obey Him.
In Bible times the King was also the owner and all others were but stewards. His was the wealth, the land, the gold, the silver. So what we must do is acknowledge Christ's ownership. This means your car is God's taxi, your house is God's hotel, your kitchen is God's restaurant, your herd is God's cows, your land is God's farm, your children are God's kids, your business is God's employment agency. Christ rules and owns our lives.
People of God, can there be any doubt? It is clear that God is King. He rules the nations. He rules you and me.
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