Introduction: Last Friday I was traveling in Georgia with Mike Jones, and we wanted to visit Andersonville, Georgia, which is the location of the largest POW Camp ever constructed on American soil. It was built by the Confederates to imprison Union POWs during the Civil War. We drove onto the site about 10:30 or 11:00 Friday, without knowing it was also the location of the National POW Museum, which tells the story of Americans who were held as Prisoners of War in all our major conflicts. We also did not know that it was National POW/MIA Day. I did not even know there was a National POW/MIA Day. But there is, and it was last Friday. So the Museum at Andersonville had a commemoration, and the place was filled with former POWs. Now, I have read several biographies and autobiographies about POWs, and a few of them were so moving I stayed up until late at night reading them. But to my knowledge I had never actually met a POW in my life. Suddenly we were surrounded by many of them. We met a man captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. We met another locked up in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. And we met the solider who was captured when her jeep took a wrong turn during the War in Iraq—Shoshana Nyree Johnson. She is the first black female POW in American history. She was shot in both ankles, captured, and held by Iraqi forces until the Marines rescued her. I told her I was a pastor and was interested in knowing if she was a woman of faith, and if her faith had sustained her during her abduction. “Oh yes,” she said. “I come from a Roman Catholic background; I am a Christian, and when they threw me in that prison cell I started confessing my sins. I started repenting of everything wrong I had ever done. I went all the way back. I repented of stealing a pencil of the desk of my schoolmate when I was in first grade.”
How interesting that trauma often provokes repentance! Hopefully none of us will be shot and taken prisoner in a war. But all of us encounter traumatic events in our lives. And somehow God can use those traumatic events for good. As we said this morning, He can work through all these circumstances. He can bring us to repentance. He can bring us to reevaluation. He can bring us to new levels of spiritual insight and personal maturity. And that’s what happened to the most powerful man in the world—King Nebuchadnezzar—in Daniel 4. He had a bout of mental illness. He suffered with temporary insanity, but through the episode he learned repentance. He learned some never-to-be forgotten lessons. Let’s study Daniel, chapter 4:
Verse 1: King Nebuchadnezzar, to the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly!
This chapter has an unusual format. It’s a letter or proclamation written by King Nebuchadnezzar, partly in first person, telling his story. Now, of course, it’s very possible that Daniel wrote it. That is, that he was a ghostwriter. I can imagine that Nebuchadnezzar said to Daniel, “Here is what I want to say. Help me craft this into a proclamation.”
Verse 2: It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are His signs, how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; His dominion endures from generation to generation.
Verse 3: I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contended and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid.
Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream, recorded in chapter 2, occurred near the beginning of his reign. This dream seems to have occurred many years later, perhaps in the last years of his reign. Daniel was also much older now, probably in his fifties (The New American Commentary: Daniel).
As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshaazar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)
As we read this, I am not sure that King Nebuchadnezzar was ever “converted” in the sense that we use that word. Perhaps he was. But this is the third episode in which he is forced to admit that the God of Israel, Jehovah, is the Supreme Commander of the universe. But he was still tardy in turning to Daniel, and he still insists on calling Daniel by his Babylonian name Belteshaazar, which is a name taken from a Babylonian deity. But the person isn’t so much the king’s conversion as it is the king’s acknowledgement that even in Gentile days, the God of Israel is in control.
Verse 9: I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. These are the visions I saw while lying my bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew, large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed. In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven.
There’s something very interesting in verse 13, and in subsequent verses in this chapter. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream in which he saw an angel, but he does not use the word angel. The NIV translates this angelic personage as a “holy one, a messenger.” But the older translations use the word “watcher.” The Hebrew word has to do with being wakeful and watchful. A watcher came down from heaven. This is the only time in the Bible in which angels are called watchers.
Sometimes when I travel through the airport I’ll get a shoeshine, and there used to be one man who shined shoes, and every time, when he found out I was a pastor, he asked me the same question. He didn’t remember I’d been there before, and so he ended up asking me the same question every time. He said, “Who are the watchers in the book of Daniel?” For some reason he was fixated on the idea of the watchers.
The Bible teaches there are supernatural beings watching this world all the time. In Zechariah 1, they are pictured as observers riding on horses patrolling the earth. The Lord’s watchers are watching this earth all the time. I assume they are here in this room, watching this worship service this evening.
Verse 14: He (the watcher) called in a loud voice: Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him. The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones (the watchers) declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people. This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.
Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”
It’s interesting that Daniel is so upset by the dream and its meaning that the king tries to comfort him.
Verse 19: Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds—Your Majesty, you are the tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth. Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, “Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.”
We don’t know what seven times means. It is seven units of time. Seven weeks, seven months, or seven years.
Verse 24: This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king. You will be driven away from people, and you will live with the wild animals. You will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven.
This is not unheard of. There is a variety of mental illness in which people imagine themselves to be some animal.
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. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.
Notice that two-word phrase: Heaven rules. Those two words sum up the message of the entire book of Daniel. Even if the Jews are not in Israel; even if it appears God’s promises to Abraham have turned to dust. Even if it seems everything has gone wrong—Heaven rules. God is still in control. If I could sum up this morning message, it is: God is working. Tonight’s message is: Heaven rules.
Verse 27: 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.”
But King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t accept the advice. Look at what happened.
Verse 28: All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 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.”
This would indicate the episode of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity occurred in the later years of his reign. And the city of Babylon was by far the greatest city the world had never known at that time. It was a rectangular city, surrounded by a broad and deep water filled mote and by a system of tall, thick double walls with defense towers every sixty feet. Eight gates provided access to the city, and a huge ziggurat towered into the air in the middle of the city. The Euphrates River ran town the middle of the city, and a huge bridge, perhaps four hundred feet long, spanned the river.
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. 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 the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes.”
Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
Interestingly there are two or three historical sources from antiquity that hint at Nebuchadnezzar’s period of instability. The Jewish historian Josephus referred to a report by a Babylonian priest named Berossus that Nebuchadnezzar had endured a period of weakness of some sort; and the Christian writer Eusebius referred to the writings of a Greek historian named Megasthenes that Nebuchadnezzar, while on the roof of his house, had some sort of seizure of insanity. There is also a Greek historian named Abydenus who makes a reference to this illness.
Verse 34: 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 with the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to him, “What have You done?” At that same time my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor was returned to me for the glory of my kingdom.
We only think with true sanity when we put God in His rightful place in our deliberations and thoughts. Insanity is truly acting as if we are the gods of the universe. True sanity is acknowledging God alone is Ruler Most High.
My advisors 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 His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.
Conclusion: After reading and studying this passage, I came away with three principles I hope to never forget. I can state them very simply. 1. First, Watchers Watch. God’s angels are always watching, always on patrol, and they had much more to do with the unfolding of the history of this world then we think.
2. Heaven Rules. Even when it appears all is lost, God is in charge, the Most High is in control. To repeat, it’s insanity to think we are our own gods. It’s perfectly sane to let God hold His rightful place in our lives.
3. Traumas Teach. While we want to avoid traumatic events whenever possible, some cannot be avoided. But none are ever wasted in the life of God’s children. Sometimes we feel like we’re going insane from the pressures of life, but that’s when we’re open and receptive to the greatest lessons.
Watchers watch, heaven rules, and traumas teach. And Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth its successive journeys run. His kingdom spread from shore to shore, till kings shall wax and wane no more.