Our pride and God’s patience: Nebuchadnezzar’s dream

People don’t like to wait for answers to prayer. But what about when God warns of something bad that will happen some time in the future? In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream that involved a large tree being chopped down. Daniel interpreted it and said the king would be driven from human society for seven years and then be restored. He also said that Nebuchadnezzar could avoid his fate by repentance from his sin. The king forgot all about it. God did not.

28 “All this happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king. 29 Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ 31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, 32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’ 33 Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. — Daniel 4:28-33 (NASB)

When God promises something we want, it often seems like it will happen right away, but it rarely does. Among other things, God is testing our patience. In this case, though, God promised something undesirable. Nebuchadnezzar may have made all kinds of vows to Daniel about how he would shape up his life. Then nothing happened. God displayed his own patience; the fulfillment came a whole year later, after the king had ample time to forget the dream and any promises he may have made at the time.

Nebuchadnezzar committed the sin of pride. He took full, personal credit for all of his attainments. In doing so, he took glory for himself that properly belongs to God alone and closed his eyes to all the help that he had received from other people to make his achievements possible. It does not require being the ruler of a world-dominating empire to follow his example. In fact, people who feel like they have attained nothing fall into exactly the same pride if they blame their failures on what other people did to them or didn’t do for them and take no account either of the natural consequences of their own actions or the power of faith in God to make a way for them.

As a pagan, Nebuchadnezzar worshiped many gods, but he expected that they all worked for him. He accepted no interference from any of them besides prescribed religious rituals. In other words, he thought and acted as if he himself were God. Satan fell from heaven by committing the same sin, and every sinner reenacts it one way or another. Here are some ways good, conscientious church people sin:

  • I will go to church, pray, read the Bible and the like if I have time.
  • I will put money in the collection plate if I can afford it.
  • If something catches my attention and seems to demand a change, I’ll do it later if I happen to think of it.
  • My abilities and achievements come naturally from my own inherent merit, and so I expect to have good things happen to me, as good people naturally deserve.
  • If what I want and deserve doesn’t happen to me, and especially if bad things happen instead, it’s unfair and someone else’s fault.
  • What kind of loving God would put me through all this?

The prideful person, in heart if not conscious thought, considers himself more important than anyone else, including more important than God. In fact, the air we breathe and the fact that our bodies can breathe it are gifts from God. If we have running water, a flush toilet, electricity, things that run on electricity, a refrigerator with food in it, we have blessings most people in the world lack. What’s more, no one of us is capable of making and maintaining all of these things, and most of us can’t make or maintain any of them. We depend on the work and talents of other people in order to have them–and especially on the work and talents of other people in order to earn the money to buy goods and services. The help we receive from literally thousands of people we probably never think of are also gifts of God. We ought to receive them with humble gratitude instead of taking them for granted.

The twelve-month interval between Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its fulfillment demonstrate some important things about God. No matter how vivid a promise or warning might be, God does not bring it about immediately. He values waiting, and waiting is a test of faith. Will we remember? Will we do whatever our part may be in order to prepare? Will we keep believing after the vividness of the promise or warning has gone away? God will follow through, with no further notice..

What God says will happen. Most of his promises and warnings are conditional, however. He will carry out his warnings unless by faith and repentance we give him reason to relent. He will carry out his promises. And we will receive their manifestation unless by pride, faithlessness, or simply forgetting, our behavior puts the promise out of our reach. God sent Daniel to interpret a dream for Nebuchadnezzar and then waited patiently for the king to lay aside his pride. God promised Abraham territory, but told him he and his descendants must wait for 400 years until the sin of the Canaanites was complete. He promised a generation of those descendants they would inherit the land–until by their faithlessness they forfeited the promise.

What is God promising to you? He is patiently waiting for the right time to give it to you. Will you respond to his patience with faith? Or pride?

Image credit: Dan. IV. Nabucodonosor cum besty (Nebuchadnezzar as beast) / by Christoph Weigel, from Biblia ectypa : Bildnussen auss Heiliger Schrifft Alt und Neuen Testament (1695). Public domain.


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