Monday, December 12, 2011

Nebuchadnezzar's Personal Testimony...and Mine

"Nebuchadnezzar the king, To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me." -Daniel 4:1-2

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Daniel 4. In this chapter, we have the personal testimony of one of the most powerful men of history--Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Babylonians, the most powerful and feared empire at its height. He conquered Assyria, Egypt, Israel, Judah, and many more empires. Let's take a look at his story starting in verse 10:

"These were the visions of my head while on my bed: I was looking, and behold, A tree in the midst of the earth, And its height was great. The tree grew and became strong; Its height reached to the heavens, And it could be seen to the ends of all the earth. Its leaves were lovely, Its fruit abundant, And in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, And all flesh was fed from it. "I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus: 'Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, Strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts get out from under it, And the birds from its branches. Nevertheless leave the stump and roots in the earth, Bound with a band of iron and bronze, In the tender grass of the field. Let it be wet with the dew of heaven, And let him graze with the beasts On the grass of the earth. Let his heart be changed from that of a man, Let him be given the heart of a beast, And let seven times pass over him. 'This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.'" -Daniel 4:10-17

In Nebuchadnezzar's day, God often revealed things to people in dreams. They didn't have the luxury of opening a Bible and reading God's message to mankind. So here, we find Nebuchadnezzar's dream. It is important to note that this is his second dream. His first dream was in Daniel 2 and Daniel had interpreted that dream for Nebuchadnezzar. So he knew that this new dream probably meant something. It was a troubling dream. 

Look at the details of the dream: the king saw a great tree on the earth. The tree grew strong, tall, beautiful, and fruitful. It provided food and shelter for all. The king also saw an angel coming down from heaven with a message. The angel's decree was to chop down the tree, strip it of its branches, leaves and fruit. But they were to leave the stump and roots in the ground, bind it with iron, and let it be wet with the dew of heaven. 

Okay, nothing out of the ordinary so far. But at the end of verse 15, the angel's message takes a turn. He says, "Let him graze with the beasts on the grass of the earth." So its clear now that the dream is speaking of someone. It goes on to say that the man's heart would be changed with a beast's heart and seven years would pass by like this.

This angel's message, and all it entailed, had a purpose. In order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men. That is Nebuchadnezzar's second dream. He was so disturbed by it that he asked all the wise men of Babylon to interpret the dream for him. None of them succeeded. At last, Daniel came forward to interpret the dream.

"Now you, [Daniel], declare its interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you."

The King knew that Daniel was different. Daniel had proved himself to the king on a couple of occasions. He proved that he would not defile himself with food offered to idols in Daniel 1. He proved that God could help him interpret dreams in Daniel 2. It is clear that Nebuchadnezzar knew that Daniel would be able to interpret the dream because the Spirit of the Holy God was in him.

The dream upset Daniel. Bad sign for the king. Then Daniel proclaims, "My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies." Another bad sign for the king. Listen to Daniel's interpretation of the dream:

"The tree that you saw—it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth. And inasmuch as the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven...this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses...your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules."

Bad news for Nebuchadnezzar. The dream was about him. Even though his kingdom and dominion had reached such great heights, he would lose it all. Nebuchadnezzar would be driven from society and he would live with the beasts of the field for seven years, until he learned that God was the true ruler of the earth.

Daniel gave the king a clear warning. "Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and you iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity." (v. 27) But the proud king didn't listen. I can just imagine what is going through the king's head right now: "Who could possibly take this kingdom from me. I'm the greatest king the world has ever known. I've conquered all the nations." Nebuchadnezzar should have listened.

"All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. The king spoke, saying, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?" While the word was still in the king's mouth, a voice fell from heaven: "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses." That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles' feathers and his nails like birds' claws. 

A year went by. Maybe Nebuchadnezzar forgot the dream. Maybe he thought that he had avoided the consequences laid out for him. Whatever the case, the king was lifted up in pride and self exaltation. While he was still speaking, a voice from heaven pronounced the sentence on Nebuchadnezzar. And it came to pass. The word was fulfilled. The king was driven from his kingdom and he lived like a beast for seven years.

One of the reasons I like this account of history so much is because it doesn't end badly for Nebuchadnezzar.

"And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?" At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down."

This story ends on a triumphant note. It ends with the king being restored to his former glory. But Nebuchadnezzar has a whole new outlook on life. He came to the understanding that God's dominion is an everlasting dominion. He learned that God's kingdom lasts forever. He learned that no one on earth can stand before God and question what He has done. Most importantly, Nebuchadnezzar learned to worship God for who He is. This king learned to worship the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.

I can identify with Nebuchadnezzar. No, I've never been the king of an empire or conquered foreign powers. I've never commanded fierce armies or even lost my mind and lived like a beast. But I have taken part in Nebuchadnezzar's sin. You see, this king was a self-worshiper. He lived for himself. He built his kingdom for himself. He praised and worshiped himself for all the great things that he had done. I've been there and I've done that. 

When I was in high-school, I loved to play basketball. I practiced any chance I could get. I would even go in the school gym unsupervised so I could practice. My junior year, I played on the team, but mostly just sat on the bench. To put it in perspective: we had twelve guys on the team, and I was the twelfth man off the bench. You guessed it, I wasn't that good. But I had potential.

So I determined to practice as hard as I could in order to be a more successful player during my senior year. I worked hard and focused entirely on that one sport. I really improved quite a bit. But all this time, as I was improving my game and gaining more skills, I was becoming more and more prideful. It was all about me. I had visions of being in the starting five and dominating the scoreboard. I worshiped basketball and I worshiped myself. I had plans to become great, but God had other plans.

Tryouts came went. I thought I did pretty well. The only problem was the coaches didn't think so. When they posted the final roster, my name was not on the list. I had been cut from the team my senior year.While there were many factors that led up to that decision, I know now that God just had a different plan. I didn't come to know Christ at that point in my life, but God used that humbling experience to point me in the right direction. After high-school, I attended New Brunswick Bible Institute, where God revealed to me my need for a Savior. God brought me to my knees in order to show me my need for Him.

Self-worship is not a problem that is unique to me and King Nebuchadnezzar. It is a universal problem. Everyone is a self-worshiper. Everyone lives their lives to serve self. There is not a person on the earth that has not worshiped themselves. God has another name for this: sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Sin takes God off the throne of our lives and puts us in His place. Sin destroys fellowship with God.

That creates a problem for us because God is holy. He cannot tolerate sin. Sin violates His holiness and it must be punished. Our sin, in effect, places us in debt with God--an infinite debt, one we could never pay on our own. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death..." The penalty for our sin is eternal separation from God. But. There is a but. "...but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."

The good news is that God has provided a way for our sin-debt to be paid. Romans 5:8 tells us that God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Think about that for a moment. Now, there's a chance that someone would lay down their life for a good person, but for someone who is evil? Christ died for us while we were sinners--enemies of God. James 4:6 tells us that God resists the proud. That means He sets Himself against the proud like opposing armies would set themselves up against each other. Do you see the depths of God's love? His love for sinners is so great that He sent His Son to pay their sin-debt.

So if we've sinned and offended God; and if God loved us so much that He provided a way for our debt to be paid, then how I get my debt paid? Ephesians 2:8 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" God's grace, unmerited favor, makes salvation possible. And faith, having the conviction that something is true, applies salvation to to your life. Faith changes your life. It changes the direction of your life. It moves you from being a self-worshiper to being a God-worshiper.

When I arrived at NBBI I was a self-worshiper. I lived for myself and cared only for myself. But three days into my tenure there, God revealed to me my need for salvation. By faith, I trusted in Christ alone to pay my debt. Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Peace with God. That is what faith in Christ did for me.

Nebuchadnezzar, a proud man, a self-worshiper, learned who the King of heaven was. He learned that those who walk in pride, God is able to bring low. I wouldn't be surprised to see Nebuchadnezzar in heaven someday. I believe that God worked in that king's heart what so many need for salvation. We each need to trust in Christ alone for salvation.

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