The Real King
Bible Text: Daniel 4:1 – 37 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Daniel – Whose God is God? | Daniel 4
The Real King
Is God involved?
How involved do you think God is in the world?
If you’re one of the 68 percent of Australians who believe in God, do you imagine that he’s directly involved in life on earth, perhaps working towards a deliberate plan of how things should go,
Or do you think that he’s more far off, distant, uninvolved.
The image that’s often used is of a clockmaker;, creating the clock, winding it up, then setting it on the shelf, to just run down, without any input or interference?
It may not be a question you’ve contemplated all that much, but it seems to me that this would have, significant implications.
According to 2014 research, 28% of Australians say they pray once a week, or more often.
Well, if God is far off and distant, and has no involvement in his world, then there’s no point praying, is there?
It’s like emailing Malcolm Turnbull and asking him to fix your speeding fine! Even if he has the power to do it, he’s not going to get involved for you!
I don’t know whether you saw in the news this week that a woman was hit by a train in a station in Italy, and as the emergency services tended to her, a man stood on the platform, and with this injured woman and rescuers in the background, took out his phone, and took what’s been called “the world’s most inappropriate selfie”!
Maybe you think that’s what God’s like, more interested in his image and glory, than getting involved in whatever’s facing us.
Is God is just standing off at a distance, then there can’t be any purpose to the things that happen to us, either good or bad.
But if God is sovereign over the world, and actively working toward particular ends, then nothing happens outside of his control.
And so the many blessings of life, but also the hardships we struggle with, they can have meaning and significance, nothing is wasted, because they’re part of what God has brought into our life for his purposes.
If God is both sovereign and involved, then nothing happens to you, that God doesn’t bring into your life.
That doesn’t mean that God causes people to sin against you or anything like that, but that it suits God’s purposes for you, for these things to happen.
Nothing is meaningless,
Nothing is an accident.
Whether God is sovereign over everything or not,
Whether he actively rules over the world to bring his purposes about, the implications are huge, aren’t they?
Nebuchadnezzar joyfully testifies about what God has done (v 1 – 3)
And Daniel chapter 4 sheds some light on this for us.
It’s an unusual part of the Bible, isn’t it? It reads a little like one of the New Testament letters, King Nebuchadnezzar,
To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth:
May you prosper greatly!
There’s a little hymn of praise at the beginning and the end.
The only problem is, it’s written by a pagan king!
And as far as I can work out, it’s the only chapter in the whole of the Bible written by someone who wasn’t one of God’s people.
But the first thing I want us to notice as we look at Nebuchadnezzar’s first-hand experience of God’s sovereignty, is that just like wrestling with God’s sovereignty is confronting for us, as we recognise what God is bringing into our lives, and having to wonder why, and what’s his purpose,
That’s absolutely the case for Nebuchadnezzar, and yet, what does he say?
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
As we’ve said before, it doesn’t seem that Nebuchadnezzar became a follower of the God of Israel, he seems to have just added the creator God into his existing list of gods.
You know if you’re a bloke and you get given new socks, you don’t throw out any of your old socks like you’re supposed to, you just add the new ones into your collection, and they sit on the top of your pile?!
That seems to be what Nebuchadnezzar’s done with God! Instead of chucking out the old ones, he’s just put God on top of the pile.
But even so, it’s a joy for him to speak of what God has done for him.
God humbled him because he wanted glory for himself that should have gone to God.
God made him live out in the paddocks!
And still he can’t wait to tell everyone on the planet, about how great it is to learn of God’s sovereign power.
Those of us who are Christians, which I guess is most of us, do we think in these kinds of terms? Is it a pleasure, to tell others of what God has done for you?
And I don’t mean, write an edict and send it out to all the earth!
But just in our conversations, with people we know!
Here’s a pagan, who hasn’t cottoned on entirely to who God is and what he’s like, and he wants to speak about what God has done.
We who stand this side of the cross of Christ, we know even more what miraculous signs and wonders, the Most High God has performed for us;,
Is it a pleasure, to speak about the wonders that the Most High God has done for us, or as Mark showed us last week, is our fear of others, and their approval getting in the way?
No one can explain the king’s dream (v 4 – 18)
Well, already Nebuchadnezzar’s taught us a thing or two, but we’d better speed up!
Notice that when he has this dream, once again, the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners verse 7, all come up empty. They can’t explain it.
Same thing happened in chapter 2. No real power or insight, and it’s going to happen again in a few pages’ time.
I’m always a bit surprised that Nebuchadnezzar hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that his magicians are useless!
The contrast between Daniel, who’s given insight by his God, and these others who are left speechless by their, speechless gods, it’s almost comical.
But remember how Daniel ended up here.
Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah, takes captives, and plundered God’s temple, sticking all the good stuff in the temple of his god.
We might think that Nebuchadnezzar and his gods, are more powerful than Daniel’s God.
And yet we’re assured that’s not the case, aren’t we?
It’s almost a comedy act;, the complete inability of Nebuchadnezzar’s gods, all of them, do to anything for him at all! Even give him a decent night’s sleep.
And yet Daniel’s God is shown to be powerful and in control of, everything.
Remember of course that God’s sovereignty has implications.
If God is in control, that means Daniel is here in Babylon because of God.
If God is in control, then he’s allowed that broken relationship,
Or that illness,
Or that period of unemployment,
Or that heartache, for a reason.
Which is God was capricious, like the Greek gods,
Or mischievous like the Chinese gods, that would be bad news!
But what picture of God do we get here?
Taking a selfie after as we lay helpless?
Well, let’s take a look at the dream.
The dream of a tree
Nebuchadnezzar sees an enormous tree, in the middle of the land
It’s a place of sanctuary and provision, birds and wild animals receive shelter and food.
But then this messenger comes down from heaven, who calls for the tree to be cut down, causing the animals to flee.
I acted this out the other day! I pruned a tree and fed it through the mulcher,
The branches came off,
The leaves were stripped,
And the fruit was scattered.
There was almost nothing left. Almost.
See the deliberate instruction that the tree is not to be totally destroyed.
Verse 15, But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
And then, maybe this is why Nebuchadnezzar wanted an explanation, the focus changes from a tree to a person.
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.
And it fits that Nebuchadnezzar should have a dream about being enormous and prosperous.
He’s completed his enormous building projects in Babylon,
The new Royal Babylon Hospital has been opened within budget and ahead of schedule,
He’s subdued all the nations around him, there’s no one who can rise up against him, or give him any trouble.
He has every reason verse 4, to enjoy life at home in my palace, contented and prosperous.
Or so he thinks!
But what’s he forgotten?
He’s forgotten that his kingdom, is actually a part of God’s kingdom.
He exercises his leadership under God.
He’s only where he is, because of God.
The meaning of the dream: Nebuchadnezzar will be brought low (v 24 – 27)
There’s a lot of repetition as the dream is told, and explained, and fulfilled.
Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; verse 15, let him live with the wild animals,
Verse 25, you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign
And again in 32, 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,
Some of you watched the Royal Wedding I’m sure. Bishop Michael Curry apparently use the word “love”, 65 times, in his 13 minute sermon!
The West Australian newspaper pointed out that the Bishop used the word ‘fire” 20 times, which was more times than he referred to God.
We can tell from the repetition, what someone wants us to take away, can’t we?
Here, certain things are promised,
And it all serves to remind us that this didn’t just happen to Nebuchadnezzar
This wasn’t the natural course of events.
And all this is amplified by the fact that in the dream, there’s a messenger who comes down from heaven,
There’s no doubt who’s responsible, this is the work of the God of heaven.
This messenger is literally “one who is awake.” It’s supposed to make us realise that there’s nothing that escapes God’s notice. Of course God doesn’t need angels to stay awake at night so he knows what’s happening.
But it’s a way of reassuring us that nothing escapes God’s notice.
Are you convinced of that?
When people treat you badly, God sees.
When you battle with sin, God sees.
When you push God to the edge of your life, God sees.
God has seen how Nebuchadnezzar has lived,
He’s enjoyed the many, many gifts God’s given him, but he has no regard for God,
He puts himself in God’s place, takes the honour that God deserves.
It’s what the Bible calls sin.
And we all do it.
We live in the world that God made, but we live as if God doesn’t exist.
Remember we’ve been asking about the character of God?
It’s one thing for God to be sovereign and active, but that’s only good news if what he does is good for us.
Well, look here. God in his kindness gives Nebuchadnezzar a chance to repent. A chance to turn to God,
To recognise that God belongs at the centre, not him.
It would be a terrible thing to come to the end of your life, never having repented, and come face to face with the God you’ve tried to push out of your life every day of your existence! Can you imagine?!
This is so kind of God.
How you think he sees those who are rebels against him,
Those who treat his people badly,
Those who set themselves up in opposition to him,
Nebuchadnezzar’s done all that,
And yet God longs for him to learn this important lesson before it’s too late.
When I get wheeled out at conferences and churches to teach about church planting, as far as I can tell, the only reason I get asked to do it, is because I’ve made more mistakes in church planting than most other people!
And the only thing that’s better than learning from your own mistakes, is learning from someone else’s mistakes, so you don’t have to make them!
Friends, if you’re still living in God’s world with no regard for God,
If you think your life is your kingdom and you’re in charge,
Please don’t make Nebuchadnezzar’s mistake! Learn from him!
Acknowledge God as sovereign ruler over all the world, and the one who’s given every good gift you enjoy.
It would be terrible to meet him and still be living as his enemy.
And so God brings Nebuchadnezzar low, he humbles him, so that he can learn this.
The reason was given back in verse 17, 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 remember the destruction of the tree is not total, and it’s not permanent. Verse 26, your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules
Daniel knows that God wants to forgive
And so Daniel tries to get the king to repent now, to avoid this disaster. 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.”
What’s Daniel’s picture of God?
Eager and willing to forgive rebellion and arrogance.
Sure the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth, but he’s not so busy in that that he doesn’t have time for, one person.
Of course, Daniel doesn’t mean that by doing good things to poor people, that you can get him to ignore your sin. doing what is right, and being kind to the oppressed, they’re not a solution to the problem of sin, but evidence that he’s no longer living for himself, but according to God’s pattern for life.
And you can almost imagine Daniel, can’t you, urging him, having seen the seriousness of God’s judgement, even this temporary judgement on sin. Daniel wants the king to avoid it.
And it made we wonder if, those of who are Christians, whether we think about people we know and care about, like this?
Do we seem them as facing the very right and just judgement of God because they put themselves in God’s place?
And do we speak up, with all Daniel’s tact and gentleness, because we’ve had a glimpse of what God’s judgement on sin is like?
And what we’ve seen is worse than the temporary and limited judgment that Nebuchadnezzar’s facing, isn’t it?
We see on the cross, as Jesus takes the punishment for sin and rebellion for all those who trust in him, we see just how horrific God’s judgment on sin is. And it has to be!
Do we implore our friends and family to turn from their rebellion against God?
And for those of us who aren’t Christians, or maybe are not quite sure what we are, have you ever wondered if God can forgive you?
If he’s interested in forgiving you?
Maybe there’s a particular thing in your past,
Maybe there’s something in the present that you think God couldn’t possibly forgive, or wouldn’t want to forgive,
Or maybe there isn’t any one thing, but you know you’ve ignored God all your life, looking out at your kingdom that that you’ve made for yourself.
Well, does Daniel think that God is likely to hold back on forgiveness?
Does the God who gives Nebuchadnezzar that repeated warning, over and over again, all the detail of what’s going to happen, and then even when this does unfold, assure him that it’s only temporary, and there’s a definite way out, does this God seem like a God who holds back on forgiveness,
Who’s unwilling to forgive?
Who’s picky about who he’ll forgive when they come asking?
Does he seem like a God who stands on the platform concerned only for himself, while disaster unfolds for us?
Does the God, who, as the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, a Father who plans with his Son such a costly way for us to be brought back into relationship with him, does he sound like he’s cheap with forgiveness.
Someone commented to me this week that in their church, the communion cups are not filled very full on Sundays. And they joked that they were being cheap with Jesus’ blood!
Well, God is not cheap with Jesus’ blood! Jesus is not! A huge price was paid.
That’s how much God longs to offer forgiveness.
And so Daniel urges the king to throw himself on God’s mercy.
The dream is fulfilled; Nebuchadnezzar is humbled (v 28 – 33)
But even though God gives Nebuchadnezzar a whole year to repent, it seems Nebuchadnezzar chooses not to.
9 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,
Now, it’s a pretty sure sign that God’s got a problem with your priorities, when your boasting is interrupted by a voice from heaven!
And again see that it’s from heaven. Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t just randomly have a psychotic episode. This is God’s doing.
I find it fascinating that the narrator spends so little time, describing Nebuchadnezzar’s experience of God’s judgment.
I don’t know whether you noticed that.
We’re told the dream,
We’re told what it means,
We’re expecting it to happen.
In verse 28 we’re told that it does happen, and yet again God tells Nebuchadnezzar what’s about to unfold, but only in a single verse, verse 33, do we zoom in on Nebuchadnezzar, driven away from people, eating grass like the ox, and so on.
It’s one verse out of 37.
If this was a Hollywood movie, the bulk of the film would be Nebuchadnezzar out in the fields, making friends with the animals, and learning how cook several different delicious meals out of grass, and singing songs with woodland creatures!
But the point here is different, isn’t it?!
While we might have questions about what it looked like for him to have hair like the feathers of an eagle and, nails like the claws of a bird, the author has a much bigger point.
Why do you only need to spend one verse in 37, explaining what it looked like when this all came to pass?
Well, because what matters more than the 12 quick and easy meals you can make with grass, is that God said this would happen, and it happened.
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.
Nebuchadnezzar became a werewolf!
The clinical name for someone who lives like an animal is ly-can-thropy, which gets its name from the Greek word for wolf, because people thought were-wolves were a thing!
Interestingly for a period of history where we have very very little information, some of the ancient Babylonian writers suggest that Nebuchadnezzar suffered some terrible crisis, and went absent for a period of time, which would fit within what’s described here.
One Babylonian priest shares an account that Nebuchadnezzar was on the roof of his palace, before being “possessed by some god or other”, and then he cries out “O Babylonians, I, Nebuchadnezzar, announce to you beforehand the coming misfortune”, and it goes on, describing living like an animal in the fields.
There’s that expression about people being brought down a peg or two? Well, Nebuchadnezzar gets brought down all the pegs, doesn’t he?
He once thought he was superior to every other human on the face of the planet. Now he’s barely even recognisable as a human.
He’s living out in the fields with the animals,
His body was drenched with the dew of heaven.
Was it Wednesday morning there was frost everywhere? As soon as the sun comes up, every surface outside is dripping wet.
Nebuchadnezzar is sleeping every night in that.
Now let me just say, in case any one of us are wondering, this doesn’t mean, that all mental illness, is God’s judgment on a person’s sinfulness. The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing in 2007 found that one in 5 Australians experience a mental health condition in any given year. This absolutely isn’t saying that God’s judging those people and the other 4 out of 5 Australians God’s happy with!
In this case, we’re given the explanation, so we know Nebuchadnezzar’s condition is in particular response to his refusal to acknowledge God, to take God’s glory for himself.
When the doctor diagnosed me with anxiety and depression, she and I together had to try and work out what the cause was. We weren’t given an explanation from heaven to make sense of it.
We suffer illness because our world is spoiled by sin.
This here is a particular occasion, used by God in his eternal purposes, to judge sin, in part,
To give an opportunity for Nebuchadnezzar to repent,
And to show his sovereign rule over all the kingdoms of the world.
God graciously calls us out of this spoiled condition, just as he gracious calls and enables Nebuchadnezzar to come out of it.
The seven times that must pass before Nebuchadnezzar can be restored, are probably 7 years, although we don’t really know and it doesn’t really matter! You may know that the number 7 in Jewish thinking was a sign of completeness.
It’s the right amount of time, the appropriate time, and after that, Nebuchadnezzar was able to respond.
Nebuchadnezzar’s learnt an important lesson; God is sovereign and involved (v 34 – 35)
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 honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
Here we see God’s sovereignty and our responsibility overlapping when it comes to our repentance. At the appropriate time he’s enabled to repent, and he chooses to.
And then he praises God.
Nebuchadnezzar has learned that God is sovereign over all.
No one can stand against him,
And to live in God’s world, with no regard for God, taking for yourself the honour that’s due to God,
Well, that will one day come to an end.
God rules over all the peoples of the earth.
They’re regarded as nothing. Not that people have no value in God’s eyes. We saw how eager God was for this one man to repent.
I read this week that 6 separate Nobel Prizes have been awarded for research on fruit flies. They share much of our DNA, they reproduce quickly, and they’re easy to keep alive. They are highly valued by scientists.
But put a fruit fly next to a 6 tonne elephant, and you’d certainly regard it as nothing, wouldn’t you?
It’s all in the comparison.
As Nebuchadnezzar has experienced first hand, a human being, even one who rules over a huge chunk of the world, is nothing in comparison to God.
There is nowhere in heaven or earth, where God is not sovereign.
No creature in heaven or earth, who doesn’t come under God’s rule, or under God’s direct control.
See it’s not like the Queen, she’s our head of state, but she doesn’t really get involved.
She might rule over us, but she just lets us do more or less what we want out here in the colonies, doesn’t she?
No, God’s rule is much more hands on, as Nebuchadnezzar found out, and as he points out in his song of praise, He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth verse 35.
God is intimately involved in the world that he has made, and no one has perspective to challenge God or suggest that he should have made a different decision at some point No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”
Now, the fact that God rules over everything, kingdoms and individuals, in order to bring about his purposes, that can be a hard lesson to learn, especially in our age which prizes autonomy.
Naturally, we’re not Nebuchadnezzar.
We’re not the servant God raised up to preserve a remnant of his people, from which ultimately Jesus would come,
We don’t hold his place in salvation history,
But we still need to learn the lesson, don’t we?
And Nebuchadnezzar learnt that lesson the hard way, but he still praises God afterwards.
I wonder if we would praise God when he teaches us this lesson.
When God uses the circumstances of our life to remind us that we’re not in control,
That we make decisions, and we have real choice, yes, but that he’s sovereign over it all.
Will we praise him like this, I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
When God intervenes in our lives,
Allows the circumstances and the fractures of our broken world to take us where we’d never want to go, so that we learn that we are totally dependent on God,
Will we praise him like this? I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
When God takes away the things we have amassed for ourselves, in order that we might learn that even when we achieve great things, it’s because God, who gives all good gifts, has enabled us to achieve them,
When we’re left with nothing,
Will we praise him like this? I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
But it’s easy to forget important lessons …
Nebuchadnezzar learnt his important lesson; God is sovereign and involved. But it’s easy to forget important lessons.
Last month a few of us were in Melbourne at a church planting conference. And one of the speakers had some really really helpful lessons about how to talk to your friends about Jesus.
As I was listening to him explain how he answers his friends questions, and how he speaks in schools, I was thinking, “this is excellent, I’m learning heaps!”
But by the time I’m back in Adelaide, talking to my friends who don’t know Jesus, and engaging with kids here in the school, I’d forgotten most of the lessons I learnt at the conference.
Sadly, it looks like Nebuchadnezzar forgot the really important lesson that God taught him.
Look in verse 36 . How many times do we hear Nebuchadnezzar speak I, me, or my? By my count there’s 8. This is Nebuchadnezzar speaking on his favourite topic; himself, and his glory.
It all sounds terribly similar to the boast that symbolised the heart of his problem, back up in verse 30 my mighty power and, the glory of my majesty
We couldn’t definitively say, but, it doesn’t sound promising, does it?
And so it throws the focus back to us.
Are we willing to learn this lesson?
And to remember this lesson?
My time learning those great things in Melbourne would have been wasted, if I hadn’t taken along my notebook, to write down the lessons I was learning.
Then when I forget, or when I’m in a tricky situation, I can go back and remind myself of the lesson I learned.
It makes me wonder what we need to do to make sure we remember this lesson.
That God is sovereign,
That God’s involved,
That no person’s life, and no aspect of our life, is outside of God’s control.
Certainly writing it down in a notebook might be part of it.
But I suspect we need more.
Friend, I think we need to remind each other of this.
We offer comfort to each other in all kinds of situations, don’t we? That’s part of what it is to be the body of Christ.
Do we need to bring comfort by reassuring each other that God does as he pleases with the powers of heaven, and the peoples of the earth, and what God pleases, is always for our good. Just look at the character of this God!
That research from 2014 I mentioned at the beginning, it also found that 20 percent of Australians don’t believe in a personal God. And yet nearly half of that group, still pray.
They don’t believe there’s anyone there. Certainly not anyone who can do anything for them,
And yet they can’t help but cry out and ask God to get involved.
Well, friends, we are in the very very fortunate position, of having seen the sovereign God at work,
Heard the testimony of his activity in his world,
And having seen that he can be trusted, to do what is right and just, and very good for us.