Daniel 4:1 King Nebuchadnezzar, To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly!
Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on earth, and an unlikely candidate for conversion. But this is the account of how he came to know God for himself, told in his own words.
Daniel 4:2-3 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.
Nebuchadnezzar was so excited about his conversion that he wrote a letter to the whole world. To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth (Daniel 4:1), he began. When people come to know God, they naturally want to tell others. This may include family, friends and coworkers. But Nebuchadnezzar was in a position to share what he learned with the whole world, so that is what he did.
Daniel 4:4-5 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid.
Humanly speaking, Nebuchadnezzar had no reason to be afraid. His enemies were subdued, his storehouses were full, and he was enjoying life at its best. Then one night, he dreamed of an immense tree with abundant fruit, visible to the ends of the earth. Then a messenger from heaven called for the glorious tree to be cut down.
Then the messenger said, Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him (Daniel 4:15-16).
Since no one else could interpret the dream, Nebuchadnezzar called for Daniel, who made the meaning clear. The tree stood for Nebuchadnezzar, who would lose his position due to insanity. [Y]ou will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven (Daniel 4:25), Daniel explained.
The affliction would be severe, but not permanent. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes (Daniel 4:25b), said Daniel.
The seven times are not specified, but likely refers to seven years. If so, Nebuchadnezzar would live outdoors and eat grass like an ox for an extended period of time. The condition is bizarre, but not unheard of. Boanthropy is a psychological disorder in which a person thinks they are a cow or an ox, and behaves accordingly.
Nebuchadnezzar needed to learn a lesson. He thought he was a great king because he earned it. He defeated his enemies and transformed Babylon into a superpower. But he failed to realize that God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.
Many people think they are successful because of their abilities. But those abilities come from God, along with the opportunities to use them. You may say to yourself, My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me. But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth . . . (Deuteronomy 8:17-18), wrote Moses.
Likewise, who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Corinthians 4:7), wrote Paul. No matter how great our success, all the credit goes to God.
Daniel 4:27 Therefore, Your Majesty, 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 knew it was possible for God’s judgment to be turned away through repentance. When Jonah announced that God’s judgment was about to fall on Nineveh, they repented deeply. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3:10). Nebuchadnezzar might also be spared if he would repent.
Daniel 4:29-30 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?
Instead of taking Daniel’s advice, Nebuchadnezzar continued to walk in pride. This went on day after day, week after week, and month after month. It appeared that God’s judgment would never come, but it was on the way.
God may give us time to repent because he is patient. [H]e is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), wrote Peter. But the patience of God will come to an end if we refuse to repent. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering (Revelation 2:21-22), said God elsewhere. Nebuchadnezzar’s time to repent had passed. Now it was time to suffer.
Daniel 4:33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
Nebuchadnezzar could have learned the easy way, but chose to learn the hard way. He could have listened to Daniel, but chose to wait and see. In a single moment he went from being a powerful king to thinking he was a beast. His skin used to treated with lotion, now it was like hide. His hair used to be brushed and combed, now it was like feathers. His nails used to be trimmed, now they were like claws. Instead of humbling himself before the Lord, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by the Lord.
Daniel 4:34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored.
Sanity comes from seeing things as they are, not as we wish they were. When we focus on ourselves, as though we were the center, we become a little insane. But when we focus on God, our sanity is restored. Whenever our mental health is slipping, we should remember Nebuchadnezzar, and raise our eyes toward heaven.
Daniel 4:34b Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
After he found God, Nebuchadnezzar was restored to his throne, and became even greater than before. He reminds us that salvation is a gift from God to the most unlikely people. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8), wrote Paul.
If God can save an arrogant pagan king, he can save anyone. [So pray] for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives (1 Timothy 2:2), wrote Paul. Imagine what would happen if some of the wickedest rulers on earth suddenly turned to Christ? This should give us hope, and keep us on our knees.
Reflection and Review
Why did Nebuchadnezzar want to tell the world about his conversion?
Why is pride a fantasy?
Why does raising our eyes toward heaven help restore our sanity?