the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters
I FRANKLY confess myself a convert to Nebuchadnezzar. I frankly acknowledge my great debt to Nebuchadnezzar. I frankly confess that I had wholly misunderstood Nebuchadnezzar, and both the design and the end of God's ways with Nebuchadnezzar. And I would like to share with you tonight the great lesson in humility and in obedience that I have been led to learn out of Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar was by far the most famous of all the kings of the East. In his early years, and before he came to his great throne, Nebuchadnezzar had won victory after victory over all the surrounding nations. Jerusalem fell before his army after eighteen months' siege, and Tyre, the proudest of ancient cities, succumbed to him after an investiture of thirteen years. The proud position of the king of Babylon among all the kings of that day will best be seen from the words of Daniel who assuredly was no flatterer of great men. 'Thou, O king, art a king of kings, for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, and strength, and glory. The tree which thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached to heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth: whose leaves were fair and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and upon whose branches the fowls of the heavens had their habitation: It is thou, O king, that art grown, and become strong: for thy greatness is grown, and reached unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth.' It could have been no ordinary greatness that drew from a man like Daniel an estimate and an eulogium like that.
But the fame of this magnificent monarch has rested even more on his unparalleled works of peace than on his great successes in war. Great as Nebuchadnezzar was as a warrior, he was still greater as a statesman and an administrator. The vast public works that he planned and executed for his capital and his kingdom in walls and in water-works: in parks and in gardens: in palaces and in temples-all these things, in their vastness, in their usefulness, in their beauty, and in their immense cost make Nebuchadnezzar to stand out absolutely unapproached among the great builder-kings of the ancient East. After we have read all that the historians and the travellers have to tell us about ancient Babylon, no wonder, we say to ourselves, that Nebuchadnezzar's dreams were the dreams of a magnificent imagination. No wonder that his heart swelled within him with pride: and no wonder that it took a stroke such as God has seldom struck before or since to humble and to abase Nebuchadnezzar, this great king of Babylon. 'This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High: that they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass like an ox, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.' All this came to Nebuchadnezzar the ting, till at the end of it all he said-'I thought it good to show the signs and wonders the high God hath wrought toward me. Those that walk in pride the King of heaven is able to abase.' Though long dead, King Nebuchadnezzar still speaks in the Book of Daniel, and on a thousand cylinders in the British Museum; and, as on every page of Daniel, so on every brick of Babylon, he that runs may read this evening's text:-'Those that walk in pride the King of heaven is able to abase.'
But Nebuchadnezzar's pride, after all is said, was but the petty pride of a puffed-up and self-important child. If you have eyes in your hearts you will see all Nebuchadnezzar's pride in your own nursery every day. Nebuchadnezzar's bricks were made of clay; whereas the bricks of your nursery-Nebuchadnezzar are made of wood. That, and their ages, is all the difference. Look! your little Nebuchadnezzar cries after you as he pulls your gown, and will not give you peace till you lift up your hands in wonder over his great Babylon with its wonderful doors, and windows, and bridges, and portcullises. Is not this a great house that I have built? he demands of you. Is my house not far bigger, and far better every way, than my brother's house that he has built? Look, father! Look, mother! Look, nurse! Look, visitor! All wise-hearted mothers see and hear all that with tears behind their eyes, till they are at their wits' end how to deal with their so boastful and so imperious little emperor. The ancient Areopagus sentenced an Athenian boy to death because he had plucked out the eyes of a captive quail. For, said the wise and prescient judges, if that little savage does that to a tame bird when he is still young, what will he not do to the men who are in his power when he is hardened in vice? And they put him to death, and paid no attention to the prayers of his mother. Let all fathers and mothers give their best heed to their little Nebuchadnezzar and to his little Babylon which he has built for the honour of his majesty. This is the beginning. And you know what a great fire sometimes a little spark, if it is let fall and let burn, kindleth. You know the prophetic proverb also about the letting out of water. Let every father, and mother, and nurse, and tutor, and school-master read and lay to heart, as they shall answer for it, William Law's eighteenth chapter, in which he shows 'How the education which men receive in their youth makes the doctrine of humility so difficult to be practised all their after-days.'
But, with alt that, I see in my own children every day a far worse kind of pride than any that the big child Nebuchadnezzar shows either in the Book of Daniel, or on the bricks of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar never, that I have read of, got one single lesson from God or man that he did not instantly lay it to heart. As I read of Nebuchadnezzar's humility, and makeableness, and teachableness in Daniel's hands I am amazed at the boldness of the young Belteshazzar, and still more at the behaviour of his mighty master. When I put myself into Nebuchadnezzar's place, when I recall my own temper and my own conduct, I honour Nebuchadnezzar, and I cannot cease from wondering that the king of Babylon has not been far more made of as a pattern of humility and meekness both under the dispensations of God and under the doctrines of Daniel. After his orders had been disobeyed-in his own palace, remember, and at his own table-in the matter of the meat that Daniel and his three companions were to eat, and the wine they were to drink: and after he was compelled publicly to admit that the prince of the eunuchs had acted on far better advice than the king's commandment,-instead of Melzar's head being endangered to the king, Nebuchadnezzar communed with Daniel, and Daniel stood before the king. Then, again, after his great dream, and its interpretation to the destruction of his kingdom, 'King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto Daniel.' And, then, after his abominably despotic edict about the image of gold in the plain of Dura, and the furnace seven times heated, when the intoxicated king came to himself he said, Lo! I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. Then Nebuchadnezzar spake and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent His angels, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king's word and yielded their bodies that they might not serve nor worship any god except their own God. And, then, at the end of his life, the king not only let Daniel say this to him, 'Wherefore, O king, break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity,' but he bowed his head and did it. A nobler state paper was never sent out even by the most Christian of kings than is that great document that we have in the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar is another illustration how we go on traditionally calling good men by bad names without looking at what is written out plain before our eyes. I cannot conceive where I got my bad opinion about Nebuchadnezzar. At any rate, I cannot entertain it any longer after I have read that magnificent chapter. I have read nothing nobler about the best kings of Judah, or Israel, or Scotland, or England. I do not know where among them all to look for its equal. But it was not great and ancient kings, but our own little children I was speaking about; and about our proud-blooded little children inevitably growing up into proud-blooded and bad men. And the hopeless unteachableness of the proud child and the proud man was the all-important point in hand. The proud man holds you henceforth to be his mortal enemy if you tell him the truth as Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, and as Daniel was honoured and rewarded for telling it. Try to teach, try to correct a proud man, and you will not readily do it a second time. It may now be many years since some one found a true and notorious fault with some of us; but we cannot hide from ourselves the state of our heart after all these years at the mere mention of that insolent man's name. But Daniel's counsel was acceptable to Nebuchadnezzar, till that king broke off all the sins and all the iniquities that Daniel so boldly named to him. Can it be said about any of our living preachers of righteousness that his counsels have been acceptable to us, and that we have forgiven and obeyed him to the tranquillity of our conscience to this day?
Rather than bear the pain of truth, fools stray;
The proud will rather lose than ask their way.
It is true Nebuchadnezzar got a tremendous lesson. It was a lesson, as we would have thought, away out of all proportion to the king's transgression. It was one of those tremendous lessons that God only gives to His own sons whom He loves, and whom He is to chasten till they are made partakers of His holiness. To any man who is not a chastened son and a true saint of God it must look a small sin, if it is a sin at all, for a great king to walk in his own palace and to say to himself the simple truth. For Babylon was undoubtedly great. No greater city has ever been seen on the face of the earth than Babylon. And if Nebuchadnezzar had not built every single street of it, this, at any rate, he could say, that he had found Babylon a city of brick and had made it a city of marble. We hear of baptized kings every day walking in their palaces in Christendom at the end of the nineteenth century, and speaking far more proudly than heathen Nebuchadnezzar spake, and no Daniel dares to stand up and tell them that their feet are partly iron mixed with miry clay. It is as if God had predestinated Nebuchadnezzar to come out of that heathen dispensation, and to sit down in the kingdom of heaven, while the emperors of our modern Christendom are to be cast out. It would look like that; God took such unheard-of vengeance on Nebuchadnezzar's inventions. Did you ever read the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel?-that splendid autobiographic chapter which king Nebuchadnezzar wrote out of his own inkhorn, and gave the document to Daniel to embody in his book? 'Come, all ye that fear God,' Nebuchadnezzar begins, 'and I will tell you what He did for my soul. I have thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God had wrought towards me. For how great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! I was walking proudly in my palace in the kingdom of Babylon, and I 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 honour of my majesty? And while the word was yet in my mouth, there fell a Voice from heaven, saying, O King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from among men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field; they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar, and 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 as eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws. And at the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up mine eyes to heaven, and mine understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honoured Him who liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say to Him, What doest Thou? Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment; and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.' Has our own Christendom another royal edict anywhere to show like that chapter? If it has, I do not know where to find it.
To be driven out among the oxen made Nebuchadnezzar a new man. Asaph in Israel also, for his humiliation and his sanctification, was as a beast before God. The blessed Behmen, as his disciples all call him, teaches his disciples the same doctrine. 'Listen to my own process,' says that great spiritual genius. 'My soul will sometimes be all of a sudden turned into a wolf within me. Again, I am a dog at home; churlish, snappish, malicious, envious; my heart hides its bone that it cannot eat, lest another dog should get it. Then there is a lion within me; not in his nobility, but in his strong and proud cruelty. At another time, and at the proper provocation, I am a viper, as John preached to his hearers from Jerusalem, venomous, poisonous, and with a stealthy sting. At another time I am Joathsome as a toad: at another time timorous as a hare.' Yes; our souls are now this beast within us, and now that,-when the law enters. Only, the law has not entered one in a hundred of us to that depth: and thus it is that we are all still so proud and so disputatious at the hearing of all these things. But when we see and feel ourselves to be oxen in our stupidity, and dogs in our selfishness, and swine in our miryness, and vipers in our poisonousness-then we have got the key within ourselves to God's great dispensation of humiliation with Nebuchadnezzar. Then we say to Belteshazzar, and to Behmen, Thou art able: and the spirit of the God of holiness is in thee. And then we leave it like Nebuchadnezzar to be read on our tombstone by all that pass by-
Those that walk in pride He is able to abase.
But Nebuchadnezzar would not have needed to be made to eat grass as an ox if he had early enough and often enough asked Daniel to teach him to pray. Prayer would have done it to Nebuchadnezzar also. Daniel himself was mightily tempted to pride far more than Nebuchadnezzar ever was with all his wars and with all his palaces. For, was not Nebuchadnezzar, with all his power and with all his pride, prostrate again and again at Daniel's feet? Did not king Nebuchadnezzar fall upon his face, and worship Daniel, and command that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours to Daniel? What could it have been, then, that kept Daniel's heart so sweetly humble through all that, till Daniel was a man greatly beloved of Him who resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble? It was prayer that did it. It was secret prayer that did it. It was his place of secret prayer three times a day every day he lived that did it. Look in at that window in Babylon that stands open toward Jerusalem, and you will see Daniel on his knees and on the palms of his hands till all his comeliness is turned to corruption. It was that that did it. Seneca says somewhere that nothing is bought so dear as that which is bought with prayer-that is to say, you must sell all if you would truly pray. You must begin with selling all your pride, and everything else as you proceed in prayer, down to your whole soul. I am dust and ashes, said Abraham, not at the beginning, but as he went on in prayer. We are dust and ashes, and far worse than that, says Hooker also, as he went on in prayer. Count the cost, then, before you propose to be a man of prayer. But, then, on the other hand, if any man has come to this, that he would fain, if it were possible, put on humility before both God and man, then let that man pray without ceasing. Enough prayer will work all possible humility into the proudest heart. Prayer every day, and many times every day, and all the day, would bring down and would abase into the very dust very Lucifer himself.
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Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Nebuchadnezzar'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​n/nebuchadnezzar.html. 1901.