History Addict's Sermon Series



Circa 1450, unknown artist, from the "Speculum humanae salvationis" of Cologne (manuscript "Den Haag, MMW, 10 B 34"),
in the Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague


"Your Pride, God HATES It!"


A Sermon on

Daniel 4

 

Given By John McKay

At North Arnold Mill Baptist Church on December 31, 2006



 

Good morning, and thank you very much for inviting me to come back.

 

The last time I was here, we looked at the third chapter of Daniel, and the story of three great witnesses to the power and sovereignty of God, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, better known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and their trial by fire. The two previous chapters in this great book of the Old Testament introduced Daniel, whom the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had renamed Belteshazzar, and showed how he had gained the trust and favor of the king through his own deep trust and devotion to God.

 

Today, let us turn to and study the fourth chapter of Daniel, the only chapter in all of Scripture composed under the authority of a pagan.

 

 

Daniel is a remarkable book, which has some interesting quirks within it. It is divided roughly into two parts, chapters 1 through 6 are a biographical history of Daniel's captivity in Babylon, while chapters 7 through 12 are his apocalyptic vision of the future. It also is written in two different languages, chapter 1, part of chapter 2, and chapters 8 through 12 (157 1/2 verses) are written in Hebrew, while half of chapter 2 through chapter 7 (199 1/2 verses) is written in Aramaic. No one knows exactly why this was done, and there aren't really even any good theories; even though the common language of the Old Testament Middle East was Aramaic, only a few words and verses in the Old Testament are written in this language, in this book as well as the books of Genesis, Jeremiah and Ezra.

 

 

Now, this fourth chapter of Daniel opens in an odd way, with Nebuchadnezzar praising for the third time in as many chapters the "Most High God" of Daniel and the other Israelites, for something that had happened to him at least eight years before he had this inscribed. This is like a TV program or movie that shows you the ending first, then goes on to explain how they got to that situation.

 

Dan. 4:1 To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world: May you prosper greatly!

Dan. 4:2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.

 

This is a quite arrogant royal proclamation, but typical of Assyrian and Babylonian kings who claimed to rule the entire earth. Think Saddam Hussein, who modeled himself after Nebuchadnezzar.

 

However, it is most interesting to note that Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan, says that "it is my pleasure" to show what God has done in his life, a powerful willingness to share his testimony of God's grace that every Christian should possess.

 

Going on into his testimony, Nebuchadnezzar states he was at home in his palace, "contented and prosperous." All is going well for him, he is pampered, wealthy, wants for nothing, rules over a vast and mighty empire, his enemies have been vanquished over and over, and he seemingly has not a concern in the world.

 

Then he has another dream, another one which frightens him deeply, which his vast legions of advisors, fortunetellers, magicians and soothsayers are unable, or unwilling, to explain to him. His most trusted advisor, Daniel, finally shows up, and listens to the great king tell him of his dream:

 

Dan. 4:9 I said, "Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me.

Dan. 4:10 These are the visions I saw while lying in my bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous.

Dan. 4:11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth.

Dan. 4:12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

Dan. 4:13 "In the visions I saw while lying in my bed, I looked, and there before me was a messenger, a holy one, coming down from heaven.

Dan. 4:14 He called in a loud voice: ŚCut 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.

Dan. 4:15 But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. " ŚLet him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth.

Dan. 4:16 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.

 

Daniel immediately understands what the dream means, and undoubtedly knows why the other royal advisors were so reluctant to interpret it for the king. This puts Daniel in a tight spot, if he tells Nebuchadnezzar what the dream really means, he risks facing his deadly wrath yet again, yet if he feigns ignorance or deliberately misinterprets it, he faces the wrath of almighty God.

 

Dan. 4:19 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."

                        Belteshazzar answered, "My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!

 

I read[1] of a similar situation that a similar trusted advisor had in 16th century England. One of the greatest preachers of the English Reformation was Hugh Latimer, and he was often called to preach before King Henry VIII. When he was made a king's chaplain, one of the king's advisors said to him, "Beware of contradicting the king. Speak as he speaks, and instead of presuming to lead him, strive to follow him." "Away with your counsel !" replied Latimer. He took his calling seriously, and all he read confirmed his need to be faithful.

 

One day he picked up Augustine's writings and read there, "He who for fear of any power hides the truth, provokes the wrath of God to come upon him, for he fears men more than God." Another day he picked up Chrysostom's writings and read, "He is not only a traitor to the truth who openly for truth teaches a lie, but he also who does not pronounce and show the truth he knows." Latimer said that those two sentences made him afraid and he vowed, "I had rather suffer extreme punishment than be a traitor unto the truth."

 

Latimer felt that he had to let King Henry know of his God-given convictions, so one day he sat down and wrote a quite pointed letter to the king. "Your Grace, I must show forth such things as I have learned in Scripture, or else deny Jesus Christ. The which denying ought more to be dreaded than the loss of all temporal goods, honor, promotion, fame, prison, slander, hurts, banishment, and all manner of torments and cruelties, yea, and death itself, be it never so shameful and painful ... There is as great distance between you and me as between God and man; for you are here to me and to all your subjects in God's stead; and so I should quake to speak of your Grace. But as you are a mortal man having in you the corrupt nature of man, so you have no less need of the merits of Christ's passion for your salvation than I and others of your subjects have."

 

Henry VIII had the same capacity for abject cruelty as Nebuchadnezzar ­remember the terrible fates of his six wives? ­but he was not offended by the letter and continued to praise and rely upon Latimer. So too Daniel's integrity was respected by Nebuchadnezzar.

 

Daniel then went on to explain the terrible fate that was to befall Nebuchadnezzar:

 

Dan. 4:22 you, O king, are that 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.

Dan. 4:24 "This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king:

Dan. 4:25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven.

 

Daniel follows this troubling prediction by telling Nebuchadnezzar of God's grace and foreknowledge in the middle of troubles, assuring the great king that though the day looks bleak and the vision deeply frightening, there is a new dawn to come:

 

Dan. 4:25b Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.

Dan. 4:26 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.

 

Daniel took a great chance with his own life at that point, just as Hugh Latimer did so many centuries later, and boldly shared the need for the prideful king to repent and turn to God:

 

Dan. 4:27 Therefore, O king, 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."

 

What, in God's eyes, were Nebuchadnezzar's sins? We know that he had the capacity to be a cruel and vengeful ruler, but this was not an unusual quality for the day. As he stated himself, he was at peace and not warring at that time with anything under heaven and earth, but he was simply doing what so many of us do today, having a life of leisure and distractions while ignoring the misfortunes and needs of others. This aloofness, this arrogant disdain for "the little people" was what Daniel called his "wickedness."

 

His sins though, were of something far greater concern to God. He obviously believed, as so many do today, that his successes were due entirely to his own actions and his own innate superiority. He was his own "number one fan," admiring his own greatness while taking credit for the actions of others ­ notice in verse 30 he says:

 

Dan. 4:30 "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"

 

It is obvious that Nebuchadnezzar did not cut the stones or build the walls of this city, yet he pridefully takes full credit for its construction.

 

He also failed to give God the credit for his wealth and success, repeatedly claiming credit for his own glory.

 

In the words of Frank Sinatra, he did it "his way."

 

Nebuchadnezzar's wickedness was his appalling indifference towards the people he ruled. His sins were the arrogant disdain he showed towards the Most High God, by taking credit for and bragging upon some things that were completely of the kingdom of God. And God responded to Nebuchadnezzar's prideful arrogance by doing exactly what he had warned him he would do:

 

Dan. 4:31 The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, "This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you.

Dan. 4:32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes."

Dan. 4:33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. 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.

 

God appears to have given Nebuchadnezzar opportunity upon opportunity to turn from his ways, sending him dreams and wise counselors, and even giving him a full year after pronouncing this harsh discipline on him before acting on it. Like so many of us today, Nebuchadnezzar assumed that patience on God's part meant acceptance of his actions, that a judgment delayed meant a judgment forgotten, and he never turned from his sinful and wicked ways. Just the other day, I heard one of my own family members say that Jesus Christ could not possibly be the Messiah, as He has not yet brought peace to this world as the prophets had predicted. Like Nebuchadnezzar, she mistook her self-centered, humanistic view of the world for that eternal viewpoint of God's.

 

God does things in His own way and in His own time. When is Christ returning? When God decrees it is time. How long did He cause Nebuchadnezzar to grovel and suffer in animalistic torment? Scripture says "until seven times have passed." How long is a time? Many great and learned scholars have examined this question, and concluded that it is probably either seven months, or seven years, or three and one-half years, being seven seasons, or "seven periods" of some unknown length. Either way, it was for as long as God saw as best and most right for Nebuchadnezzar to undergo.

 

In the end, after these seven periods had passed, and just as God foresaw, Nebuchadnezzar once again, and apparently whole-heartedly this time, raised his eyes to heaven and praised the God of Abraham and Isaac.

 

Dan. 4:34 ¶      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.

           

Dan. 4:36 ¶      At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.

 

Nebuchadnezzar experienced three miraculous displays of God's power and sovereignty that we know of, Daniel's interpretation of his unexplained dream in chapter 2, the rescue of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace in chapter 3, and the removal and later restoration of his own sanity and kingdom in this chapter.

 

As you can see, though, in the end, Nebuchadnezzar is unable to overcome his stubborn self-centeredness and pride, even after all these great witnesses to God and His Kingdom. He praises the "Most High God," the God of Abraham and Isaac, the God who led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, established them as a mighty and powerful nation, then in their own prideful rebellion brought them into another captivity in Babylon. But notice that he did not renounce his own gods, or make any other indication that he intended to follow the one true God.

 

The lesson of this trial for Nebuchadnezzar is found in the final verse:

Dan. 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

 

This echoes Proverbs 16:18:

Prov. 16:18 Pride goes before destruction,

                        a haughty spirit before a fall.

 

And James 4:6:

James 4:6 That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

 

What is this lesson that we can learn from this bitter experience of a Babylonian king some 2,600 years ago? God will use you and you will serve Him, one way or another. Either you honor Him directly with your humble walk and positive witness, or He will use your prideful and arrogant ways against you, as a bad example for others.

 

When I was a young boy, we used to visit my relatives in Alabama by going down some rural highways west of Newnan. I remember that fairly often there would be hand-lettered signs hanging on trees by the side of the road, with various evangelical messages painted on them. One in particular I remember said something I just couldn't understand at the time, "Your Pride, God HATES It!"

 

Why on the world would God hate your pride? Doesn't God want you to have a good self-esteem, doesn't he want you to take pride in how you look and what you have accomplished? Didn't God put the sense of pride in you when He created you?

 

The answer to that last question is an emphatic no. A healthy sense of self-esteem comes from a knowledge that God is Lord over all and you are one of his loved and obedient children, a royal heir to the kingdom, and wealthy in His providence beyond any human measure.

 

The sin of pride stems from the fall of man, where Satan convinced Adam and Eve that they could be like God, knowing of good and evil[2].

 

Pride is what separates us from God's love.

 

Pride is the high wall of self-importance that we build around ourselves, that separates us from the love of others.

 

Pride is the weapon we use against the world.

 

Pride brings disgrace[3], breeds quarrels[4], goes before destruction[5], and brings humiliation[6].

 

188 times pride[7] is mentioned in scripture, almost every time as an attitude that God opposes and that is about to end in disaster for the prideful one. Look at the second chapter of Isaiah, starting in the 12th verse:

 

Is. 2:12 ¶        The LORD Almighty has a day in store

                        for all the proud and lofty,

                        for all that is exalted

                        (and they will be humbled),

Is. 2:17 ¶        The arrogance of man will be brought low

                        and the pride of men humbled;

            the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,

 

The Apostle Peter calls upon all of us to turn from this terrible, destructive curse brought by Satan:

 

1Pet. 5:5b All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

            "God opposes the proud

                        but gives grace to the humble.[8]"

1Pet. 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

 

This is how God's saving grace works, this is His mighty and wonderful gift to us. All we need to do is lay aside this striving, this grasping, this grabbing for trinkets and bits of this sinful and fallen world, and we will be given the keys to the storehouses of His immeasurable riches.

 

In Psalm 18 we find the summation of this story of a wicked and sinful king who finally turned his eyes towards God, and we find the road home to Him out of our own sinful rebellion:

With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful;

With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless;

With the pure You will show Yourself pure;

And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd.

For You will save the humble people,

But will bring down haughty looks.

You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;

Your right hand has held me up,

Your gentleness has made me great.

The LORD lives!

Blessed be my Rock!

Let the God of my salvation be exalted.

Great deliverance He gives to His king,

And shows mercy to His anointed,[9]

 

Today we close out another year in this world. Tomorrow, should Jesus tarry tonight, we will open a new year, but the best news is that it will be another year closer to the children of God being home with Him. It's a natural thing to look back upon the year, with its successes and failure, pleasures and tragedies, and think about what we have done and what we wished we had done. It is also natural to look ahead to this new year with hope and anticipation, a clean slate for us to build upon.

 

When you reflect on where you have been so far, do you see what you have done and thought and felt to be those things pleasing to God, and your offerings to Him to be a pleasant perfume? Or do you need to examine your own heart and your own attitudes, just like King Nebuchadnezzar was forced to do, and adjust some things so that your life and sacrifice becomes a pleasing aroma in the mansions of heaven.

 

 

Let us pray.

 

Dear Father God, thank you for the wonderful gift of your word, which comforts us, which instructs us, and which leads us out of the turmoil of sin and onto your righteous path. Help us to always remember who is the only one worthy of exaltation, and help us to hide your words in our hearts. Protect us, dear Father, from the temptation s of sin and rebellion, light out way and guide our feet on the narrow path of righteousness, and please forgive the many ways we stumble as we reach out towards you.

 

In Jesus blessed and holy name we pray,

Amen.


 



[1] The Reformation in England, J.H. Merle d'Aubigne, Vol.2, p.42

[2] Gen 3:5

[3] Prov 11:2

[4] Prov 13:10

[5] Prov 16:18

[6] Prov 29:23

[7] conceit = 3

conceited = 8

contemptuous = 2

contemptuously = 1

disdainful = 1

haughtiness = 1

Haughty = 1

haughty = 14

insolence = 6

insolent = 3

Pride = 3

pride = 66

Proud = 2

proud = 42

self-seeking = 2

vain = 33

[8] Prov 3:34

[9] Ps 18:25-27, 35, 46, 50






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