This morning I preach at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church
I felt led to preach from the Book of Daniel about “Nebuchadnezzar’s dream”. In fact I had preached on this subject some 10 years ago when I was with the Church of England.
Whilst circumstances have changed, God’s word does not change and is just as valid now as when it was spoken to mankind by God’s Holy Spirit.
If this passage is unfamiliar the link below takes you to the passage so that you can read it at your leisure.
Nobody likes bullies.
We find them everywhere: in the home, in school, at work, sadly even in some churches.
Today we are looking at one man who from the biblical accounts was a bully and a tyrant.
Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon. As far as the middle east of the time was concerned he was Number One. Babylon was the Super Power of the Age. They may not have had Weapons of Mass Destruction but the army was virtually unstoppable. You either played the game their way or else…..
Babylon had featured in history for a long time. Originally we find it mentioned in the Bible as Babel a city founded by Nimrod who it appears was the first tyrannical ruler of the area. Due to the oppressive nature of Babylon under kings such as Nebuchadnezzar, it has come to be synonymous with despotical evil and godlessness. Indeed today some militant Muslims regard the USA as a modern day Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar’s father was a man called Nabopolassar who lead a rebellion against the Assyrian empire and destroyed its capital Nineveh. The destruction of Nineveh was foretold by the prophet Nahum and just listen to the words he says about it Nahum 3:19 “Everyone who hears the news about you claps their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?”
Assyria had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and deported its 10 tribes. They had gone into history and disappeared. Sadly if the Jews thought they were free of oppression with the end of Assyria they had not counted on the new empire of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar continued where his father left off and conquered the former Assyrian empire. His influence extended down into Egypt. It is said amongst other things that the city of Tyre was besieged for 13 years by Nebuchadnezzar before it fell to him.
The first Jewish rebellion against its Babylonian overlord was swiftly crushed and the then king Jehoiachin was removed and exiled with many of the leading families including Daniel and his three friends to Babylon.
You would have thought that the Jews would have learned their lesson and not rebelled again, but against the warnings of prophets such as Jeremiah, the new King Zedekiah thought he could rely on an old enemy Egypt to come to his help. Alas the king’s actions brought the ruin of the country. Jerusalem was besieged and eventually taken after two years and destroyed. The temple was flattened and all its treasures shipped off to Babylon. Zedekiah was blinded after watching his family being executed and he was taken off to Babylon in chains. It is thought by some historians that the population left behind in the whole of Judah was no more than 20,000. Read the book of Lamentations to understand how the Jewish people thought about what had happened to them.
Jewish historians said of Nebuchadnezzar “He was so greatly feared that as long as he was alive no one dared laugh; and when he went down to hell the inmates trembled, asking themselves whether he would rule them also.”
The psalms record the sorrow and anguish of the exiles. Many of you will know Psalm 137 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down; there we wept when we remembered Zion.”
Nebuchadnezzar was also interested in building up the infrastructure of his empire. Excavations in the ruins of Babylon and various other cities have found that at least 90% of the bricks and tiles recovered have the stamp of Nebuchadnezzar on them. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote in about 450BC “In addition to its size Babylon surpasses in splendour any city in the known world”. Herodotus claimed the outer walls were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet high. Wide enough, he said, to allow a four-horse chariot to turn. The inner walls were “not so thick as the first, but hardly less strong.” Inside the walls were fortresses and temples containing immense statues of solid gold. Rising above the city was the famous Tower of Babel, a temple to the god Marduk, that seemed to reach to the heavens.”
Also in Babylon was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – The Hanging Gardens.
According to accounts, the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar’s homesick wife, Amyitis. Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married to Nebuchadnezzar to create an alliance between the nations. The land she came from, though, was green, rugged and mountainous, and she found the flat, sun-baked terrain of Mesopotamia depressing. The king decided to recreate her homeland by building an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens.
It must have been a wonderful site – all these lush trees and plants in a land where it rarely rained.
You could say that Nebuchadnezzar was a self made man who had built up the inherited family business, and like most self made people deep down he worshipped himself. He has his own trinity: “I, myself and me”. Perhaps you know people like that. Their attitude seems to be that of the famous Frank Sinatra song “I did it my way”.
Sadly some Christians do a Nebuchadnezzar and feel that their deeds need to be recorded for posterity. Its not enough to have the assurance of salvation through Jesus and have their names in the Lamb’s Book of Life, they need their own memorials on earth. Either that or they forget that we don’t really own anything – it all belongs to God. Yet they behave as if certain things are theirs for all eternity and hang on with a vice like grip.
So that’s some of the background to Nebuchadnezzar and the empire of Babylon. Lets now get to grips with Daniel Chapter 4.
Nebuchadnezzar has had yet another dream and it worried him. Yet again he sends for his magicians astrologers etc to tell him what’s what. Its strange that through out history rulers have consulted such people in the vain hope of keeping one step ahead of the game. In Exodus we read of Moses and Aaron confronting the court magicians and priests of Egypt. Coming into the promised land the people of Israel were warned to have nothing to do with fortune telling astrology etc; yet of course in due course they turned to all this stuff.
In recent times it was known that Hitler consulted mediums, spiritists and occultic practitioners. Such people infested the White House when Ronald Regan was president, as his wife had daily horoscope readings. I understand that even the late Princess Diana regularly consulted such people.
Yet, as ever Nebuchadnezzar’s advisors were useless, so he had to send for Daniel to unravel the mystery of the dream.
What was the dream?
Nebuchadnezzar saw a huge tree which was so big it could be seen by everyone in the world. It provides shelter for birds and animals as well as food for them.
An angel proclaimed that the tree was to be cut down but the stump was to left in the field with a band of iron and bronze round it.
The angel then talks about a man who is to be left in the wild without his right mind for seven years.
Daniel has the unenviable job of explaining the dream to the king. Its not always pleasant being God’s messenger as sometimes the message is not what people want to hear even though its what they need to hear.
What does the dream mean?
The tree represents Nebuchadnezzar v22 “Your majesty, you are the tree, tall and strong. You have grown so great that you reach the sky and your power extends over the whole world.”
No doubt at this point the king was feeling pretty pleased with himself, but here comes the sting:
v24 – 27 “This, then is what it means, Your Majesty, and this is what the supreme God has declared will happen to you. You will be driven away from human society and will live with wild animals. For seven years you will eat grass like an ox, and sleep in the open air, where the dew will fall on you. Then you will admit that the Supreme God controls all human kingdoms, and that he can give them to anyone he chooses. The angel ordered the stump to be left in the ground. This means that you will become king again when you acknowledge that God rules all the world. So then, Your Majesty, follow my advice. Stop sinning do what is right and be merciful to the poor. Then you will continue to be prosperous.”
There was no doubt about it. Nebuchadnezzar was the big cheese. But God said as far as he is concerned he was just like the crumbs on the deli counter and could be swept away. Just like that.
We read in Isaiah 40:15 what God thinks about the nations and the empires when he says “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.”
Put it another way we may be big in our own eyes or even those of other people but God can cut us down to our true size any time he wants.
It would seem that what two words come out of this story:
Pride and Rebellion.
Nebuchadnezzar thought he had done it all by himself. God had no part in it. It was his and no one else’s. When God through Daniel tells him to repent, he continues in his rebellion by completely ignoring God.
Did you know if you are not obeying God you are in rebellion?
Do you know how seriously God takes rebellion? In 1 Samuel 15 v23 we read what the prophet Samuel had to tell another proud King, Saul: “Rebellion against him is as bad as witchcraft and arrogance is as sinful as idolatry. Because you rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as King.”
Does Nebuchadnezzar take the warning and change his ways?
We read from Daniel 4 v29 – 33 “Only twelve months later, while he was walking about on the roof of his royal palace in Babylon, he said ‘Look how great Babylon is! I built it as my capital city to display my power and might, my glory and majesty.’ Before the words were out of his mouth, a voice spoke from Heaven, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, listen to what I say! Your royal power is now taken away from you. You will be driven away from human society, live with wild animals and eat grass like an ox for seven years. The you will acknowledge that the Supreme God has power over human kingdoms and that he can give them to anyone he chooses.’ The words came true immediately. Nebuchadnezzar was driven out of human society and ate grass like an ox. The dew fell on his body, and his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails as long as birds’ claws.”
There is a happy ending to this story as Nebuchadnezzar comes to his sense and repents of his pride and his arrogance and is fully restored. In v 37 he is recorded as saying “And now, I Nebuchadnezzar, praise, honour and glorify the King of Heaven. Everything he does is right and just, and he can humble anyone who acts proudly.”
What is the message for us today?
How many people have had warnings from God and ignored them? They think we can go on in our own sweet way, paying lip service to God, maybe doing church on a Sunday, when all the while they are building their own little empires, their own power bases. Then suddenly they’re struck down by accident or illness. I’ve known this happen to people and they’ve got better, sometimes amazingly, and just carried on with their schemes and plots. They don’t heed the warning and eventually they will pay the price for their pride and rebellion. We are reminded of that in Hebrews 4:13 “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Many of you will be familiar with the words of the Magnificat also known as the Song of Mary which would be said or sung in more traditional churches at their evening services. Its taken from Luke 1:51 – 53“He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.”
This passage is a warning to remember who should be on the throne of our lives. If we do not let Jesus rule in our lives we are in rebellion against the Lord and must expect the consequences. If we repent and give up control of our lives to Jesus we can have peace with God and the promise of eternal life.
The choice is yours:
You can do a Frank Sinatra and “do it my way” or you can repent and seek to obey God and do it his way.