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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God shows He is Lord over all by humbling Nebuchadnezzar
Text:Daniel 4:28-37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 75:1,3,4                                                                                   

Ps 86:2,4

Reading – Daniel 4; Luke 4:1-13

Ps 73:1,3,9

Sermon – Daniel 4:28-37

Ps 138:1,3

Hy 44:1,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved, in this world where are the centres of power? Where do the “really important people” get together and make the decisions that affect us? In Washington perhaps, or London, or even Hollywood. When you watch the news, you get the feeling sometimes that power rests in the hands of just a few notable people. They yield a lot of influence, on culture and law and the direction of the country. And as a church, we’re not invited to these centres of power. We have little impact on those who rule and set the tone of the day. So how can we ever be heard in a time like this? Is the kingdom of God really going to come through us?

You can imagine Daniel asking similar questions. For there he was, in captivity. He was one of the early exiles taken to Babylon, now subject to the whims and wishes of a heathen ruler. He was utterly powerless, it seemed—and God’s people with him.

Yet we see something happening. When you read this book, Daniel isn’t forgotten, but somehow he is promoted to a place in the king’s court. Even as a young man, the LORD gives him an ability to interpret dreams, which gets him a position of great influence. And that’s where Daniel stays for decades, for this entire book is filled with mighty kings: first Nebuchadnezzar, then Belshazzar, then Darius. These are the movers and shakers of the ancient world, the presidents and prime ministers, but to each of them, Daniel will speak the will of the true God.

Daniel is a prophet, and through his ministry God’s people are encouraged. They can know that even while they sit in exile, God isn’t surprised by what his enemies are doing, but He’s busy bringing honour to his Name! And though we can’t see it now—though it seems like godless people have the upper hand—this is still God’s purpose for the world and for his church today. I preach to you God’s Word from Daniel 4,

God shows He is Lord over all by humbling Nebuchadnezzar:

  1. his pride
  2. his fall
  3. his restoration


1) Nebuchadnezzar’s pride: It’s not often that we get to listen in on the thoughts of one of the characters in the Bible—let alone to hear what a pagan king is thinking. But that’s what we find in our chapter, for it’s written by Nebuchadnezzar! In much of it, the king is speaking in the first person, like in verse 2, “I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me.” Yes, Nebuchadnezzar’s own words are recorded in Scripture. Does this mean that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit? That everything he says here is without mistake? Maybe that’s a question to discuss over coffee sometime.

For now though, we look at what’s in Daniel 4. There’s a dream at the centre of it, which Daniel needs to interpret. This is the dream: while he was sleeping Nebuchadnezzar sees a great tree, one reaching to the heavens, bearing fruit, and serving as home and shelter for all kinds of animals. In the ancient world, a tree was a common image for a person’s life—like Psalm 1, which says the righteous man is “like a tree.” Yet even Babylon’s king is like a tree, for in a sense he was thriving, and by his rule he brought blessing to many.

But then in his dream that splendid tree is hacked down, its branches are cut and its leaves stripped. No longer a towering refuge, it’s been reduced to nothing more than a stump. When Daniel hears this dream, he’s troubled. He hesitates to share the interpretation, because he knows what it means: it’s about coming judgment. The king of Babylon is going to be put in his place by the King of heaven.

This is why, when Daniel explains it, he calls the king to repent from his sin. Verse 27: “O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor.”

Let’s reflect for a moment on how remarkable is Daniel’s concern for Nebuchadnezzar! Here’s the king who pillaged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, who deported thousands of Israelites, and then ordered everyone to fall down before his statue. Then Daniel learns that this same king is going to be brought very low. But instead of gloating, delighting in how it’ll make the king squirm, he calls him to change. He points out the way to avoid judgment: “Break off your sins by being righteous.”

Doesn’t this say a lot about the God we worship? God doesn’t delight in the death of sinners. God desires that all people everywhere would repent, and that they would come to a knowledge of the truth. For all their pride and rebellion, the LORD hasn’t given up on the sinners in our city and country—but He says the way is still open. Break from your sins. Be righteous. Show mercy.

It’s true that there comes a time when repentance is too late, when God’s judgment can’t be avoided. Death can come very quickly, and the window of opportunity is slammed shut. But while there’s life, God is patient, and He gives sinners the space to repent.

That’s the message for Nebuchadnezzar. And he would’ve known by now that this Daniel didn’t fool around, that he spoke the truth of God plainly. The king would be wise to pay attention to him. But then a year passes, we read in verse 29: “At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon…” Perhaps he had mellowed a bit after his vision—that happens sometimes. Fear of consequences can push a person to change his direction, just a little, just for a while.

But for Nebuchadnezzar, there’s been no real change. We hear that clearly in verse 30, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” The king, we’re told, was walking on the roof of his palace, probably something like a patio. Here he could look out onto the great city. And as far as the eye could see, it was all his, “a royal dwelling.”

Once more, the king has been conquered by pride. Pride is a real temptation for everyone, but for him the danger was especially severe. For he was king of Babylon, the greatest nation of the world. He had in his hand the life and death of countless people, together with great wealth and prestige. For once his kingdom had been established, Nebuchadnezzar devoted his attention to great building projects. One was right there in the city of Babylon, a massive garden—it was called one of the seven wonders of the world. He built a mound of earth 400 feet high, terraced it all around, and covered it with hanging gardens and cascading streams. Yes, he was very proud of what he’d built, and the empire he ruled. The centre of world power was at his address!

Yet Nebuchadnezzar forgot this one critical fact: he could only do these things as God gave the ability. “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built…for the honour of my majesty?” It was all about him! And there was no excuse for his arrogance, for he’d already learned something about the true God. Back in chapter 3, when Daniel’s friends were saved from the fire, Nebuchadnezzar had cried out: “There is no other God who can deliver like this!” But pride can be so blinding. When he surveyed his kingdom, he saw a monument to his own glory.

There’s still an epidemic of this kind of blindness. Today there are people with massive influence, and massive egos. They can sway public opinion with a few words. There are men who can order the death of their enemies from a great distances. Besides that are the celebrities whom millions watch intently: What is she wearing tonight? What cause are they pushing? What are they tweeting now? So these men and women get swollen with pride—it’d be hard not to, if you have people waiting on your every word, naming buildings in your honour, and spending money on whatever you tell them.

What makes it worse is that many of these “important people” are godless. They don’t seem to know the Lord, so they set their own rules, live for themselves—yet still enjoy great success. Remember, this was the complaint of Asaph in Psalm 73, when he “saw the prosperity of the wicked” (v 3). This Psalm could easily have been on the lips of the exiles when they looked at Nebuchadnezzar. It seemed totally unfair. Here he increases in power and wealth and honour, with no apparent trouble, all the while defying the Lord and detaining his people. How can this be? Is there no justice in the world? Doesn’t God see this?

We’re always good at looking at others, so let’s remember that it’s all people who get swollen with pride, famous and powerful or not. This has always been the crux of human sin against God. It’s when we think we know better than God, and we don’t need him, and our will comes first. We survey our life, our kingdom, and we say, “These are the things I’ve made for myself. This is the life I’ve worked so hard for.” Maybe it’s your prospering business. Your spacious home. Your fine children. Your good health or your advanced position at work. “Is this not the life that I have built?” We exalt in ourselves, and we rest in what we have done.

Yet we’re nothing without the Lord. What do we have that wasn’t given to us? From whose gracious hand come all things? Who is the King of the world, and King of us? That should humble us deeply.

Thinking about King Nebuchadnezzar, and the President of the United States, and the other dignitaries of this world, and about ourselves, we also think of someone else. We think of our Saviour. At the beginning of his ministry, Christ was tempted. And for one of these tests, the devil took him to a high mountain, a vantage point from where he could see all the kingdoms of the world. Compare it to Nebuchadnezzar on the roof of his palace, looking out on Babylon. And Satan offered all of it to Christ: “All this authority I will give to you, and their glory” (Luke 4:6).

Don’t think it wasn’t attractive. Christ knew what lay ahead of him, that long road of suffering, one that would end in death. But here was an early shortcut, a way to gain immediate access to all the kingdoms of the world. But Christ won’t do it. He’ll be loyal to God alone. To save us from sin, He’ll humble himself, and make himself nothing. And because He did, we can be the people of God. We can be those who love him with heart, soul, mind and strength. For God exalts the lowly, but opposes the proud.


2) Nebuchadnezzar’s fall: If Daniel had any hope that the king would change after that troubling dream, his hope was short-lived. After a year, we said, Nebuchadnezzar was still entrenched in human pride. And so we’re told, “All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar” (v 28). That dream of the tree would come back to haunt him. Just as he was reaching the peak of worldly success, just as that tree reached to the heavens, the axe fell.

Walking on his rooftop, he hears a voice, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!” (v 31). Notice that now he’s in the position of receiving judgment, not handing it out. He’s guilty, and this is the sentence: for seven “times” (which is probably seven years), this most powerful man will be reduced to an animal.

And so it was that Nebuchadnezzar fell into a strange kind of madness, where all his ordinary human faculties were lost: “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” (v 33). It’s total humiliation. He’s so stripped of all earthly prestige, that he’s left no more than an animal.

Now, some Bible explainers will point out that there’s an actual disease like Nebuchadnezzar suffers; it’s known as boanthropy. A person who has this condition will think that he’s an animal and he’ll live wildly, eating grass, letting his fingernails and hair grow, and behaving in ways that are far from human. So, explainers conclude from the medical evidence, this bizarre event could well have taken place!

Other explainers wonder about the question of history. It’s too fantastic to be believed, they say, that a great king like Nebuchadnezzar could drop off the face of the earth for seven years—then he strolls back into his palace, gets a good haircut and much needed manicure, and he acts like as it nothing happened! Some people point out that it’s never mentioned in the history books of Babylon. You’d certainly expect that it would be, such an unsettling event for the kingdom.

It’s interesting to think about the historical record, or the medical diagnosis, but don’t forget the real meaning of this event. What was God trying to teach through this act of humbling? In a way, it’s simple: the king thought of himself as more than a man, so God makes him even less—He puts him on the same level as the beasts. Nebuchadnezzar must become like an animal to learn that he’s only human.

More than that, this impressive human ruler has to acknowledge he’s completely subject to a higher power. All his ability, all his potential, all his wealth—it’s not from himself, it’s from the Lord. God gives, and God can take away.

That’s a memo that should go all the powerful in the world, all the elite and influential, that there’s only who is sovereign, and that is the Lord. As verse 35 says, “No one can restrain his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” It’s the same message that Solomon taught us in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; like the rivers of water, He turns it wherever He wishes.”

God’s sovereignty is on full display here. It’s seen again in all the visions of Daniel, later in the book: those scenes of empires rising and falling, rulers increasing and then declining. All this to show, as the LORD God says, “that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” (v 32).

Is that any different today? Has God somehow given up his government over all? No, in our time He is still supreme. The world leaders gather together, the richest men and their wisest advisers meet and plan—but aren’t their efforts still in vain? If it’s the Lord’s will, the markets will fall, and wars erupt. A sudden disaster, even a small glitch, a misunderstanding between nations, and progress is set back for years. Every bit of prestige can be stripped away with a scandal or a misspoken word.

We don’t celebrate when there’s a recession or a scandal, nor do we rejoice over natural disasters and war. But we celebrate God’s sovereignty! We praise Him for having rule over all things, small and great! We must remember that no matter how high mankind rises up, they’re always beneath the Lord in heaven, and subject to his rule.

And there’s more going on here than God simply humbling the proud. He might do that to protect his glory, but so often He has a purpose in it for his people. That’s exactly why God wants this story of Nebuchadnezzar to be shared with the church. Remember, to the exiles in Daniel’s day, it looked as if Nebuchadnezzar could do just about whatever he wanted, and they were helpless before him. But God surrounds his people, He protects them, He preserves them, in spite of overwhelming odds and angry foes.

Christians today are persecuted in many places. They are sidelined in many more places, including this country. Yet God is on his throne. Christians can feel helpless, like everything’s out of our hands, like the very walls are crumbling. Yet God is on his throne, and He is Almighty. We can feel like this world is totally unjust, because wicked men prosper and godless women are exalted. This can trouble us until we understand the will of God. For truly, He is Lord of all, for the good of his people in Christ.

For think again of God the Son, who was so glorious, seated in the heavens. He didn’t take authority before it was time, but He accepted the place of humility. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar, He chose to be degraded, and He chose to be humbled to the lowest place. Not looking for his own glory, but seeking the salvation of his people! “Being in the form of God,” says Paul, “[Christ]… made himself of no reputation” (Phil 2:6). He was so devoted to God and to us, so devoted that He went to the cross. That’s how far Christ went down—all the way to death. He did it so that He might be our Lord and our Saviour, and rule us forever.


3) Nebuchadnezzar’s restoration: Our text would be easier to explain if it ended at verse 33, with Nebuchadnezzar wholly humbled. “That’s a good place for him,” we say, “crawling in the dirt and eating bugs.” But then this pagan ruler comes to senses, he makes a confession of faith, and gets restored to a place of honour!

We listen to his own report, “At the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me” (v 34). I draw your attention to that phrase, “lifted my eyes to heaven.” For those few words say a lot about repentance. Where we ordinarily look says so much about the state of our heart. Nebuchadnezzar was no longer looking out on his kingdom like a demigod. He no longer looked down on the earth like a beast. But now he looks to the heavens! He sees his proper place, and sees that he’s just a man.

Such an upward look—gazing toward the heavens—is a small beginning of being right with God. Go outside one night this week and try it. Do you acknowledge your utter lowliness under God the Creator? Standing there under the stars, are you even a little aware of God’s overwhelming majesty, and your own smallness? And do you expect every good thing from him, the glorious God who has become your Father?

Nebuchadnezzar’s new attitude comes out in his words of praise: “I blessed the Most High and praised and honoured him who lives forever: for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation” (v 34). For the king, this was a personal confession. And what Nebuchadnezzar discovered was most true: “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing” (v 35).

In the same way as he experienced, it sometimes takes deep humbling for us to realize how weak we are. It can take an illness, a crisis, a loss of a job, a massive disappointment—something that brings us to the end of ourselves, and then we finally confess it. We will always stubbornly think that we are something, that we’re capable of great things, until we see the truth: the LORD alone is God, we are nothing, and yet He thinks of us!

So what should we do with this confession? Does it mean that Nebuchadnezzar had suddenly become a true believer? Pagans don’t usually have a problem confessing their faith in other gods. If you worship a dozen gods already, what’s one or two more? In Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth, the words sound too good to be true—too easy to say.

Even so, Nebuchadnezzar is reinstated: “The glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me” (v 36). He is restored, not because he would remain a humble servant of God, but because the Lord had a purpose for him. God was protecting his people through Nebuchadnezzar’s power, until it was time for them to go back to the land. When they do go back, it’s through the decree of Cyrus, another pagan king. It was just as Nebuchadnezzar had said: “The Most High rules in the kingdom of men.”

So it remains today: our God is sovereign over all. He rules, through the power of his Son, our Saviour. For “God has highly exalted [Christ] and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil 2:9). It’s true that to the very end of time, there will be those who are too proud to get down on their knees. Yet one day, everyone will see what Nebuchadnezzar saw, and confess the Lord’s glory. This gives us comfort in the midst of a wicked age. Our Saviour is King and kings, and He is the Lord of lords!

We’re comforted, and we’re also warned. For we know that “those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (v 37). Flee from the sin of pride. Don’t look at your life as your own, your possessions and your place as your own little empire, but let the Lord rule your life. Make it your confession: “Christ is my King! I bow before his heavenly glory. I trust in his faithful care. I submit to his perfect Word. And I depend on his steadfast love.”

When we bow to Christ, his blessing will be upon us, now and forever, as we dwell in the Kingdom of God our Saviour.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2018, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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