I totally admire the Old Testament. Not only reveals God’s righteousness and love, but points to Jesus Christ so many times that I lost counting. And what is even more fascinating that it doesn’t matter how many times I read a certain well-known story, the Holy Spirit reveals something new on every occasion. This is what happened now when I started the Book of Daniel and had another chance to view a character in a different light.
What caught me especially now is the personality and remarkable change of king Nebuchadnezzar. He has a long life and great power, yet in the first chapters of the book he behaves like a spoilt toddler who can only get over his discomfort by torturing others with his tantrums.
In chapter 2 he expects the magicians and wise men to interpret his dream without knowing the dream. Here is his reaction when they can’t do what he asks for:
“This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death…” Daniel 2.12-13
And in Chapter 3 this is how he reacts when the three Jewish men do not obey and worship the idol:
“Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.” Daniel 3.13
“Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Daniel 3.15
He is impulsive and furious if things don’t go the way he wanted. And quite frankly, no one would stop him on earth as he is the king of a world leading empire with great authority. But there is one thing that shows that he had some kind of openness to God. Every time God shows his power, when Daniel is able to interpret a dream or when He frees the three men from the fire, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges God’s power and authority. (We can’t see this attitude with his successor Belshazzar).
Unfortunately for Nebuchadnezzar, acknowledging God’s power and greatness does not save anyone. And he has to learn it the hard way. If you read Daniel day by day, you might notice that Chapter 4 kind of sticking out from the book. Instead of someone telling us the story as a third person, the chapter changes the settings and Nebuchadnezzar writes a letter with his own point of view. A fascinating story about God’s righteousness and saving grace at the same time.
The chapter starts with worship. The formerly impulsive, tantrum driven ruler worships God:
“How great are his signs,
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
his dominion endures from generation to generation.” Daniel 4.3
A complete change of heart. Initiated by the certain fulfilment of God’s promise. This is what happened to Nebuchadnezzar as a consequence of his pride:
“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.” Daniel 4.33
Possibly it is the greatest humiliation of a powerful ruler in history. Losing his mind, living like and animal. But he is not cut out completely because God is gracious and because Nebuchadnezzar learns:
“At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives forever.” Daniel 4.34
Here is a change of heart and a wonderful example of God’s love. He did not give up on Nebuchadnezzar. There is no hopeless case in His eyes, not even a spoilt king with great earthly power.
And I praise the Lord that He didn’t give up on me either.