The King Who was Put Out to Pasture (chapter 4)
Thriving in Babylon
The King Who was Put Out to Pasture
One of the most profound things you will ever consider is to what lengths God will go to get His message across to us. If you need proof of that, consider the cross. I don't know what more God could do to convince the world of His love.
Not only was He willing to give His own life for us, He also provided the Bible, the Holy Spirit, the church and faithful messengers to continually reach out to a lost world with His message.
So if you ask how far will God go to get his message across to us, the simple answer is "whatever it takes".
But what if we don’t want to hear what God has to say? The answer is the same but raised to a higher power. If we choose not to listen to God, then he simply turns up the volume until he has our undivided attention.
Most of us have to admit we didn't respond the first time God spoke. And with some us, if may have even taken a desperate situation to bring our attention to what God was saying. If so, then you will be able to identify with what we find in chapter 4 of the book of Daniel,
There we encounter a king who went crazy. And even though it is the strange story of events that happened 2500 years ago, the moral is both up-to-date and relevant.
And even though the world has changed a lot since Daniel was forced to live in captivity in Babylon, the human heart hasn’t changed at all. The world is still filled with men and women who think they don’t need God, and God still knows how to humble the proud.
And unfortunately, there are some who only seem to learn the hard way. And that's one of the lessons the story of King Nebuchadnezzar teaches us. God has ways of humbling the arrogant.
Just a couple of quick facts will set the scene for this chapter. Daniel and his Hebrew friends have been taken captive by the Babylonians and carried away from their homeland of Israel. They are forced to assimilate into Babylonian culture.
And so far, even though their faith has been challenged, they have thrived and are now serving in strategic positions in the kingdom. And on more than one occasion, King Nebuchadnezzar has been forced to acknowledge the supremacy of their God.
In chapter 2, the focus is on Daniel as he interprets a dream that no one else could decipher and that leads the King to worship God.
Then in chapter 3, the camera shifts to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego as they refuse to worship a statue of the king and are saved from the fiery furnace. And once again, we find Nebuchadnezzar praising their God
In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar himself is the center of attention and a couple of things about this chapter need to be noted.
First, unlike other chapters in Daniel, this one was written by the king himself. In fact, the first few verses and the last few are written in the first person singular. It's almost like reading the king’s personal diary.
Second, what is described in Daniel 4 is the most embarrassing event of the king's life. So not only are we reading the king's diary, we are reading the most humbling event he ever endured. It would be like having the most secret thoughts and experiences of your life posted on the internet for everyone to read.
The story begins at a time when King Nebuchadnezzar is at the height of his reign. He is contented and prosperous, and well he should be. At the height of his glory, Nebuchadnezzar was king over the greatest empire the world had ever known.
He spoke and it was done. He commanded and mighty armies obeyed his word. And Babylon! What a fabulous city it was. The famous Hanging Gardens were one of the wonders of the ancient world.
The city itself was protected by 15 miles of double walls—85 feet tall and some 27 feet thick. The walls were so wide that chariots could race around the circumference of the city. Visitors entered the city through the massive Ishtar Gate and traveled down the main boulevard toward the king’s palace.
Truly the king had every reason to feel secure, safe, and satisfied. Who in all the earth could dare to challenge him?
But one night he had a strange and troubling dream. This wasn’t the first time God spoke to him in a dream. In Daniel 2 he dreamed of a huge statue made of four different metals. The interpretation of that dream revealed God’s plan of the ages. This dream is quite different, and extremely personal.
The chapter opens with
1. A Dream Described
We find his purpose for telling the story in verses 2-3. He wants to relate what "the Most High God" has done for him. And notice, in verse 1, it is intended to be a message for all peoples of every land.
In verse 4, we find this familiar pattern. The king is resting and the indication is everything is going well. In other words, it is a normal day in paradise. He is flourishing in his palace. All is right with the world.
But once again, peaceful sleep is interrupted by a dream that trouble and frighten the king. And once again, he calls for all the smart people in Babylon to interpret the dream. And don't you know they are thrilled!
The last time the king had a dream, they all almost died and would have been killed if not for Daniel. Which causes me to wonder, why didn't the king just call for Daniel in the first place?
Once again, none of the experts are able to help, and verse 8 tells us at last, he summons Daniel.
And notice, he talks about his god and how Daniel has been renamed to honor Him, and at the same time acknowledges that Daniel has the Spirit of the Holy God. There is this strange mix of acknowledging the real God and still honoring the false god at the same time.
So beginning, in verse 10, he relates the dream to Daniel, and notice, it had two distinct parts.
First, the king saw a vast tree, with leaves and branches stretching as far as the eye could see. Birds nested in the branches and animals found shade under its leaves.
Second, the tree was cut down and stripped and the stump bound with iron and bronze. Then somehow the stump became a person who lived among the animals for seven years. Evidently this person lost his mind completely.
Now maybe it was because he played so prominently in the last dream, but the king realizes this is an important dream and it contained an important message he needed to know.
But he doesn't know what that message is and so far, no one has been able to help. But remember, God had honored Daniel's commitment to not eat at the king's table by giving him the ability to interpret dreams and for the second time that ability becomes necessary as Daniel explains the meaning of the dream to the king.
2. A Dream Explained
Now understand, when verse 19 tells us that Daniel was troubled and didn't speak for a while, it wasn't because he didn't understand the dream. It was because he did understand the dream.
And Nebuchadnezzar knew that he knew and that it was a troubling message and he understood Daniel didn't want to be the bearer of bad news. In fact, what Daniel says is, "King I wish this message was about your enemies, but it's not. It's about you."
And basically what it says is that he is going to experience the judgment of God and he will go from being this beautiful, productive tree to being nothing more than a beast of burden eating grass out in the pasture.
And very much like Nathan's message to King David when he says, "Thou art the man!", Daniel says to King Nebuchadnezzar, "Thou are the tree that will be chopped down."
Now, the key phrase in verse 25 is "till you know the Most High reigns".
For seven years, the king will live as a wild beast, having lost his mind. He will live with the beasts “until” he acknowledges that God alone is sovereign.
3. A Dream Fulfilled
In very simple, matter-of-fact terms, verse 28 tells us it happened exactly as Daniel said it would.
For twelve months the king had time to change his ways. Isn't that just like God? He always gives some space for repentance. But evidently nothing Daniel said sank into his soul. maybe he didn’t believe him or perhaps he thought he had plenty of time to repent. Perhaps he made excuses for his behavior.
But one day, there came a moment that changed his entire life.
Note the pronouns: I … my … my. And the boastful words: “I have built … by my mighty power … the glory of my majesty.”
Let me stop right here and offer you a simple encouragement: Don't say things like that! Don’t ever talk like that! That’s crazy talk. The moment you start taking credit for anything, you’re just daring God to come and smack you around.
Nebuchadnezzar would soon learn the error of his ways. While the words were still on his lips, he heard a voice from heaven.
And it probably needs to be said that if and when you decide to start talking arrogantly about who you are and what you’ve done, and you suddenly hear a voice from heaven, you better brace yourself, because nothing good is about to happen.
God doesn’t like it when any of his creatures take credit for what he has done. He won’t share his glory with anyone and he won’t sit idly by while we attempt to shove him out of the picture.
So the voice comes and announces the judgment. Then just as swiftly Nebuchadnezzar loses his mind and God put him out to pasture!
This is all that is said about his seven years of insanity. One moment he is surveying his royal kingdom, the next he is ripping off his clothing, making strange snorting noises, galloping on all fours down the main street of Babylon, totally naked, stark, raving mad, and grazing out in the pasture with the cows.
Those who have studied this text say that the king had a complete nervous breakdown. You think so? I thought maybe he was just a liberal professor at one of America's universities upset because Trump was elected!
I think it is an understatement to say he had a nervous breakdown. He went crazy! He was out of his mind! He lost all connection with reality.
Some say he was afflicted with lycanthropy, a strange condition where a person thinks he is a wolf. More likely it was boanthropy, the condition where a person thinks he is a cow or a bull.
It’s hard to imagine a more severe punishment from God. There would be no way to keep the king’s malady totally hidden from the public for seven years. Sooner or later (probably sooner) word would leak out.
And even though he was still the king, he could not reign, could not speak, and could not appear in public. Indeed, he could not think or communicate as a human being. He acted like a beast of the field.
Pride is a form of spiritual insanity. It is claiming credit for ourselves that belongs to God alone.
When the king was put out to pasture, it was a fate worse than death. Why would God do such a thing? The answer is not hard to find. Pride is a form of spiritual insanity. It is claiming credit for ourselves that belongs to God alone. What happened to Nebuchadnezzar was a kind of spiritual parable for all of us. When a man tries to become like God he becomes instead like the animals.
But that’s not the end of the story. Seven years later the king’s life took another dramatic turn.
Just as suddenly as he lost his mind, in an instant, he regained it and here's how it happened. Very insightful.
He looked up—lifted his eyes to heaven.
He woke up—sanity restored.
He spoke up—praised the Most High. 
And we know he was truly changed because of what he said when he came to his senses.
This once-pagan king now openly declares the praises of God. He has truly gotten the message. God can do anything he wants to do, and no one can stand against him. Earthly kings rule by God’s permission and they stay on the throne only so long as it pleases God to give them power and authority. Nebuchadnezzar has learned the truth the hard way. Now he proclaims it for all the world to hear.
“Everything He Does is Right”
Verses 36-37 give us the end of the story and the moral we should all take to heart:
In a sentence, what he said was, “Everything God does is right.”
True biblical faith begins right here. This is one of the Bible’s clearest statements about the wisdom of God’s eternal plan. Many of us struggle to reconcile those words with the heartache we see all around us. But those words are true nonetheless.
I would guess that any time before the events recorded in chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar would have said that the greatest moment of his life was some great military achievement or some massive construction project.
But afterwards he would look back and say the greatest moment was when he came to his senses and began to give God glory. In his mind the seven years wouldn’t matter because they would seem a small price to pay in order to see God truly and clearly.
Here is one test for whether or not you have grown through the disciplines of life. Can you look back without regret and thank God for what you have learned even though the cost to you was very great?
I don’t think Nebuchadnezzar felt embarrassed about his seven years of insanity. If he had, he wouldn’t have written the story down for the whole world to know. You can know that you have made a spiritual breakthrough when you can tell your own story without feeling a need either to embellish or to cover up the negative aspects.
I began by saying God has ways of humbling the arrogant. If we get nothing else out of this story, we must certainly learn this truth. Here are four timeless principles that help us understand how God deals with us when we attempt to live without him.
First, God’s righteousness causes him to intervene when we believe we don’t need him anymore.
Whenever we think we can live without God, he reaches down from heaven and begins to shake the things in which we place our confidence.
Because God is entirely righteous, he will not stand idle forever while his children live in sin. Sooner or later he will intervene. And how does that intervention come?
Using the image of the king’s dream, we can say that God always starts by shaking your tree. Whenever we think we can live without God, he reaches down from heaven and begins to shake the things in which we place our confidence.
Could that be the explanation for the health problems some people suffer? Is that one reason we have marriage difficulties and family problems? Could our financial hardships and our career frustrations be a sign that God is trying to speak to us? What about legal problems, troubles with our friends, the breakup of cherished relationships, and dreams that turn to dust?
What about personal failure and the damage done to our reputation? Are not all these things allowed by God as his way of “shaking our tree” in order to get our undivided attention?
If God whispers to us in our pleasure, then he shouts to us in our pain. Whenever we begin to think we’ve got it made, God reaches down and starts shaking our tree. It’s his way of saying, “It’s time for you to pay attention to me.” 
Second, God’s judgment is painful because he is cutting away the sin that pulls us away from him.
Let’s suppose you feel strange pains in your body so you decide to see a doctor. He runs a few tests and says, “I’m sorry you’ve got cancer. But we can do surgery to remove the cancer.” So you say, “I don’t want the surgery. It will hurt too much to let you cut me open.” “If we don’t do the surgery, you’ll die,” replies the doctor.
God’s disciplinary judgment is rarely easy and never painless. In Nebuchadnezzar’s case, it was utterly devastating and totally humiliating. Sometimes God has to cut the tree down in order to save it. But that cutting process may go on for many months and it may be done in a most public fashion.
Third, God’s discipline lasts until we learn the lessons he wants to teach us.
I am sure many people feel as if God is shaking their tree right now. And you want to know how long it will last. The only possible answer is, I don’t know. The trials of life are ordained by the Lord for our benefit. He alone knows when they will begin and end. But of this much I am sure. God will never shake your tree one moment longer than necessary. And he will never stop one second before his divine purpose in your life has been accomplished.
So if you find yourself in a hard and uncertain place, and if you long for days of contentment and peace, be patient. Wait on the Lord. Don’t run ahead of God.
And don’t waste time telling him how to do his business. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and in due time he will lift you up.
Finally, God’s purpose in humbling us is not to destroy us, but to draw us back into fellowship with Him.
This is the ultimate piece of good news from Daniel 4. If we stand back and look at the entire narrative, we see King Nebuchadnezzar in three scenes: Prosperity, Judgment, and Restoration.
It is tempting to focus only on the judgment, especially given the bizarre nature of his seven-year affliction. But to look only at that misses the larger point.
By the end of the chapter, the king has regained his sanity, regained his throne, and even increased his earthly glory. Along the way he has learned the hard lesson that God is sovereign over the affairs of man and that “those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
From the king’s point of view, this is an entirely satisfactory state of affairs. He ends up better off in every way—materially and spiritually.
In this we can all take great comfort. Though God should for a season afflict us with many trials, and though many of those trials may be of our own foolish doing, his purpose is not to destroy us but to purge us from our sin that we might be brought into close fellowship with him.
In that sense Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity was a severe mercy from God, preparing the way for better things to come.
And if our “tree” is not only shaken but cut down altogether, the sound of “Timber!” that we hear in the distance is not the voice of judgment but rather the gracious hand of God cutting us down to size that the tree may be grown again to the glory of God.
One final thought, and I find myself coming back to it time and time again and that is "He’s God and We’re Not." I don't think there is any one truth more fundamental than this one. All spiritual growth must begin at this point. Until we grasp this truth, we cannot make any progress in our relationship with God.
Here is some good news. If you are ready, you can rip that big G off your sweatshirt. Since you aren’t God, you can stop playing God. Perhaps you need to say, “Lord, I’m tired of running my life. And I’m tired of trying to run everyone else’s life too.” Are you ready to “let God be God?” If you are, your life can change today.
As I survey Daniel 4, I find great hope and abundant grace. There is hope for all of God’s children because God will not allow us to live in our sin forever. God loves us too much to let us go on in our sinful rebellion forever. Sooner or later, he intervenes, sometimes in ways both public and painful, to bring us back home again.
And there is hope for those who are far from God today. Nebuchadnezzar was a pure pagan. He neither knew God nor worshiped him. Yet when God got through with him, he sounded like a Baptist theologian. That’s what God can do, and only God can do it. The good news is even the most hardened sinners may yet come to faith in Christ.
There is hope for all of us. God knows how to get his message across anytime he pleases. He knows how to ring your phone day or night, and he’s got the unlisted numbers of all your friends too.
That brings me back to where I began. How far will God go to get his message across to us? Just ask Nebuchadnezzar. He will do whatever it takes, he will stop at nothing, and no one can successfully oppose him. Be encouraged. Be warned. Don’t be like Nebuchadnezzar or you too may be put out to pasture.