The Height of Insanity; A King’s Testimony
July 11, 1999 Daniel 4
The three messages that we have had so far in the book of Daniel; Success without Compromise, Facing the Future without Fear, and Dependence Day, all suggest the over-riding theme in the book so far. And that is that God is in control. And if God is in control, then those who belong to him can be confident in standing for righteousness, they can be confident in facing future events, and they can be confident in depending upon God.
Three times so far there has been a showdown of sorts with the most powerful king in the world. But the showdown has not been primarily between the king and Daniel or his friends, it has been between the king and God. Daniel and his friends are merely God’s agents of revelation and truth. As important as that is, it is God who is supreme. Now, one last time, the king will find that out. This time he will truly receive it – but notice what it takes. The lesson will be for the whole world to observe.
So far the king has only admitted God, albeit a very powerful God, into his pantheon of pagan gods. But this time will be different. What makes this time so different? It is God’s discipline. When God speaks, he will not be discounted. When God goes after a man or a woman, he will not be rebuffed. God is truly loving, faithful, merciful, gracious and good. But he is also holy, righteous, just, all-powerful and sovereign.
Who is man to exalt himself in the face of God? Who is man to compete with God? That would be the height of insanity. For some of us, that is what it takes – coming face to face with the insanity of disobeying and dismissing God. It has been said that the insane asylums would be mostly emptied if somehow the residents could find some way of having peace with God. They may be the ones who refuse to learn. God has been speaking, but have we listened? Perhaps we have heard, but we do not truly believe what God is capable of. God is in the faith business – he can make a believer out of anyone he wants to. After all, he is sovereign. This is a king’s testimony about that process of believing. You say, “God is slow?”
2Pet. 3:9-10 ¶ The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
God takes his time to build his case, and when our world comes crashing down, the lesson then is plain and irrefutable. But better to believe at first light. Then the day is right before you without the soon coming of the night. But praise God for the light when it comes.
God is in the faith business. You are God’s business. He loves and cares for you too much to let you go on forever in your sin of pride. Did you know that all sin is pride? Yes it is. It is a proud heart that does not yield to the hand and the voice and the will of God. The Siamese twins of King Nebuchadnezzar and his pride are about to become surgically separated by the Master Surgeon. There is the diagnosis of the dream, the one year of surgical preparation, and the seven years of surgery. Never fear, God has the time. The question is whether we have the time. Let us investigate the story.
I. The king’s decree to praise the Lord (4:1-3)
So this is the king’s testimony about his experience of faith. It is bracketed at the beginning and the end by praise. It is written by the king himself as an official Babylonian document. We all have a story to tell about our faith journey. This is the story about how a very powerful man came to know a very powerful God and what he learned about God in the process. It is about what the king wants us to know. I believe the address in verse one is intended to span time. It is therefore also for us since he proclaims God’s kingdom as eternal and his dominion as durable. We may be further down the road, but it is the same road. People of every age must learn the same lessons.
God effectively influenced the most influential man in all the earth at the time. But your story about the truth of God is none the less important because every person saved is important. And you too are influential where you are. But God also has the purpose here of preserving his people who are under Nebuchadnezzar’s care at the time. God saves and God preserves.
II. The dream reported, and the search for an interpreter (4:4-18)
Notice how the king opens his account of his dream with his state of mind before the dream. He was contented and prosperous. He was self-satisfied. The problem is he was too contented and prosperous. He thought he was a forest of one. You’ve heard the quip that ‘you can’t see the forest for the trees’? Well, Nebuchadnezzar couldn’t see the forest for the tree. He couldn’t see the larger picture because he himself got in the way and blanked out everything else. When we have no other source of strength in our own minds than ourselves, we can become easily intimidated. Remember how last week we learned that Nebuchadnezzar showed several signs of being insecure? He says now that this dream made him afraid – even terrified. So he naturally wants to know more about what he dreamed.
So guess who he calls? Daniel? You’d think so after the episode with the last dream where Daniel was the only one who could state both what the dream was as well as interpret it. But the king calls out all his other wise men again. He is still holding on to the false hope that he doesn’t have to face God. He is still seeking the false ahead of the true. None of the others can interpret it, so we see here the words, ‘finally Daniel’ in verse 8. The king even calls him by his Babylonian name which shows us that his heart has slipped from past lessons. He also places Daniel’s godly spirit in the category with other gods. This king has a hard noggin. He is hard headed. Oh, it takes so much time and so many lessons for some of us to come to true faith, doesn’t it? But we will if God is after us. He is relentless.
But as we come into the content of the dream beginning in verse 10, it seems fairly obvious to us what the interpretation must be. This time they were told what the dream was and couldn’t interpret it. Personally, I don’t think that any of the court magicians wanted to believe the truth and interpret the dream. None of them had guts enough to tell the king the bad news about his pride – the truth about himself he wouldn’t want to hear. These magicians were men pleasers and not truth sayers. A man of God is a truth sayer even when the truth is not pleasant. None of us wants to tell another that they are deep in sin and must repent or else face the consequences. Perhaps too many of us know we are in the same boat and would therefore condemn ourselves – but not a righteous man of God. He will respectfully tell the truth in love if a person is headed for Hell. It is the will of God that men be diverted from Hell and saved for Heaven. The man of God can lay out the roadmap because he is on the right road. Daniel is that man. He would believe the truth and tell it. Are you that person in someone else’s life? Are you right with God? God warns us of the consequences of our sin. Would you want to proclaim such destruction to the most powerful man on earth? But God can because God is the one who set it up. And God proclaims himself through his servants.
III. The dream interpreted (4:19-27)
Now Daniel was perplexed or astonished. Perhaps this was because, as we often are, totally amazed at the power and wisdom of God displayed at such appropriate times – like, how does God pull off what he does so well all the time? Perhaps Daniel wondered just how to break such news to such a man. Perhaps Daniel was truly concerned for the king in light of this judgment. I don’t think it was because Daniel was unsure of what the dream meant. But he was struck dumb for a period of time, perhaps an hour. He didn’t take this sobering message lightly. A true prophet is always in sympathy with his message. He feels the burden of it.
Contrast this dream with the first one the king had of the composite image with himself as the head of gold, the greatest kingdom the earth would see except for the kingdom of God himself in Christ Jesus. That dream indicated that, among other things, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom had a significant future, at least for a while. Now this vision of his fall. Was it time for the Babylonian kingdom to end? But this fall was only to be for 7 years. It would take 7 years of insanity to accomplish the king’s conversion to God’s truth if the king did not repent immediately. The height of insanity is to ignore God and exalt yourself.
How do we exalt ourselves? Do you feel that you are more righteous than the others around you? Do you feel that you are always right? Do always have to be right? Do you struggle to maintain your image at all costs? A true element of humble faith is to not fear becoming vulnerable by confessing sin and your tremendous dependency upon God. In this you will find true honor.
But consider that in God’s program, this vision would also be a part of the first one. The first one would be accomplished through this one. The king’s conversion, no matter what it took, would be accomplished in order for the first vision to be accomplished. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would become that head of gold. Indeed, none of the other rulers to come according to the vision of the statue, would be recorded as believing in the one true God alone. We are talking about the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans (at least until after Christ). But none of these other kings or kingdoms had Daniel. The power of Daniel’s influence cannot be counted. He was highly esteemed by the God of Heaven.
This vision held hope that even though the king, as the self proclaimed lone tree of life, would be cut down, a stump would remain, bound with iron and bronze. He would be cut down from his throne and be bound or restrained in insanity. Nebuchadnezzar would become stumped in insanity. If we will not get off our high horse in our own power, God will throw us down. When I was in the 3rd grade I fell out of my treehouse and broke my arm because I leaned against a sheet I had tacked up for a wall. Nebuchadnezzar would lean against the thin sheet of his own pride and fall out of his very own treehouse.
Very few people believe God before the fact. But God is able to make believers out of us. The purpose of this action by God would be for himself to be revealed in an overwhelming way to Nebuchadnezzar – a way that he would finally believe. It would cause the king to consider his beastly character and gain the heart of a man in God’s image (Dan. 7:4). We might ask ourselves how much we are like animals, or whether we are like the people God intends us to be. The king is given ample opportunity to repent before the axe would fall.
IV. The dream fulfilled (4:28-33)
Twelve months later the king blows it. He was given 12 months to get it together. God is not at fault here. The pride in his heart is spoken upon his lips. By our own words we are condemned, verse 31.
"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:33-37 NIVUS)
We must be careful what we say. You can think some thoughts in your heart that are dangerous. Keep a lid on them and repent of them lest they become words from your mouth. The remedy is to retract them by your mouth. It matters what you say. The words, ‘until you acknowledge’, in verse 32 are important. This would be hard for the king. He would be left with nothing for seven years. He would be totally dependent upon God’s moment to moment provision. There are many men who have not understood the true nature of their dominion, such as over their families or jobs – that it is given by God and totally dependent upon God. We had best not abuse it. I had to learn this myself by a personal message from God. I had to learn total dependence upon him, and it is still hard sometimes.
It usually takes time for people to make a complete conversion to belief in God. It would take Nebuchadnezzar 7 years. How many people, like him, seem to make an immediate conversion in acknowledgement of truth but soon turn away because it is not yet wholly in their hearts (Mt. 13:18 – parable of the sower)? This was 7 years of the grace of God. Who knows what atrocious sins the king would have committed in pride if he still had the opportunity of the throne? Who knows what God saved him, and the Jews, and the world from? But also who knows what accomplishments could have been made for the world if the king had fully repented during the 12 months? But it was now time to tame the beast of sin. There would be time yet to serve.
V. Healing and concluding doxology (4:34-37)
It is amazing that Nebuchadnezzar got his throne back after 7 years. It happened because it was God’s plan and God is faithful, even through dealing with our sinfulness. Notice again the lesson Nebuchadnezzar had to learn – that it is God’s kingdom that is eternal and it is God’s power that is absolute. And after we conform to God’s will, then people will seek us out. We will have become true leaders in the image of God. Our greatness will be because he is great, and we will not keep his greatness a secret.
Nebuchadnezzar does not hold God at fault here. He says that God is just. He admits that his pride needed humbling. Oh, our pride runs so deep, doesn’t it? But the king is now at peace with Almighty God. If we jump back to the beginning, we see that he wishes this peace upon all mankind. He says it is his pleasure to proclaim God and the power of God over sinful human pride.
Timeless Truth: The height of insanity is the profanity of pride.
Pride can kill us. I thought about this yesterday when Miguel, my son-in-law and I were driving west on Irving Park Road. We saw a man on a motorcycle wearing a blue T-shirt that had the message ‘Undercover Policeman’ printed on the back of it. People often advertise what they are proud of on their T-shirts. But this message astounded me. Wouldn’t an undercover cop want to keep his identity undercover? We knew he must truly be a policeman because he was wearing a gun. This man’s pride may kill him. It was insane.
Let us learn what it means to humble ourselves before Almighty God. Let us stop cursing God in our insane self-centered spirit of pride. Let us not forget 2Chron. 7:14. Let us claim it and start a revival right here, right now. Perhaps there are some here who need to do some business with God before they go insane. The payoff is the power of God’s peace. And we shall rule with Christ the most powerful kingdom the creation has ever seen. Let us put Christ on the throne of our lives and live.