I remember being a guest on a radio show when someone called in and asked, “Do you think we will see Nebuchadnezzar in heaven?”
The caller was referring to King Nebuchadnezzar, whose story we find in the Old Testament. Nebuchadnezzar serves as a reminder that it is good for us to remember that everything we have is from God. This king was once the most powerful man on earth. Babylon, the capital of his empire, was surrounded by 350-foot-high walls that measured 87 feet across, with 250 watchtowers that stood in strategic locations. Six chariots could race side by side along the walls of Babylon. The palace alone covered 11 acres.
In the midst of all this security and luxury, Nebuchadnezzar became frightened by a dream one night. He rounded up his magicians, enchanters, astrologers and fortune tellers, looking for help, and, as a last resort, he called in the prophet Daniel. Upon hearing the king’s dream, Daniel “was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him” (Daniel 4:19 NKJV).
Daniel understood the dream and realized it was a warning from heaven that Nebuchadnezzar was about to face a certain judgment. Amazingly, Daniel had developed sort of an affection for this king and didn’t really want to tell him what the dream meant. People had died for saying less to Nebuchadnezzar. But Daniel knew the truth, and he had to reveal it to the powerful king. So he essentially said, “Judgment is coming, but there is still hope if you will repent. If you don’t, then judgment will come upon you.” God was giving Nebuchadnezzar a second chance.
God gives a lot of chances. But I think we sometimes confuse God’s grace with leniency or maybe even ignorance. When we don’t face the immediate consequences of our actions, we might think we are getting away with it. But the Bible says that our sins will find us out (see Numbers 32:23). We will reap what we sow, no matter what. It may be in 10 years, it may be in a year, or it may be in a month. It may be in a week or in 10 minutes. But it will happen.
We might say, “Nothing happened, so maybe God wasn’t paying attention. Maybe God doesn’t care.” Or worse yet, we will deceive ourselves into thinking that God is OK with it because we prayed about it. But God will never contradict the Bible, his word. The wheels of God’s justice may grind slowly, but they grind surely.
Nebuchadnezzar was one wicked man. He had Zedekiah, the king of Jerusalem, witness the execution of his own sons before he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes. You get the idea of what kind of man Nebuchadnezzar was. Yet God gave him an opportunity to repent.
But he didn’t repent, and so judgment came. In Daniel 4 we read that Nebuchadnezzar was taking credit for all he had done when he heard a voice from heaven:
“This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” (verses 31–32 NIV)
Then we read that “immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled” (verse 33).
What happened? Nebuchadnezzar had some kind of mental breakdown. We don’t know exactly what it was, but he was reduced to an animal-like state, eating grass in the field. He had been given 12 months to repent, but he was brought down, just as Daniel had predicted when he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t the last world leader to have been brought down. Hitler, despite his Nazi war machine, ended up committing suicide in his bunker. Saddam Hussein, with all of his boasting and arrogance, was found hiding in a small, underground space. Moammar Gadhafi, who carried on his cruel, tyrannical ways for so many years, was killed by his own people.
God has the final word on every subject, no matter what. Things might look bleak for you right now, but God will have the last word.
Things were looking bleak for the Christian church as a wave of persecution came against them from the Roman emperors. Starting with Nero, there were 10 major attempts to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth. And how did that work out for Rome? Christianity is alive and well today.
One day we all will be weighed on God’s scales. God will be looking for weight and substance, not lightness. And we will reap what we have sowed, whether good or bad.
That is what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, but God gave him a second chance. After his descent into madness, Nebuchadnezzar finally came to his senses. Daniel tells us what happened: “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever” (4:34). Nebuchadnezzar had the Old Testament equivalent of a conversion. He believed in God.
It is good to remember that everything we have comes from God. He warned the children of Israel as they were poised to enter the Promised Land, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today” (Deuteronomy 8:17–18).
God has given us warnings in Scripture, just like he gave to Nebuchadnezzar. There will be a last night for every person – and a last meal, a last statement, a last breath … and then eternity. That should cause us to want to make every day count.