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Daniel 4: The Necessity of Humility Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 September 2012

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Let me begin with a confession: I am an arrogant, prideful man. Hopefully, you don’t all immediately agree with that statement, so let me illustrate. I live in what could be called “The Kingdom of Marshall.” I am, of course, the king. My kingdom does not have much material wealth or tons of resources, but what it has is mine. It does not have very many (ok, none) subjects, but I do have the best-looking Queen and the finest Prince that I know. And even though I know that everything I have is a gift, I still struggle to not believe that I have somehow earned what I have.

Likewise, if I am honest at times, my labors to improve the kingdom are often motivated more by my longing for glory than my longing for the good of others. For example, Isaiah is finishing up his first soccer season. Do I want him to do well and be a good soccer player? Of course, I want him to succeed. But do I want him to succeed for his own good or for the glory of the kingdom (ie, my glory)? I want to have a great marriage with my wife and we work hard to have that. But sometimes I do it so that people will think we have a good marriage more than simply because I love my wife. Even in being a pastor, I want our Church to be faithful and healthy. But sometimes I do it more because I want to be the guy who pastors the faithful and healthy Church more than for the glory of the Kingdom of Christ. I want the kingdom of Marshall to serve the Kingdom of Heaven, but sometimes I want to share the glory. Like I said: I am an arrogant and prideful man.

Maybe you struggle with pride as well.  Daniel 4 is all about a man and his struggle with pride and arrogance.  It might be tempting for us to sit in judgment of King Nebuchadnezzar and point the finger at all those ‘out there’ who struggle with pride.  But the better approach is for us to begin by admitting our own battle with arrogance and asking God to teach us and humble us through this passage.  With that in mind, let’s begin by looking at the story.

The Story:

The chapter begins with an unusual introduction for the book of Daniel.  Look at verses 1-3.  King Nebuchadnezzar is speaking in first person and tells us what he is going to do, namely show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.  So then, we know from the beginning that the King is going to relate to us a story about what God has done in his life to reveal and demonstrate His greatness.  What then does the king tell us?

Like chapter 2, this story revolves around a dream.  Once again the king has a dream and tries to get his men to interpret it.  And once again, they fail.  Thus, the king turns to Daniel.  Unlike before, the king decides to tell Daniel the dream this time.  And what is the dream?  The king has a dream about a large tree.  The top of the tree stretched into the heavens and the branches spread out far and wide.  The tree produced good food and shelter and became great.  Yet, the king tells us that a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven.  This watcher commands that the tree be chopped down and destroyed.  Only a stump would remain after the destruction of the tree.  The metaphor then changes a bit and we are told that whoever the stump represents will lose their mind, becoming like a beast of the field for seven seasons, or years.  We are told the reason for all of this: that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdoms of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men (v. 17).

King Nebuchadnezzar then asks for Daniel’s interpretation.  Because of Daniel’s concern for the king he hesitates, but he eventually tells the king that the tree represents him and his kingdom.  He will be the one who will lose the kingdom and be reduced to dwelling with the beasts for seven years.  Yet, there does remain hope for the king.  Daniel calls on him to repent in verse 27.  Look at that with me.  Thus, the dream is a prophecy and a warning for the king.  If he repents, then the dream will not be fulfilled, but if he does not, then it will.

We find out what happens in the very next verse: All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel goes on to give us the details.  A year after the dream, the king was walking around on the roof of his palace, taking it all in, when he declared: Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty (v. 30).  Immediately he receives a response: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field (v. 31b-32a).  And just like that the king’s dream became a reality.  We are told that he did in fact become insane and was driven away from men to dwell with the beasts.  He remained this way for seven years (or at least a lengthy period if the numbers are symbolic).

But this is not the end of the story for King Nebuchadnezzar.  After the time of his humiliation, the king tells us that he lifted (his) eyes to heaven.  He began to understand that his power came from God and from Him alone.  God then restored him to his throne and the king understood that God was teaching him an important lesson: those who walk in pride he is able to humble (v. 37).

The Lessons:

What lessons can we learn from the king’s humiliation?  Let me mention three.

First, God opposes the proud.  The general lesson is abundantly clear: God opposes all of those who are full of pride.  Why did the king have the dream?  What was the purpose of his humiliation?  Look at verse 17 again.  Look also at verses 25-26 and verse 32b.  All of this happens to the king so that he will know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men.  God will not tolerate pride and arrogance.  He opposes the proud.  We are taught this lesson throughout the Bible.  James and Peter both agree: God opposes the proud… (James 4:6, 1Peter 5:5).  Daniel 4 and the king’s humiliation illustrate the truth of God’s opposition to the proud.

Second, God graciously reveals His dominion to humble us.  There is grace in God’s opposition of King Nebuchadnezzar.  Look again at verses 34-35.  God reveals to the king that only His dominion is an everlasting dominion.  Only God does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  The king learns that none can stay his hand.  These are important lessons and God graciously reveals them to the king.  He is not obligated to reveal them to King Nebuchadnezzar, but He does so in His mercy.  God’s opposition to our pride is a merciful act.  C. J. Mahaney, in his book on humility, writes: “God is merciful to warn us in this way.  He’s merciful in this act of revealing this sin (pride) to our hearts and in identifying its seriousness and potential consequences… So throughout His Word, God exposes pride as our greatest enemy.” 1  God graciously warns the king of His pride by revealing His dominion and His greatness.

Third, God will forgive those who repent and humble those who refuse.  Why does God oppose our pride and warn us against it in the Bible?  So that we might repent and turn from it.  When Nebuchadnezzar lifts his eyes to heaven, God restores him.  God shows grace to those who are humble.  This is what James and Peter teach us: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).  Some will argue that the king is finally ‘converted’ in this passage.  It is hard to be definitive about where the king stands in relation to the God of Israel even at the end of this passage, but he does understand the importance and necessity of humility.  God has humbled him and shown him where he stands.  God is able to humble all those who continue to walk in pride.

So then, how can we battle against pride in our own lives?  For Nebuchadnezzar, God reveals His greatness and uses miraculous means to humble him.  But what about us?  What has God revealed to us and done for us that we might fight against pride and be humble?

The greatest weapon that we have against pride is the humility of our Savior.  How does this weapon work?  First, it gives us victory over sin through the work that Jesus accomplished for us at the cross.  Jesus died for pride.  He died because I think I am the center of the universe.  He died because I think too much of myself.  He died to show me that I am not the king that I often think that I am.  If we are ever going to defeat pride in our own lives, then we must begin by humbling ourselves at the feet of King Jesus.  We must turn from our sins, turn from our pride and arrogance, and trust in His sacrifice for us at the cross.  We must admit our need for His death and His payment for our sins.  All true humility begins at Calvary.  It begins with repentance and faith in Jesus our Savior.

And that is where it remains throughout the life of the believer.  Where do we go to continually defeat pride in our lives as Christians?  We go to the cross.  John Stott writes: “Nothing in history or in the in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross.  All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary.  It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.” 2  So come to the cross with me this morning.  Let’s just gather up all of our failures, all of our short-comings, all of our struggles and take them to the cross.  And let’s bring with them all of our accomplishments, all of our good-deeds, all of our ‘righteous acts’, and let’s lay them at the feet of our Savior. 

Everything in us that we hold up to the watching world to try and convince them that we are worthy of anything, let’s strip that away and nail it to the cross of Jesus, who "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and besowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knew should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:6-11).  Amen.

1 C. J. Mahaney, Humility (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2005), p. 35.
2 Quoted in Humility, p. 67.

~ William Marshall ~

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