A key figure in the story of Daniel is King Nebuchadnezzar, a man who wanted to be revered and worshipped for his might and glory. He was a ruler who truly believed himself to be godlike. We learn a lot about this man through the story of Daniel, and it is a lesson for us today. Just as King Nebuchadnezzar hoped to elevate himself to the place of deity and force others to treat him as a god, we will encounter people today who act with the same motives. Their attempts at being worshipped might not be so obvious, but the goal is the same. They will challenge our faith and try to gain our allegiance. In studying the life of this king, we can know how to spot those who would seek to deify themselves and gain our worship.
Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego.
After besieging Jerusalem, the king began to force his way on the people. He cunningly sought out the best of the best of Israel’s young men to bring into his palace and make serve him. He had a method for transforming them into Babylonian men because they would be his representatives. The eunuchs were charged with teaching them Babylonian language and literature, which is really a lesson in culture. Then, a greater step was taken. These Israelites were given new names in accordance with that new culture. The shift had now been made from teaching them the ways of Babylon to making them Babylonians. In the process, the king wanted nothing less than to strip them of their Jewish identity, which would be the first attack on their faith. He could not stop with teaching them new things. He wanted to make them new people for his purposes.
I have said it before, and I will say it again. The most crucial element of our faith is our identity in the Lord. This is where the enemy will try to attack us time and time again. There is a reason why the world and its sciences try to convince us that we have not been designed but are simply a matter of evolutionary chance. There is a reason why these same scientific communities attempt to label us as mere animals and not distinct from the animal kingdom as human beings originally made in the likeness of God. The enemy simply wants us not to identify with our Creator. King Nebuchadnezzar was doing the same thing here, and we will encounter a world trying to strip us of our Christian identity as well. We must be wise to spot these tactics and guard ourselves from them. Stripping us of our identity in Christ is the first step toward trying to make us like the world.
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
King Nebuchadnezzar exercised extreme power and control over his kingdom. Like many kings of his day, he wanted things run exactly as he designed. In this instance, the king determined that the young men who would be raised to be in his service had to be physically built a certain way. Part of this plan would be controlling their nutrition. Unfortunately for Daniel and his Jewish brothers, partaking in the food and wine ordered by the king would have made them impure. They had to make a decision. Either they would bow to the whims of the king and defile themselves, or they would stand up in the face of this order and request to keep themselves holy for their God. Subsequent verses tell us that the Lord gave Daniel favor with the chief of eunuchs to have this request granted and remain pure.
The king’s initial attempts to indoctrinate these young men might have seemed rather innocent or innocuous as he really was just teaching them about Babylonian culture, and he happened to give them names relevant to that culture. To some, this might not be an overt attempt to strip these men of their faith in God. However, instructions that would lead them to defy the Lord directly and make themselves impure before him no longer seem innocent. These men had been directed to violate their own convictions and the rules of their God. It is a challenge we can expect to face from the world. We might meet those who want to influence us in small ways here and there, but we eventually will meet those who want us to make drastic changes that clearly violate our faith and convictions. God will give us the favor necessary to make the right choice, but we first must spot the enemy’s attempt and be willing to stand against it.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, prostrate before Daniel, and commanded that they should present an offering and incense to him. The king answered Daniel, and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret.” Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon.
This passage falls in the midst of quite a serious situation. The king had had a troubling dream and wanted someone to interpret it for him. We might not see this as a big deal, but it was quite a big deal for King Nebuchadnezzar to have his request fulfilled. In fact, when he was advised that this could not be done, he threatened to murder and mutilate. We must keep in mind that this is a man who was used to being in control. He was not used to being troubled in the least. Those who served him did not fight against his will. To have this dream meant that his perfect little world was being interrupted, and he could not stand that. His request for the dream to be interpreted was really a request for him to receive the peace of mind he believed he deserved to have. His sole goal was to find the person who could bring him this peace.
The words uttered by the king in response to Daniel’s interpretation of his dream certainly seem sincere. We might get to this point in the book and think that King Nebuchadnezzar has made a great change. It looks like he has discovered and accepted that the Lord is the one true God. What has really happened, however, is that the king has gotten what he wanted. He is simply happy to have been able to have his way. We know the insincerity of these words because the next chapter in this book sees the king erect the golden statue that would be a great bone of contention between himself and the Israelites who serve the God he just praised. I have seen it, and you will see it. We will be ecstatic about those who appear to transform and accept the Lord, but then we will notice they fall away quickly. In the moment God answers their prayer, they love him. Then, somewhere along the way, they forget who the Lord is and go back to their old ways. Do not be discouraged when you see this, but contend in the Spirit for their faith to become genuine.
Then a herald cried aloud: “To you it is commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”
The king’s soft attempts at being worshipped and obeyed as a God have now passed. He has drawn a clear line in the sand regarding the issue of faith. This is a very hard line, and there is an obvious reason for it. King Nebuchadnezzar was not a man who was willing to compromise on anything. His position and power told him that he had the right to request anything and have that request satisfied. Disobedience would not be tolerated. Disappointment would not be tolerated. Those who stood in the way of the king’s wishes being fulfilled simply had to die. This was a man who tried to live as a god because he somehow thought he was entitled to that, but he would not share this allegiance. His aim, then, was to make the people worship as he desired and leave their other gods behind and follow him.
One of the first experiences I had as a Christian was having to tell my best friend that I was now studying the Bible and could not live the lifestyle we had become accustomed to living. I thought he would be happy for me since I was happy, but he did nothing but challenge me during that conversation. Eventually, he gave me an ultimatum. He did not want to be friends with a Christian who considered his life sinful, so he left. I would not choose our friendship over my God, and that was all he had to hear. To him, I was dead; I no longer meant anything. It would be the first time someone would ask me to worship them instead of worshipping the Lord. He did not say those words exactly, but that was what he meant. Those who want to interfere with your relationship with God will not always be so clear, but they want what King Nebuchadnezzar wanted. They want to be followed as your God. They want you to be obedient to them.
The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”
The king who desired to live as a god would come up against the one true God and be left alone to consider the truth of the matter. He had power and influence. He had men serving him. He answered to no one and was second to no one. God could have tried to get through to him in that environment, but He chose a different way. First, God had to strip the king of everything that propped up his pride and gave him his entitlement. That meant removing him from leading a kingdom so that he would have nothing but himself. He would have to view himself in a vacuum, and he would have to live like a mere beast in the fields. It was God’s way of showing Nebuchadnezzar how lowly he actually was compared to the high position he thought he occupied among men by right. It is a lesson we can be confident the Lord will teach all those who attempt to live as gods.
King Nebuchadnezzar was fortunate. The Lord let him realize during his lifetime the error of his ways. The Lord gave him the opportunity and time to change those ways. It was a chance at repentance, and Nebuchadnezzar appears to have taken it. [vv. 34-37] God would restore him to his throne and his sanity. Nebuchadnezzar would rebuke the pride with which he had walked all those years, but we cannot know whether that was lasting. At a minimum, any even momentary change to Nebuchadnezzar’s heart or mind should give us hope for the Nebuchadnezzars we encounter today. They might make us angry and fill us with disgust, but there is hope for them. It might take drastic and unpleasant measures, but God can set them straight. The Lord can pulverize their pride, and He can set free those they try to lead in idol worship. Let us pray for the Nebuchadnezzars of today that they would see a genuine change. Let us pray that we can spot them and respond by holding fast to our faith while praying for their restoration.
The times have not changed much. Certain people will rise to power or influence, and their pride will cause them to elevate themselves to god status. They will challenge our faith by attempting to take our allegiance away from the Lord in one way or another. They will exert their authority over us in subtle ways as well as overtly oppressive ways. All this serves the same purpose, which is to dent and deflate our faith. When we encounter the Nebuchadnezzars of today, we must act as Daniel and his Jewish brothers did. We stand on truth without wavering. We trust God to free the people from their bondage. We look to God to set the deceiver straight. Most of all, we commit these things to the Lord in prayer. Even the most egotistical and self-serving Nebuchadnezzars can be transformed to lovers of the Lord who lead in truth.