Nebuchadnezzar: Head of Gold

Daniel 1‑4  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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Dan. 1-4
There is much interest attached to the person of this great Gentile. The place he occupies in the progress of the divine dispensations, the circumstances which connect him with the saints of God, and his own personal history-all contribute to give him a place in our recollections, and to teach us some holy and important lessons.
He was the man in whom God set up the Gentiles. The house of David, the throne of Judah, had corrupted itself; the measure of the people's iniquity was full, and the term of the divine longsuffering was spent in Nebuchadnezzar's day; and he is used by the Lord to be the rod of His indignation against Jerusalem, and the hand to take from Him the sword of rule and judgment in the earth.
The glory had departed. It had left the earth. The prophet Ezekiel had seen it in its gradual and reluctant, but sure and judicial, flight on the cherubim and the wheels as far as the mountains on its way to heaven. But though "the glory is departed" might have been written on Jerusalem, "the glory is here" could not have been correspondingly written on any seat or city of the nations.
This Chaldean, however, this Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon is set up by the Lord, and the sword is committed to him. Power in the earth for the punishment of evil doers and for the praise of them that do well, is put into his hand-formally put there-by God, on the glory forsaking the earth, or the Lord for the present refusing to take His place as King of Israel.
This is Nebuchadnezzar's connection with the dispensational purposes of God. He was glad, of course, to extend his dominions and to let his conquests be known far and wide, and Jerusalem is welcome plunder to him; but all the while he was filling out the purposes of God. At length his sword is in its sheath, and we see him not in connection with the purposes, but with the saints, of God; and then we get a more perfect sight of him, and a subject of still holier interest and meaning. For then we see the man under divine operation, and not merely the power under divine commission and appointment. And it is this sight which Daniel gives of him in these chapters.
The tumult of war being over, and the sword, as I said, in its sheath again, the king is seen in his place at Babylon. His royal estate he purposes to set off to all advantage. Elegancies and accomplishments and provisions of all sorts shall fill his court. Both his greatness and his pleasures shall be served by all that conquered lands can furnish, and the ancient land of the glory is now only one of them. Babylon, famed for its wisdom in its astrologers and soothsayers, shall be set off by some of the captive youths of Judah, distinguished for their understanding science, and skillfulness in knowledge. This is Chapter 1.
As it often happens, the Lord comes to disturb him. His heart is moved, if not his estate and condition in the world. Ere he went to sleep one much-to-be-remembered night, he is thinking on what was to be thereafter. He then sleeps and dreams and, the dream being all about what was to be thereafter, shows that the hand of God was in the whole scene. The king, however, does not understand anything of all this. Even the dream itself goes from him. He has no remembrance of it. It leaves uneasiness behind it, but that is all. Often it is thus with the soul. There is a disturbance, but no intelligence. A restlessness has been awakened; but whence it came is not known, or whither it goes (what is its purpose) is not conjectured. And it is too high for man. It is the hand of God, and mere man cannot reach it. All the wisdom of Babylon is at fault. The dream, the departed dream which had left only its shadow to scare the heart of the king, is beyond all Chaldean art. This is beautifully significant. We live amid these wonderful shakings, these hidden operations of God with the hearts of the children of men. The man of God, however, gets into the secret. The saint is made to know the mind of God in this great operation of His hand. Daniel tells it all to the king.
Nebuchadnezzar is naturally moved to wondering admiration. The knowledge of the prophet is marvelous in his eyes, and all that he can do for him he is ready to do. The wisdom of the God of Daniel he also religiously acknowledges and, under the excitement, even delights in it. This is the second chapter.
But with all this he is but Nebuchadnezzar still, a mere child of nature, the sport of human passions and of the devil's wiles. Vanity seems to feed on the communications which the prophet of God had delivered. Wonderful, but natural! These communications had dealt with solemn truths- that an image was to be broken in pieces and made like the chaff of the summer threshing floor. But this is all passed by the heart of the king, and that he himself is the head of this image, the golden head of it, is all that practically works on him. His pride can get food out of that; but the rest may remain for a future day, however awful it may be.
Accordingly, he sets up a golden image for all to worship. All orders and estates of men are summoned by musical instruments of all sorts to own the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Strange that our hearts can so deal with God's revelations! God had spoken of an image being broken in pieces and scattered like the chaff before the wind. Nebuchadnezzar can set up an image to be honored with divine honors by all the world! How falsely the heart traffics with divine truth! Admiration of God's wisdom will not do; Nebuchadnezzar had that. But with that he was a self-worshiper, and to himself he can sacrifice everything. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the very instruments or vessels for awakening that admiration, shall burn in the fiery furnace if they consent not to fall down before the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Wonderful infatuation!
God, however, is but again displayed. If wisdom belongs to Him, so does power. If He can reveal secrets and make known the thoughts of the head upon the bed of the children of men, He can quench the violence of fire and save every hair of the head from perishing, though in a burning fiery furnace. The king is again moved, and he does more than before. He had honored the servants of the God of wisdom already; now he is for honoring the God of power Himself, establishing His name in the land, and making reverence of Him a part of the business of the state, a standing ordinance of the realm. (Ch. 3).
But what of this? He is, as before, Nebuchadnezzar still-the haughty child of the dust-man who, like Adam of old, would be as God. For, after these witnesses of divine wisdom and power, and after the motions which his heart and conscience had passed through, he was, as in earlier days, at rest in his house, and flourishing in his palace (Dan. 4:44I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace: (Daniel 4:4)). He was the same self pleasing, important King of Babylon.
Nature outlives a thousand checks and improvements. The new wine poured into the old bottle is but spilled. "We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented." Matt. 11:1717And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. (Matthew 11:17). The various melodies of the dispensations of God are lost on the dull ear of man. But the Lord is not weary. He can still sit at the well and talk with the sinner. He shakes the heart of this king with another dream, and Daniel again interprets it. It is still, however, the new wine in the old bottle, and it is spilled as ever. Twelve months after this solemn visitation the king walks in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon, and his poor proud heart, after all this, can say, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" Dan. 4:3030The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? (Daniel 4:30).
How surely is old Nebuchadnezzar still the "old man" of nature. The divine revelations are spent on him in vain. All the goodly emotions are but as the morning cloud and early dew. The new wine, to be preserved, must be put into new bottles. And so at last it is. Nebuchadnezzar is made a new bottle. Deeply and solemnly is this process conducted and this work accomplished. The sentence of death is lawfully laid on him. The case is one of great character; and it might well be so, because, as we have seen, the light of the wisdom of God, and the hand of the power of God, had already addressed this man; and the further care and diligence of the Lord had been in the recent dream also bestowed upon him, but all to no real purpose. The new wine had been spilled again and again. Nebuchadnezzar is the same man still, and the old bottle is now to be cast away. The former vessel having been marred on the wheel, the lump is now taken into the Potter's hand, to fashion it another vessel, a new vessel, as it pleases Him. The story of this operation, as I said, is solemn beyond expression. "Man that is in honor, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish." Psalm 49:2020Man that is in honor, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish. (Psalm 49:20). Indeed Nebuchadnezzar had been in honor, but he had not understood; and now he becomes as a beast.
"He was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws." Thus is he made to know himself, and to learn the lesson that he was, in all his honor, as brutish as the cattle of the field, having no understanding.
The occasion was unique, and the display of the operation of God signal almost without a parallel. But if he learns that he has destroyed himself, he shall learn also that there is One that lifts up even from dunghills; and under the further working of His gracious as well as mighty hand, Nebuchadnezzar revives. He becomes a risen man in due season. The field and the oxen are left, his understanding returns to him, his kingdom and its glory, his honor and its brightness, his nobles and his counselors, all return to him, and even excellent majesty is added to him. And then, as one of understanding indeed, who had come to the knowledge of God and himself, he no longer thinks of honoring God by state decrees only, ordinances of his realm, but bows before Him as sovereign Lord in heaven and on earth, and publishes His doings. He is no longer the king, but the dependent.