Handling Success Successfully

Biblical Truth: God rejects the proud and blesses the humble.

Premonition:  Daniel 4:4-5.

[4]  I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. [5]  I saw a dream and it made me fearful; and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept alarming me.  [NASU]

The key to understanding these early chapters comes in the second verse of the book. That verse tells of the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and explains that after the conquest of the city, Nebuchadnezzar brought back the vessels of the temple of God in Jerusalem to the house of his god and laid them up in the treasure house of his god. By this symbolic act Nebuchadnezzar was asserting that his gods were stronger than Jehovah. And so it seemed. We know that God permits others to triumph over His people for His own reasons, generally to bring judgment for sin. The temporary victory of evil persons does not mean that God is not more powerful than evil or that He will not ultimately be victorious. Yet this is what Nebuchadnezzar thought.

These opening chapters of Daniel show Jehovah teaching this proud monarch that neither his gods nor Nebuchadnezzar himself was stronger than the Most High. God is God! My glory I will not give to another, says God [Isaiah 48:11]. He does not allow Nebuchadnezzar to give God’s glory to another in this story. God had already been trying to teach Nebuchadnezzar that. The first story in Daniel that really involves Nebuchadnezzar is the story of the dream he had of a great image. God was teaching Nebuchadnezzar that he was not so important as he thought. The next story in Daniel concerns the gold image that Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plain of Dura. In reading the story with Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in view, we realize that he was rebelling against God’s decree that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be replaced by other kingdoms and eventually by God’s own kingdom. In creating the golden stature, Nebuchadnezzar was denying God’s sovereignty over the nations.

Now God has to humble Nebuchadnezzar and show that only God is King. The story we have in Daniel 4 has to do with another vision, but it must be seen against this background. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed again, and this time he dreamed that he saw a great tree. Daniel began to explain the vision. He explained that the tree was Nebuchadnezzar. God had exalted him to be a great figure, to fill all the world with his empire. But because his heart was lifted up through pride, God was going to cause this great tree to be cut down. He was not to die. But he was going to lose his sanity for seven years until he came to recognize that the Most High God rules in the affairs of men. This God sets up whom He will and brings down whom He will, and when He sets a man up, he can do it from the basest of men. He does not have to choose what we would regard as the best.

This statement of the king’s condition is designed to set forth more vividly the contrast with the events to follow. Contentment and security are suggested by the words at ease. The abrupt manner in which the matter is here introduced well illustrates the unexpected suddenness of the event itself.

Pride: Daniel 4:28-30.

[28]  All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. [29]  Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. [30]  The king reflected and said, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”  [NASU]

The story goes on to show that this is precisely what happened. The time came when Nebuchadnezzar was walking in his palace, looking out over the great city of Babylon, and he took to himself the glory that he should have given God. He said, Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty? [30]. This is the key verse. It contains Nebuchadnezzar’s boast. He failed to give God the glory. This verse is the expression of Nebuchadnezzar’s heart and of our hearts apart from the grace of God. We think that we are responsible for what we do and achieve, and we do not recognize that even when we achieve great things it is because God, the giver of all good gifts, has given us the ability to achieve them.

Lay that perspective over against the unique name for God that we find six times in this chapter but which has never occurred in the Book of Daniel before this point. The name is the Most High. You find it in a slightly different form in verse 2: the Most High God. Then you find it exactly in verses 17, 24, 25, 32 and 34. What does this name signify? In the Old Testament, the first time the name appears is in Genesis in connection with the story of Abraham’s return from the battle against the kings and his meeting with Melchizedek. We are told there that Melchizedek was the priest of the Most High God, ruler of heaven and earth. That phrase explains the name. It is not referring to God’s role as Redeemer or to his wisdom. It relates to God’s sovereignty. The Most High God is the God who rules, not only in heaven but on earth. In Isaiah 14, we have a description of the thoughts that went through the mind of Satan in the moment of his rebellion against God. One of the things Satan said is that he wished to be like the Most High. He said, I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High [13-14]. Why did Satan not say, “I will be like the Redeemer”? Why did he not say, “I will be like the most wise God”? Why not one of God’s other names? It is because he was not interested in those aspects of God’s character. He wanted to be like God in His sovereign rule. In other words, he said, “I am going to take God down from His throne and put myself upon the throne, and I am going to rule in God’s place.” That is the meaning of the Most High.

And here is Nebuchadnezzar saying, with all the folly of which human beings are capable, “Look at this great Babylon that I, Nebuchadnezzar, have built.” But this is the sin that God will not tolerate, and He brings the king down. Of course, this is not just Satan’s sin. This is not just Nebuchadnezzar’s sin. This is our sin, and it is ours both individually and collectively as a nation. The greatest sin of all is that we take glory to ourselves instead of giving credit to God. When we do well we think it is our achievement. When we do badly we think it is somebody else’s fault. It is the perspective of fallen humanity and what we do as individuals in the leading of our daily lives we do nationally. America has known real greatness. It has been greatly blessed financially, culturally, spiritually, and in many other ways. But instead of giving glory to God, from whom such blessing comes, we boast of our achievement like Nebuchadnezzar did.

Punishment:  Daniel 4:31-33.

[31]  While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, [32] and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.” [33]  Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.  [NASU]

In the same hour the prophecy took place. Nebuchadnezzar’s mind went from him, and he was driven from the palace into the fields, in the way, presumably, that they treated the insane in those days. Thus he made his home with the beasts. His fingernails grew long like claws, and his hair became matted; he was unable to take care of himself. The next part of the story is about Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment, and it is significant. When God caused Nebuchadnezzar to be lowered from the pinnacle of pride to the baseness of insanity and to be associated with the beasts and behave like a beast, God was saying by that punishment that this is the result when men give the glory of God to themselves. They become beastlike. In fact, they become even worse than beasts. Because beasts, when they are beastlike, are at least behaving the way beasts should behave. But we, when we become beastlike, behave not only like beasts, which is below where we should behave and is therefore bad enough, but even worse than beasts.

Look at what happens when men and women take the glory of God to themselves. As it says in Romans 1, God gives men up. When God does this He does not give them up to nothing. Rather, He gives them up to the working out of the moral laws of the universe that He has established, and these laws decree that if you will not have God and therefore will not have truth, holiness, justice, righteousness, and all the other good gifts that have come from Him, you will inevitably have the opposite. The first chapter of Romans shows that when men turned from God, God turned from men and they inevitably went downhill.

God gave them up to uncleanness, first of all [24]. Paul has in mind all kinds of uncleanness but especially sexual uncleanness. Second, He gave them up to vile affections [26]. This means sexual perversions. Third, He gave them up to a reprobate mind [28]. With the reprobate mind, men and women, who should be ashamed of the things they are doing, say instead, “Not only are we doing these things and will continue to do them, but we consider that these things are right and demand that you recognize that they are right.” This is the progression in Romans 1. This is exactly what we have happening in our own time, not just in our culture but also in our churches. It is bad enough to be given up to sexual uncleanness. It is worse to be given up to sexual perversion. But it is worst of all to be given up to that kind of mind that says, “I demand that you, God, recognize that what I in my depravity want to do is right.” This is not just true with sexual sins, but with every sin in which we come to God demanding that He recognize my sin as being the right thing to do [see Romans 1:29-32]. In effect, this is what we do whenever we think that our thoughts are higher than God’s thoughts concerning any desire we have or behavior that we do. Whenever we look to ourselves rather than to God as the final source of authority for our lives, then we will always enter into the downward progression that Paul describes in Romans 1:24-32.

Praise:  Daniel 4:34-37.

[34]  “But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. [35]  All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ [36]  At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. [37]  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”   [NASU]

At the end of the time, Nebuchadnezzar’s reason returned to him and he recognized the truth of things, coming to what we would call a genuine repentance. We find his words of repentance and praise for God at the end of the chapter in verse 37: Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride. This is the role that God designed for all mankind to play: to turn our thoughts to Him rather than to ourselves. Our role as Christian people is not to take the glory to ourselves but rather to achieve everything we possibly can achieve, to do as well as we possibly can do, to be as moral as we possibly can be, and then to point to God and say, “It is not I, but Christ who works in me.”

Nebuchadnezzar finally got this message, because at the very end of chapter 4 he confesses that the God whom earlier he had called Daniel’s God is now his God as well. It is only the work of God in his heart that opened his spiritual eyes enabling Nebuchadnezzar to say: I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever [34]. And it is only the work of God in our hearts that enable us to be rescued out of the downward progression of Romans 1:24-32 into the blessed state of seeking to praise and honor God in all things by taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ [2 Cor. 10:5].

Nebuchadnezzar’s pilgrimage with God is one of the themes of this book. In 2:47, he acknowledged that God revealed mysteries to Daniel. In 3:28-29, he praised the God who rescued the three Hebrews. Despite Nebuchadnezzar’s recognition that God exists and works great miracles, in 4:30 we see that he still did not acknowledge God as his Lord. We may recognize that God exists and does wonderful miracles, but God is not going to change us until we acknowledge him as Lord.

Questions for Discussion:

1.      What was Nebuchadnezzar’s problem that God was dealing with in these early chapters of Daniel? From our previous studies in Daniel, trace the various steps God has taken to convict Nebuchadnezzar of this particular sin.

2.      Look at Daniel’s response to his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in verse 27. Then look at verse 29 where God waited twelve months to carry out the fulfillment of the dream. What does this tell you about how to treat those who are controlled by sin?

3.      What is the meaning and significance of the Most High in this chapter? Why is it so important that we recognize and rejoice in this attribute of God?


Daniel, James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books.

The Prophecy of Daniel , Edward J. Young, Eerdmans.

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