Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was a complicated man. He had an inflated ego and an exaggerated sense of self-importance, but he was quick to admit when he was wrong. When he encountered the one true God who blessed and protected Daniel and his friends, he was quick to acknowledge His supremacy — but he still held to his idols and false deities. The king could profess faith in God in beautiful, majestic language (see 2:47, 4:3), but he did not really possess the faith he professed. He understood the concept of exclusive loyalty to one sovereign ruler, because that is what he demanded of his subjects. But as his spiritual pilgrimage unfolds in the book of Daniel we see that he was unwilling to worship God exclusively.
This chapter is Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony of how God humbled him. (Note: Isn’t it amazing how God pursued a relationship with Nebuchadnezzar? While He could have annihilated the haughty king, He patiently sought to win his heart! We do not know if Nebuchadnezzar ever became a true believer, but I like to think that in the end, one of the greatest conquerors in history finally surrendered and was himself conquered by the one true God.)
As in chapter 2, God got the king’s attention through a troubling dream that only Daniel could interpret (v.10-16). Nebuchadnezzar was the tree in the dream that would be cut down, humiliated for seven “periods of time” and then restored to prominence. Daniel seemed to imply that the fulfillment of the dream could be avoided if the king would “break off his sins” and repent of his pride (v.27). God mercifully gave the king a year to repent, but by year’s end he had already forgotten the warning. While surveying his kingdom he was filled with pride as he took all the credit for his accomplishments — credit that rightfully belonged to God. The dream from a year before immediately took effect as God removed the king’s sanity.
For seven months (or years) Nebuchadnezzar lived like a wild animal. I am sure that his family and his staff tried to reason with him or even restrain him, but God had taken away his ability to reason. He apparently refused to live indoors, to eat human food, or to groom himself. Imagine what he must have looked like at his worst, described in verse 33!
At the end of the time, the king-turned-wild man suddenly recovered his sanity. He instantly realized that God had humbled him as promised in the dream, and he broke into praise for His sovereignty (v.34-35). He acknowledged that he deserved the punishment and that “those who walk in pride God is able to humble” (v.37). God graciously restored Nebuchadnezzar to his throne and allowed his reign to flourish again. The lesson here for us is simple, and it is stated succinctly in James 4:6, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So say goodbye to pride. Serve God humbly. Surrender to His will. Humble yourself — or God may humble you. Believe me, you don’t want that. Just ask Nebuchadnezzar.