Nebuchadnezzar

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  • a proud and powerful king
  • a king who worshipped idols
  • a man humbled by God

KEY VERSES

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. —James 4:6

PROLOGUE

As you read the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, you will encounter many kings. One of the most powerful kings mentioned in the Old Testament is King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He lived a dramatic, exciting life. You’ll want to read about his dreams, his fiery furnace, and giant golden idol (Daniel 2-4). This lesson focuses on one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams and what it can tell us about ourselves.

STORY AND STUDY

(This story is found in Daniel 4.)

Nebuchadnezzar lived 2,600 years ago and was the most powerful monarch in the ancient world (Daniel 2:37-38). He was a great warrior and united an enormous territory known as the Babylonian Empire—the greatest kingdom in the world at that time. It extended from the Red Sea on the southern border, west to the Mediterranean Sea, north to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and east into Arabia.

Pause for thought: If you have an atlas or world map, you can see the countries that today would have been part of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and part of Saudi Arabia. Why is this part of the world of great interest to us today?

Surrounded by great walls and deep canals, Babylon, the capital city, was considered unassailable (secure, unconquerable). Within the city, Nebuchadnezzar built a magnificent hanging garden for his wife and also built the Temple of Marduk, which housed golden images of the pagan gods Bel and Ishtar. Babylon was a “city of gold” because Nebuchadnezzar used so much gold in his building projects. His splendid palace and the Ishtar gate were intimidating, creating a sense of power and awe.

Factoid: If you do an Internet search for “Ishtar gate,” you’ll see models of how it must have looked: blue-glazed brick walls adorned with lions, bulls, and dragons—the gods of that era. Very impressive!

His splendid palace and the Ishtar gate were intimidating, creating a sense of power and awe.

The King

King Nebuchadnezzar was a skilled builder and skillful military leader. He fought neighboring nations to expand his empire. He rebuilt Babylon into the most famous city of its time. He established hundreds of temples and altars in honor of pagan gods. He was proud of his victories, his conquests and his wealth. But Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and lack of concern for his people gained God’s attention (Daniel 4:24-27). Pride is something that God resists.

“Now you, Belteshazzar, declare its interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to . . . for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you.”

Nebuchadnezzar experienced a troubling dream. It was so real he thought it might be a message from the God of heaven. Some years before, the Most High sent him a dream about the strength of the Babylonian empire (Daniel 2). The King was eager to know if this new dream had meaning for him too. He consulted his magicians, sorcerers and astrologers, but they were mystified because the vision came from God (Daniel 4:7). So the King asked Daniel, “Now you, Belteshazzar [Daniel’s Babylonian name], declare its interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you” (verse 18).

The dream

Nebuchadnezzar recited his dream like poetry:

I was looking, and behold,
A tree in the midst of the earth,
And its height was great.
The tree grew and became strong;
Its height reached to the heavens,
And it could be seen to the ends of all the earth.
Its leaves were lovely,
Its fruit abundant,
And in it was food for all.
The beasts of the field found shade under it,
The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches,
And all flesh was fed from it ….

There was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus:

“Chop down the tree
And cut off its branches,
Strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit.
Let the beasts get out from under it,
And the birds from its branches.
Nevertheless leave the stump
And roots in the earth,
Bound with a band of iron and bronze,
In the tender grass of the field.
Let it be wet with the dew of heaven,
And let him graze with the beasts
On the grass of the earth.
Let his heart be changed from that of a man,
Let him be given the heart of a beast,
And let seven times pass over him.
This decision is by the decree of the watchers,
And the sentence by the word of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,
Gives it to whomever He will
And sets over it the lowest of men.”

(Nebuchadnezzar’s dream can be read in its entirety in verses 10-17.)

Bad news

Daniel was struck by the meaning of the dream. He sat silent until the king urged him to speak up. The dream, Daniel said, was a warning from God. The tree “is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth” (verse 22). Daniel explained that the Most High made a decision to remove Nebuchadnezzar as King and take away his kingdom for seven years. Then the King’s authority and kingdom would be returned after he understood that “Heaven rules” (verse 26). The King didn’t realize that his sinful behavior and unmerciful treatment of others were of great concern to God. The King was subject to God’s judgment from heaven.

The King would no longer think like a man, or even know he was a man. He would be like an animal and think like an animal.

More bad news

For the King to learn that “Heaven rules,” God would take away his sanity. The King would no longer think like a man, or even know he was a man. He would be like an animal and think like an animal. He would live in the field, eat grass and stay outside in all weather. For seven years he would be like a wild ox, rough-skinned and repulsive.

Daniel urged the King to change his ways: “Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity” (verse 27).

“King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!”

Fulfilled

It seems Nebuchadnezzar made an effort to change, because the decision was postponed. Nothing out of the ordinary happened for 12 months, and it’s likely the King grew careless or forgot the warning. One day as he gazed at the golden city he said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (verse 30).

It was then that a voice from heaven pronounced the sentence, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!” (verse 31). So the King lost his reason and was driven into the fields, to live in a miserable, wretched state.

Who was in charge of the kingdom during those seven years? The Bible doesn’t say. Perhaps Daniel fulfilled the administrative duties until the King’s mind was restored. When the seven years were over, it must have been astounding for everyone to watch the King rise from all fours, resume the stance of a man, and walk into the palace with a clear mind. When God restored his reason, he knew who he was, what had happened to him and why he was exiled. What a restoration! He said, “My reason returned to me .… My counselors and nobles resorted [helped, returned] to me. I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me” (verse 36).

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice.”

Nebuchadnezzar praised God and declared he had learned a great lesson: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (verse 37).

Conclusion

Nebuchadnezzar made two proclamations about God that are recorded in the Bible (Daniel 3:28-29 and Daniel 4:34-37). The Babylonians believed in many gods. It seemed reasonable (to them) to worship more than one deity because they thought each god had a unique territory and function. When Nebuchadnezzar praised the Most High, it is likely he still believed in other gods who were less powerful, because he said, “There is no other God who can deliver like this” (Daniel 3:29) and, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the LORD of kings” (Daniel 2:47). Whether the King totally put aside his idolatry, we don’t know.

 

QUESTIONS

1. Knowledge

What was the capital city of the Babylonian Empire, and why was it called a “city of gold”?

2. Comprehension

Why did God place such a severe trial on Nebuchadnezzar? Why did God’s way of getting the King’s attention work?

3. Connection

Have you read about Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace and the men who came out of it alive? (Find the story in Daniel 3.) What can we learn from their example?

 

DISCUSSIONS

Why is it hard to be around people who are proud and brag about what they do? Do they seem interested in anyone else? Do they listen very well? Does pride cause us to forget that we are small and dependent on God? If yes, in what way?

Nebuchadnezzar placed too much confidence in himself and had too much pride in his works. He was self-important: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). What does Nebuchadnezzar’s statement reveal about his heart?

Humble means “respectful, teachable, mild.” It’s the opposite of bossy, proud, self-important and overconfident. How was Daniel’s heart different from Nebuchadnezzar’s heart?

 

ACTIVITIES

1. Forget the I

It is said that some people can’t talk for five minutes without using the word I. Their conversation always contains phrases like “I want,” “I think,” “I went,” “I made.” Other people can speak for hours without saying “I.” Run an experiment with your family to see who can go the longest without saying “I.” Agree on a time limit. To make it more fun, have everyone snap four clothespins on their shirts. If you catch someone saying “I,” unsnap one of his or her clothespins and add it to your collection.

 

2. Where is Babylon?

Do an Internet map search with your parents and look up the names of the nations that lie within the boundaries of the old Babylonian Empire. If you have a good map or atlas, can you find any names today that are the same as in the time of Nebuchadnezzar? (You can start with oceans, seas, rivers and mountains. You might even find a tiny dot for the city of Babylon on the Euphrates River.)

 

3. You Are an Artist!

If you like to draw, color and paint, take your favorite art materials and create a picture of what you think King Nebuchadnezzar looked like when he was proud. Can you draw a picture to illustrate the King’s dream?

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