Dominion: A Testimony About God From A Humbled King • Daniel Chapter 4
Dominion: Daniel 4
A Testimony About God From A Humbled King
You can’t claim to follow God all while you knowingly and without concern intentionally justify living your life in sin!
King David once wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5). This wasn’t just true about David, it's true about all of us. We are born sinners who believe we are in charge. We are born literally thinking we have dominion and power over those around us, life itself, and ironically God.
For those who are new to our study of Daniel, so far, we’ve seen God using four men (Daniel, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego) to declare His glory, power, and authority to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar still hasn’t got the message! He is progressing in his acknowledgment of some of the characteristics of God but has yet to acknowledge the most important one – that Yahweh alone is God and as such, God alone has dominion over all the universe!
Like a child refusing to acknowledge the obvious, Nebuchadnezzar continues to refuse to submit to the God who is clearly showing Nebuchadnezzar that He, not Nebuchadnezzar, is the All-Powerful God who is in charge of everybody and everything. Nebuchadnezzar knows this is true, but he still refuses to submit; he continues to live his life as if he doesn’t have to.
However, everything comes to a head in chapter 4 when Nebuchadnezzar finally breaks! He finally not only acknowledges God’s dominion over everybody and everything but also submits to Him. This deeply immoral, pagan, idolatrous arrogant King finally repents and believes in God! It was such a substantial event that what we are getting ready to read is the personal testimony of Nebuchadnezzar in his own words.
Think about that for a second. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Lord leads Daniel to put the personal testimony of the supreme leader of an oppressive empire that conquered and essentially enslaved the Jewish people, and do so in Nebuchadnezzar’s own words! The personal testimony of one of the most significant world leaders in ancient history is recorded in the Bible!
And here’s what’s really cool. This testimony is not one that Nebuchadnezzar quietly stated to his friend Daniel, but rather, Daniel has included a letter from Nebuchadnezzar to the entire world about his radical conversion to faith in God! Listen to how Nebuchadnezzar begins it...
That’s Nebuchadnezzar’s introduction to what he’s about to tell us, that is, how he finally came to the point of believing in and submitting to the Most High God; not as some competitor to his throne, nor as a ruler of some other dominion of gods that have nothing to do with his rule over the Babylonian Empire; but rather as the singular God who rules all!
This is Nebuchadnezzar’s personal account of what God did to break his stubborn pride and lead him into salvation; what God did to bring Nebuchadnezzar to a place that He finally acknowledge and worshiped God! It’s not only a story of Nebuchadnezzar believing God to be who God is, but also finally having faith in God, that is surrendering his life to Him! It’s Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony about God!
So, let’s walk through Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony together!
1) God tells Nebuchadnezzar He, not Nebuchadnezzar, is in charge.
Here’s how Nebuchadnezzar told the story...
Everything is going great for the King, which in his mind served as proof that not only was he in charge of life, but also he was doing extremely well at being in charge of life!
This dream not only interrupted his sleep, but it also interrupted his peace! He was afraid! Why? Well, much like the dream in chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar realized this dream had divine origins and as such, it scared him to the core. So, ironically, just like he did in Daniel two, he once again calls on his team of pagan spiritual advisors to help him.
However, this time, unlike in chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar tells them about the dream and then asks them to give him the interpretation. Now, at that point, it would have been easy to just make something up, but remember, Daniel is not only in charge of the government of the province of Babylon, he’s also in charge of all these guys (Daniel 2:48).
Therefore, they know they can’t just make something up and get away with it! They know Daniel has the ability to interrupt dreams and therefore Daniel would know if they got it right or wrong. So, likely after consulting their gods, searching to see if there were any signs among the stars, omens in nature, and possibly even casting some spells to try and reveal the meaning of the dream; they confess they have no idea what the dream is about!
The report must have gone back to Daniel that the team of guys under him couldn’t figure it out and the King was starting to get anxious! Nebuchadnezzar, then writes
Notice, that Nebuchadnezzar had named Daniel after his god (Marduk, AKA Bel). It’s not that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t believe there were many gods, it’s just that he believed Marduk/Bel was the chief of all the other gods. That is until Yahweh showed himself through Daniel and his three friends.
It was at that point that Nebuchadnezzar gave credit to Yahweh as the head of all the gods, but he still considered Marduk his god, after all, look at all the success he had while worshiping Marduk!
But more importantly, notice Nebuchadnezzar said “At last Daniel came in.” It implies Nebuchadnezzar was frustrated with all these other guys, but he was confident Daniel would solve the problem. Nebuchadnezzar not only saw Daniel as a trusted supporter but also as one with clear divinely empowered gifting.
However, from Nebuchadnezzar’s vantage point, he believed the source of Daniel’s abilities to interpret dreams and lead the province of Babylon with such success could only come from all the gods. Each god had different talents, focus and dominion, therefore, because Nebuchadnezzar saw such a wide variety of talents and abilities in Daniel, he assumed he must be empowered by all of them! It certainly couldn’t just be one God!
Nebuchadnezzar then tells Daniel the dream,
Now let’s just get real for a minute. There is no way Nebuchadnezzar is totally clueless about the implications of this dream. Clearly, he gets the general gist of it because it has him all torn up! However, have you ever had something happen to you that you totally knew what was going on and what it meant, but you chose to hang on to the chance that you were misinterpreting the obvious?
I remember years ago going to the doctor with obvious signs of inguinal hernia, but hoping, just hoping that he would tell me I had pulled a muscle and as such I wouldn’t need surgery because it would just heal itself!
In the same way, you can almost see Nebuchadnezzar standing there with a false expression of optimism that was trying to mask his obvious anxiety. He was likely looking at Daniel the same way I looked at my doctor after I told him what was going on, especially the time I went to the Doctor just six months or so after the surgery for the hernia on my right side and I suddenly started having the same symptoms on my left!
This led to nervousness that Daniel himself shared with Nebuchadnezzar. Listen to how Nebuchadnezzar described Daniel’s response...
Daniel immediately knew what this dream was about. His hesitation had nothing to do with not being able to figure it out, but rather, it had to do with the implications of the dream! Daniel truly appreciated and cared for Nebuchadnezzar and I believe he cared for Babylon and its people as well. But the obvious implications of this dream were not pretty for either!
Daniel was likely deeply concerned about how this was going to play out for the Jewish people who were living under the religious protection of Nebuchadnezzar; he was concerned about the impact on the Babylonian Empire itself, and he was likely even concerned about the impact it was going to have on himself. Therefore, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he wished this dream would be about Nebuchadnezzar’s enemies instead of Nebuchadnezzar!
It’s inspiring and truly noteworthy that Daniel genuinely cared for Nebuchadnezzar, despite the fact that Nebuchadnezzar was the very King who had destroyed Jerusalem, including the Temple, placed tons of Jews in captivity, and continued to reject every opportunity God gave him to repent!
But despite the painful and dangerous reality this dream posed, Daniel had to tell him what it meant. Daniel then answers Nebuchadnezzar...
Daniel removes any doubt that the dream is indeed about Nebuchadnezzar
So, there is good news and bad news! The bad news is that something terrible is going to happen to the King, but the good news is that God will restore Nebuchadnezzar to his sanity and throne once he repents and believes in God, and as such also commits to stop living an immoral and unethical life!
FYI – you can’t simultaneously commit to know and follow God while also refusing to change the unethical and immoral actions of your life! You can’t claim to follow God all while you knowingly and without concern intentionally justify living your life in sin! This is why Paul wrote...
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
He wasn’t saying Christians never do these things, he was saying Christians can’t justify doing them, so much so their effort and practice is to run from them!
So, Daniel, knowing the purpose of the judgment of God that was coming to Nebuchadnezzar appeals to him to respond now! Don’t wait on the discipline of God to repent; do it now! Daniel says...
But, just like all of us have done in our life, despite knowing the consequence, we stubbornly refuse to repent and press on in our rebellion! This leads to …
2) God humiliates Nebuchadnezzar by inflicting him with a psychiatric disorder called lycanthropy (a person thinks they are an animal).
“Modern research has shown that Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest monarch that Babylon, or perhaps the East generally, ever produced. He must have possessed an enormous command of human labour, nine-tenths of Babylon itself, and nineteen-twentieths of all the other ruins that in almost countless profusion cover the land, are composed of bricks stamped with his name. He appears to have built or restored almost every city and temple in the whole country. His inscriptions give an elaborate account of the immense works which he constructed in and about Babylon itself, abundantly illustrating the boast, ‘Is not this great Babylon which I have built?’ ”[note]Easton, M. G. (1893). In Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature (pp. 494–495). New York: Harper & Brothers.
Do you remember the premise in chapter two of why the pagan spiritual advisors couldn’t tell Nebuchadnezzar what he dreamed and its interpretation? They said the gods are not with man. In other words, they don’t get personally involved with us. The gods don’t interact with us on a personal level; therefore, they were left looking at the stars, and other presumed signs, to try to figure out what the gods were doing.
But here God speaks out loud to Nebuchadnezzar! Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar to repent and essentially stop living as if you are in charge and submit to the one who is. But, Nebuchadnezzar continued to see everything that he had accomplished, not as “lowly man” that God has blessed, but rather as one who had sovereignly done all this Himself!
As such, Nebuchadnezzar continued to see God as an optional relationship that he was in control of; that when it came to the things in his Kingdom, he, not God was the authority. He continued to believe that his dominion had priority. Nebuchadnezzar’s view was that God oversees the gods in the divine realm and he was in charge of the earthly realm!
But in verse 31 God interrupts Nebuchadnezzar’s life and literally speaks out loud to do so in order to affirm exactly what Daniel had told him. You are going to go completely off your rocker crazy until you repent and realize I’m in charge!
God was not giving this as a warning this time, this was a judgment.
God gave Nebuchadnezzar twelve months to repent after Daniel explained the dream. But instead, Nebuchadnezzar doubled down on his stubbornness. So, God did to him what He said He was going to do!
His symptoms perfectly describe a psychological condition called zoanthropy or lycanthropy. It’s an established psychological disorder where a person believes they are an animal.
“Nebuchadnezzar was smitten with zoanthropy. He lived outside with the animals.”Smith, J. E. (1992). The Major Prophets (p. 557). Joplin, MO: College Press.
“The divine judgment (announced in vs 31–32) involved a complete humiliation of the king; his authority (31) and his sanity (34) were immediately (33) removed. His confession in v 33 that his sanity was restored lends credence to the view that the king’s response to God’s judgment evoked a psychotic condition (now known as lycanthropy).Ferguson, S. B. (1994). Daniel. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 753). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Nebuchadnezzar goes completely mad. He believed himself to be an animal, so much so, that he lived like it! He didn’t cut his fingernails, his hair ended up all wild-looking, he lived and slept outside so that he was covered with the morning dew, and he even went to the extent of eating grass like a horse or a cow!
Ironically, in the cultural wave of political correctness that is now even governing science and medicine, the pressure is mounting for Psychiatrists to stop calling this a mental health disorder because it makes people feel like they are being judged and as such creates a negative view of themselves.
The far left is pushing to make psychiatrists, and even school teachers, help people feel confident that they are an animal (even though they are not), instead of addressing the blatantly obvious evidence of the psychiatric and possibly even physical issues causing it!
I can’t say why other people end up this way, Doctors point to all kinds of potential causes, but in this instance, it’s clearly a chastisement from God to get Nebuchadnezzar to repent. And because God always accomplishes what He sets out to accomplish, it works! This leads to the third part of nebuchadnezzar’s testimony.
3) Nebuchadnezzar repented and God restored him!
God left Nebuchadnezzar just enough sanity to remember the dream, Daniels's interpretation, and more importantly God’s own voice, and as such this eventually happened.
How many days/periods was it? A lot of the attention turns to the meaning of “seven periods.” Most commentators believe the “seven periods” implies seven months, others say it's seven years. The point is the number seven represents completion. So, the period was to complete the purpose of God of bringing Nebuchadnezzar to repentance!
I’m sure however long it was, it felt like a long time for everybody around him, especially the people trying to hold the Kingdom together while he ran around outside acting like an animal, sleeping on the ground (covered with dew) and eating grass!
But the point is the breaking of Nebuchadnezzar worked! Verse 34 says at the end of the days, however many it was, Nebuchadnezzar lifted his eyes to heaven and repented and submitted his life to God as the one who has DOMINION!
Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion was meaningless. God is the one who ultimately has all dominion and power, and his dominion and power are eternal! God’s authority is incontestable and His power unstoppable, meaning God is totally Sovereign and is not ordered by anyone! He submits to nobody!
God then makes his nature even more clear. God is not only the all-powerful, all-knowing ruler of the universe who cannot be thwarted in any way; he is also eternally merciful, gracious, and loving! God responded to Nebuchadnezzar’s heart of repentance this way.
“As a result of his recognition of the rightful place of God, Nebuchadnezzar experienced a fourfold restoration. First, he was restored mentally. He was cured of the psychosis of zoanthropy. Second, he was restored physically. His “majesty and splendor” returned. This would include his physical features and all the external trappings of kingship. Third, he was restored politically. Those who had acted as regents during his incapacitation handed the reins of government back to Nebuchadnezzar. Once again he ruled a glorious kingdom. Fourth, he was restored socially. His counselors began to seek him out. Thus was Nebuchadnezzar’s “sovereignty” re-established. God, however, did even more for this king, for “surpassing greatness was added” to him (4:36).”Smith, J. E. (1992). The Major Prophets (pp. 557–561). Joplin, MO: College Press.
Now, to those who wonder if it stuck; remember, this is not a Facebook post from the moment something happened, this is a thought-out letter written well after the events occurred. The proof is the final verse of the chapter.
“He said he praised, exalted, and glorified the King of heaven (cf. “honored” and “glorified” in v. 34). These verbs indicate continued action, suggesting that Nebuchadnezzar did these things habitually. These verbs embody the ideas of reverence, respect, honor, admiration, and worship. Since Nebuchadnezzar said that these attitudes characterized his life, many have concluded that he experienced regeneration, becoming a child of God. Nebuchadnezzar did confess that what God had done in dealing with him was right and just. This is certainly not acknowledged by one who continues in rebellion against God. The king also admitted that he had walked in pride (cf. 5:20) but had been humbled by his experience. This too would testify to a transformation in Nebuchadnezzar’s character through a newfound knowledge of God.”Pentecost, J. D. (1985). Daniel. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, pp. 1343–1344). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
This is the response of a man that God restored; a man who has not only realized who God is but has also finally stopped walking away from God and turned to walk with God (repentance!).
Even if you can’t state it as eloquently as Nebuchadnezzar, this is nonetheless what a repentant life looks like. A person who truly repents and believes in Jesus is now living their life from the perspective that He is King, not them, and as such, they need to not only obey Him but also praise Him because He and all His works are truly praiseworthy!
Whenever you are teaching a narrative from Scripture there are normally tons of practical and spiritual challenges to take away from it. But given this is the last story of Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel, I want to point you to something that takes in all four chapters.
In Daniel chapter two, God gave Nebuchadnezzar a clear testimony of His power and authority as Daniel miraculously told Nebuchadnezzar exactly what Nebuchadnezzar dreamed, as well as the interpretation; but it only caused a surface reaction of incomplete worship of God.
Then in chapter 3, we have a huge display of God’s power when He not only walked with Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego in the fire but also kept them from even smelling like smoke! This again caused a temporary and incomplete response from Nebuchadnezzar. In both cases, we see a reaction to the amazement of what God did, but no repentance.
Sam Storms wrote the following about Nebuchadnezzar’s response to Daniel interrupting his first dream,
“We see here that Neb had experienced religious conviction without experiencing spiritual conversion. When confronted with the reality and power of Daniel’s God “his sinful heart had been shaken, not renewed” (Ferguson, 74). There is a difference between temporary religious diversion and lasting spiritual conversion. The Puritan John Owen explains: “As a traveler, in his way meeting with a violent storm of thunder and rain, immediately turns out of his way to some house or tree for his shelter, but yet this causeth him not to give over his journey—so soon as the storm is over he returns to his way and progress again: so it is with men in bondage to sin. They are in a course of pursuing their lusts; the law meets with them in a storm of thunder and lightning from heaven, terrifies and hinders them in their way. This turns them for a season out of their course; they will run to prayer or amendment of life, for some shelter from the storm of wrath which is feared coming upon their consciences. But is their course stopped? Are their principles altered? Not at all; so soon as the storm is over, so that they begin to wear out that sense and the terror that was upon them, they return to their former course in the service of sin again” (Works, 6:317–18).”Storms, S. (2016). Daniel (Da 3:1). Edmond, OK: Sam Storms.
It’s not until God literally put Nebuchadnezzar out to pasture that he finally genuinely repents, and we know he did because he moved from a reactionary response to God that quickly subsided, to a repetitive continual response to God that both submitted to His authority and worshiped Him for His grace and glory!
So, to you and I...
Is the revelation of the Gospel and/or the circumstances of your life leading you to react or repent?
I believe I have shared the story of one of my high school track teammates before. His name was Ricky. Ricky was intellectually delayed to a level he was placed in a separate program at the High School. However, he wanted to run track and our coach and team welcomed him.
He wasn’t very athletic and honestly wasn’t going to be competitive in any of the events, so our Coach put him in the one event we had nobody in – the two-mile! We were loaded with sprinters on the team. In my junior year in High School, I believe our team finished 4th in the state without a single distance runner from our team in the meet! Anyway, Ricky could never really grasp how things worked.
He would get so excited that when the gun went off he would take off in a dead sprint. Now, remember, this is a two-mile run! The people who didn’t know him would think this guy is going to be in the Olympics, that is until Ricky got to the 330 mark on the track and started giving out. By the time he finished the first lap typically all the better runners were passing him.
But then, we would all start cheering him on, and instead of just clicking things up a bit to keep up with the pack, he would take off sprinting as hard as he could go again, and many times pass everybody all over again. But this time he would only make it about 220 yards before he gave out, and predictably, by the time he finished his second of 8 laps (the 880 mark), pretty much everybody but a few really slow runners had passed him.
Again, we would all try to encourage him, and he would respond to our cheers the same way. He would take off running in a dead sprint only to this time end up getting passed by everybody long before he made it back around to complete the third lap. Every lap we would cheer him on, and every lap his high energy reaction grew less and less high energy. He would finish the race a couple of laps behind the leaders every time.
This is exactly what far too many people’s relationship with God looks like. The teaching and preaching of the Gospel will sometimes spur a reaction but never a life of repentance, that is, a life living in the constant awareness of His majesty, glory, and love; and as such striving to be obedient to Him.
The situations of life that have caused great celebration or turmoil; the ones that disrupted your life for good or bad; have they caused you to react to God with a sprint of praise? Have they motivated you into a sprint of seeking Him?
Or, have they caused you to turn from your stubborn insistence to be in charge of your life and instead commit to a steady life surrendered to Him; a life, not of perfection, but rather of intentional and willful striving to know and follow Him, to trust and obey Him, and to love and worship Him? Have they led you to a life committed to Him as opposed to a reaction that acknowledges Him?
Let me close with a challenge from the Prophet Isaiah.