Throughout the middle books of the Old Testament, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was the greatest rival to Judah. In Daniel 4, God finally intervened and humbled the ruler of Babylon who had twice besieged Jerusalem, humiliating her kings, plundering and destroying the temple, and then carrying off God’s people into the exile. But it was not for any of these acts alone that God caused Nebuchadnezzar to fall from power. It was the king’s pride.
While Nebuchadnezzar tried to establish himself as a god, unsettling visions haunted his dreams. He confided them to Daniel: a tree towering over the earth, a pronouncement from heaven, and it was cut down and watered by the dew. Daniel explained that Nebuchadnezzar was the tree, and God was going to cut him down. The prophet advised the king to repent. Instead, Nebuchadnezzar stood at the height of Babylon and proclaimed that the city existed to display his “majestic glory” (Daniel 4:30).
But before he could finish saying this, his mind left him. Nebuchadnezzar left the luxury of Babylon and lived as an animal in the wilderness for seven years. Instead of royal food, he ate grass and his hair and fingernails grew until he was compared to an eagle. This lasted until he repented. Finally, instead of his own glory, Nebuchadnezzar humbly praised God:
“For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:34).
Proverbs says that “pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). As I reflect on this story, I’m convicted to repent of my own pride, knowing that it is not a “minor sin.” It’s not as if Nebuchadnezzar was prouder than you or I—after all, he was wrong about his boast, and if his pride was reason enough for God to humble him, then everyone will be humbled. Daniel warned Nebuchadnezzar, “Separate yourself from your sins by doing what is right…. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity” (v.27). Only after years spent in the wild, did Nebuchadnezzar heed Daniel’s advice. And after he did, his prosperity was indeed extended.
If God has already driven you into the wilderness and torn down the idols you built of yourself, see in this story how His discipline is also His grace. When Nebuchadnezzar’s reckoning came, it led him to repent. The dew of heaven that soaked Nebuchadnezzar was not judgment but provision. (Remember how the manna came with the dew for the Israelites during their own time of humbling? [Exodus 16:13–14]). This great villain of the Old Testament has a happy ending, praising God; his own testimony is recorded in Daniel 4. If God’s grace extended to Nebuchadnezzar, then it extends to everyone.
Before his humiliation, Nebuchadnezzar boasted of building Babylon. After his time in the wild, he admitted, no one on earth can put their achievement against God’s and ask him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35). God uses despised things, like Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and wildness, to destroy our illusion that we are the architect and builder of our own kingdoms, that the world exists for us. No one can boast in God’s presence (1Corinthians 1:31).
Written by David Chaniott