The fascinating account of king Nebuchadnezzar is found at the beginning of the book of Daniel. In fact, it was king Nebuchadnezzar who over came Jerusalem and conquered Israel. And it was he who ordered the bringing of a selection of the noblemen’s sons back to Babylon in order to be trained for service in the royal court. Among those taken were Daniel and his three friends. All four are chosen after a year of training to serve in the royal court before the king.
While king Nebuchadnezzar is alive and in power in Babylon, he has three life changing experiences with these four men. In the first, he has a dream about a statue made of gold and other materials. Due to his lack of trust for the wise men in his court, the king demands that these wise men tell him the dream he ad as well as the interpretation. He decreed that if none of the wise men were able to perform this task, then they would all be killed. The only wise man who is found to be able to not only interpret the dream, but also tell the king what the dream was that he had, was Daniel.
In the dream, God was revealing to the king that He has allowed king Nebuchadnezzar to prosper and blessed his kingdom so that it is greater than any other kingdom that will come after his. His kingdom is so great, in fact, that he and his kingdom is represented by the head of gold on the statue. All the kingdoms that followed king Nebuchadnezzar’s were represented by inferior materials.
It should therefore not be surprising that the next thing King Nebuchadnezzar does, that is recorded in Daniel, is that he makes a huge statue of gold – over ninety feet tall! And he expected and demands that everyone in the kingdom worship it, and as a result, worship him and his kingdom. Wherever Daniel is for this event, the scriptures do not tell us, but his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego are all present for this event. And because they refuse to obey the king’s command and worship the golden statue, they are ultimately thrown into the furnace that king Nebuchadnezzar has heated seven times hotter than he would normally have it heated.
The king’s decisions in doing so is due to the fact that these three men declare before the king that their God can save them from the fire if He wants to. Because the furnace was heated to such a extreme temperature, the soldiers that thrown the three men into the furnace were killed. Yet, these three men are not harmed, the king sees a fourth man walking around in the furnace with them (who he calls the son of the Gods) and the king calls to them to come out of the flames.
At the end of this account, king Nebuchadnezzar declares that there is no other god that is able to save like their God. So, through these first two accounts, king Nebuchadnezzar has seen two attributes of God: that He is able to make secrets known and give Daniel the ability to interpret dreams, and that He is able to save those who stand for Him and trust in Him, even if they are thrown into a furnace. And through both experiences king Nebuchadnezzar gives praise to God.
Then there is the third account that we are given in Daniel. In this account, king Nebuchadnezzar has been given another dream. Except this time, when he calls together all the magicians, wise men, and soothsayers, he tells them his dream. And yet, they still cannot tell him what the dream means. Maybe this lack of even false interpretations was a result of their previous near-death experience when they couldn’t tell him the dream or the interpretation. After all, that time, he told them point blank that he knew or believed that they had all conspired to lie to him. So this time they kept quiet and did not even pretend to know what the interpretation to the dream was. Another interesting point to keep in mind, is that king Nebuchadnezzar did not call for Daniel immediately upon having the dream. Whether he was testing the other wise men and any of their possible interpretations is uncertain. But what is certain is that the king did call for Daniel and Daniel did have the interpretation.
Unlike his last dream, this one is a judgment that is designed to open the king’s eyes to who God really is. You see, up to this point, the king has only seen a glimpse of who God is through the faith of Daniel and his three friends. And although the king has given praise to their God for what He has done, he also has continued to worship other gods, and continued to seek his own praise and worship from others.
The prophecy in the king’s dream comes to pass, and king Nebuchadnezzar is driven into the wilderness to act like an animal instead of a king, and eat grass for food instead of his royal provisions, for a period of seven times. What is interesting about this period of time in which the king is driven from his kingdom, is that he was not humbled to the point of being a beggar or the lowest position in his kingdom, he was humbled well beyond that point to the place of an animal. Even the lowliest of people in his kingdom – even the slaves were above him in ability and importance than where he was. It also took king Nebuchadnezzar a large amount of time to come to the place in his heart and mind where he was willing to accept that only God establishes king’s and kingdoms, and only He gives them to whoever He pleases.
Finally the seven times had passed over him, and he was reestablished as king over the kingdom he was originally driven from. The end result of his experiences and the last thing the book of Daniel tells us about him, is a proclamation he makes concerning his experiences. In this proclamation, king Nebuchadnezzar tells or witnesses to the people he presides over, that he has learned that there is One God who rules over all and that He is the One who establishes king’s and kingdoms and is the only One who should be praised. Quite a drastic change from the man at the beginning of the book of Daniel.
So, through the three interactions these four Hebrew men have with the king of Babylon, he comes to find that although he was able to defeat the Israelis in their home land and drag them off into captivity, it is not due to his own abilities, but because God allowed and even ordained it to come to pass. But through the lens of assumption and pride that his kingdom was better and he was more powerful than the Jewish people, he came to understand that their God was able to tell and interpret his dreams when no other god of his people could. He came to know that their God was able to save them from death in a fiery furnace, when no other god has even been able to do that, and that their God was able to humble him to the point of understanding who He really was.
There is one last important note from the story of king Nebuchadnezzar. The king who assumed his throne upon his death was his son, king Belshazzar. There is very little that is told in the book of Daniel regarding this king, other than the fact that he threw a party for a thousand of his officials, and used the cups from the temple in Jerusalem that his father, king Nebuchadnezzar had brought back from his conquest all those years before. They praised the gods of the gold and silver, and did not acknowledge the One true God.
For this sin, a hand appeared and wrote on the wall, and Daniel interpreted it for the king. The result was that the kingdom would ultimately taken away from him that very night. The point we must come to understand from this account immediately following king Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation of faith, is that his son failed to either grasp the significance of what had happened, or chose not learn from his fathers experience. But unlike his father, God only gave king Belshazzar one chance (that we have record of) to choose to worship Him, and then His kingdom was taken away from him. And again, unlike his father, God did not temporarily take away his kingdom until he learned to acknowledge and worship the One true God – it was a permanent removal, which one can only conclude: king Belshazzar should have known better, and even Daniel stated as much in his translation to king Belshazzar.
It is not a mistake that the book of Daniel opens with these stories. The God who created everything we see, the God who spoke and it came into existence, is the God who reveals Himself throughout the entire Bible. But He does not end there – He reveals Himself to each of us and pursues each of us in His own ways and choosing. King Nebuchadnezzar was pursued multiple times by God before he bent his knee and acknowledged that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the One true God, who rules over all. What will it take for you to acknowledge the same?