Daniel 4: The king who ate grass

Sun, 08/10/2017 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

Personal testimony can be very powerful.

We’re motivated by the stories of brave men and women, who have struggled against the odds, and come through.

As Christians, we have Christian testimony. It’s good to hear Christian men and women tell stories of their God. As they’ve battled through illness, unemployment, addiction, personal sin, they can look back and testify how God helped them, sustained them, got them through.

Particularly helpful is to hear how someone came to put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for themselves. It’s the most important decision we’ll ever make. It can help greatly to hear how others reached the point where that’s what they wanted to do. I’d love us to share some of those stories here. If you’re interested in telling yours, have a chat to me. I’d love to create space for you to do that.

One thing that might put you off is that your testimony may feel very boring to you. People want exciting stories, gangland leaders with 20 murders under their belt finding Christ on the inside.

Actually, stories like that are hard to relate to. Far more useful, the stories of ordinary people, people like us, with the same decisions that we need to make. So please talk to me.

But those dramatic stories have their place too. They show God’s mighty power to change the course of even the most hardened. If God can meet with them, who knows what he may do for us?

Testimonies have power. In some ways, this is especially true of the testimonies of those with power. The power of the testimony of the powerful.

Nebuchadnezzar – a fascinating man to learn about

Daniel chapter 4 is a man’s personal testimony. An extremely powerful man’s testimony. You can see that’s what it is by looking at the beginning and the end.

Verse 1: “King Nebuchadnezzar, To the nations and peoples over every language, who live in all the earth. May you prosper greatly! It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.”

In other words: “God has done some amazing things for me. I want to tell you my story.”

And then verse 37: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

It pleased Nebuchadnezzar to tell his story. And it pleased whoever put the book of Daniel together to help him by putting it into the book.

Before we look at his testimony, just remember who Nebuchadnezzar was.

He was the leader of the superpower, Babylon, that had successfully conquered parts of Egypt, and had decimated Israel along with its capital Jerusalem. He was the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.

He wielded great power. In chapter 2, his courtiers cowered in fear as he threatened to dismember them if they couldn’t tell him what he dreamt at night. The man was a tyrant.

In chapter 3, he built a gold statue that represented the Babylonian gods and his own ambitions for empire. Anyone who didn’t worship it would be thrown into a blazing furnace. God miraculously rescued three Jews from the flames, so Nebuchadnezzar decided it was time to force everyone to worship that God, with equally vicious threats.

He was a bully, a tyrant, a thug. A deeply insecure man who held great power and terrorised his own subjects and the nations around.

If you want a testimony of God breaking into the life of someone powerful, he’s going to be a pretty good specimen.

There are various reasons why someone like Nebuchadnezzar will interest us.

Sometimes we feel pretty powerful. You may not command an army or lead a nation, but you may have built a pretty nice life for yourself. You don’t have to be rich to have done that. Money can’t buy you love, and maybe it’s not money but precious friendships, loved ones, a good home, a niche for yourself at work. It could be all kinds of things, but for some of us life is good, maybe in simple ways. We’ve got ourselves somewhere that feels good.

For many of us, life is not there at all. Life is a struggle, but that doesn’t make Nebuchadnezzar an irrelevance. There are plenty of Nebuchadnezzars in the world, and it may be that some of them are responsible for some of the struggles in your life. A difficult employer, an overbearing partner, tiresome neighbours, whatever it is.

We’re about to hear the story of two big-guns come up against each other. The living God, and Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It’s a story that has all of our attention. What happens when these two meet is of interest to us all.

So let’s look at his story. Let’s allow him to tell us his testimony

Nebuchadnezzar’s Testimony

Here’s where he is at the beginning. Verse 4: “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous.” Life was good.

But once again he had a dream that troubled him. This time he wasted no time demanding his advisors tell him the dream. We ,the readers, are kept in suspense. But he told them. He needed an answer. But yet again, they were powerless to help.

So Daniel is brought in. Finally, we find out what the dream was. A huge tree, touching the sky, full of leaves and fruit, providing for birds and wild animals. But then an angel comes down from heaven and demands that the tree be cut down. Everything stripped back, cut off, trimmed away, until just a stump is left in the ground.

Then it becomes clear that the tree represents a person. Because the angel’s words no longer talk of the tree as an “it”, but as a “he”. Verse 15: “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.”

One last thing happened before he woke up. The angel delivered the punchline, the thing that God wants to teach through this dream and through the events it describes. Verse 17: “The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones, declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.” That same message will be repeated twice more in the chapter. Verse 25: “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Verse 32: “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

Then Nebuchadnezzar woke up. “Daniel, what does it mean?”

Daniel is perplexed. His thoughts terrified him. We’re thinking: “What’s wrong, Daniel?” Has this one caught out even Daniel? Does he not know the meaning?

Turns out he can see exactly what the dream means. It’s just not the kind of message you want to give to the most powerful man on earth, who’s not known for taking hard truths kindly.

“First, let me explain the tree. It’s you, your majesty. You’re like a great big tree, big and strong. In the shelter of your branches, all kinds of people find their needs provided. Other nations nestle. Your citizens are fed and provided for. You have become great and strong.

“Then, let me explain what was said about the tree being cut down.

(Verse 24): “This is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: you will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. 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.

“But the stump remains. When you acknowledge that heaven rules, your kingdom will be restored.

“So my advice to you (verse 27): 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.”

Weird dream. You can see why it unsettled him.

Nebuchadnezzar then fast forwards twelve whole months. God was extraordinarily kind to him to give him a full year to turn around, and acknowledge that God rules.

But he didn’t take the warning, he didn’t use the year to change. The story now changes into the third person. Someone else has to tell the next bit for him, because what happened left next Nebuchadnezzar subhuman. He can’t even tell a story.

He’s back at ease again, content, prosperous. Verse 29: “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?’”

He wasn’t wrong. Archaeologists have dug up lots of Ancient Babylon, and it was a magnificent city. They haven’t found the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but there’s no reason to doubt they existed, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Babylon was great. But he was so wrong to take all the credit himself. He’s forgotten that the Most High is sovereign over all the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.

He’s just like us. There are so many good things in life. We’re right to recognise them. But how easily we take all the credit for ourselves. We forget that God is the one who is really in charge. We forget that all good things trace back, ultimately to him. We’re kings and queens of the lives we’ve built for ourselves.

After 12 months, the dream comes true. He hears those same words he heard in the dream, and then verse 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.”

Now, maybe you’re thinking that this is weird. Yes, it is. It’s a mental disorder known as boanthropy. It’s been studied, and cases from much more recent times are documented. It’s when someone believes that they’re an animal, usually a cow or similar, and they’re so convinced that they actually live like a cow, eat like a cow, sleep like a cow. His hair grew. His nails grew. Probably the band of iron and bronze from his vision indicated that he had to be restrained, so insane had he become.

You see, we human beings were made to rule. God put us in charge of this planet, to rule it and tend it for him. But when we forget that God is the one who is really in charge, we don’t actually become greater. We cease to be the people God made us to be. We become less than human, we become animal. We’ve lost the one thing that distinguishes us from other animals, which is an awareness of our creator God.

And as foretold, seven years passed. A long seven years.

But then his sanity was restored. His sanity was restored because at long last he lifted his eyes towards heaven. And he praises God. He’s the one telling the story again as he records this amazing song of praise. Verse 34: “Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives for ever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 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?’”

And his kingdom was restored to him.

The Character of God

What a wonderful God we see in this testimony. A God who can humble a pagan king, and bring him to acknowledge that he is the one who rules, so that he can be restored to blessing, restored to his true humanity.

Such amazing power. There was no-one on earth more powerful than Nebuchadnezzar. He did as he pleased, and he bulldozed anyone who tried to stop him. But God is more powerful. God is strong enough to stop him in his tracks, and to turn the course of his life around.

Such amazing patience. Nebuchadnezzar had been a stubborn old bull for many years. But God had one final, crystal-clear warning for him. God had a Daniel to explain it. God had a further twelve months for him to take the warning. Before actually turning him into an old bull.

Such amazing grace and kindness. Nebuchadnezzar did not deserve God’s kindness. He did not deserve to be rescued. But God graciously humbled Nebuchadnezzar, to teach him that God is really the one in charge. And then gently lifted him back onto his feet.

And such amazing control. Nebuchadnezzar learnt the hard way, so we can see it clearly. God really is the one in charge of every kingdom on earth. It’s too easy to focus on the fact that one day Jesus will come back, and that everyone will acknowledge his rule. That’s right: he will, and they will. But here, and now, God is the one in charge. That’s what Nebuchadnezzar had to learn.

What a God. And he’s the same God that we see in the person of Jesus.

The same amazing power. Just watch the risen Jesus meet Saul, who was later to become Paul, on the Damascus Road. On his way to arrest the early Christians. Turned around to become his most famous follower.

The same amazing patience, as Jesus deliberately delays his own return to give more people the chance to be prepared for it, to reach that day forgiven.

The same amazing grace and kindness. Jesus deliberately hung out with those who did not deserve is kindness, the most notorious moral write-offs. And if we’re honest, we don’t deserve his kindness either, and so we see there’s hope for us.

And the same amazing control. Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, as lord of heaven and earth. We’ll think more about that in later chapters of Daniel.

What a God!

Verse 17: “… that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.”

Verse 34: “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 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?’”

This is our God!

Trust and Worship this God!

Some of us have more than a passing likeness to Nebuchadnezzar.

We are relatively prosperous, or at least we are contented and at ease. We’ve carved out a life for ourselves. We survey our achievements, and we take the credit.

We need Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony to draw us to the God that Nebuchadnezzar had to learn about the hard way. He’s powerful, he’s gracious, he’s patient. He wants us to acknowledge that he is the one who rules. He wants us to renounce what is wrong and turn humbly to him. He wants to restore our humanity, to rebuild us, to remake us.

Nebuchadnezzar’s God can be our God, too.

Some of us are more like Daniel. We feel the weight of living in a world where those in authority do not always acknowledge that the Lord Jesus is the true king. Those who rule us do so as animals, not as God-honouring men and women.

Those who do will only rule for a season. It may be a very long season, maybe even lasting the rest of our lifetime, but it’s only for a season. God is the one who rules over earthly kingdoms. Wise earthly rulers will acknowledge it voluntarily. One way or another, they will all do so eventually.

Nebuchadnezzar’s God is our God, too.

And all of us need to have our horizons expanded, to enlarge our worship of our great, great God. This story shows up his most wonderful power, control, kindness and patience. It leads us to bow, humbly, in worship, and to rejoice in the security that this God is our God.

Website Section: 
Sermon Series: 
Additional Terms