The Unfettered God

The Unfettered God

Daniel 4

Can I tell you a story about how the chief god of the Babylonians rose to power?  Long ago existed Tiamat and her mate, Apsu, who were locked in an embrace since the beginning of time. Tiamat was the goddess of saltwater and the mother of all things while Apsu was the god of freshwater.  The two gods kept order over all things and eventually produced lesser gods who disrupted the peace and order that Tiamat and Apsu enjoyed, so Apsu decided the only way to regain the peace that he and his mate enjoyed, that he would need to kill the younger gods.  Before Apsu could carry out his plan, one of his descendants by the name of Ea killed Apsu and took his place. 

Well, as you can imagine, this enraged Tiamat because her children were responsible for creating chaos by killing Apsu, so she raised an army of dragons and monsters and placed Kingu, the very worst of the monsters, at the head to lead Tiamat’s army (he was a type of Satan figure in the story).  However, Ea had a son by the name of Marduk, who was a new god Tiamat did not take into account.  Marduk was asked by the younger gods to defend them as their champion and offered to submit to his rule as king if he was successful in defeating Tiamat and her army.

Marduk defeated Tiamat and her army of dragons and monsters by commanding the wind to enter Tiamat’s mouth and puff up her body like a balloon. Marduk then pulled back his bow and shot an arrow that split her into two halves; with one half of Tiamat’s body, he created the heavens, and with the other, he created Earth.  Marduk reinstituted order in the universe and ordered the gods to build the city of Babylon.  Marduk also killed Kingu and used that evil deity’s blood to create human beings as servants of the gods.  Marduk not only was attributed with creation after successfully defeating Tiamat and her army of dragons and monsters, but also was hailed as the Great lord over the gods and the “lord of heaven and earth.”

Marduk was the chief god that all of Babylon worshiped, so for Nebuchadnezzar to refer to Daniel’s God in the following way is no small thing:

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason 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 endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34–35)

As I stated last week, the God of Daniel is referred to as the “Most High” six times in this chapter.  In Daniel 4:17, God is referred to as the Most High who, “rules the kingdom of men and give it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.”  In Daniel 4:23 and 25, Nebuchadnezzar is warned that he will behave like a wild Ox until he recognizes God as the Most High who, “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”   Then when Nebuchadnezzar came to his senses after seven years of insanity, his reason returned to him and he, “blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever…” and whose, “dominion, and kingdom endures from generation to generation” (v. 34). 

This significance of the king’s epiphany is that Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel’s God as being more powerful with more authority than the god the Babylonians worshiped.  This was not just a personal experience for the king, he made sure that, “all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth…” that the kingdom of the God of the Hebrews, “is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation” (v. 3). 

Nebuchadnezzar Was Unhinged

Who was Nebuchadnezzar?  The Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 1-3 was considered the greatest emperor of the middle east by which all other kings would be compared.  Sometimes, kings would identify as a type or reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar like Suddam Hussein did after he invaded Kuwait in 1990 by referring to himself as Nebuchadnezzar and was the fourth man to call himself by that title. 

It is very possible that the Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 4 was Nabonidus who called himself Nebuchadnezzar III.  The first king of Babylon was Nebuchadnezzar I who reigned from 625-605 B.C. and was also known as Nabopolassar and is credited with founding Babylonian Empire.  His son was Nebuchadnezzar II and reigned the longest of the four men who went by that name; this is the Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 1-3. He had two sons and a relative who had very short stents in ruling over the Empire: Evil-Merdodach (561-560 B.C.) who was assassinated by order of his brother-in-law, Neriglisar who also succeeded him as the next king of Babylon for three years.  Neriglisar’s son, Lavbashii-Marduk (556 B.C.) succeeded his father and only reigned as king in Babylon for two to three months until Nabonidus led a coup, had Lavbashii-Marduk killed, and then took the throne by force and reigned for about 17 years as the third person who identified himself as Nebuchadnezzar.

Let me give you three reasons why I believe Nabonidus is the Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 4.  First, he called the magicians, enchanters, the Chaldeans, and astrologers to interpret his dream (v. 7).  If this is the same Nebuchadnezzar who dreamed of the four empires in Daniel 2, why would he ask the same people who failed him before to interpret his dream in Daniel 4?  The second and more exciting reason why I believe Nabonidus is the Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel 4 is because Belshazzar (who we are introduced to in Daniel 5) was Nabonidus’ son.  The third and most exciting reason why I believe Nabonidus is the king in Daniel 4 is because he built his own palace and his own capital in the Arabian desert that he reidentified as Babylon after only four years of reigning as the Emperor of Babylon.  During his fourth year as Emperor, the Babylonian Chronicles record that Nabonidus was not heard from or seen for a period of seven years.  Those seven years are the years Nebuchadnezzar III was insane, which, to the surprise of sceptics, lines up perfectly with the biblical account of Daniel 4. 

In a period of only three years, Nabonidus, who identified as Nebuchadnezzar to win the respect of the people he reigned over, successfully and violently usurped the throne from Nebuchadnezzar I’s family, moved the capital of Babylon into the Arabian Desert, and built an impressive palace in his name as a testament to his competency and power as Emperor.  Sometime in the third year of his reign as Nebuchadnezzar III was at ease and prospering (v. 4) and then he had a dream; after he had his dream, he said: “I saw a dream that made me afraid” (v. 5). 

Do not let the significance of Nebuchadnezzar’s statement in verse 5 escape you.  The man who stole the dynasty from dynasty that was Nebuchadnezzar I’s family, moved the capital of the greatest empire in the world to a new location, and built a beautiful palace to boot, had a dream that made him afraid and alarmed (v. 5).  What was it that alarmed him? 

I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it. “I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, amid the tender grass of the field. Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him.  The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.” (Daniel 4:10–17)

The king only turned to Daniel for help when he exhausted all other options to learn what his dream meant.  After Daniel heard the king’s dream, we are told that he, “was dismayed for a while and his thoughts alarmed him” (v. 19).  Why was Daniel dismayed and alarmed?  I think it was because he cared about the king even though the king did not share the same world view or worship the same God as Daniel did.  The king then assured Daniel to interpret the dream because he knew that Daniel cared enough about the king to tell him the truth.  So Daniel interpreted the dream:

O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules. (Daniel 4:24–26)

The good news was that the reality of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream could be avoided if he repented.  Listen to how Daniel concluded his interpretation: “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Daniel 4:27).  The bad news is that although God patiently gave the king 12 months to turn from his sin and tyranny over the weak, he did not.  And so, we are told:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:28–33)

God is Unflustered (Conclusion)

The Bible says of God: “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills and all that moves in the field is mine” (Psalm 50:9-11).  God didn’t create because he wanted something or someone to stroke His ego; God created out of love.  All of creation is the result of the love that the Most High has for humans that he created in his image.  God did not create out of a need, we are not here because of some chaotic coups attempt in heaven, we are here because of the overflow of the love of a God who is eternally, paternally, and benevolently sovereign and good!    

It is arrogant to measure the goodness of God by our own standard of goodness when it is you and I that need to improve upon our goodness; not him.  It is equally arrogant to assume that we are who we are or where we are because of our own ingenuity and self-sufficiency.  It is easy to read the story of Nebuchadnezzar III from a distance and listen to the man’s foolish assumption: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” while blindly concluding: “Not me! I will never make the mistake of Nebuchadnezzar.”  Yet, these past 12 months, which is the same amount of time Nebuchadnezzar was given to repent, have proven that we are guilty of the same kind of folly. 

After 12 months of COVID, American “Christians” seems more apathetic about their faith and the local church they attended before COVID.  According to Reach Right, Christians who claimed to practice their faith declined from 40% before COVID to 25% as of 2021.  Attendance for the average church in America remains at 36% of what it was before the pandemic and only 52% of churchgoers want in-person services again with a staggering 58% of Christians born between 1980-2000 with no desire to return to in-person church gatherings.  

Over the past 12 months we have allowed our political affiliation and racial bias to shape our responses instead of subjecting ourselves to the authority of the Word of God.  Instead of dismissing the stranger, your neighbors, or your brothers and sisters in Christ because you think you are right and they are wrong, your response should be one of humility and love in light of who God is.  After all, our true Sovereign said himself: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).  What does that love look like you ask?  It looks like 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).

Do you want to know why God humbled Nebuchadnezzar?  He humbled him because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:7).  Nebuchadnezzar’s response to God’s judgment was one of humility: 

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason 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 endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay 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 majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:34–37)

How about you?  Has your response to God this past 12 months been one of dependance upon him or one of dependence upon anything other than him?  Do you really believe that God is eternally, paternally, and benevolently sovereign over your life and everything else that is happening around you?  Many years before God disciplined his people by carrying them off into exile through Babylon, he warned them in Isaiah 66:1-2, “Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:1–2). 

In conclusion, may I ask you to prayerfully consider James 4:6-10, regardless of wherever you are at spiritually, emotionally, politically, or racially?  Will you pray that 2021 will be a year where we, as God’s people, will tremble at his word in humility? 

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:6–10)