Live Humbly

The Point:  Pride leads to downfall, but God honors humility.

Nebuchadnezzar Humbled:  Daniel 4:28-35.

[28]  All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. [29]  At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, [30]  and the king answered and said, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?" [31]  While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, "O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, [32]  and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will." [33]  Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. [34]  At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to 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, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

“It becomes clear from even a superficial reading of this whole chapter that God had a demand to make of Nebuchadnezzar, a lesson to teach him and a question to ask him before His relationship with this man, begun so promisingly, could really become stable and fruitful. The demand was for the total commitment of his mind and heart and life to God Himself. The lesson is three times clearly stated in the text: that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will [17,25,32]. The question is obviously and simply that which He seeks to ask of all of us when He sees us living as if no one in particular rules the kingdom of men: What is his aim and where does he think he himself is heading, with all this feverish and proud planning and building? This chapter is about how God pressed home His personal demand on Nebuchadnezzar in the later years of his life, taught him his final lesson and faced him with this ultimate question. It would seem that Nebuchadnezzar was consciously or unconsciously evading the demand, the lesson and the question. He seems to admit as much in his words: I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace [4]. This is meant to be read not simply as factual information but as an indication of exactly where the source of his trouble lay and a confession of where in his folly he went wrong. His prosperity was his danger and became his curse, his accepting of the delusive ease it was able to bring to him was his tragic undoing. We can become so like Nebuchadnezzar – especially if our hard work has brought us some apparently solid achievement, and perhaps if somehow our careers have begun to be crowned with success. Surrounded by our achievements, especially if we are religiously inclined, we can begin to think such outward achievement must really have been the result and even the reward of some basic inner rightness in our life as a whole. Prosperity and success are always dangerous if they lead to ‘ease’ – and they are especially dangerous for those of us who believe in God. For the temptation always is to imagine that our very prosperity and success are signs that God is especially pleased with us and thus to delude ourselves into a false sense of happiness and security which diverts us from having to face the possibly unbearable truth about ourselves. Our life and effort, even our religious life and effort, thus become full of evasion. In order to get Nebuchadnezzar’s attention, God spoke to him in a dream. The dream was full of strange details. In it he saw himself represented as a great flourishing tree with abundant shelter for the multitude of birds and beasts which came around [20-22]. But at the height of its majesty and prosperity a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven and ordered it to be hewn down. Its foliage was to be destroyed till only a desolate stump was left and the beasts and birds had to flee. This was to happen till seven periods of time pass over him [23]. It was a warning to Nebuchadnezzar that he himself, great like that tree, but haughty and stubborn still in his pride, was going to undergo, if he did not change his ways and answer God’s challenge and question, a tragic experience of being struck down with personal disaster – a period of prolonged insanity and isolation till he became truly humbled and renewed [24-26]. And the warning is blunt: Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity [27]. How gracious God was in trying to penetrate and influence this man’s mind in such a frank yet gentle and subtle way. He was given a whole year to learn his lesson and change his attitude from the heart. It was during this year that Nebuchadnezzar consciously said No!. He either deliberately neglected or crushed out the seed of God’s warning with the possibilities of its changing his life. Moreover in this very response he was rejecting not only the message clearly put by Daniel, but also the way of simple and straightforward gentleness which God was so patiently seeking to take in His dealing with him. At the end of twelve months Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of his royal palace, boasting audibly about the great Babylon he had built to the glory of his own mighty power [30], and a voice came from heaven: O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you [31]. The threat of the dream was fulfilled. With crushing force a load of relentless and most cruel suffering fell upon him. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws [33]. Whatever this means exactly, we are meant to understand that he underwent seven years in dreadful inward solitary confinement, that his whole personality seemed to be tragically deformed, in the severest kind of mental illness man can know. Patient, gentle dealing had failed with Nebuchadnezzar. Now there had to come the seven years of mental anguish, till he learnt his lesson and was ready to make his commitment. God will never be thwarted by human resistance, nor will His wisdom ever fail to devise a new way, and His patience in the work will last long after we ourselves grow weary and despairing. There is no doubt that today what is wrong with so many of us, whether we belong to the church or not, is that we will not listen to the word of God; we will not carefully face all the issues that require to be resolved between Him and us, and we will not stop to ask with reason and good sense which way is the best and most blessed way to live. Perhaps we are now passing through the stage of the bad dream as Nebuchadnezzar did. Many people are thus uneasy about themselves, bewildered about the purpose and meaning of their lives and destiny, and are forced far too often to ask ‘Who am I?’ without knowing where to go with such a question. And not quite sure of anything, except that they are troubled, they will consult almost anyone who professes to be a ‘counsellor’. It would be good if this deep disturbance in our dream consciousness could indeed lead many of us to listen again to the Word of God as it speaks in ways and words that are clear and understandable, and seeks to move us to a new life of commitment and obedience to God. But if we will not be reasonable, God will yet have His way. If we in the western world with all our Christian tradition, our still-functioning churches, and our learning and science, insist on going on to build our Babylon without the direction and inspiration of God, there may come, under the same hand and providence as once helped us to produce so many things worth living for, a time of much greater deprivation and darkness than we have known for centuries, till we learn again His ways. One further thought can give us some comfort if we ever find ourselves undergoing what we feel is strong-handed discipline from God. Let us remember that we are still in the same hands of the one who has always been patient and gentle. Nebuchadnezzar came through his long period of trial and darkness. He learnt his lesson and became a new being [34-35]. What God wanted to say to Nebuchadnezzar above everything else is summed up three times in the text of the chapter [17,25,32], that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. God rules! Nebuchadnezzar knew this. But where? Nebuchadnezzar answered: ‘Up there!’ He was wrong, said Daniel – ‘Down here!’ It was in the kingdom of men that He wanted His will done – in Babylon. He burned with zeal that men and women, nations and kings should wait on Him to know what they should do, and that they should make His word and His will the basis of their political and social planning and of their personal lives. Now Nebuchadnezzar has come through his long agony and a much better kingdom than the one he sought and prized is really being given to him now – just as he is – to a poor, broken man, object only of the grace of God, and ready now to live by the grace of God. The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and set over it the lowliest of men [17]. Now that he himself has been given this humility, has been brought to the point where he knows beyond all doubt that he has nothing to give, nothing to bring, and deserves nothing, he finds that he has received the kingdom. The final section of this chapter reads like one of the psalms of thanksgiving for deliverance which are so frequent in the Bible. Through being enabled to lift up his eyes to heaven [34] his reason returned. Twice this is mentioned [34,36], for this has been the physical and psychological miracle on which everything else has depended. It may be that a hint is here being given that we come to be truly in our right mind when we begin to view and value everything else in the light of heavenly realities. The whole tenor of the psalm suggests that his life has received a new orientation, and that he has been thus delivered from aimlessness: my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever [34]. He has found something bigger than himself to live for – something bigger than even his mighty empire. He himself is so captivated and his energies and abilities and wealth are now so fully dedicated to this aim and end, that it is as if his whole purpose for life has been transformed. He has been delivered, too, from isolation. He dwells on the transformation that he knows everyone around him has found in his own personality as a result of this new orientation towards God. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me [36]., Nearly every other glimpse we have of this man is of one living in tragic isolation with people around him only because he had power to compel and rewards to give. But now something has happened that people can sense and see, and the barriers of isolation in his own being are broken through and people seek him, as he seeks them. He has become open to fellowship and knows himself called to it. He ends the psalm with a testimony to his deliverance from pride [37]. This sin has blighted everything he has done, separated him from God, made him hard to live with, and has made him preoccupied with only his own glory. The beginning of the psalm is closely connected with the end. It was what he saw when he lifted up his eyes to heaven [34] that brought him in to such deep self-abasement. Nebuchadnezzar had discovered that only God is great, and thus the starting point for a life of humility: for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation [34]. Jesus called what Nebuchadnezzar had found ‘life’. He was referring precisely to the question which Nebuchadnezzar had faced here, when he spoke about how people could lose, or find, and thus gain their lives [Mt. 10:39]. And Jesus urged the importance of the issues we have read about in this personal testimony when he said, for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul [Mark 8:36]. Nebuchadnezzar on the way to gaining the whole world has been saved from personal disaster. For us to gain the world and forfeit our life can be only too easy. It can mean allowing ourselves to become completely absorbed in solving every other question around us except this ultimate and too often neglected one.”  [Wallace, pp. 72-85]. 

“It is significant that the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling and the return of his reason came when he took his eyes off himself and lifted them to heaven in an act of supplication and dependence. This looking away from oneself is the essence of true humility, and the means by which we can distinguish it from the counterfeit form. Counterfeit humility may confess cringingly, “Oh how worthless I am,” yet its eyes are still fixed on itself. In counterfeit humility, I am caught up in my weakness rather than my strength, but I am still as focused on myself as I was in my pride. True humility, in contrast, looks away from myself to heaven. True humility recognizes not only that I am nothing, but also that God is everything. It acknowledges that I cannot stand by myself, but God can make even me stand firm and strong. Humility sees that apart from Christ I can do nothing, but in Christ I can accomplish whatever God designs for me.”  [Duguid, pp. 71]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Wallace writes that, in this passage, God confronts Nebuchadnezzar with a demand, a lesson, and a question. What is the demand, the lesson, and the question? Do you see how God is confronting you with the same demand, lesson, and question? How are you responding?

2.         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?

3.         In the Bible, where we place our eyes is a metaphor for where the focus of our lives is concentrated. In these past lessons in Daniel, we have seen God working in Nebuchadnezzar’s life to move his eyes off himself and onto God. We need to continually ask ourselves, where are our eyes? Pray that God will continue his work in you so that your eyes will be focused on Him.


Daniel, James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books.

Daniel, Iain Duguid, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Message of Daniel, Ronald Wallace, Inter Varsity.

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

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