September 6 – Daniel 4:28-37


You might remember that we looked at this exact same passage back in January during our None Like Him series. Then we were looking at God’s self-existence, but this week we’ll be looking at how God rules over the “kingdom of men” and specifically opposes the proud.

Starting out in Daniel 4:28 we find King Nebuchadnezzar strolling on his roof top, admiring his kingdom. Take the time to read back over the beginning of chapter 4, because it sets the stage for why this stroll would end up condemning Nebuchadnezzar. In summary, he had a dream, which Daniel had interpreted for him as a warning from God about a coming judgment on his sin. But now, 12 months later, Nebuchadnezzar hadn’t heeded the warning and, standing atop his palace, proclaimed, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” Immediately God visited that judgment on him, driving him out of the palace and his own mind to spend the next “seven periods of time” (4:16) wandering the wilderness, eating grass like an ox and behaving like a mad man.

Which should really make us wonder, why did God do this to Nebuchadnezzar?

The passage provides the reasoning in two different wordings, first in 4:17 “that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will,” second in 4:32, “until you [Nebuchadnezzar] know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” So this whole account is both for Nebuchadnezzar and for us, that through his lived experience all of us might learn together. And not only are we meant to understand what’s going on here, but we’re meant to heed the same warning. We see this in Daniel 5, where Daniel interprets a different mysterious occurrence for King Belshazzar. During this interpretation he condemns Belshazzar, saying, “[Nebuchadnezzar] was driven from among the children of mankind…until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. And you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this.”(5:21-22) Daniel holds Belshazzar accountable for not paying attention to Nebuchadnezzar’s story and repenting of his similar sins. That really makes me think we should listen to this passage intently.

So, back to the “why,” on one hand Nebuchadnezzar was humiliated because God had already warned him through a dream and he didn’t listen (not to mention the dream of chapter 2 or the fiery furnace of chapter 3; the guy really should’ve been paying better attention by now). On the other hand, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just get a little bigheaded. Note his language, he talks about a house he built by his power and for his glory. That’s all temple language; he’s heavily implying that the great city of Babylon was an ode to his glory, a temple to his majesty and might. But immediately God is there to say, “You didn’t build it, and it’s not for you.” Underlying this whole exchange is the age-old rebellion that mankind has waged against God since Genesis 3, an aspiration by the creation to be the Creator. That rebellion is both the root of and the defining characteristic of human pride, and it’s for this pride that God humbled Nebuchadnezzar.

Keep reading through scripture and you’ll observe that pride is perhaps the most offensive thing to God.

It’s one of the few things that God says he outright hates (ref. Prov. 8:13). And he has every right to, considering pride is the root of human rebellion and all the suffering that has resulted from that rebellion. We see an example of that connection in 4:27 when Daniel specifically tells Nebuchadnezzar to repent by showing mercy to the oppressed, indicating the connection between Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and his oppression of others. For the sake of his own glory and for the sake of the oppressed, God had every right to hate Nebuchadnezzar’s pride. And this is our touchpoint with the passage; while we might not be as big and important as Nebuchadnezzar, we are equally as prideful on a regular basis. So when we read this we should heed the warning to stop, assess where pride currently resides in our habits, relationships, and internal life, and repent of these things just like Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar he should’ve done in 4:27.

Which, this question is tangential to our discussion this week but I think it’s good food for thought, lest we paint Nebuchadnezzar more of a villain than scripture does. Read Hebrews 12:6 and see what you think.

Back to our train of thought, along with this warning for pride comes a timeless reassurance. This idea that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” would’ve been precious to Daniel and the Israelite exile community; having been forcibly removed from their ancestral home and place of worship, they naturally would’ve been asking, “Is God really in control? Will he really keep watching over us?” The confirmation that Yahweh wasn’t just God in Jerusalem, but God everywhere, would’ve provided then with some serious fortitude as they dealt with living in a hostile place. And this same truth can provide us some similar ballast in these turbulent times, especially as we approach a similarly hostile election cycle. Daniel would tell us to devote neither hope nor fear on human kingdoms, knowing that “those who walk in pride He is able to humble.”

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Daniel 4:28-37 for us?

• What stands out to you from this passage?

• According to the passage, why did God do all this to Nebuchadnezzar?

• Looking at verse 37, why do you think God is so interested in humbling the proud? (cf. James 4:6)

• What is this passage telling you about your own pride?

• What do you think Nebuchadnezzar’s humbling meant for Daniel and the other exiled Israelites?

• What does this idea that “the Most High rules the kingdom of men” mean for us?