Last week we saw God rescue his servants Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the blazing furnace. And at the end of the story we saw King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon taking early steps of faith and making a dramatic decree.
3 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’
Promising signs of faith in Nebuchadnezzar. But Daniel chapter 4 reminds us that it often takes many steps of faith before a person comes to complete repentance. The chapter takes the form of a letter Nebuchadnezzar himself wrote as a testimony of the way the one true God had transformed his life.
Daniel 4: 2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.
That will be the end of the story. But Nebuchadnezzar had to meet God in a new way to reach that point. His life had going very well, but then he had another dream which terrified him.
. 10 These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
13 ‘In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. 14 He called in a loud voice: “Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. 15 But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
The dream was of a mighty tree which brought blessing to everything. Some have described it as the “cosmic tree”, a manifestation of the whole of creation. Yet in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the tree will fall into ruin. A heavenly messenger announces that the tree will fall under God’s judgment.
‘ “Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16 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.
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.”
Once again it is down to God’s servant Daniel to interpret this dream for Nebuchadnezzar. The tree represents Nebuchadnezzar and the whole of his empire. And it is a solemn warning that God’s judgment was going to fall on Nebuchadnezzar himself, because of his pride. The king had become proud and arrogant. So Daniel warns him
27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: 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.’
Sadly Nebuchadnezzar ignored the warning of the dream. And God’s judgment fell.
. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 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?’
31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. 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.’
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.
It isn’t clear whether seven times means seven years, or seven other periods of time. In any case it would be a long time before Nebuchadnezzar would come to his senses and repent. But in the end that did happen.
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. 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.
35 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?’
Here at last we see true repentance. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that God Most High, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Daniel, the God of the Jews is indeed the one true God. Only when that happens, does God restore Nebuchadnezzar’s fortunes.
36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisors and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 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.
“Those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” A reminded that Almighty God is indeed Sovereign over the whole of Creation, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. God is on the throne and in charge of history.
So that brings us to some questions which we are going to discuss now.
Is God still on the throne? Is God still sovereign over history?
If so, why does God not intervene in the world today?
Why does God not humble tyrants?
Why does God not intervene today to prevent wars and suffering around the world?