Written by Gail Kopf
No one would ever depict King Nebuchadnezzar II, one of the most famous kings of ancient Babylon, as a kindhearted or compassionate person. When King Zedekiah of Jerusalem rose up against him, Nebuchadnezzar killed Zedekiah’s sons in front of him, then blinded the rebellious king, bound him in chains, and gave him a life sentence in a Babylon prison. Those sadistic tendencies drove him to flay the nobles who defied him and drape their skins over piles of corpses. Decapitation and cutting off tongues and other extremities were common place in the empire. To the nations he slaughtered and the enemies he enslaved, King Nebuchadnezzar was evil personified.
And yet in Jeremiah 25:9, he is called God’s servant. “I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.” Although God used this Gentile ruler as an instrument for carrying out His judgment against Israel for its sin and idolatry, He also had another purpose for this ungrateful king who elevated himself above God.
To get a glimpse of his background and to discover how God in His mercy revealed Himself three times to this morally corrupt man—not your usual subject for a Thanksgiving article—step with me behind the Ishtar Gate he built in 575 BC at the main entrance to Babylon
This warrior-king, with more than a few chinks in his armor, rebuilt Babylon, a port located on the Euphrates River that soon became the largest and most powerful metropolis of the ancient world. The Ishtar Gate, built of jewel-like, blue glazed bricks and adorned with dragons, lions and young bulls, was the introduction to the splendor of this magnificent capital city. It was a perfect 15 mile square, protected from invaders by strong fortifications and a deep moat.
A double wall surrounded the city with its numerous palaces, the Great Ziggurat, and temples to Marduk, king of the gods and protector of Babylon. Skilled fighters held chariot races, four abreast, on the inner wall that was 87 feet wide and 350 feet high. Nebuchadnezzar, a ruthless military commander, brilliant strategist and diplomat, led the city to the peak of her power and wealth. Although he was a stubborn tyrant who was prone to anger and wickedness, he declared that his building projects were not just for his own glory, but in honor of the gods he served.
Fast forward to the second year of his reign when he had a dream that troubled him. Daniel, one of the captives from Jerusalem, who’d been given “understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17) interpreted it for the king. He explained that the giant statue made of four metals with a head of gold (Babylon) represented the course of Gentile world history. While he respected the God of Israel, the pompous king wouldn’t worship Him. He said, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries. . . ” (Daniel 2:47).
Even so, the heart of the king was full of pride and later this self-centered leader erected a 90 foot golden image of himself. He made the classic error of assuming that God had adopted a “hands-off” policy when it came to the universe and delegated its care to other deities. With his ego on full display, he announced he was a God and demanded, on penalty of death, that the nations fall down and worship him.
When Daniel, now his trusted advisor, refuses, the king in a furious rage commands that he and his two cohorts be thrown into a fiery furnace. God reveals Himself for the second time as the Son of God in the midst of the furnace, keeping His faithful witnesses from all danger. The king releases the unharmed men and declares, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in Him” (Daniel 3:28). This impulsive leader still doesn’t see God as the only God, but as a god who rescues His followers.
After the miracle he’d just witnessed, the king makes a decree that if anyone speaks against Daniel’s God, they’ll be torn limb from limb and their houses laid in ruin. Even in his attempt to honor Israel’s God, Nebuchadnezzar, the longest-reigning king of the Chaldean dynasty, continues to exemplify his nation’s cruelty.
This bloodthirsty king who struck fear in the hearts of men, has another vision that awakens him, leaving him frightened and afraid. As before, he turned to the wrong source for help. When his astrologers and magicians fail to explain the vision, he calls on Daniel, “in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. . .” (Daniel 4:8).
Once again, God in his great compassion reaches out to the narcissistic king through Daniel who warns him that unless you “break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed” (Daniel 4:27) he would be driven from among men and spend seven years eating grass like an ox. And yet this merciless, murderous king doesn’t take Daniel’s counsel and continues his reign of terror.
Flash forward to a year later. Nebuchadnezzar’s barbaric, self-indulgent lifestyle hasn’t changed, even after 30 years of Daniel’s godly influence and God’s well-timed admonition. Despite the fact God had given the king a year to repent, he’s comfortable in his sin and still thinks he’s become great as a result of his own ingenuity and effort.
As recorded in the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar stood on the roof of the royal palace and was filled with his own self-importance as he looked over what he’d achieved. “Is this not great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).
Immediately, the prophecy was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar.
The king was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. God had to use drastic means to bring this wicked, arrogant king to the end of himself and to faith in the God of Israel.
After seven years of madness, his reason returns. God dealt with an ungrateful king and transformed him into a thankful believer. Nebuchadnezzar himself writes his personal testimony in Daniel 4: 34-37:
“At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as He pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back His hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.”
Renowned Bible teacher, theologian and author, H. A. Ironside (1876-1951) commented, “This verse touches my heart in a most striking way. I realize that I am reading the personal testimony of one who was in some respects the greatest monarch this world has ever known. I am privileged to have his own account of how he—a proud, self-willed man—was brought to repentance and to the saving knowledge of the God of all grace. For I gather from this proclamation that a divine work was accomplished in Nebuchadnezzar’s soul by God who, in mercy, had revealed Himself to him. What a wonderful miracle this is! The fact is, every conversion is a miracle—every soul that is saved knows what it is to be dealt with in supernatural power. It is God alone who changes men like this.”
Our trustworthy God is still patiently drawing sinful mankind to Himself. His relationship with us, as it was with Nebuchadnezzar over 2,600 years ago, is always on His terms, not ours. He wants the world to see the extent of what His grace can do in our lives when we repent and confess Him as Lord and Savior.
Are you grateful for God’s goodness in your life? Not just on Thanksgiving, but every day we can give thanks in all things (1Thess.5:18), rejoice in all things (Phil.4:4), bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things (1Cor.13:7). As we diligently seek those blessings which can never be taken from us, may we first humble ourselves, then praise, exalt and glorify the King of the Universe whose kingdom knows no end.
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (1Chronicles 16:23-26).
The Gospel PostScript