Bring Them Down (Daniel 4)
Have you ever caught yourself wishing that someone would be brought down? Occasionally, I’m driving when someone cuts me off or weaves in an out of traffic at twice the speed limit. I find myself thinking, “Bring them down.” I fantasize about catching up to them and finding that the police have pulled them over. I sometimes even dream about having my own police light that I can whip out, like I’m an undercover traffic cop. I feel like saying, “Bring them down.”
Have you ever had that thought? It’s usually about someone who’s done something wrong and looks like they won’t get caught. It’s sometimes about a sports team. It could be someone like Martha Stewart or Conrad Black. It’s not so much that we want revenge, but we want justice. We want someone who looks untouchable to be brought down.
Today we’re going to look at one of the great villains of history. His name was Nebuchadnezzar, and was the most powerful person of his time. He was the second king of Babylon, and for the Jewish people of that time, he would have been enemy number one. He laid siege to the city of Jerusalem four times. The first time, he took some vessels from the temple and some captives. The second time, he captured Jerusalem and probably killed the king. He came a third time, and finally, he completely destroyed the city. He set fire to the temple, and broke down all the walls of the city, leaving only the poorest people to work the land. You can read about it in Jeremiah 52. It was one of the lowest points of history for God’s people at that time. When they thought of Nebuchadnezzar, they would say, perhaps under their breath, “Bring him down.” They would like nothing better than to see this man humbled.
God did in fact bring Nebuchadnezzar down, and we’re going to read about it today. You would think that God would bring him down for conquering his people, or for killing the kings. You’d think that we would be cheering God as he does this. We would be, except for one thing. God doesn’t bring him down for any of these reasons. Instead, he brings him down in the one area of overlap between Nebuchadnezzar and you and me. We probably have very few things in common with this man, and yet the one thing that you and I have in common with him is the very thing that God judges. If you’ve got a Bible, let’s track along together as we look at Daniel 4 and the story of how God brought Nebuchadnezzar down.
One night, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. In that time, people believed that dreams were messages from the gods. The dream was about a giant tree that was cut down and destroyed:
While I was lying in my bed, this is what I dreamed. I saw a large tree in the middle of the earth. The tree grew very tall and strong, reaching high into the heavens for all the world to see. It had fresh green leaves, and it was loaded with fruit for all to eat. Wild animals lived in its shade, and birds nested in its branches. All the world was fed from this tree.
Then as I lay there dreaming, I saw a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven. The messenger shouted, “Cut down the tree; lop off its branches! Shake off its leaves, and scatter its fruit! Chase the animals from its shade and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump and the roots in the ground, bound with a band of iron and bronze and surrounded by tender grass. Now let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live like an animal among the plants of the fields. For seven periods of time, let him have the mind of an animal instead of a human. For this has been decreed by the messengers; it is commanded by the holy ones. The purpose of this decree is that the whole world may understand that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses-even to the lowliest of humans.” (Daniel 4:10-17)
Nebuchadnezzar shared this dream with all of his magicians and astrologers, but nobody could interpret it. Finally, a Jewish man named Daniel was brought to the king, and he could interpret it. It wasn’t good news. Bad news: the tree represented Nebuchadnezzar, and God was about to bring him down:
That tree, Your Majesty, is you. For you have grown strong and great; your greatness reaches up to heaven, and your rule to the ends of the earth…
This is what the dream means, Your Majesty, and what the Most High has declared will happen to you. You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses. But the stump and the roots were left in the ground. This means that you will receive your kingdom back again when you have learned that heaven rules. (Daniel 4:22, 24-26)
God warns us against pride
Did you see the problem? Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t going to be judged because he destroyed Jerusalem, or because he was an enemy of the Jewish people. He wasn’t going to be judged because he destroyed the Temple. He was going to be judged because he forgot something important. He forgot who really is in charge. He needed to learn that he wasn’t in charge. He needed to learn that it’s God, the Most High, who rules.
Nebuchadnezzar was judged because of his pride. He was judged because he made the same two mistakes that we make all the time. He took credit for what God had done. He looked at what he had accomplished and thought that he could take credit for it. That’s not hard to do. Nebuchadnezzar was incredibly successful. He was a brilliant politician. He had defeated all kinds of other countries. He was the most powerful person of his time. Nebuchadnezzar, however, was not responsible. God was. Nebuchadnezzar needed to learn “that heaven rules.”
I can relate. It’s easy to look at our accomplishments and to think that we’re responsible. On one hand, we have had a role in what we’ve accomplished. But everything we have is ultimately a gift from God. Our abilities – they’re a gift. Our accomplishments – they’re allowed by God. There’s nothing we have that hasn’t been given to us from God. We think we rule sometimes, that we’re the ones who’ve done things, but God wants to remind us that he rules. He’s the one in charge.
Nebuchadnezzar made another mistake. He thought that it couldn’t be taken away. Verse 27 says, “Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.” God can give whatever he wants to any individual that he wants. He can also take it away. There’s nothing that we have that God can’t take away in a heartbeat. We have only what God allows us to have. He can give; he can also take away.
We need to hear this. We believe in being self-made. We take pride in what we’ve been able to do in our lives. We look at what we’ve accumulated, what we’ve done, and we take credit for it. God warns us specifically against this type of pride. James 4:6 says, “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” Just as clearly as God warned Nebuchadnezzar against pride, he warns us against pride. If we want God to oppose us, to take us down, here’s the way: become proud. God opposes the proud. He brings them down. To the humble, however, God gives his favor.
If we don’t humble ourselves, God may do it for us
God warns us against pride. God goes even further. If we don’t humble ourselves, it’s possible that God might choose to do it for us. That’s exactly what happened with Nebuchadnezzar.
Here you have the most powerful person in the world. You would think that nothing could bring him down. Then one day, everything changes:
But all these things did happen to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Just look at this great city of Babylon! I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city as my royal residence and as an expression of my royal splendor.’
While he was still speaking these words, a voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’
That very same hour the prophecy was fulfilled, and Nebuchadnezzar was driven from human society. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven. He lived this way until his hair was as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:28-33)
God humbles the proud. God can humble the most powerful person, even the most powerful country or multinational corporation. God can humble us, bring us down. He’s creative. I don’t want that to happen in my life, but I know that if I need it, God is more than capable of taking me down.
Here’s the scary part. Verse 29 says “twelve months later.” Presumably, Nebuchadnezzar had been doing fairly well. He had avoided pride. He took the dream seriously, and was trying to walk humbly as much as he could. Twelve months later, though, he made the mistake of becoming proud. As soon as he did, God took action. That’s one of the dangers of pride: it’s not enough to be humble once. Humility is required every day, all the time. God can humble us any time that we start to become proud.
But here’s the other side. For those of us who (like me) sometimes struggle with pride, God isn’t just into humbling the proud. He’s also able to give grace to those who are humble. At the end of the prophesied time, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged God’s sovereignty:
After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever.
His rule is everlasting,
and his kingdom is eternal.
All the people of the earth
are nothing compared to him.
He has the power to do as he pleases
among the angels of heaven
and with those who live on earth.
No one can stop him or challenge him,
saying, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’
When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and officers sought me out, and I was reestablished as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. (Daniel 4:34-36)
The end of verse 37 concludes with the point of this story. It reads, “All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble those who are proud.” Here’s the point of the story: God is able to humble those of us who think we’re proud. God humbles the proud. The point of this passage isn’t just about us and our place. It’s about God and his place. Here’s the key, the main point of what we’re supposed to learn: God demonstrates his sovereignty by showing us that we’re not. God still demonstrates his sovereignty today, and is able to remind us that he’s in charge and we’re not.
When we are humble, God is able to use us. One of the most famous early missionaries was named Hudson Taylor. Someone once asked him why God chose to use him powerfully. Here’s what he said: “The Lord was looking for a man weak enough to use, and He found me.”
So here is where we’re left. We’re left with the challenge of living – not just one day, but for the rest of our lives – in such a way that we know God’s sovereign. We live knowing that we’re not sovereign, that we’re not in charge, and that if we think we are that God was warned us, and has said that he opposes us. It’s remembering who God is, and who we are beside him.
I invite you to pray today. First, let’s confess our pride. Let’s confess when we’ve thought we’re responsible, when we think that what we have can’t be taken away. Then let’s pray that God would grant us the ability to remember that he’s in charge, that we would be humble, because God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to those of us who are humble.