Daniel 4 Bible Study: Lessons from a Loon!

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Daniel Bible Study Chapter 4 Part 2

Daniel 4: Lessons from a Loon!

by I Gordon

We looked last time at Nebuchadnezzar and the tree of doom and I'm sure you have remembered that we only got half way through Daniel chapter 4 before that study came to an abrupt screeching halt! We saw last time that king Nebuchadnezzar was given a frightening prophetic dream of what would come upon him. Unfortunately, the king didn't take this warning completely to heart and as we left the king he was out on his balcony, looking over his whole kingdom, and giving praise to the one responsible for such greatness... Himself! Nice.

It is good to remember that this chapter is a written testimony by Nebuchadnezzar to the then known world. He personally learnt a lot through this time and so can we. What we are going to do in this study is look at the remainder of Nebuchadnezzar's testimony and examine the lessons that we can gather from such a radical story. They are 5 simple lessons from a loon! We'll also look briefly at what this chapter means from a prophetic point of view as there are some interesting pointers to the end of the age.

Lesson 1: Who rules the roost?

Dan 4:29:32 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 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?' The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, '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 cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.'

This passage encapsulates the chapter for it demonstrates the biggest lesson that mankind has to learn - Who rules the roost? We see that as the king is busy praising himself, the decree is given from on high that his authority has been taken from him and that he will now be eating grass like an animal until he acknowledges that it is the Most High that is sovereign! Now I don't want to gloss over this point because it is crux of the matter. What was it that led the king to this point? What was it that had kept God out of His rightful place in Nebuchadnezzar's life? We can clearly see from the passage above that it was pride and his popular close cousin, independence. Now, have you ever thought of where this came from? Was mankind created to live independently of God?

Just a quick time warp detour...

If we go back to the beginning, back to Genesis, we find something interesting. When God created the animal kingdom he gave them something that would govern their actions and be their guide for how they should live and operate. We call that something 'instinct'.  [1]  To mankind he didn't give instinct. He gave Himself. His presence, His life, represented by the tree of life, was to be mankind's guide. Mankind was not programmed to operate instinctively but was designed to live in dependence upon God and His life within them. Well, that was the plan... until a voice arose in the garden...

'You will not surely die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'

In other words - 'you don't need to live dependant upon God. You can be like God! You can know good and evil. You can gain knowledge and not be trapped needing God. You can make your own rules, your own decisions... You can go your own way and be your own person. Just break free from God and you can be your own God!

So they did. They bought the lie and were sold a lemon... Instead of freedom they received a life long battle and bondage to self centeredness. Instead of liberating knowledge they received pride, smugness and independence. So when our nice little king Nebuchadnezzar stands in great pride on his balcony overlooking his kingdom and sings praises to himself, he is only verbalising that which dwells within the heart of most of us - Pride and independence. It may be thousands of years since the fall of man but nothing has changed. There is nothing new under the sun.  [2]  The first lesson that Nebuchadnezzar, and mankind in general, had to learn was who rules the roost? Is it God or is it you?

Lesson 2: Revelation often comes through brokenness 

Daniel 4:33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. 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.

As we continue looking at Nebuchadnezzar's testimony we read the above, dramatic, turn of events! One minute wallowing in pride and self exaltation... the next being brought right down to ground level (quite literally!). The one who ruled the people now can't even control himself. He who dined on the choicest of foods now feeds on grass. He who wore the royal robes is now covered by thick hair like feathers. I called this lesson 'Revelation often comes through brokenness'. I could have also said 'Spiritual highs are often reached through personal lows'. To turn from yourself to God requires that you truly know yourself and have gotten over yourself! And that often (but not always) requires humbling by God. So how low does the king go? He is taken right back to grass roots. His severe pride required a severe humbling.  [3]  But always remember that God has a purpose in all that He does and it is not to simply humiliate someone! God loved Nebuchadnezzar. Despite the ego trips, despite throwing people into the fire, despite turning people's houses into rubble... God still loved this king. And the king would soon be granted a very personal revelation of God's grace and faithfulness. He would soon reach a new spiritual high. But this was the valley he had to walk through to get there. If things are tough in your life always remember that God may just have chosen to reveal more of Himself to you. And for that matter, remember the next lesson that the king learned...

Lesson 3: There is no hole so deep that God can't lift you out of! 

Daniel 4:34 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.

When it looks like there is not way out - Remember Neb!

Now, I want you to do something for me. But it may not relate to right now in your life...
But the next time you think that you have blown it and there is no way back...
The next time you wallow in despair thinking that you can never get out of this mess...
The next time you regret some past action and think that it can't ever be put right...
Think of Nebuchadnezzar!

This guy was an animal... No, he literally was an animal. It makes you wonder as he was munching on some grass in the field whether he ever just stopped and thought - 'Oh man... how did it come to this? I was once a king and now I'm a lunatic! I used to eat at banquets and now I munch out on grass! All because of my stubborn proud heart! I wonder if I'll ever get out of this?' As low as you may be now or in the future, I doubt you will be as low as our poor king. And his testimony is that as low as you may go, God is still able to elevate and restore that which was lost. There is no hole so deep that God cannot lift you out.  [4] 

In the depths of Nebuchadnezzar's trial he raised his eyes toward heaven. He praised the Most High. There was nothing left of self that was praise worthy. There was no palace, power, pleasure or prosperity anymore. All was stripped away until only God remained. And as he raised his eyes toward God his sanity was restored! What an amazing testimony! What a great lesson to learn and experience!

Lesson 4: Only the things of God last forever

Daniel 4:34-37  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?'

You may remember in chapter 2 of Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a great statue. He, and his kingdom, were said to be the head of gold in that statue. Now if you remember that, do you also remember that the king was told that God would set up His own kingdom that would put to an end all man-made earthly kingdoms? If you do then you're doing better than most! But do you also remember that the king then went and built his own image all in gold signifying that his kingdom would not be defeated or be demolished? Of course you did!

Well, that brings us to the 4th lesson that God required this king to learn. And that is that only the things of God last forever. Now, I'll take a wild stab here and guess that you don't have the power, palace and position of the king before us. And yet, if you are like me, you still spend a fair amount of your time building up your own little kingdom down here on earth while often forgetting about the eternal kingdom. We forget how temporary our lives on this planet are. We forget that only the things of God last forever. It was to this attitude that Isaiah spoke when he said:

A voice says, 'Cry out.' And I said, 'What shall I cry?' 'All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.'  [5] 

Our good king learned his lesson! Once he was restored he no longer spoke of how great he or his kingdom was... No, his language and thoughts were now onto that which was eternal! Read what he wrote to all the peoples and nations once again in verse 34. Remember that this is his testimony to the then known world! So what did he tell them? Basically that it's not about you and your little kingdom. God doesn't regard man like other men do! If you want to be part of something that truly lasts then it's all about God's kingdom and his rule. Everything else is nothing. He learned this lesson the hard way - only the things of God last forever.

Lesson 5 - Our Response...Speak!

Daniel 4:36-37 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.  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.

Daniel 4:2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.

The last lesson that we can learn from the king is simply what he did with this great experience that God gave him - He told others about it! How cool. I know I've mentioned it before but always remember that chapter 4 of Daniel is the personal testimony of the king that he sent out for all to read and hear. Too often (and I'm definitely including myself here) we keep the things of God out of conversation for fear of what others may think. Not this king! He spoke and I have no doubt that his words and testimony changed peoples lives as God worked in their lives too.

The NIV says for verse 2 that 'It is my pleasure to tell you...' The NASB says 'It seemed good to me to tell...' Have you found that it is both good and a pleasure to tell others about what God has done?


There are great universal lessons that God wished to teach the king then, and us now, in Daniel chapter 4. Mankind doesn't change and while the extent of the highs and lows in this chapter may not be your experience, the process and principles taught hold true none the less. M. Lloyd Jones once said that all of mankind's history could be expressed thus:

'Man formed, man deformed, man informed, man transformed.'

I like that and it certainly holds true for this chapter and the life of king Nebuchadnezzar. And I hope that you have got to the last stage of the process as well!

Appendix - the prophetic element

We have looked at this study from a personal point of view exploring some of the lessons that we can learn from Nebuchadnezzar. But it is worth adding a note about the prophetic significance. Jesus spoke about the 'times of the Gentiles' (Luke 21:24) This is the time when Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentile nations. Interestingly, it begins with the time of Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian kingdom. It ends at the return of Jesus when he sets up His kingdom in Israel. It is worth noting the parallels in this judgement and that which is still to come. A.C Gaebelin writes well on this:

 'As judgment came upon the great monarch in the beginning of the times of the Gentiles, so judgment will yet fall upon this proud and self exalting age of the Gentiles. That great big, political and religious tree will some day be hewn down and be destroyed.

And Nebuchadnezzar's great humiliation in becoming a beast for seven times (seven years), points us to the end of this Gentile age once more. Apostasy from God will be the great characteristic of that end. There will be no more looking up to God, but the attitude of the beast will be the attitude of the nations. We see much of this already. They mind earthly things and become the 'earth dwellers' so frequently mentioned in the book of Revelation. Madness and bestiality will seize upon the Gentiles, after the One who hinders, the Holy Spirit is removed. Then proud and apostate Christendom will believe the lie and follow the beast with its lying wonders. This will last seven times, that is, seven years.

The stump of the great tree which remains in the field suggests the fact that the judgments which fall upon the nations in the time of the end will not completely destroy all nations. Many of them will be swept away. For those who wilfully rejected the gospel and turned away from the truth, there is no hope. But there are others which will be left and when these judgments are in the earth, the nations learn righteousness

The millennium is also seen in this chapter in the restoration of Nebuchadnezzar and in the praise He gives to the Most High. In the previous chapter the three friends of Daniel speak of 'our God,' but in this chapter we hear of 'the Most High.' It is the millennial name of God. We see then in the fourth chapter the pride and self exaltation of the Gentiles, and how the Gentiles will be humiliated and judged. First there is self exaltation, that is followed by judgment, and then follows restoration and the acknowledgement of the Most High.

That nothing more is now reported of Nebuchadnezzar, that the last which we hear of him in Scripture is his acknowledgment of the Most High, is also not without meaning. It foreshadows the universal acknowledgment of God in the kingdom which the God of heaven will set up, when the stone fills as the mountain the whole earth.

[1] ↩  An old sermon by Major Ian Thomas is about the wonder of the animal kingdom and specifically, bees. Did you know that within the hive different bees are assigned different tasks? Some bees simply clean the hive. Some continue to build the hive using mathematically perfect hexagonal cells of wax. Others flap their wings to circulate air and keep the hive at a constant temperature. Others go out looking for nectar and when they have found some they do a little dance inside the hive which instructs the others bees where to find it! How do they do all this? Instinct! God has programmed within them the knowledge of how to do these things. No one has to teach them. Instinct governs their actions. In his sermon, Major Ian asks what would happen if instinct within the bee kingdom suddenly snapped! Imagine if the bees decided that they were sick and tired of having to do what the other bees want. Imagine if those assigned to keeping the hive at a constant temperature suddenly decide that they are not going flap anymore. 'Go and do your own flapping' they say 'I've been flapping for months without even a word of thanks!' 'Yeah, we'll I'm not dancing anymore. No more telling you guys where the nectar is. You're always riding on my coat-tails... you find your own nectar. This is mine!'
Major Ian spoke about what we would end up with if instinct snapped and it was every bee for himself. It would be chaos and the breakdown of the bee kingdom. And yet that is what mankind decided to do in the garden. They chose to go it alone without God. Every man for himself! Craziness.

[2] ↩  But thankfully there can be something new under the Son! Only in Christ are things made new. As Larry Norman used to sing: 'Unless JC sets you free, everything remains the same. We are what we are until the day that we die.'

[3] ↩  According to the note in my bible, the king's illness has a name - It's called Boanthropy and it means that you imagine yourself to be an animal and act accordingly. You may want to note it down cos I'm kind of thinking that you don't want to catch this one!

[4] ↩  The Bible is of course full of such amazing stories of men and women who have been raised from the depths. We could talk of Job and all that he went through... yet God restored all that he had lost. We could talk of Joseph, wrongly accused and thrown into prison until the timing of God was such that he should be exalted and made ruler over Egypt! We could talk of a wicked king of Judah called Manasseh who was taken with a hook in his nose and shackles on his feet down into a dungeon in Babylon. And yet, in the depths of his despair he called on God with a repentant heart and God lifted him out of that hole and through pure grace he ended up in the line and genealogy of Jesus! (It's a great story, please read 2 Chron 33). Or what about the thief on the cross? Did you know that at the start of the crucifixion both of the thief's were mocking Jesus?

[5] ↩  It was this same lesson that Jesus tried to teach his listeners where he spoke:

 'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.