Have you ever had to deal with a totally unreasonable person? What about some bosses you have had, or perhaps a neighbor or even family member? I know there are times in my life that, if I had Godlike powers, say, a thunderbolt to wipe someone off the face of the earth, I would have cheerfully used it. That’s the way of sinful humanity. We’re much more prone to exercising judgment than grace.
The Bible knows its share of tyrants. Daniel 2:1-13 introduces Nebuchadnezzar when he was about 25 years old. A seasoned military leader, he had only recently become king. When he was a young child, his father had conquered the old Assyrian empire and set out to conquer new territories.
So the entire time he was growing up, Nebuchadnezzar was taught that he would rule the greatest empire in the world. He was special. He was a cut above everyone else. Today, most of us don’t want our children growing up with that attitude, but plenty do anyway. Have you ever known people like that in all the swagger but inexperience of youth and young adulthood? Then you already know Nebuchadnezzar.
He couldn’t lead his armies until he had fully secured his throne. Yet his armies were engaged in fierce battles at the edges of his empire. Were they good enough to conquer? Could he trust his triumphant generals? He had reason to be insecure, but no one to share his fears with. That’s a good recipe for a nightmare, and he had a doozy.
Either he couldn’t remember it or he didn’t trust his counsellors. So he demanded that they not only interpret his dream, but first tell him what it was! Even my worst nemeses have never been that unreasonable! I’ll bet all of his wise men wished they had a thunderbolt to use on him.
When the committee he called told him that no one on earth could possibly answer his question, he promised to have them dismembered and their houses reduced to rubble–not only the particular individuals who had failed to satisfy him, but every one of his other trained wise men, too!
God certainly does not condone Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude, whether in him, or someone I know, or (shudder) myself. But he doesn’t resort to the thunderbolt. He judges sin, but offers grace to sinners. Here is how the rest of the book of Daniel records God’s grace to Nebuchadnezzar:
- He raised up faithful–and very tactful and humble–counsellors from among the Jewish captives.
- To one of them, Daniel, he gave special ability to interpret dreams and visions–before Nebuchadnezzar had his dream.
- He revealed the dream to Daniel as he and three friends prayed.
- He gave Daniel the tact to approach the petulant king’s chief executioner and later the king himself, and then, through Daniel, revealed to the king both the dream and its interpretation. Thereafter, Daniel became one of the king’s closest advisors.
- When Nebuchadnezzar’s rashness led him to order the execution of three other Jewish counsellors, which he soon regretted, God allowed him to see a miracle of deliverance.
- God sent him another troubling dream, which Daniel interpreted and gave him time to repent of his pride to forestall the fulfillment.
- Nebuchadnezzar failed to take advantage of the opportunity, and so suffered seven years of insanity.
- During that time, no one challenged his throne or attempted to depose him.
- At the end of seven years, he did repent of his pride and received more honor and power than he had had before.
Keep in mind that Nebuchadnezzar never ceased to be a pagan. He acknowledged the living God and gave him special honor, but that does not represent a conversion. People who worship multiple gods can always easily add one more. And yet God dealt graciously with him, and allowed him to see God’s own power and reality. The story of Nebuchadnezzar reminds us today that God’s love and grace have no limits.