Those in positions of power can have a great impact on us—for better or worse. Such people might think they can control others, but in fact, they are under God’s sovereign control. This is a comforting truth, and we find a prime example of it in the fourth chapter of Daniel.
Changing Course in Life
I have read that hundreds of thousands of people have open-heart surgery every year—600,000 in America alone. Many of them are warned that bypass surgery is only a temporary solution; they have survived it, but they still need to change their habits. They need to stop smoking or drinking and start exercising. In other words, millions of people every year are warned, “You’ve been brought back from the edge, but you need to change.” However according to one medical survey I read, 90 percent of those people change nothing, even after going through open-heart surgery.
Why would that be?
It’s probably for the same reason we don’t like to admit we have made a mistake or that we have failed to do the right thing. Who wants to admit they have been wrong? Who is willing to change their direction in life, even after a close call with death?
We are in Daniel chapter 4 now, which contains an open letter, written by King Nebuchadnezzar. Beginning in verse 1, we read this:
King Nebuchadnezzar to all the peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. (verses 1-2)
Nebuchadnezzar is going to deliver what we would call today a personal testimony of conversion.
He begins to write how his empire of Babylon was enjoying a time of peace and prosperity. We know from history that Nebuchadnezzar was involved in a myriad of building projects at home and abroad.
He writes in verse 4, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace.” This word translated “prospering” can be understood literally, “I was growing green.” Now that doesn’t mean Nebuchadnezzar had started recycling aluminum cans; it means that his kingdom was beautiful and prospering. Indeed, his beautiful hanging gardens were among the seven wonders of the ancient world.
But Nebuchadnezzar had started having nightmares. They troubled him so much that he called in all the magi—his wise men.
In verse 9 he refers to Daniel as “the chief of the magicians.” You could translate that “the master of the magi.”
By the way, chapter 4 takes place at least fifteen years after chapter 3. The book of Daniel, covers about seventy-five years of Daniel’s life. Here in chapter 4, he would have been in his early fifties.
And that is important to remember because Daniel’s testimony had been weaving its way through the court of Nebuchadnezzar for more than thirty years. He was a leading statesman—perhaps a man we would refer to today as the prime minister of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar now recounts that he told Daniel his dream:
“I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.” (verses 10-11)
Throughout history, a tree has often been the symbol for a kingdom; and the bigger the tree, the more powerful the kingdom. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the spread of his kingdom had reached to the ends of the whole earth.
But that’s not the nightmare he is having. The nightmare starts here in verse 13:
“I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. He proclaimed aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit . . . leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron.’” (verses 13-15)
Now at this point, the nightmare becomes especially troubling, because the pronouns become personal. This is not just about a kingdom but a person.
The message continues:
“Let him be wet with the dew of heaven. Let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth. Let his mind be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s mind be given to him.” (verses 15-16)
This is not about a tree anymore.
Verse 17 says:
“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.”
This dream is communicating the principle that God appoints to power those whom He chooses. Sometimes God puts in place world rulers who do not deserve such positions. In fact, they are called here in verse 17, “the lowliest of men”—the least deserving.
To this day, God has placed some of the worst of mankind into positions of power. But don’t miss this: Solomon wrote, “The king’s heart is . . . in the hand of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:1). God uses even ungodly kings to move their kingdoms toward His final kingdom.
The rulers here on earth are under the management of God, no matter what those rulers think, and no matter what they might look like to us today. “Nebuchadnezzar, you’re a great tree, but here’s a news flash: you’re about to get chopped down according to the plan of God.”
Well, the king had been warned this was going to happen, but he was not about to change.
So, we read in verses 29-30:
At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king [reflected] and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”
Now at this very moment, God spoke:
While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar … the kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven [years] shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (verses 31-32)
So, God touched the mind of this proud king and removed a measure of his sanity. He started acting and living like some animal out in the field.
The technical term for this kind of insanity is zoanthropy—a state of delusion in which a person thinks he is an animal and begins acting like one.
Nebuchadnezzar lived like an animal for seven years, probably hidden away inside his palace grounds to keep the public from finding out.
Well, now it is not a secret any longer. Here is the king’s open letter, his personal testimony of conversion, so to speak, and he writes:
At the end of the days [seven years] 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. (verse 34)
Nebuchadnezzar is telling his entire empire that he is now a follower of the God of Daniel. Listen to his testimony! He basically says, “The best thing that ever happened to me was when God knocked me off my pedestal and brought me crashing to the ground. I want everyone to know that I am in my right mind now and I know that the God of heaven rules all things.”
Let me tell you, Nebuchadnezzar experienced an open-heart surgery—and he actually came out of it wiser than ever. In fact, he changed his course in life.
Beloved, we are never wiser than when we heed the warning of God and surrender our lives before His throne, declaring that He is the God of heaven—our true and living God.
 Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (Broadman, 2006), 229.