There is a modern Christian song, called Still that uses a lot of metaphorical language so it might not be the best song to teach theology but there is a very beautiful line in the lyrics, it says Father you are King over the flood I will be still knowing you are God. It is such a lovely description of a very important truth many things are happening in the human world. There are good things and there are bad things, there are things we can control, and there are things we cannot control. Some things happen as they planned some events come as a total surprise. There are things we don’t want to happen; they end up happening. There are things we try our best to hold on to, we end up losing. The song summarizes all these things into one word “flood”. A flood overwhelms our ability, in this flood we are being tossed and turned. When life seems like a flood where can we anchor ourselves? It is God while everything in life is shifting, God remains unchanged, and He rules above the flood unchallenged in the uncertainties and frustrations of life. God calls us to let go of ourselves and to put God first in life to humble ourselves and to put our trust in Him. This is what Daniel 4 is all about. God calls us to humble ourselves and to trust Him. God who rose above the flood, God’s rule is sovereign. This means that nothing escapes His full control, nothing happens unless He allows it. God does not only rule over nature He also rules over mankind He directs the hearts of kings. Nations rise and fall according to his will. God calls us to understand who He is and who we are, so that we would come to him and worship him in humility. In the Book of Daniel, we see two groups of people that respond very differently to the sovereignty of God. The first group is Daniel and his friends, they strongly believe that God has full control over all human events even when their country Israel was destroyed by Babylon, even when they were taken to Babylon as slaves. They never once doubted God’s sovereignty. Why did they trust in God? It is because God had told them beforehand (see Jeremiah 25) that Babylon would conquer Israel and that they would be taken to Babylon as slaves. But God also promised to take care of them in Babylon, and not only that God promised to bring them back to Israel after 70 years. Daniel and his friends trusted in God’s sovereignty and this trust in God gave them three important treasures.
Firstly, it gave them hope they knew that God would fulfill his promise and bring them home. Secondly, it gave them peace. They understood that all the dangers and challenges they faced in life came from God, and whatever they faced God was there with them. Lastly it gave them humility no matter how high the position in Babylon was, they never put their trust in political power in authority or in their relationship with the queen with the king, because these things are not permanent. More importantly these things came from God in the first place, so why trust these things when you can trust the sovereign God. On the other hand, we see a second group of people in the Book of Daniel. There were those who achieved great things in life who have earned everything on earth that people desired. They have wealth, fame, and power. They live in big mansions, every meal was fine dining, they married the most beautiful women, whenever people saw them bowed down and paid their respects. They were the great kings in Daniel’s time because their achievements were rarely matched by other humans. They were very proud because their armies were strong, and their city walls were high. They trusted in their own power because they could kill someone or pardon someone by a simple command. They felt like gods among men.
The first king who showed up in the Book of Daniel was Nebuchadnezzar. He was the greatest King in the history of Babylon. He first defeated the mighty Assyrians after that he invaded Egypt and won the battle, and on the way home from Egypt he destroyed Israel just out of convenience. In those times, whenever two countries fought it was not only seen as a battle between humans but also between gods. When Babylon defeated Israel, it was seen as a victory of the Babylonian Gods over the God of Israel. This defeat of Israel was humiliating to the god of Israel but there was something that Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon did not know. He did not know that the God of Israel endured this humiliation willingly. God was the one who gave power and authority to Nebuchadnezzar, God was the one who used Nebuchadnezzar to judge his own people because God wanted to bring his people back to Him through this judgment. When the people of Israel were taken to Babylon, God was with them in Babylon and God did not remain silent there. Through many miraculous acts, God displayed his power and his authority to King Nebuchadnezzar, so that Nebuchadnezzar would come to know who God is, would humble himself and come to God.
The first miraculous Act was when Nebuchadnezzar had a strange and frightening dream after he woke up from the dream (see Daniel 2). He did not tell anyone about his dream, instead he commanded his Sorcerers as magicians to tell him what his dream was before they even tried to interpret the dream. None of the sorcerers could do it except Daniel the Israelite. It was the God of Israel who first gave King Nebuchadnezzar the dream. It was the god of Israel who also told Daniel the dream and his interpretation. The dream was a prophecy about the kingdoms that will come after Babylon. The God of Israel could predict the future because He is the One who determined the future. King Nebuchadnezzar then praised God for revealing this mystery. However, King Nebuchadnezzar’s pride soon made him forget about the God of Israel. After he had the dream, he made for himself a golden statue and he made all his officials kneel down before the statue all his officials knelt down except three people, they were Israelites who worshiped the God of Israel alone. In his anger King Nebuchadnezzar threw these three Israelites into the fire. However, these three men did not die in the fire; instead, God appeared with them in the fire and protected them, so that they came out of the fire unharmed. Once again King Nebuchadnezzar praised the god of Israel, and this was the second miraculous Act. The God of Israel did these things to show Nebuchadnezzar that He is not just the God of Israel, He is indeed the God of the universe. He is the one who made the world, He is the one who actively sustains the world, He alone is the one true God. The gods of other nations were created by human beings powered by angels who rebelled against God. These fallen angels have no power and authority over God.
However, two lessons were clearly not enough to humble Nebuchadnezzar. On the outside, Nebuchadnezzar praised God publicly, but on the inside Nebuchadnezzar was filled with pride; he was obsessed with his own ability and achievements God saw through his hearts in our passage today God would teach him the third and the last lesson on humility. God is very kind towards King Nebuchadnezzar. In Daniel chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar received yet another frightening dream. In this dream he saw a great tree so tall that it reached the heavens. The tree was beautiful, and the fruit became the food for all creatures on Earth. But one day, an angel came down from heaven and chopped the tree down so that all that was left was a stump. Then the angel pronounced judgment on that stump, this stump will become like an animal and live in the wild for seven years until he learns to humble himself before God. Unlike the time when he had his first dream, this time King Nebuchadnezzar told his sorceress about his dream, but still the sorcerers could not interpret the dream. What actually might have happened was that the sorcerers did not dare to interpret the dream for King Nebuchadnezzar because the dream was clearly a bad omen. They were afraid that Nebuchadnezzar would kill them for cursing him. Once again, it was Daniel who would interpret the dream for the king, and this was the interpretation that came from God. The great tree represented King Nebuchadnezzar himself, he was indeed a king who had many Great accomplishments, but God would soon punish King Nebuchadnezzar. The king would lose his humanity and become like an animal, he would be driven away from human society and live among animals for seven years. But after that Nebuchadnezzar would acknowledge God’s power and authority. His humanity would be restored, and he would return to his throne.
God gave Nebuchadnezzar this dream as a warning. If Nebuchadnezzar would turn away from his sins this punishment would not come to him. This was what Daniel asked the king to do in Daniel 4:27, therefore O king let my counsel be acceptable to you to break off your sins by practicing righteousness and your sin and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity. Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar did not take the warning seriously. Twelve months went by and still the punishment did not come. At this point maybe he had forgotten about the dream, maybe he thought that God had forgotten about the dream. Anyway, one day Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of his Palace, normally the palace would be the tallest building in the entire city, and as he was walking the King was looking down at Babylon and everything he had built and accomplished. What his eyes saw filled his heart with pride. If we put ourselves in the shoes of Nebuchadnezzar, it is really hard not to be proud. According to historical records, the Hanging Gardens one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was constructed by Nebuchadnezzar. It was a multi-leveled garden, a combination of the beauties of nature and human architecture. There were fountains and rivers that flow through different levels of the building. It was built as a gift for his wife, the queen, because she missed the green hills of her home country. Not only that the city of Babylon itself was an impressive city. The city was surrounded by four layers of walls, the walls were about six meters wide, allowing war chariots to run in both directions at the same time. The walls were 12 meters tall which is almost four stories high, the walls were protected by watchtowers and the city walls were also encircled by artificial rivers. Truly who could ever defeat this impenetrable fortress? Upon looking at all that he has built, he said to himself in Daniel 4:30, is not this great Babylon which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?
We’re not King Nebuchadnezzar, our life achievements are incomparable and insignificant compared to his but just like Nebuchadnezzar we are often tempted to build our identity on our abilities and our achievements. Younger people tend to find glory in their abilities, we take pride in our academic abilities in the strength and the beauty of our youth. In the unique sets of talents, we have we look into the future and expect great things. We naively assume that everything will line up so perfectly so that our abilities will definitely reach their highest potential. We say to ourselves: trust yourself one day you will rock the world. In contrast, older people tend to find glory in their achievements. We take pride in our career successes, in our children’s achievements. We say to ourselves look at what I have achieved by my strength and hard work. We realize our inner voice sounds exactly like Nebuchadnezzar. But God did not leave Nebuchadnezzar in his pride, God loved Nebuchadnezzar and so God’s punishment arrived at Nebuchadnezzar. He lost his mind in an instant, he could no longer speak nor act like a human, but instead his behavior became like an ox, and he ran away from humans and started eating grass and he lived in the wild for seven years. The officials of Babylon could easily find Nebuchadnezzar, how far he could run but they didn’t know what to do with him. Is this madman really the great Nebuchadnezzar or has the real Nebuchadnezzar gone? I believe this was not the only this was not only lesson for Nebuchadnezzar but also for the officials of Babylon. Moments ago, he was still the greatest king of the Middle East but suddenly he is a nobody with a severe mental disorder. All his pride and glory and authority gone in a day. All our abilities and achievements are like skyscrapers made of glass, one small impact and the whole thing comes crashing down. Because we have such a shallow understanding of who we are, we cannot construct our identity apart from the little pride we have in our abilities and our achievements. If for some reason, we lose our abilities and achievements. the identity we’re built upon them would also collapse to the ground.
In fact, all our abilities and achievements must eventually come to an end because our life is not forever. One day our strength will leave us, one day death will come to all of us. Psalm 90:10 says the years of our life are 70 or if you are strong 80 but the span is but toil and trouble they are soon gone, and we fly away. Likewise, Jesus says in Matthew 16:26, for what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul or what shall a man give in return for his soul in the face of death? All our pride in our abilities and achievements will be brought to nothing. Great men in history have worked really hard to make a name for themselves so that they will be remembered by those who come after them, but the question is how it profits a dead man that he should be remembered. Apart from your abilities and achievements, who are you when your achievements are taken away from you, what is left of you when someone beats you at what you do best. Do you still have value? Nebuchadnezzar had to learn a hard lesson through seven years of madness, he had to recognize that everything he owned whether it be wealth or power or authority or even sanity itself all came from God. God can give and God can certainly take away.
Nebuchadnezzar had to learn that God is fair and right whether he gives or takes away. If all these things can be taken away from us, what can we build our identity on? The only reference point for a true understanding of self is God alone because God gave me life, therefore I live, and I live for him because God is my maker. He has the right to define me, He designed me according to His good purpose, He equips me with talents so that I can carry out His beautiful plan. He gave me His Son Jesus Christ to die for me and to pay for my sins so that I am no longer defined by my weaknesses and failures. But in Jesus, I am re-defined as a child of God, I have value because God loves me. I matter because I matter to God. I’m not defined by my achievements because He loved me before I had any treatments. God is the only reference point for true identity apart from God all other ground is like quicksand. True humility is not simply acknowledging that we are nothing. Some people can acknowledge that they are nothing not because of humility but because of self-hatred. While they are not defined by their abilities and achievements, they are defined by the lack of abilities and achievements. They are still obsessed with themselves; they refuse to define themselves by anything else. Self-pity is the pride of losers. True humility is to allow our creator to define us. Apart from our abilities and achievements, apart from our weaknesses and failures, what am I? I’m everything my God says I am, and I have everything my God says I have.
Now the repentance of Nebuchadnezzar is portrayed as him looking toward heaven. At the height of his pride Nebuchadnezzar was looking down at his own glory and majesty, but at the end of his seven years of madness, he turned his eyes away from himself away from his works and he turned to God in heaven. He acknowledged that he was entirely dependent on God, that is true humility. In the past he saw God as a rival as a rival for power and authority he saw himself and God in the same boxing ring. So last time he only bowed down to God because he lost because he had less power and authority than God. But once he realized that he could never measure up to God that there is a quietly qualitative difference between God and him that his understanding of himself and of God was so wrong all this time. He realized that he was not fighting with God in a boxing ring; he was just a lump of clay in the hands of the Potter. At the end of his life King Nebuchadnezzar could only praise God he said in Daniel 4:34:35 I bless the most high and praise and honor him who lives forever for his kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom and its dominion endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the Earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the Earth, and no one can hold back His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?” Interestingly in Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar called all peoples, nations and languages to bow down to his own statue, but now in Daniel 4:1, he calls all peoples, nations and languages to hear his message of praise to the god of Heaven. The Christian identity begins when someone says to God, I’m nothing without you but I’m yours to define. This is what David Paulson said: your true identity is who God says you are.
You will never discover who you are by looking inside yourself or listening to what others say. God gets to define you first because He made you, He gets to define you every day because you live before him. He gets to define you last because He will reveal your life on the judgment day and no more judgment shall be pronounced after that. When Jesus came to us Jesus also likewise called those who would humble themselves before God. He says in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. The only requirements to approach Jesus are to empty hands and a broken heart. Jesus calls us to lift our eyes to God and confess our need for Him, our emptiness and our sinfulness. For all who come to Jesus like this He promised to give us a new identity that is defined by his death.
Because Jesus died for me, my wrongdoings no longer condemned me.
Because Jesus died for me, my relationship with God is restored.
Because Jesus died for me, God’s love for me is eternal and unchanging.
Let us humble ourselves before God and let us worship him for the rest of our lives, amen.