Sermon: A Letter from a Pagan King
Summary: God has demonstrated that no matter who is in the seat of power and authority on earth, God is the one who ultimately reigns, placing whom he wills in power. This is a reminder to God’s people that God is near and active, fulfilling his purposes even in pagan rulers. Knowing that nothing happens outside of our God who is always on the throne shapes our perspective and commitment to our Heavenly King, knowing that we belong to His Kingdom, not the Kingdoms of this world.
Text: Daniel 4
Scripture Reading: Ps 47:5-8
1. What types of gifts do you like to receive? Gift cards? Vacation? Money?
a. Have you ever received a gift that makes you swallow your pride?
b. When boys will all young, one of the older members in congregation gave me a book on fathering with card that say, “This will help you to become a better father.”
c. Maybe open a gift – book on dieting, or book on overcoming selfishness, etc.
d. How do you respond? You humbly say, “Thank you.” (and realize you have admitted you are overweight and obnoxious)
2. Some gifts are hard to receive because if you do, you admit your flaws
a. If you refuse the help, then you are stuck in your flaws
b. Proverb – Pride goes before a fall
3. Daniel 4 – Pride is one of the themes here
a. History says that Nebuchadnezzar was perhaps the greatest King of the New Babylon – It was at its peak under his reign
b. Nebuchadnezzar was understandably proud of his accomplishments and of the nation he built
c. In Daniel 4, He is humbled in a very creative way
4. Reading this again, I am convinced that the intended message is not a lesson on pride
a. I am pretty sure that Israel was not meant to identify with Nebuchadnezzar with a lesson on not being proud
b. Israel was not in a position to be proud at this point:
i. Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed their homeland
ii. Their homeland and temple are in ruins
iii. They are not in subjugation to Babylon
iv. They are exiles in a foreign land that has shown their power over Israel
c. In fact, chapter 4 is unusual
i. Not written by Daniel, but is a letter from Nebuchadnezzar
ii. Why is a letter from Nebuchadnezzar included in scripture?
iii. What message from God is Israel to gain from reading this?
iv. What message are WE to gain from reading this?...
I. Nebuchadnezzar has a frightening dream
A. (v.4-9) No one could interpret it, so he called for Belteshazzar
1. Interesting – Neb still calls him Belteshazzar
2. After Daniel interpreted his dream the first time, Nebuchadezzar declares that Daniel’s God is God of gods, Lord of kings, and revealer of mysteries
3. After the firey furnace incident, Nebuchadnezzar gave an order that anyone who spoke against the God of Sharach Meshach and Abednego would be torn limb from limb and house laid in ruins
4. Yet, he still calls Daniel Belteshazzer – Not break old habits?
B. (v.10-12) Think about the great tree in this vision
1. Tree grew up to the sky, and spread as far as eye could see
2. It was strong and beautiful
3. Provided fruit in abundance for everyone
4. Became a home and shelter for everyone
C. A Heavenly being ordered it cut down (v.13-17)
1. Obvious the tree is good, cutting it down is bad
2. Obvious the tree is a person
3. Purpose of cutting it down: “That the living may know that the Most High God rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (v.17).
a. This is repeated three times in chapter four
b. It is a major message in all of this
D. Even if don’t know particulars of the dream, can know overall message – God Reigns!
II. Daniel’s Interpretation Makes it Crystal Clear
A. The tree is Nebuchadnezzar (v.18-22)
1. Think of what Babylon was to the ancient world
2. Was no ancient city like it - Modern, large, powerful, safe
a. Euphrates ran through the city, had banks built up to prevent flooding
b. Herotus talks about the shipping vessels up and down the rivers, the fancy clothing and perfume,
c. Hanging Gardens was miles long
d. Walls were 25 meters high, and ten meters wide. Chariots pass each other on the wall
B. Nebuchadnezzar is chopped down to become a beast of the field (v.23-25)
1. “…til you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (v.25).
2. (v.26-27) Daniel’s advice
a. Break off your sins by practicing righteousness
b. Break of your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed
c. Maybe will be a lengthening of your prosperity
C. Nebuchadnezzar’s Response, 12 months later (v.28-33)
1. Is this not the GREAT BABYLON which “I” have built by “MY” mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of “MY” majesty?
2. “…until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (v.32)
3. Nebuchadnezzar could then be found naked in the field living the life of a cow. God had taken away his reason
4. Can you imagine?
a. What if it our president? Senile? Lose mind? Crazy? On all fours?
b. Embarrassing? Humiliating? Not mentioned in Babylonian records
c. But, God’s people preserved the letter he wrote, and it now part of scripture…
D. Nebuchadnezzar finishes his letter (v.34-37)
1. He finally praises and honors the Most High God
2. He acknowledges the sovereignty of the Most High God
a. God removed his reason and took away his kingdom
b. God returned his reason and kingdom after he acknowledged the sovereignty of the Most High
3. He acknowledges that all God’s ways are right and just
4. He also acknowledges that God can humble those proud against God
III. Points? Takeaways?
A. Not just some general moralistic lesson about pride
1. Yes God is opposed to the proud, but it is more than this
a. Israel is in exile living in the shadow of pagan monarchs and their gods
b. Monarchs believed the ruled over every aspect of your life, including how you are to worship, and who
2. Israel was not always look at favorably
a. They stubbornly refused to honor the gods
b. There was no room in their hearts for more than one God
c. Would disobey the Kings orders if it involved honoring other gods, or falling short of their own God
3. Against this backdrop, we have this account of God’s actions regarding Nebuchadnezzar
a. Significant that this was Nebuchadnezzar
b. Historians say he the greatest of the Babylonian Kings
c. Babylonian empire reached its peak under his reign
d. City of Babylon was a wonder of the world (Sound any like the USA?)
B. Babylon’s Rise to Power is due to Yahweh, not Bel, not Nebo, Not Marduk, and Not Nebuchadnezzar
1. Heb 1:2-4 - Prophet prays to God, why he is not doing anything about the violence, wicked and injustice in the land
2. (Heb 1:5-6) 5 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. 6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.
a. Who is raising up the Chaldeans (Babylon)? Yahweh
b. God didn’t stop being in charge when Babylon sacked Jerusalem
c. God didn’t stop being in charge when Judah went into Babylonian exile
d. Even though Jerusalem is in ruins, God is STILL on the throne, it was his will
3. Jer 22:24 – Yahweh says specifically that he would give Israel into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar because of their stubborn unrepentance
4. (Prov 21:1) The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will.
a. When Tiglath Pileser attacked Israel and took them away – That was God’s doing
b. When Nebuchadnezzar allowed Israel to remain together in captivity and they flourished in exile – That was God’s doing
c. When Cyrus issued decree to allow Israel to return, that was God’s doing
d. God raises up kings and nations, and takes them down for his purposes
C. God’s Kingdom is Everlasting, the Kingdoms of Men are Not
1. (Isaiah 10:5, 12-16) – Example of Assyria
2. (Isaiah 14:3-5, 12-16) – Because of the pride of Babylon, God took them out
3. (1 Cor 15:22-24) 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
a. His Kingdom will never be destroyed
b. All others will be destroyed
c. But the Kingdom of God is eternal
4. Remember who your king is, and what Kingdom you Belong to!
1. I was reading voice of the Martyrs journal
a. They sent a prayer map – It is on the bulletin board
b. Many places it is not easy to be a Christian
c. Come countries – Have to register your church, or it is illegal
d. Other countries, they destroy church property and arrest leaders and members
2. Occurred to me – This could happen here
a. Could come a time when our story is told in Voice of the Martyrs
b. May come a time when we are exiles in our own country
c. That is to be expected – Bible says we are strangers, aliens, our citizenship is in Heaven
3. That is why a message like this is such an important reminder
a. Do not be intimidated, deceived, seduced – God is still on throne
b. He is still working to fulfill his purposes (inv)
c. Remember who is in charge. Higher Authority and Power than any government/ruler on earth
d. You belong to him & serve him