The Nebuchadnezzar Syndrome

Daniel 4

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2018

Daniel 4 has to go down as one of the strangest chapters of the Bible for a number of reasons.

  • It is one of the few chapters of the Bible that ever deals with mental illness.  This chapter was written by someone who struggled with mental illness in the past.  It describes a king who went crazy. He was not born with mental illness.  Sin made him crazy.  Sin can make people sick and it can cause insanity.
  • This chapter is in the Book of Daniel but Daniel did not write it.  It was written by Nebuchadnezzar.  The first verse of the chapter says, “King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you!” (Daniel 4:1 ESV).  Most people read this chapter without realizing who wrote it.  Nebuchadnezzar wrote it.  It is autobiographical. Much of it is written in the first person.  He writes it as a personal letter.  That is strange.
  • It is not only not written by Daniel but seems to be written by a complete pagan.  How could that be inspired?  What is a pagan king writing a chapter of the Bible?  The answer is that Nebuchadnezzar comes to faith in this chapter.  He gets saved in this chapter.  If that is true, it makes it one of the only chapters of the Bible written by a brand-new believer.

In this chapter, Nebuchadnezzar is at the end of his life now.  He is probably in his sixties or seventies.  This is the last chapter in Daniel that deals with Nebuchadnezzar and he gives us his personal testimony in his own words.  This testimony describes SIN.  It describes JUDGMENT.  It describes GRACE and it describes RESTORATION.

This chapter contains a very practical lesson that all of us need to hear about pride.  It describes a man who went on an ego trip and what happened to him.  Nebuchadnezzar finally learns his lesson and shares with us what he learned.  There is also a very important theological lesson in this chapter.  This chapter will completely REVOLUTIONIZE your view of God.  Many people have a problem with what it says, including some people in church.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

What happens in this chapter?  Nebuchadnezzar receives another dream and tries to find someone to interpret it, like his did before.  History seems to be repeating itself.  It is like the same song, separate verse.  Nebuchadnezzar receives a strange dream at night.  It troubles him.  He calls in the wise men.  They cannot interpret it.  He calls in Daniel and he gives  Nebuchadnezzar  the interpretation.

Nebuchadnezzar rules Babylon for a long time.  He rules it for forty-three years.  The first dream took place at the very beginning of his reign.  It took place in the second year of his reign.  This dream takes place about thirty years later, closer to the end of his reign.  Nebuchadnezzar is at home.  Everything is going great and he has another supernatural dream.  It is similar to his first dream  but there are some important differences.

I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. 5 I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. (Daniel 4:4-5 NIV).

The first one was disturbing.  This one was frightening.  The first dream was about a tall statute that fell over.  This dream was about a tall tree that fell over.  An angel commanded it to be cut down.  It was cut down and the tree fell.  After it fell, the branches were cut off. The leaves were stripped off.  The fruit was scattered.  The animals fled.  The birds were scattered but the tree is not killed.  A stump is left.  The tree survives and a band of iron and bronze is put around the stump.

Last time, he not only asked for the interpretation, he asked for the dream as well and threatened to kill anyone who could not give him both.  This time, he only asks for the interpretation of the dream and when the wise men cannot come up with the interpretation, he does not threaten to kill them.  Perhaps he got a little nicer in his old age.  When no one else could interpret the dream, he turned to Daniel.

Daniel’s Interpretation

When Daniel heard the dream, he was terrified.  Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him (Daniel 4:19 NIV).  Nebuchadnezzar was terrified by the dream.  Daniel was terrified by the interpretation. The first dream was good news to Nebuchadnezzar.  This dream was bad news for Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel shows two characteristics when dealing with Nebuchadnezzar, which we could learn from today.

First, Daniel was BOLD

He said to him, “You are the tree” (Daniel 4:22), just like Nathan the prophet had to say to king David after he committed adultery, “You are the man” (I Samuel 12:7).  Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, “The tree stands for a person and that person is YOU.  You are great.  You are powerful.  You are famous, like this tree, but you are going to have a great fall.”  He spoke truth to the most powerful man in the world.  He told him what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear.  He was willing to say some hard things to people in power.  He was willing to be the bearer of bad news and say what was unpopular.

Second, Daniel was COMPASSIONATE

Giving bad news was not something that he enjoyed doing. He said, “if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!(Daniel 4:19 NIV).  He could have said, “It serves you right, you wicked pagan, after you did to my people, after you did to my country, after you did to God’s Temple and after what he did to me.  You deported me hundreds of miles against my will.”  He did not say that.  He had compassion for people.  He delivered the message with a broken heart.  Daniel is the perfect example in the OT of someone who spoke the truth IN LOVE (Ephesians 4:15).

He also pointed out that the dream, as bad as it was, was not all bad. There was some hope in the dream.  Nebuchadnezzar was going to have a great fall.  He was going to be put out to pasture, but it was only temporary.  He would be back.  He was not going to die or even stop ruling all together.  He would be back in seven years.  God was not going to kill him, just humble him.  Judgment was temporary, but Daniel did something else.  He gave him an alternative to judgment. He told him how to avoid being judged at all.

Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue. (Daniel 4:27 NIV).

Had Nebuchadnezzar repented, this judgment would not have taken place.  God gave this pagan king time to repent.

29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

Notice what Nebuchadnezzar does here.  He is very self-centered.  He is self-absorbed.  Notice all of the pronouns (I have built, by MY power and for the glory of MY majesty).  He boasts about his own accomplishments (is not this the GREAT Babylon I have built…by my MIGHT POWER?).  He takes credit for all of his accomplishments.

These are all qualities praised in our society.  Society encourages people to be strong, independent, self-made and successful.  There are plenty of self-made millionaires.  It is not wrong to be confident.  It is wrong to brag about your success. That raises an interesting question.  Are we like Nebuchadnezzar?  Do we give God glory or do take credit for all our success and accomplishments?  No human being should every boast or glory in God’s presence (I Corinthians 1:29).

31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” (Daniel 4:29-32 NIV).

Message for Today

1) God keeps His Word

God gave Nebuchadnezzar a prophecy.  Time went by and nothing happened.  Weeks went by.  Months went by and absolutely nothing happened.  Nebuchadnezzar shook it off.  Perhaps Daniel got the interpretation wrong.  One year later, the dream came literally true.  God’s judgment may be slow, but it is certain.

2) God resists the proud

That comes right out of James.  God OPPOSES the proud.  He resists the proud (James 4:6).  He judges pride. Pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Jesus said, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11 NIV).  John Macarthur calls this chapter “a warning to every proud ruler.”  It is a warning to every proud person.

Nebuchadnezzar was very successful.  He was very wealthy.  He was very powerful.  He was very prosperous.  He was very accomplished.  He was one of the greatest builders in the ancient world.  He lived in the greatest city in the world at that time, but he had one fatal flaw.  It is a flaw that many people have today.  It is pride.

Pride is used in a good sense (self-respect) and a bad sense today (superiority).  Nebuchadnezzar had it in the bad sense.  He had what some have called the Nebuchadnezzar Syndrome.  He had a mental disorder which has a name: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

People have this syndrome today.  There are some modern-day Nebuchadnezzars.  What are the characteristics of the Nebuchadnezzar Syndrome?  People who have this have an exaggerate sense of self-importance.  They have an inflated self-image.

They exaggerate their achievements and abilities.  They have a need for constant admiration and a lack of empathy for other people and exploits them.  Everything is about them. Nebuchadnezzar had more than an inflated ego.  He had a god complex. He thought he was a god.  He had a ninety foot image constructed and made people worship the image.

Pride is a sin that God hates and judges.  Notice how He judged it.  He judged it with SICKNESS.  He judged it with mental illness. It was a punishment from God.  That raises an interesting question.  Does God cause some people to get sick?  Does God cause some people to lose their mind and go crazy?  Some teach that only Devil does causes sickness and disease.  In this chapter, God does it and He even uses angels, not demons to accomplish it.  He uses angels from heaven (Daniel 4:17).  He uses his “holy ones” (Daniel 4:13, 17).

He calls them “watchers” (Daniel 4:17). That is Daniel’s term for angels.  They watch us.  The only time they are called this is in the Book of Daniel.  The Pseudepigrapha (I Enoch) uses that term for fallen angels but Daniel uses the term for good angels.  These angels issued the commands to cut the tree down, cut of it’s branches, strip it’s leaves and scatter it’s fruit (Daniel 4:14-16).  They were the ones who set the whole thing in motion.

You say, “God may cause sickness and disease but only in OT times.” The problem is that we see same thing in the NT.  Acts 12:21-23 says, “On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died” (NIV).  He even judges believers with sickness (I Corinthians 11:29-30).

3) God can save anyone

Many scholars believe that Nebuchadnezzar got saved in this chapter (Young, Wood, Walvoord, Miller).  Not everyone believes that he was saved, but many think that he will be in heaven.

Was Nebuchadnezzar Saved?

1) Nebuchadnezzar is changed

He has a huge transformation in this chapter.  Nebuchadnezzar went from the heart of a MAN to the heart of a BEAST to the heart of a SAINT in this chapter.  He goes from having a proud heart to having a humble heart

2) He acknowledges God

He used to call Him Daniel’s God (Daniel 2:47).  He used to call Him “the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” (Daniel 3:29).  Before this time, he used to worship Bel who he calls “my god” (Daniel 4:8).  Now, He calls Him “the Most High” (Daniel 4:34) and “the King of Heaven” (Daniel 4:37).  The polytheist was turned into a monotheist.

3) He worships God

Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t just acknowledge the true God in this chapter, he and praises Him.  He worships Him.  At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I BLESSED the Most High, and PRAISED and HONORED him who lives forever (Daniel 4:35 ESV). 

In Daniel 3, he commanded people to worship him.  In Daniel 4, is worships the true God.  Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, PRAISE and EXTOL and HONOR the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:37 ESV).

4) He tells others about God

He does not just worship this God.  He tells others about this God. He becomes a preacher or an evangelist. He sends a proclamation to the world.

There are many people in the world today that we think could never be saved.  They are too wicked and too proud to ever bow the knee to Jesus.  The truth is that God can save anyone.  No one is too bad to be saved.  Paul called himself ‘the chief of sinners” (I Timothy 1:15).  He used to persecute, imprison and kill Christians.  We would call him a terrorist today and god saved him.

This chapter shows that God can save anyone.  Nebuchadnezzar was an extremely wicked man.  He was a tyrant.  He was a dictator.  He was arrogant.  He thought he was a god.  He had a god complex.  He had a terrible temper.  He was angry.  He was violent.  He murdered people.  He didn’t just murder them.  He tortured them.  He burned them alive.  He dismembered people.  He tried to kill Daniel’s three friends.  He enslaved millions of people.

If Nebuchadnezzar can come to faith, anyone can.  God had to break him first. He took away his power to rule Babylon for a time.  He took away his ability to reason and think.  He became the king who went crazy. God has to do some things to get our attention when we are a little hard-headed. He had to do that with the Apostle Paul.

He had to knock him over with a bright light, blind him and talk to him audibly and call him by name.  He will use different things to talk to us and get our attention.  What did God use to get Nebuchadnezzar’s attention?

How God Reached King Nebuchadnezzar

1. He used DREAMS

God spoke to him in a dream more than once.  He had divine revelation.

2. He used EXAMPLES

He had the righteous people who worked for him who shinned the light before him (Daniel and his three friends).

3. He used MIRACLES

Nebuchadnezzar saw a stupendous miracle with his own eyes.  It was verifiable.

4. He used WARNINGS

He used exhortation.  Nebuchadnezzar was warned by a prophet of God.  Daniel warned him what would happen and told him to repent. When that did not work, God did something else.

5. He used GRACE

After the warning, God gave Nebuchadnezzar a grace period.  He did not immediately judge him.  He gave him twelve months to repent but he didn’t.

6. He used DISEASE

It not only affected his body but his mind.  God knows how to get our attention.  He can use personal tragedy.  He knows how to humble us.  Daniel 4:37 says, “those who walk in pride He is able to humble” (NIV).

4) God rules the world

One thing that this chapter teaches is the absolute sovereignty of God.  He does not rule over some kingdoms or most kingdoms.  He rules over EVERY KINGDOM.  He is in charge of who rules.  This is a doctrine that many people do not like.  Most of us frankly have trouble believing this.

Many think God does not decide, we decide.  We thought we decide who rules us on Election Day.  This chapter says God decides.  He decides who rules each country and gives power to rule to anyone He choose to rule.  We believe He is sovereign when our party wins.  We are not as convinced when the other side wins.

The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that THE MOST HIGH RULES the kingdom of men and gives it TO WHOM HE WILL and sets over it the lowliest of men.’ (Daniel 4:17 ESV)

THE MOST HIGH RULES the kingdom of men and gives it TO WHOM HE WILL (Daniel 4:25 ESV)

And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that HEAVEN RULES. (Daniel 4:26 ESV)

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as NOTHING, and he does ACCORDING TO HIS WILL among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; AND NONE CAN STAY HIS HAND or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35 ESV)

Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases him. (Psalm 115:3 NIV)

The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. (Psalm 135:6 NIV)

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:11 NIV).  God works of EVERYTHING in conformity with the purpose of His will, not some things or most things but all things.

God is completely sovereign.  The point of this chapter is that HEAVEN RULES.  He does what He wants, and no one can stop him.  No one can question what He does.  What about free will?  God give us free will, but He is still sovereign.

When we were born, God did not ask us if we wanted to be born black or white.  He did not ask us if we wanted to be born in US or in Nepal.  He did not ask us if we wanted to live in the first century or the twentieth century.  He did not ask us if we wanted our parents to be rich or poor.  He did not ask us if we would be born with the ability to play sports or the ability to do math.  He did not ask us if we wanted to be tall or short or what we would look like.

God is sovereign and He is in control, even when it does not seem like it.  It seemed like the pagans were in control.   God’s kingdom was smashed.  His temple was burned.  His people were taken in captivity.  Sacred vessels from the temple were stolen and put in temple of pagan gods. It looked like God was not in control at all.  When it seems like He is working the least, He is working the most.[1]

God is sovereign.  He is running the world.  You say, “I thought Satan was.”  Jesus did call him “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) but Daniel 4 says that God is the ultimate ruler.  He allows evil men to do bad things.  He allows Satan to do bad things in the world, but He is still sovereign.  Satan has a limit to how much God allows him to do.  God does what He wants and no one can stop Him.

Nebuchadnezzar had to learn that God rules in the affairs of men and we have to learn that rules in our life as well.  How would our lives be completely changed if we simply believed this?  How would they be different if we really believe that God is in control of everything that happens in the world.  He is in control of everything that happens in our life.  He is in control of the big things that happen.  He is in control of the little things that happen.  That should lead to less fear and anxiety.  it should lead to more trust.

4) God is worthy of praise

When we come face to face with the living God, there has to be a RESPONSE.  Nebuchadnezzar had an encounter with God and he responded in two ways.  First, he responded with praise. The proud monarch fell on his knees and worshipped God.  This chapter begins and ends with praise to God, not Marduk.  Second, he responded with testimony.  He saw miracles.  He had evidence of God working in his life.  He told people about it.

It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. (Daniel 4:2-3 NIV)

Personal testimonies are powerful.  All of us should have a testimony.  What has God done in your life?  Have you told anybody?  Our testimony should not just be what God did forty years ago when we accepted Christ as Savior.  What has He done since then?  God does all kinds of things in our life all of the time, but we never tell anyone and we never even praise Him for what He has done.

[1] William Hixson, sermon on Daniel 4, cassette tape (undated).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *