Thoughts to Ponder: Chapter 13

Chapter 13: God Gives Nebuchadnezzar Time ~ Daniel 4:19-37

Q1 – What has God done at other times to humble someone? Can you think of any other instance where God caused someone to live like an animal as he did Nebuchadnezzar?

A1 – God shows his power to individuals in many ways. Sometimes it’s with a spectacular display, but other times it’s underwhelming so that there can be no doubt God was responsible for the result.

While there are numerous examples of God humbling the proud, the story of Naaman makes an interesting study (see II Kings 5). As a commander in the army of the king of Aram, he held a powerful position and was highly regarded. Yet, he had leprosy, a progressively destructive skin and nervous system disease from which there was no cure. (As an aside, armadillos can carry leprosy, so avoid handling them.)

Many cultures around the world isolated lepers from the rest of society, such as in leper colonies. The Israelites had received extensive commands concerning cleanliness and skin issues (see Leviticus 13 and 14), and those who were deemed unclean had to live alone outside the camp. Naaman was not an Israelite, but his disease must have caused him great concern.

After learning from a young Israelite girl who had been captured in one of their raids that a prophet in Samaria could cure leprosy, Naaman set about to find him. Finally, he came to Elisha’s house and stopped at his door. Instead of speaking with Naaman directly, Elisha sent a messenger to tell him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times.

These instructions were not at all what Naaman had expected. This powerful army commander angrily stormed off. He had expected a more showy display of God’s power performed by the prophet himself. Instead, after going to all this effort to find Elisha, he felt duped and humiliated. But, after his servants reasoned with him, he went and dunked himself in the Jordan seven times, and his skin was indeed restored.

Without a doubt, Naaman knew he had witnessed the power of God. It wasn’t the magical power of Elisha waving his hand over him which he had envisioned, and it certainly couldn’t have been that river water which cured him. It was Naaman humbling himself before the Lord and obeying what he was instructed to do.

But interestingly enough, this story is not over! Naaman and all his attendants came back to Elisha and acknowledged the power of God. “He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.’” (II Kings 5:15, NIV) Then Naaman tried to give Elisha a gift, but the prophet refused.

So after Naaman and his company had departed to go back home, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, considered how he personally could profit from this incident. He chased them down and made up a story about needing silver and clothing for two young prophets who had just arrived. Naaman readily supplied these items, which Gehazi then tucked away in his house. Later, he tried to lie to Elisha about where he’d been, but the results were disastrous. His skin became leprous, as white as snow, and Elisha declared that Naaman’s leprosy would cling to him and his descendants forever (II Kings 5:27)! Certainly, Gehazi experienced the hand of God punishing him for his greed and deceit.

Now, concerning whether God has caused anyone other than Nebuchadnezzar to live like an animal, growing feathers like an eagle, claws like a bird, and eating grass. I posed this question, because I found this treatment so unique and have not come up with any other examples. This seems to be another instance of how God provided special treatment to Nebuchadnezzar. He went to great lengths to get the king’s attention in an effort to ultimately turn his heart to Him.

The Bible tells of numerous people who were demon possessed, which often caused them to behave erratically or violently. Demons do not seem to have been sent by God, but rather Satan, although not so much is known about demons. In the Old Testament, when God rejected Saul as king over the Israelites, He sent an evil or harmful spirit on several occasions to torment him (see I Samuel 15 and 16). In this case, God had given up on Saul, whom He had chosen to be the first king over the Israelites.

There is the curios instance in Numbers 22 of Balaam’s donkey, who, upon seeing the angel from God, began speaking to Balaam (an animal taking on a human trait rather than a human becoming like an animal). The donkey asked Balaam why he had been beating him, and to make the story even more curious, Balaam actually replied back to the donkey! However, none of the instances mentioned here seem comparable to what God did to Nebuchadnezzar. Perhaps you can think of other examples.

Q2 – Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do what was right and be kind to the oppressed, which supposedly the king did during the year his punishment was delayed. Yet, what was the nature of his sin that caused God to follow through on his punishment?

A2 – When you think through all the many sins that are possible for humans to commit, the “bad” sins probably come to mind first. The sins where people physically do something—like stealing, murder, adultery—these are the ones that seem so wrong. The sins of the heart tend not to register as high on the “sin meter”.

Yet, does God have a meter? Certain sins have greater consequences for us while living on earth—for example, murdering someone versus telling a little white lie. However, sin separates us from God, any sin at all, and sin is quite prevalent within the human race. As John states, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” (I John 1:8, NLT) So, with God, we are either saved or not saved, and sins of the heart separate us from God just as surely as any physical sin.

Sin can be “classified”, however, as explained in I John 2:16 (NIV): “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” The New Living Translation states the same verse this way: “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions.”

So God had given Nebuchadnezzar a reprieve from his sentence, which could possibly have lasted indefinitely. But after a year had passed, the king looked out across the city and exclaimed in Daniel 4:30 (NLT), “‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” At that moment, he forgot all his earlier lessons from God and let his pride overtake him. His enormous ego popped out, and while he was still speaking those fateful words, God carried out the sentence that had been revealed to the king earlier.

What a lesson for us to be ever vigilant to do what is right and not become forgetful! We sometimes let our guard down when things are coasting along pretty well. Remember God’s admonition to Cain in Genesis 4:7 (VOICE), “‘Don’t you know that as long as you do what is right, then I accept you? But if you do not do what is right, watch out, because sin is crouching at the door, ready to pounce on you! You must master it before it masters you.’”

Q3 – Can you think of other examples where someone went through a great ordeal or suffering and, because of God’s grace, ended up in as good or better position than when they started?

A3 – The Bible provides numerous examples of this occurring. Here are a few. Be sure to list your own favorites.

Daniel himself would certainly be such an example, as would his three Jewish companions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Of course, Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers and later becoming second in command only to the Pharaoh of Egypt comes to mind. (Refer back to Lesson 9, Question 3, where his life story is discussed.)

The Israelites were finally led out of Egyptian slavery by Moses, who should have been killed as an infant by Pharaoh’s decree but was instead raised by the Pharaoh’s own daughter as her son. He later had to spend forty years in exile in Midian after he had killed an Egyptian, but while living there, he tended the flocks of Reuel (or Jethro), a priest of Midan. He married Jethro’s daughter and then had two sons. Later, God called him to be one of the greatest leaders in all the Bible.

The book of Esther tells of both Mordecai and his young cousin, Esther (or Hadassah). Mordecai’s great grandfather, Kish, had been among the Jews carried off to Babylon, so Mordecai and Esther lived their entire lives in captivity. Mordecai, because he refused to kneel and pay honor to Haman, caused Haman to seek a way to destroy not only him but also every Jew in the kingdom. Esther, who was raised by Mordecai after the death of her parents, had become the queen and used her position to great advantage to save her people from annihilation. In the end, Haman was forced to honor Mordecai, and then he was impaled on the very pole he had erected to impale Mordecai. The king gave Haman’s estate to Esther, who in turn appointed Mordecai over it. The king also gave his signet ring, which he had previously given to Haman, to Mordecai, and Mordecai became second in command only to the king in ruling the entire empire.