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The Sovereignty of God

Date: Sep. 17, 2017

Author: Bob Henkins

Daniel 4:1-37

Key Verse: Daniel 4:37

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Recently I heard this a joke about a little boy named Johnny. It was Sunday morning and he was having a hard time getting dressed for church. He was doing his best, but time ran out as his parents were impatiently calling him. He didn’t want to be late, so as he ran he prayed, “Dear God, please don’t let me be late.” But right after he finished praying he tripped and tumbled head over heels. Johnny, got up, straightened his clothes, and right before he started running again he looked up and prayed, “Thank you God for helping me, next time please don’t push me so hard.” Johnny understood the main point of our message this morning. He knew that God is sovereign, that is God controls everything.

The word “sovereign” is both a noun and verb. As a verb it means, “to rule,” and as a noun it means “king” or “absolute ruler.” To say that God is sovereign is to say that God is in charge of the entire universe all the time. Simply put, God’s sovereignty means that he is absolutely free to do what he wants, when he wants, where he wants, how he wants to whom he wants. We see this theme throughout the Bible just look at these verses. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” (Gen 1:3). “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Prv 19:21) “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?” (Lam 3:37) “You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (Jam 4:15) “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” (Ps 115:3) In today’s passage, King Nebuchadnezzar experiences God’s sovereignty first hand, and he would never be the same afterwards.

In the passage, we see Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream and his third miraculous encounter with God. Although Daniel doesn’t date this event, scholars believe it happened near the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, about thirty years have passes since chapter three, so it’s around the year 571 B.C. Daniel would be about fifty years of age at this point and he is still the chief magician. One of the first things we notice is that today’s passage starts off a bit different than the previous chapters in the book of Daniel. This chapter is unusual in a couple of ways. One pastor notes that this “is the only chapter in Scripture composed under the authority of a pagan,” as it is written from Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view. Actually, it starts out in the first person and then flips to third person during the period of the king’s insanity and then flips back again to the first person. To me, it starts out more like a press release, or like a transcript of one, than a chapter in a book. Take a look at verses 1-3. “King Nebuchadnezzar, To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly! It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.” This sounds like the king called everyone together to make a very public announcement. Like so many celebrities, politicians and public figures have done, maybe Nebuchadnezzar wanted to clear up any rumors that may have been going around the palace and kingdom about some unflattering events that happened to him the past several years as he went through a very tough time in his life.

Nebuchadnezzar wants to tell his story, what exactly happened to him so that people wouldn’t speculate and come up with their own ideas. The first thing we see is that Nebuchadnezzar wants to introduce God to the whole world and he seems genuinely happy to do so. He had a very personal encounter with God. God worked through miracles and wonders in his life, how else could the greatest person in the world be reached, for a great king, a great God was needed. Previously, Neb thought God was just a god, he now calls God Most High, and he acknowledges God’s kingdom as an eternal kingdom. He finally understands and accepts it through experiencing the golden statue, the fiery furnace and his time as an animal. And he finally realizes the meaning of the gold statue, that it’s not all about him but about God.

Verse 4 tells us that Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. He was living the dream. He had everything a person could want, political peace, power, prestige, prosperity and a palace. He was content, except that he had a nightmare so terrifying that he couldn’t sleep. Even though he had everything, he didn’t have peace in his heart. He was attacked on his bed. Your bed is the one place you want to relax, but he couldn’t because of the nightmare. The scene of him in his bed and on his roof kind of reminds me of King David on his roof. You get the impression that they were idle and as the old saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.”

In verses 6-9, Nebuchadnezzar commanded all the wise men of Babylon be brought in to interpret the dream for him. He told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for him. Finally, Daniel came in and Nebuchadnezzar said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me.” All the wise men, failed to interpret the dream. Either they understood the dream and didn’t want to give bad news to the king, or they really didn’t know. I’m not sure why Daniel was late to the meeting, this seems to be his MO. Maybe as chief he sent the others in ahead of him, or maybe he waited for the others to fail, to reveal God’s power. Whatever the case, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged something special about Daniel saying that he had the spirit of the holy gods in him.

Here is Neb’s terrifying dream in verses 10-18. “These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed. “In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. “‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 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. “‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, 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 sets over them the lowliest of people.’ “This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.””

At first Daniel, was visibly upset. The thoughts that came swarming into his mind terrified him. The meaning of the dream scared him, what it meant for the king, what he would have to go through and what it might mean for Daniel and the Jews if Neb was removed. “Belteshazzar,” the king said, “stay calm. Don’t let the dream and its interpretation scare you.” Daniel wished the dream was meant for the king’s enemies but it was meant for Neb. Daniel said that the big tree was Nebuchadnezzar. “You have grown great and strong. Your royal majesty reaches sky-high, and your sovereign rule stretches to the four corners of the world,” he said. Look at verses 23-25. ““Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’ “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; 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 over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” However, even in the midst of this terrible dream there was hope, the part about the tree stump and roots being left means that your Neb’s kingdom will still be there for him after he learned that it is heaven that runs things. Daniel then offered the best advice he could in this situation, verse 27, “Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: 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.””

Seeing Daniel so distressed must have also distressed the king. However, one year passed with nothing happening, Neb probably forgot about the dream. Maybe at first, he changed his ways, for a little while, but as time passed that memory faded, as so often they do, he gradually returned to his old ways and life of sin. Then one day a year later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, overlooking the city and he liked what he saw, 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?” Nebuchadnezzar referred to the city as “the great Babylon” and by all accounts he was right. He probably made this statement from the famous “hanging gardens” which were considered one of seven wonders of the ancient world. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign undoubtedly was the most magnificent (and probably the largest) city on earth. Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, visited Babylon about one hundred years after Nebuchadnezzar’s time and was overwhelmed by its grandeur. Over two hundred years later, Alexander the Great planned to make the city the headquarters for his vast empire.

Babylon was a rectangularly shaped city surrounded by a broad and deep water-filled moat and then by an intricate system of double walls. The first double-wall system encompassed the main city. Its inner wall was twenty-one feet thick and reinforced with defense towers at sixty-foot intervals while the outer wall was eleven feet in width and also had watchtowers. Later, Nebuchadnezzar added another defensive double-wall system (an outer wall twenty-five feet thick and an inner wall twenty-three feet thick) east of the Euphrates that ran the incredible distance of seventeen miles and was wide enough at the top for four horse chariots to turn around. The height of the walls is not known, but the Ishtar Gate was forty feet high, and the walls would have approximated this size. A forty-foot wall would have been a formidable barrier for enemy soldiers.

Nebuchadnezzar carried out extensive building operations. “Most of the bricks taken out of Babylon in the archaeological excavations bear the name and inscription of Nebuchadnezzar stamped thereon. One of the records of Nebuchadnezzar sounds almost like the boast which Daniel recorded; it reads, ‘The fortifications of Esagila and Babylon I strengthened and established the name of my reign forever.’” For those who think this is a made-up story it is verified by archaeology.

Babylon boasted the famous “hanging gardens,” which the ancient Greeks considered one of the seven wonders of the world. According to the Babylonian historian Berosus, Nebuchadnezzar constructed these for his wife (Amytis) who had left the mountains of her native Media for the plains of Babylonia. Her husband, in effect, built a mountain in the city to remind his wife of her homeland. “These were elevated gardens, high enough to be seen beyond the city walls. They boasted many different kinds of plants and palm trees. Ingenious hoists had been contrived by which to raise water to the high terraces from the Euphrates River.” From the roof of his palace the king gazed out upon all of this grandeur, and his heart became filled with pride. Neb became proud thinking that he built Babylon. No sooner were the words off his lips, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; 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 and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. 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.”(v32-33)

After 7 years, Neb raised his eyes toward heaven, he sought God, a sign of submission. God accepted this small act as his repentance. “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. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven     and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.” (v34-36)

By this the king admitted that he had been proud and that God’s judgment of him had been right. This episode illustrates the well-known proverb, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18). The king had learned a painful lesson. God hates pride and humbles those who will not acknowledge his sovereignty over them. People who walk in pride discover that this cause-and-effect spiritual law continues to operate. When we do something bad, we are quick to blame others. When we do something good, we want to take all the credit. That’s pride. When we magnify our accomplishments, and minimize our errors while magnifying the sins of others and minimizing their accomplishments. That’s pride. When we put our needs and concerns ahead of others. That’s pride. When we’d rather live our life our way, instead of God’s way. That’s pride.

This is an interesting story but what does it have to do with us today? It happened nearly 2600 years ago, in a different part of the world, to a person we’ve never met, in a situation that we’ll probably never relive, so how can it be relevant to us right here now? At its foundation, this chapter is really about two sovereignties, the might of one of the greatest of human kings the world has ever known, versus the power of the Most High God. Although none of us here will end up being in a position like Nebuchadnezzar’s, still we have the same attitude, namely we want to control our own lives. We struggle with the authority of God. This is the age-old battle that has been around from the beginning of time. We’ve seen it throughout history, starting in heaven when Satan rebelled against God and fell from heaven. Then again in Genesis with Adam and Eve. In 1875, The English poet, William Ernest Henley wrote about it in his poem, Invictus:

Out of the night that covers me,
 Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
 For my unconquerable soul.
 
In the fell clutch of circumstance
 I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
 My head is bloody, but unbowed.
 
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
 Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
 Finds and shall find me unafraid.
 
It matters not how strait the gate,
 How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
 I am the captain of my soul.
 

In 1969, Frank Sinatra sang about it in his famous song, “I did it my way.” In 2000, Bon Jovi sang about it in their song, “It’s my life.” No matter how big or small, we all in one way or another want to be the captain of our soul. This is the age-old battle. It’s just that some of us are more stubborn than others. Of course, the king of Babylon was no match for the King of the universe. No one is, no matter what we think. Some may look at this story and reject the All-powerful God thinking that he is a love hungry, co-dependent narcissist who forced Nebuchadnezzar to worship him, and they would rather die than worship a god like that. To those I would say, if anyone had the right to complain, it was Nebuchadnezzar because he lived it. And what was Nebuchadnezzar’s conclusion, take a look at verse 37, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” After everything Nebuchadnezzar went through, he praised and thanked God. In verse 2, he felt that God performed miracles for him personally. He felt God’s personal love for him. This wasn’t a forced confession, he was sincere and wanted to exalt God. He realized how proud he had been acting and acknowledged that God humbled him and he was thankful for it because he also realized that God’s kingdom is an eternal one while his own kingdom was going to eventually disappear. And the only way a person can be a part of that eternal kingdom, is to humbly confess God is the Lord, Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Nebuchadnezzar didn’t know who Jesus was, Jesus came later, but he did acknowledge that God is Lord and God accepted his repentance.

When Nebuchadnezzar said that God regards all people of the earth as nothing, does that mean that God doesn’t care about us? On the contrary, Nebuchadnezzar stands as a testament to God’s love, God could have destroyed him, after all he was a pagan. But Nebuchadnezzar and all his subjects were precious to the Lord and were granted a revelation capable of leading them to salvation (1 Tim 2:4). In this respect God did not wish such a horrible experience on the king—he gave Nebuchadnezzar a full year to repent. Nevertheless, out of God’s mercy and love the ordeal was permitted in order to bring the proud king to repentance. Though severe, in this case the punishment was necessary. Not only that, all people are so precious to God that he sacrificed his one and son, Jesus, in order to save us from our sins. God is extremely gracious and patient waiting for fallen mankind to come back to him.

That’s why I think that the passage today stands as a warning for all of us. People always long to live their lives with unlimited freedom to do what they want. So, they try to leave God out of their lives because they don’t want their conscience to bother them while they enjoy their freedom. However, what we find through Nebuchadnezzar’s life, even though he had all the freedom in the world and a luxurious palace life, he was still unhappy. And the scene of him in the field acting like an animal, was the exact picture of what he looked like on the inside. At the time of creation, people and animals were created on the same day, therefore we have similar traits. And in reality, the only thing that separates us from animals is that we have the image of God in us. If one wants to be human, we must have God in our heart. We must have the image of God, and his holy desires, in our heart. Even though Nebuchadnezzar was the king of one of the greatest kingdom in history, when he didn’t have God, he was nothing but an animal. And it’s the same for us. Therefore, we should listen to Daniel’s advice and renounce our sins and turn from our wickedness and do what is right. For we’ve seen how gracious our God is because he accepts those who come to him with a repentant heart.

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