Pride is touted as a positive virtue in the secular world, as long as it presented in a socially acceptable and palatable manner. Even in the Christian community, some sins are looked upon with disdain but the subtle nature of pride in one’s own heart gets a pass. Of course, there is plain arrogance that we abhor. The irony is that we abhor it the more because of the vestiges of pride that we have in our own hearts. We hate the characteristics in others that we ourselves fully possess.
The story of Nebuchadnezzar’s public humiliation and fall from pride is a warning especially to those living in the end of time. Pride is a characteristic that we are to ask God to expunge from our lives. Pride will be the downfall of Christian living just before Jesus comes. Of the eight stories in Daniel, this story reveals the characteristic that we are to avoid as the prophecies of Daniel are being fulfilled.
Daniel chapter 4 is the only chapter in the book not written by Daniel. Instead, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon writes his personal testimony. Here Nebuchadnezzar is given another dream, and this time he remembers it. The dream as interpreted by Daniel is a warning for Nebuchadnezzar to humble himself or he will become a beast for seven years. For a time, the king heeds the warning, but old habits are hard to break. While Nebuchadnezzar is in the midst of his egotistical boast, a voice comes from heaven, and the king is stricken with insanity. For seven years, the greatest king on earth is reduced to an animal. Humbled, the king acknowledges the God of heaven and is converted. This is the last reference to Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible.
This was God’s radical intervention. It took seven years as a beast to bring Nebuchadnezzar to his senses. The pride of Nebuchadnezzar had to be broken before he could feel his need for God. As C. S. Lewis stated, “It was through pride that the devil became the devil,” and pride is “the complete anti-God state of mind.” Augustine stated, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” The drastic nature of God’s intervention to rid Nebuchadnezzar of pride reveals how deep-seated it is.
Sin is typically viewed in terms of categories—from the heinous sins of the serial killer to the white lie. Pride would not typically make it to a person’s top-ten list of sins. Yet on God’s list, pride is number one. Proverbs 6:16–19 says, “These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”
On God’s top-seven list of sins, pride ranks higher than murder. Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony echoes down to the end of time as a warning to God’s people of the sin of pride and God’s dramatic intervention to cure a proud monarch of pride.
What condition did Nebuchadnezzar have for seven years?
“Today psychiatrists have diagnosed Nebuchadnezzar’s behavior as a variant of paranoia and schizophrenia. . . . The patient imagines that he had been transformed into a wolf (lycanthropy, an ox (boanthropy), or another animal (dog, leopard, snake, crocodile), and behaves as such down to the most intimate details. A 49-year old woman was convinced her head was that of a wolf complete with snout and fangs. And when she opened her mouth to speak, she would hear herself growl and howl like a beast” (Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel, 70).
“The proud king’s hair grew long and matted like the ruffled feathers of a buzzard, and his nails resembled the tailings of a bird of prey. Wide-eyed and gibbering, he plucked grass, and stuffing it into his mouth, munched it like an ox” (Hardinge, Jesus Is My Judge, 58).
How do we reconcile God’s loving nature with making Nebuchadnezzar a beast for seven years?
Seven years as a beast seems hard. Some have falsely circulated the idea that God does not discipline and that God does not kill. It is a false view that reduces love to mere sentimentalism and enabling. If we define love from Scripture rather than from popular culture, we see a picture of God’s love that is the perfect blend of justice and mercy from the vantage point of eternity.
The story of Nebuchadnezzar reveals God’s eternal perspective of saving the king for eternity and weighing the temporary discomfort of being an animal for seven years. From the eternal perspective, seven years of being a beast was the most loving thing that God could do. As C. S. Lewis stated, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 91). This is not to say that every uncomfortable circumstance, trial, or calamity is God trying to get our attention; the enemy of souls must be factored in. However, we cannot miss the point of Daniel 3 that God’s first and primary goal for our life is saving us for eternity; everything else is secondary. God is willing to allow temporary discomfort if that will bring us to decide eternal salvation with Him.
“If we allow our minds to be absorbed by worldly interests, the Lord may give us time by removing from us our idols of gold, of houses, or of fertile lands” (Ellen White, My Life Today, 18).
God’s dramatic intervention to save Nebuchadnezzar for eternity reveals the heart of God and His desire to save to the uttermost. It took seven years as a beast for Nebuchadnezzar to come to his senses. In terms of salvation, one of the most radical prayers that one can pray is: “Lord, whatever it takes, save me.” This is a radical prayer that gives God permission to intervene in our life.
Our sense of dependence upon God is the most helpless yet invincible place that we can be as a Christian. Sometimes, the worst thing that ever happened to us is the best thing that ever happened to us.
On July 30, 1967, Joni Eareckson Tada dived into a shallow spot of the Chesapeake Bay, breaking her neck between the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. She became a quadriplegic, being paralyzed from the shoulders down. Her entire adult life she has been confined to a wheelchair. In her book she states, “In a way I wish I could take to heaven my old, tattered Everest and Jennings wheelchair. I would point to the empty seat and say, ‘Lord, for decades I was paralyzed in this chair.’ . . . At that point, with my strong and glorified body, I might sit in it, rub the armrests with my hands, look up at Jesus, and add, ‘The weaker I felt in this chair, the harder I leaned on You’ ” (Joni Eareckson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home, 184).
Salvation from an eternal perspective gives our present trials a different perspective, especially if those hardships lead us to a greater dependence on God.
“In a moment the reason that God had given him was taken away; the judgment that the king thought perfect, the wisdom on which he prided himself, was removed, and the once mighty ruler was a maniac. His hand could no longer sway the scepter. The messages of warning had been unheeded; now, stripped of the power his Creator had given him, and driven from men, Nebuchadnezzar ‘did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.’ ”
“For seven years Nebuchadnezzar was an astonishment to all his subjects; for seven years he was humbled before all the world. Then his reason was restored and, looking up in humility to the God of heaven, he recognized the divine hand in his chastisement. In a public proclamation he acknowledged his guilt and the great mercy of God in his restoration. ‘At the end of the days,’ he said, ‘I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored Him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?’
“ ‘At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.’
“The once proud monarch had become a humble child of God; the tyrannical, overbearing ruler a wise and compassionate king. He who had defied and blasphemed the God of heaven now acknowledged the power of the Most High and earnestly sought to promote the fear of Jehovah and the happiness of his subjects. Under the rebuke of Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords, Nebuchadnezzar had learned at last the lesson which all rulers need to learn—that true greatness consists in true goodness. He acknowledged Jehovah as the living God, saying, ‘I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.’
“God’s purpose that the greatest kingdom in the world should show forth His praise was now fulfilled. This public proclamation, in which Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the mercy and goodness and authority of God, was the last act of his life recorded in sacred history.”