Daniel 4. Nebuchadnezzar's Problem—and Ours.
Key Notes: God put the King down, and raised him up again. Pride: the universal sin--from infancy.
Unlike any other OT writing, Daniel 4 was authored by a pagan, King Nebuchadnezzar. The chapter is in the format of an open letter, interrupted by Daniel's description of the King's incapacity. 4:28–33
4:1–3 Nebuchadnezzar wrote his astonishing open letter to all the nations of the world, wishing them peace. He decided to make known to them the signs and wonders which the High God had done--the God of power and might whose Kingdom is everlasting.
4:4–8 At a time when he was at peace and prospering ("growing green") in the kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, which he remembered, but which his wise men could not or would not interpret. The dream was frightening and for the wise men, politically dangerous.
4:9–18 He summoned Belteshazzar ("May Bel protect the king") to advise him. The dream was of a great tree which provided food and shelter for all the animals. A Holy One came down from Heaven and ordered the tree cut down, with the stump bound with iron and bronze to be left in the field among the animals. The sentence was passed so that those living might know that the Most High governs the kingdom of men and sets over it His choice, even the lowliest of mortals.
4:19–27 Daniel understood the dream at once, but hesitated to make the interpretation until the King quieted his fears. The tree indeed was the king, grown strong and great. God's decree was that he would be driven out from civilization and farmed out to graze among animals for seven years ("seven times"). The ringed stump was an indication that his sovereignty would be restored. Daniel's advice was that the king leave off sinning, practice righteousness, and show mercy to the oppressed. Perhaps God would give him a reprieve.
4:28–33 A year later, Nebuchadnezzar was exulting over Babylon, the symbol of his power, majesty and glory. A voice from Heaven spoke the decree: the kingdom has departed; you are put out to pasture until you have learned that Heaven rules. Nebuchadnezzar became insane, demented, behaving like an ox. He was excluded from his court. He ate grass and was exposed to the weather, ungroomed.
4:34–37 At the end of seven years, he looked to heaven and his reason returned. Now he extolled the King of Heaven, sounding like a believer, as good as an Old Testament saint. The quoted lines from Scripture echo Nebuchadnezzar's words.
- He praised God who is eternal, whose kingdom is everlasting. "Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end...." (Isa.9:7)
- He does according to His will in Heaven and on earth. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. (Matt.6:10)
- No one can challenge His decisions. "Will what is molded say to its molder 'Why have you made me thus?'" (Rom.9:20)
- His works are right. "All his works are done in truth." (Psa.33:4)
- His ways are just. "The Lord is righteous in all His ways." (Psa.145:17 KJV)
- He is able to abase the proud. "I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant." (Isa.13:11)
- His throne was restored and he became even greater than before.
Pride was Nebuchadnezzar' sin, as Daniel was to report to his successors in government (Belshazzer; Dan.5:20). First, a definition.
"Pride, theologian Cornelius Plantiga says, 'is a blend of self-absorption---that is, narcissism--with an overestimate of one's abilities or worth--that is, conceit. So a proud person thinks a lot about herself and also thinks a lot of herself.'" (Losing our Virtue. DF Wells; Eerdmans,1998; p.184.)
Why are humans self-absorbed? Ramsay quotes William Temple on the root of narcissism.
"When we open our eyes as babies we see the world stretching out around us; we are in the middle of it; all proportions and perspectives in what we see are determined by the relation--distance, height, and so forth--of the various visible objects to ourselves. This will remain true of our bodily vision as long as we live. I am the center of the world I see; where the horizon is depends on where I stand." "Our standard of value is the way things affect us. So each of us takes his place in the center of his own world." "This is my original sin. I was doing it before I could speak...." "I am not 'guilty' on this account because I could not help it. But I am in a state, from birth, in which I shall bring disaster on myself and every one affected by my conduct unless I can escape from it." (Basic Christian Ethics. P.Ramsay; Scribners,’50; p.294–5) This self-absorption is vital.
Then why are we conceited? We are encouraged to think we can do more than is possible. We are told, "You can do anything." "Go for it." "You are wonderful." "You are the best." Are human goals illegitimate?
"By rushing out and refusing to be content as part of the common crowd, but wanting to be something special, one wanders from the path without even noticing it." (The Ethics of Martin Luther. P.Althaus; Fortress;’65; p21.) More of this later.
Psychologist David Myers cites a study of almost a million high school students. Seventy percent rated themselves above average in leadership ability. In their ability to get along with others, 60% thought themselves to be in the top 10% and 25% in the top 1%. In another survey, 94% of a college's faculty thought they were better than their average colleagues. (Losing our Virtue. DF Wells; Eerdmans;’98, p.185.)
Self-esteem is so important in primary public education that games for young children are modified so that no one loses. "For years, scores of one-sided high school hockey games in Boston were intentionally misreported to newspapers, the schools' athletic director now admits." (More PC Follies. J. Leo; US News, Aug.9,1999; p.16). The universities have speech codes that forbid remarks which can be interpreted as negative or derogatory. Rutgers University dismissed the IVCF chapter because it restricted leadership based on its statement of faith. Some student might feel rejected. How shall we rephrase the title of Hemingway's book "The Old Man and the Sea" so that it is sensitive to gender, age, and geography? The self-esteem trend has gone to the absurd.
Liberation theology defends the self-worth concept.
"Traditional theology has often emphasized humility and self-abasement as the primary virtues of humankind as designed by God. According to liberationists, however, the Bible does not emphasize humility, an attribute which often leads to acceptance of oppression. Rather, in passages like Psalm 8, the Bible exalts the human creature." It most often condemns social sin, eg. "Woe to those who join house to house...." (Isa.5:8). (D.F. Wells; Ibid.)
"Sin, Schuller discovered, is really nothing more than poor self-image and salvation is its reversal." "In a flash...all the tension between Christ and culture was dissolved away in happy feelings. The language of sin was quickly banished from the Crystal Cathedral, as were all penitential prayers, and in their place came the therapeutic language." "Schuller found it necessary to change the Lord's Prayer. The part about sin was unacceptable. 'And forgive us our debts' became 'Forgive us those who have wronged us.'" (D.F. Wells; Ibid.; p.184)
Jacques Ellul believes that pride is universal. He says with fine irony,
"Note well that 'we are justified'. The worst possible injury is done to us. We are dispossessed of grandeur, autonomy and faculty of justice." "The declaration that we are justified by grace, by the sovereign love of God manifested in the death of Jesus, dispossesses us of something that we regard as essential, namely that we should fashion our own righteousness." (The Subversion of Christianity. J.Ellul; Eerdmans,’86; p.160).
John Stott does not spare us either.
"The Pharisaic spirit still haunts every child of Adam today. It is easy to be critical of Christ's contemporaries and miss the repetition of their vainglory in ourselves. Yet deeply ingrained in our fallen nature is this thirst for the praise of men." "We hunger for applause, fish for compliments, thrive on flattery." (Authentic Christianity. J.Stott; Edit.T.Dudley-Smith; IVP;’95, p.155.)
"Our fallen human nature is incurably self-centered and pride is the elemental human sin, whether the form it takes is self-importance, self-confidence, self-assertion or self- righteousness. If we human beings were left to our own self-absorption, even our religion would be pressed into the service of ourselves." (Ibid.p.158.)
"...Thomas Hobbes was more to the point when he pictured our psychological egoism as leading to the war of all against all." (Ethics. A.H. Holmes; IVP.’84; p.35).
Scripture roundly condemns our pride: "There are six things the Lord hates...haughty eyes...." (Prov.6:16) "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble." (Jm.4:6)
- "break off your sins by practicing righteousness."
- "...show mercy to the oppressed.". We should care for the poor. There is a thin line between me and the bread line, between being at home and being homeless.
- Live among the animals and learn humility and vulnerability. Nebuchadnezzar had to live outside for seven years before he learned who God is. We all need to keep in contact with soil, planting and reaping. It reminds us of our dependence on sun, rain, and the pests--weeds, nematodes, bees, rabbits--and ultimately on God. Israel was commanded to live outside for one week a year to remind them that they had been on trek from Egypt for years. (Lev.23:39–43). Thank God, not Sentry, for your groceries.
- When Nebuchadnezzar lifted his eyes to Heaven, his reason was restored.
Let us see what God taught Nebuchadnezzar (4;27). He told him to
Listen to two famous leaders, David and Paul, talk about themselves. Neither of them minimized their accomplishments or can be accused of abject humility.
David (IISam.22:1–23:7) says
"The Lord is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer...."(22:2)
"He delivered me from my strong enemy...because he delighted in me." (22:18,20)
"You are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness." (22:29)
"By Thee I can crush a troop." (22:30)
"By my God I can leap over a wall." (22:30) "He has made my feet like hinds feet." (22:34)
"He trains my hands for war so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze." (22:35)
"You made my enemies turn their backs to flight." (22:41)
"The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me, His word is upon my tongue." (23:2)
Paul (IICor.10–12) says
"The weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds."(10:4)
"For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up...I shall not be put to shame." (10:8)
"But we will not boast beyond limit, but will keep to the limits God has apportioned us...." (10: 13)
"Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord." (10:17)
"If I must boast I will boast of the things that show my weakness." (11:30)
"I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (12:9)
Both of them loved God intensely. And that is our hope. To love God more so that we love ourselves less.
Martin Luther offers us advice.
"The Bible gives many illustrations of godly people who have asked God to discipline them in order to preserve them against this hidden evil of pride. 'Against this secret villain we must pray God daily to suppress our self-esteem.'" (The Ethics of Martin Luther. P.Althaus;Fortress;’65; p21.)