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Heaven rules

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Daniel 4

Learning the hard way

Have you ever had to learn a lesson the hard way? You were warned! You were told not to go there or not to do whatever it was that you were planning to do, but instead of listening, instead of heeding the warnings you ignored them. You did exactly what you were warned not to do, and you didn’t to what you were told to do and it turned out a disaster.

I remember as young man being warned by my mum to be careful when I drove and not muck around when I’ve got others in the car with me. But I didn’t listen, and it wasn’t until I hit telegraph pole and wrote of my Land Rover that I really learnt that lesson.  And I remember that moment, that split second before I hit the pole thinking, ‘Do I have to learn my lesson this way?’ Well, it turns out I did. Fortunately for me the only damage was the Land Rover and the telegraph pole. The Land Rover was a write off but at least I and the seven others in the 4WD walked away unscathed. Sometimes, we just don’t listen to the warnings that we are given, and we insist on learning our lessons the hard way.

Warned in a dream

Over the last week we have been hearing the story of Daniel and his friends who had been taken from their home in Israel (these were God’s people) to serve in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. In the story that we have been looking at this morning from Daniel 4 we see Nebuchadnezzar learning a lesson the hard way and chapter 4 is the King’s own account of what happened. It’s an open letter to all people tell us how he learnt his lesson.

Nebuchadnezzar at the time was the ruler of the Babylonian empire that had spread across the middle east. He had successful defeated the Egyptian armies in 605 BC to become the dominate superpower in the middle east. After the battle of Carchemish, he had managed to push the Egyptians all the way back to Egypt. He had defeated many nations along the way including the Israelites who were the people of God. At the time he would have been at the height of his reign with his empire stretching all the way to the borders of Egypt.

But Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t only known for his military strength but for his rebuilding Babylon so that it with its impressive decorative walls and its hanging gardens and became known as one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. And at the time of writing this open letter, he seems to have fought his battles and he was home enjoying his victory. He was content and prosperous and proud of what he had achieved, but we read that a dream made him afraid.

Daniel 4:4-5

I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. I had a dream, and it frightened me; while in my bed, the images and visions in my mind alarmed me.[1]

Sometimes I wake up from a dream or a nightmare afraid, but all things being equal I usually go back to sleep, and by morning I’ve forgotten everything. I just know I had dreamt something that I didn’t like.  But this wasn’t the case with Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar knew that this dream somehow was an ominous warning from heaven and he wanted it interpreted and eventually he turned to Daniel, one of the Israelites now serving in the palace. When Daniel heard the dream even, he was disturbed by what he had heard.

Daniel 4:19

19 Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was stunned for a moment, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king said, “Belteshazzar, don’t let the dream or its interpretation alarm you.”

You are the tree

Daniel was alarmed because the dream was a warning to Nebuchadnezzar. The dream was all about what God was going to do to this arrogant and proud King who needed to understand that it wasn’t him that ruled this world, it was the Lord, the God of Israel who was the maker of heaven and earth. Daniel explained that the tree in the dream represented the king and his reign over the nations of the earth.

Daniel 4:20-22

20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, whose top reached to the sky and was visible to the whole earth, 21 and whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant—and on it was food for all, under it the wild animals lived, and in its branches the birds of the sky lived—22 that tree is you, Your Majesty. For you have become great and strong: your greatness has grown and even reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to the ends of the earth.

Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom had spread across the earth like the branches of a tree. He had conquered many nations and as result Nebuchadnezzar, who was at the head of this kingdom, had grown very proud and arrogant acting as though he was in control, and that he could do whatever he wanted and could get away with it. But you can’t play God and get away with it no matter who you are in this world, and this is what Daniel had to tell this King. No wonder he was a little bit alarmed. Usually, kings in the ancient world didn’t like getting bad news and often reacted badly when someone gave it to them. It was often the bearer of bad news that bore the brunt of the king’s displeasure.

God is going to teach you a lesson

But Daniel bravely went on to explain that God was going to teach Nebuchadnezzar a lesson. God was going cut down the tree and bind the stump. He would remove Nebuchadnezzar from his throne and humble because of his pride until he learnt the lesson that he (Nebuchadnezzar) doesn’t rule anything without God. Heaven rules this world. God rules this world, not us..

Now, we might not rule a great empire, but we can still be guilty of thinking that we are in charge of things that matter us when we are not. We foolishly believe that we are in charge of what is going on our lives, but really we aren’t in control. We sometimes act like we are, as though we not accountable to the God who made us and gave us life. We think, that so long as we don’t hurt anyone else, I can do whatever I like. But the truth is that we are answerable to our Creator, our maker who has given us life and put us in the position that we find ourselves in. And the truth is that any moment our lives can be turned upside and that illusion of control can vanish. It is God who rules this world. He has our lives in his hands and nothing happens without his permission. He told Nebuchadnezzar that he appoints whoever he wants to rule, and as Nebuchadnezzar would find out, he can remove anyone he pleases. Have a listen to Daniel’s explanation in verses 24 to 27.

Daniel 4:24-27

24 This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree of the Most High that has been issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals. You will feed on grass like cattle and be drenched with dew from the sky for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants. 26 As for the command to leave the tree’s stump with its roots, your kingdom will be restored to you as soon as you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, may my advice seem good to you my king. Separate yourself from your sins by doing what is right, and from your injustices by showing mercy to the needy. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity.”

Warning ignored

Daniel gives the king some advice. The dream was a warning and Daniel told the king of what he might do to turn things around, to extend his prosperity and not fall under God’s judgment But sadly, we often don’t listen to warnings. We often ignore them and have to learn our lessons the hard way. This is exactly what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. He didn’t listen to Daniel’s advice. He didn’t to listen to what God was telling him in the dream. He didn’t humble himself before God and turn from his wickedness. Instead, twelve months later, on the roof of his palace he boasted about all that he had achieved and built for himself. He sang his own praises and celebrated his own glory and greatness. And so while he the words were still on his lips, a voice from heaven announced that it was time for him to learn his lesson the hard way.

Daniel 4:28-32

28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months, as he was walking on the roof of the royal palace in Babylon, 30 the king exclaimed, “Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built to be a royal residence by my vast power and for my majestic glory?”

31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared that the kingdom has departed from you. 32 You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals, and you will feed on grass like cattle for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants.”

Lesson learnt

Nebuchadnezzar would learn that Heaven rules, but he would learn it the hard way. The fact that he learned his lesson is evident because he is the one telling the story warning all the people of the earth. This is his open letter.

He reports that he was humbled by God. He was driven away, he lost his throne, he lost his mind, and he lived like an animal in the field for a period of time. We are not exactly sure whether it was seven weeks, or seven months, or seven seasons, seven years for it just talks about seven periods of time. Seven was a number that symbolised completeness and using it here it might be a just a way of saying that it would go until the time that God had chosen for it to be completed. But it had to have been a while for his hair and nails to have grown like they did. The letter reports that his hair grew like eagle’s feathers and nails like bird’s claws. But the point was it would be the time of God’s choosing. When that appointed time Nebuchadnezzar was up, finally he looked up towards heaven, his sanity was restored and he praised and honoured God, not himself but the one who really was in charge, the King of heaven.  Listen to the conclusion that he came to in the last verse.

Daniel 4:37

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.

Nebuchadnezzar learnt several important lessons.

Heaven rules

The first was that Heaven rules. It is God who rules our world. It doesn’t matter who you are in this world whether you’re a king of a great empire or the lowliest peasant working in one of his fields. And it doesn’t matter what you do in this world and what you have been able to manage to achieve, one day all of us either willing or unwillingly will have to acknowledge that we are not in control. It is God who rules our world, not us. It’s God who is to be honored, not us.

The proud will be humbled

The second thing he learnt was that the proud will be humbled. As Nebuchadnezzar said, He is able to humble those who walk in pride”” (4:37). The Bible talks about a day when the arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled (Isa. 2:17). It talks about God opposing the proud and give grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5). We will all have to acknowledge that it is God who rules, he who is powerful, and that what he does  is right and his kingdom is the only thing that will last. We need to repent.

We all need to repent

That’s the other lesson Nebuchadnezzar needed to learn. We all need to repent, to turn from walking in pride and humble ourselves before this God. You can’t keep on playing God yourself and get away with it. You can’t keep ignoring God and think that nothing will happen. You just can’t go on making up your own rules about life and living your own way without eventually having to facing God’s judgment. You are answerable to you creator. You can’t keep ignoring him. One day we all will stand before him, and he will humble the proud and bring them the low. But he will show grace to the humble. He will show them mercy.

It’s the lesson that we all need to learn

By why do we have this story here of how God humbled this proud and arrogant King? It’s because it is a warning to us. Remember how this letter began. Nebuchadnezzar addressed it to all the people of the world– no matter what language we speak or nation that we come from or ethnic group that we belong to it.

This is a warning for all the world and all who live in it. It wasn’t just a warning for Nebuchadnezzar or the people of Babylon. It wasn’t just a warning for the people of Israel or the nations surrounding them. It was addressed to all the people of the world, and the reason that we still have this open letter 2600 years later and read it today is because it is a warning to all of us.

We are being warned that we can’t go on ignoring God and get away with it. We can’t play God ourselves and think that God will do nothing about human pride and arrogance. You and I have one main lesson to learn in life before everything is eventually taken away from us and that is to learn the place that God should have in our lives. We are not God, and we must stop playing God. We need to stop pretending that we are really in control of our lives when we aren’t. We need to turn to the one who is and acknowledge him and live to praise and glorify (honour) him.  You do that by honouring his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ who he sent into this world to save this world and to rule it and all who live in it..

Your achievements don’t make a difference. It doesn’t matter what we think we might have achieved in our lives for one day it is going to be all taken from us and the only thing that will count is whether you know the God who created you and whether you are part of his eternal kingdom. This is what Nebuchadnezzar came to realise. He talks about God’s kingdom. He wrote that it an eternal kingdom. It is one that last. But the message of the Bible is that you can only belong to it by believing in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent into the world so that we might be forgiven for ignoring God, cleansed from all our sin and so that we might live with him forevermore.

God wants us to learn this lesson before it’s too late. This is the message that has gone out to all the people of the earth. This is the lesson that the King of Babylon learnt the hard way and we all need to learn it. It’s heaven that rules, not us.


[1] Christian Standard Bible (Da 4:4–5). (2020). Holman Bible Publishers.