Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, was on top of the world. His army was the most formidable one seen to date, his empire was the largest in existence, and he was the unquestioned ruler over it all. He seemed invincible and untouchable.
But then one night he had a dream (Daniel 4:4-5). In the dream, he saw a tree, already great in height, but continuing to grow until its height reached to the heavens and it could be seen to the ends of the earth (Daniel 4:10-11). The tree was covered in leaves and abundant fruit (Daniel 4:12). Animals gathered under it to enjoy its shade, and scores of birds dwelt in its massive branches (Daniel 4:12).
Everything was perfect about the tree until a “holy one” (also called a “watcher” in the K.J.V. and N.K.J.V., most likely an angel) descended from heaven and ordered that the tree be chopped down, its branches cut off, its leaves stripped, and its fruit scattered (Daniel 4:13-14). The tree’s stump and roots were to be retained, but a band of iron and bronze was to be bound around them (Daniel 4:15). This signified that the tree’s decimated condition would remain the same as long as the band was in place.
Next in the dream, the holy one explained that the tree, in actuality, represented a man. This man was to undergo an experience humbling enough to teach him that God rules in the kingdom of men and gives that kingdom to whomever he chooses (Daniel 4:16-17). The man was Nebuchadnezzar, and God wanted him to learn the lesson that it wasn’t Nebuchadnezzar’s own brilliance, ingenuity, or force of will that had made him the ruler of the world’s greatest empire. No, Nebuchadnezzar held that lofty place in world affairs because God had handed him the keys to open that door.
The holy one described what would happen by saying that Nebuchadnezzar’s heart would be changed from that of a man to that of a beast (Daniel 4:16). In taking on the behavior of an animal, Nebuchadnezzar would get wet with each morning’s dew and he would feed by grazing upon field grass (Daniel 4:15). He would remain in this insane condition until “seven times” (seven years) passed over him (Daniel 4:16).
Exactly one year after the prophet Daniel provided Nebuchadnezzar with the interpretation of this nightmare dream, the king was walking in his palace one day and basking in all that he had accomplished (Daniel 4:29). By now he had dismissed his odd dream and Daniel’s dire interpretation of it, and his ego at full measure. In other words, he was ripe for God’s judgment.
As he walked about his palatial palace, Nebuchadnezzar said to himself, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30, N.K.J.V.). But even while those words were still in his mouth he heard a voice from heaven telling him that the kingdom had now departed from him and that he would be driven out from men (Daniel 4:31-32). Rather than continue to dwell in his luxurious palace, he would be compelled to make his dwelling with the beasts of the field. He would eat grass like the oxen for seven years, long enough to prove to him that God (the Most High) rules in the kingdom of men and gives that kingdom to whomever He chooses (Daniel 4:32). That very hour Nebuchadnezzar’s mental state radically changed (Daniel 4:33).
He went what we would now call “out of his mind” and lived outside like an animal in the field. He stopped cutting his hair and nails, so much so that eventually his hair became as coarse as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws (Daniel 4:33). There is a known medical condition called boanthropy that is a psychological disorder that causes a person to believe that he or she is an ox or a cow. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar was stricken with this condition. Then again, lycanthropy is a similar disorder that causes a person to believe that he or she is a wolf. This condition is considered the basis for the werewolf folklore.
Whatever exactly went wrong with Nebuchadnezzar, what we can say with certainty is that the humbling did its work and produced its intended result. At the end of the seven years, his understanding returned to him and he reverted back to his old self. All his earthly blessings, including his royal staff, that he had previously enjoyed were restored to him and he quickly returned to his former place of majesty (Daniel 4:36). He was, however, permanently altered in one very important way in that he was now ready to sing the praises of the Most High God. Believe it or not, most conservative commentators believe that Nebuchadnezzar actually got saved and that his soul is in heaven right now. You talk about going from the penthouse to the outhouse to an even greater penthouse!
Okay, so what truths can we learn from Nebuchadnezzar’s weird experience? Allow me to offer five of them as the close to this post. Needless to say, I trust these will find a lodging place in your own understanding. Ready? Here we go:
- God, in His sovereignty, decides whom He will place in positions of prominence and leadership. No Nebuchadnezzar, either from the ancient past or the current age, gets to the top without God’s aid. For this reason, every leader’s ego should be checked at the door.
- Current success doesn’t automatically ensure future success. God raising up a person to a place of prominence and leadership doesn’t obligate Him to keep that person in that seat continually. How God treats the person going forward has much to do with how the person handles the big chair.
- God’s judgment doesn’t always come to pass quickly. In Nebuchadnezzar’s case, a full year elapsed before God made good on the dream. Typically, God’s delay in judgment is an act of longsuffering on His part as He gives the person every last chance to repent and avert what is coming.
- God humbles us to teach us the lesson that He despises pride. He will not share His glory with another, and that includes us anytime we start thinking too highly of ourselves.
- When God’s judgment is received in the way it should be, it can produce tremendous spiritual benefits. Unfortunately, more often than not the judgment is received in a way that causes the person to become bitter toward God rather than be drawn closer to Him. In this way, we might say that Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction to God’s judgment was the minority reaction.