Our elders have given me the privilege of preaching a four-week series while our senior pastor is finishing up some school, so I’ve been taking the congregation through my favorite stories in the book of Daniel. This week we will be covering Daniel 4 and the fall of King Nebuchadnezzar.
I remember reading through the book of Daniel as a young believer and being a bit confused about this character and his responses to God in leading up to this point in the book. In chapter 2, after Daniel interprets his dream for him, Nebuchadnezzar says, Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery (v. 47). Then, in chapter 3, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are delivered from the flames of the fiery furnace he says, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him (v. 28).
In those early days of my faith, when I got to the end of chapter 2 I thought that Nebuchadnezzar had been saved, that he had seen the power of God and would now abandon his life of paganism to follow after the one true God. But then, as I flipped the page to the next chapter, I saw Nebuchadnezzar erecting a gigantic golden image for his people to bow down and worship. So, thinking I must have missed something, I got to the end of chapter 3 and thought, “Surely now Nebuchadnezzar is saved, not only is he verbally blessing God, but he’s putting decrees in place so that no one in Babylon is allowed to speak ill of him.” But then in chapter 4 we see Nebuchadnezzar walking on his balcony in a narcissistic soliloquy praising his own glory. I wondered where I had gone wrong in my thinking. Obviously, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t get the real thing. But why?
At this point in the book of Daniel (things change at the end of chapter 4), there is a difference between Nebuchadnezzar and let’s say… someone like Ruth. Notice the words that Nebuchadnezzar uses when he speaks of God at the end of chapters 2 and 3: your God is God of gods and then blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then consider the words of Ruth when she refuses to return to Moab and, instead, remains with Naomi, her mother-in-law: Your people shall be my people, and your God my God (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth is not, here, simply showing respect to the God of Israel and acknowledging his power, she is committing to him personally. There is no intent for her to keep one foot in Moab with her pagan gods and one foot in Israel with the Lord. Nebuchadnezzar, up to this point, had only just recognized God’s greatness; he had not submitted himself to God in faith.
Church, let us not be too quick to assume the salvation of someone who acknowledges God and even speaks very highly of him. It is only when we, by God’s grace, deny ourselves and, in faith, forsake all others to follow God that he saves us.