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Nebuchadnezzar had everything a person could want in life to supposedly be happy: unparalleled wealth, worldwide fame and incredible power. As the king of Babylon, he had effectively conquered the civilized world, and there no longer was a need for war. So he concentrated his energies on building Babylon into the most magnificent city on earth.
He didn’t have to worry about submitting plans to the city, because he was the city. He was the nation. He was the world. He didn’t have to worry about dealing with unions, because he had slave labor. When he would conquer a nation, his armies would bring back captives to work for him in Babylon.
The walls of Babylon alone were 350 feet high. The top of the wall was so wide – 87 feet – that six chariots could be driven side by side. Around the city were 250 watchtowers, placed in strategic locations, and there were 100 gates, each made of burnished bronze. One palace alone in that city covered 11 acres. One banquet hall would seat upwards of 10,000 people. And then there were the famous hanging gardens of Babylon. It was a magnificent city.
King Nebuchadnezzar had been repeatedly exposed to spiritual truth, but he had pretty much blown it off. He had Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel brought into his palace and was schooling them in the ways of Babylon. They made a stand early in their lives not to eat the food from his table, but had only vegetables and water instead. The Bible tells us they had 10 times more wisdom than all the other counselors to the king (see Daniel 1:20).
But when the king foolishly had an image made of himself and commanded everyone to worship it, he saw how God preserved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace after they refused to bow down to the image. In fact, he described a fourth figure that looked “like a god,” walking around with them in the furnace (Daniel 3:25 NLT). This was a man who had been exposed to spiritual truth again and again. Yet for the most part, he rejected it and faced the consequences.
So how did God choose to reach a powerful man like Nebuchadnezzar? Through a dream. Scripture records Nebuchadnezzar’s firsthand account of what happened: “But one night I had a dream that frightened me; I saw visions that terrified me as I lay in my bed” (Daniel 4:5 NLT). Here was the most powerful man on earth who had conquered the world, living in his royal palace behind towering walls, sealed by massive gates of bronze, surrounded by armed guards. And he was afraid. Why? He was troubled by a dream.
So Nebuchadnezzar rounded up the usual suspects. He brought in his magicians, enchanters, astrologers and fortune-tellers, and asked them what the dream meant. This is so typical of people today. When they are facing a crisis, they will turn first to a psychiatrist or psychologist – or even a psychic – before they will turn to God and His Word.
As a last resort, probably figuring he had better cover all of his bases, Nebuchadnezzar called for the prophet Daniel. Daniel had interpreted dreams for him before. And as the prophet heard the dream, he reluctantly gave the interpretation. Daniel knew the meaning of the dream, and he knew that this dream was foretelling the humbling of King Nebuchadnezzar and the ultimate destruction of Babylon.
Imagine how easy it would have been for Daniel to pull his punches: “Well, King, the dream is good. Everything is fine.” He would have been tempted not to disclose the meaning of it to the king, because people had lost their lives for far less with King Nebuchadnezzar. But Daniel told him the truth: “You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses” (verse 25 NLT).
Then Daniel added a little P. S.: “King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper” (verse 27). God gave Nebuchadnezzar 12 long months to think about this. But the king blew it off and persisted in his path of disobedience. And then the hammer dropped.
In the same way, God will warn us. He tells us we will reap what we sow (see Galatians 6:7). It will happen. It might be 10 years from now. It might be 10 months from now. It might be 10 minutes from now. But we will reap what we sow. God will keep His Word. We can take that to the bank.
Ecclesiastes says, “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 NLT). That is true. When we go and do something we know we should not do and then don’t get caught – or there are no immediate repercussions – we think, Hey, maybe I am the exception to the rule. Maybe God doesn’t care if I do this. Maybe I will do it again. And again. And again. We don’t realize it is merely the grace of God that is being extended to us, giving us an opportunity to change our ways. And then one day, the repercussions will hit – and they will hit hard. The wheels of God’s justice may grind slowly, but they grind surely.
Nebuchadnezzar was a wicked man, a powerful, ruthless dictator. And despite the fact that God had given him a warning to repent, he did not. Daniel had warned him that if he didn’t turn to God, he would lose his sanity. He would be like a wild animal out in the field, and he would lose everything. And that is exactly what happened. He was reduced to an animal-like state, eating grass in the field, and he remained that way for a period of time. He was just one of many world leaders who dared to defy God and found out that God is not mocked.
The mighty empire of Rome tried to crush the Christian faith. There were 10 waves of persecution, beginning with the wicked Caesar Nero and culminating with Diocletian. So confident was Diocletian in his success that he had a coin struck with this statement: “The Christian religion is destroyed, and the worship of the Roman gods are restored.” Well, I have had the privilege of being in Rome. There are some beautiful ruins there as well as some great pasta. But the empire is gone. As for Christianity, it is alive and well. These rulers failed in their campaigns against the faith. And so will every person who opposes God.