Scripture: Daniel 4
Text: Daniel 4:34-35
Sermon by Rev. Donald Van Dyken
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Burlington, Washington, 1990
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 7, No. 4
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Congregation, beloved of our Lord Jesus Christ:
In the book of Daniel we find the children of Israel in Babylon, and in a very sorry condition. They were ruined. Very few of them were left. They were a despised people.
Five hundred years before this, there was a woman in Israel who was despised and rejected, a woman who had nothing. Her name was Hannah. Out of the midst of her sorrow the Lord raised her up. He gave her Samuel. When she brought him to the temple of the Lord she sang a song. I want to read a little bit of that song of Hannah. She sang it for the church, she sang it for the people of Israel in Babylon, and she sang it for us today. “My heart rejoices in Jehovah. My horn is exalted. There is none holy as Jehovah for there is none beside Thee. Neither is there any rock like our God.”
Then later on in the song she sings about the sovereignty of our God. She makes the confession Nebuchadnezzar echoes in our text: God alone rules. He is the only One.
“Jehovah killeth and maketh alive. He bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up. Jehovah maketh poor and maketh rich. He bringeth low and lifteth up... He will keep the feet of His saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces: out of heaven shall He thunder upon them: Jehovah shall judge the ends of the earth; and He shall give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.”
Jehovah shall judge the ends of the earth. Jehovah is the God who determines and decides the destiny of every man and every nation. Jehovah is the One alone who rules and makes decisions. Jehovah is judge.
The name Daniel means “my God is judge.” Daniel was taken captive from Jerusalem as a young boy. In all probability, his mother and father were killed by Nebuchadnezzar. It’s likely that he was castrated by Nebuchadnezzar. So there he was, a poor boy from the despised and ruined nation of Israel, whose capital city was utterly destroyed, a smoking ruins.
Yet in the middle of that sorrow and utter ruin, God raised up this little boy. He grew up into a man in Babylon, a man whose name was “my God is judge, my God is sovereign. My God decides all things.”
If you look at Israel in her captivity, you seem to see the opposite. She was a despised nation, a nation of slaves, a nation who served Babylon. She was a nation that Nebuchadnezzar would scatter all over the world to destroy their sovereignty. He took their king away from them. They had nothing left–nothing except for one fact which never changed. That fact was that their God was Jehovah.
They could be brought low, but God was always exalted. They could be ugly in ruin, but their God was beautiful and holy, beautiful in His exaltation and majesty. They could be weak and powerless to carry out any plan that they had, but the God of Israel never left His throne. He was sovereign. All His plans and His decrees were still carried out. They were done so that through His people He might yet be glorified and praised.
We see from our text that this great monarch, this sole ruler of the world, this tree whose height reached to heaven, this man Nebuchadnezzar, like that dream showed, was the mightiest man in all the earth. He alone seemed to be sovereign.
He was the one that said you live or you die. He made rich or made poor. He said you could have land or you could not have land. You will be educated or you won’t be. He was the one who decided everyone’s fate.
He was the tree whose branches provided shelter for all nations. For he conquered every territory in the world. They looked to him for protection. They looked to him for judgment. He was sovereign. No one could say to him, (he supposed) “What are you doing?” No one could say to him, “I won’t let you.”
Nebuchadnezzar had pushed his empire to India on the east, and as far north as the Caspian Sea. He conquered all of what is now Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and parts of Turkey and Syria, Lebanon and Israel, Jordan and Egypt. All those lands belong to this man. All the inhabited world belonged to him. He was a great man, merciless, cruel, ruthless. We read in Psalm 137 that the Babylonian soldiers were so ruthless that when they took the people of Israel captive, the soldiers smashed their babies against the rocks because they were in the way. This was the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king, the ruler of all the world.
We see those figures throughout history. Men are raised up and conquer. Alexander the Great came a few hundred years later and conquered even more territory than Nebuchadnezzar. We see a man like Napoleon too, who conquered from Gibraltar to Moscow, a man who conquered wherever he went, a man who exalted himself. Today also, in economics, politics, science, business and religion, men raise themselves up, exalt themselves against God.
This goes back to the Garden of Eden. Adam stood as the image of God in communion with Him. But the devil came and said, “Here is the way you can be higher. Listen to me and you will be as gods.” The pride of man began there in the Garden of Eden. The devil tempted man to exalt himself to be equal with God. Man did not have to rule as God’s representative. God could be in heaven, but man would rule by himself on earth. Man would be sovereign, a king. This was and still is the pride of man.
That same pride reared its ugly head again after the flood. Genesis 11 tells us that all the people of the world gathered together and said, “Let us build a name. We will be great. We will not bow ourselves before God.”
Church of Jesus Christ, Nebuchadnezzar also was that kind of man. The Babylon of Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream capital, was on the same plains of Shinar, on the site of Babel of old. Babylon was the place of man’s glory and pride, the place that raises a man to be the sole ruler.
Nebuchadnezzar was on the top of the heap. He ruled everything. Yet God sent him a dream and made him uneasy. Nebuchadnezzar had astrologers and he figured that there might be some influence from the stars on the affairs of men. So if the stars had anything to say, he had astrologers to find out for him.
But the astrologers were stumped. The stars, we might say, were mute. Daniel must make the dream and the interpretation clear to the king. God takes this king and holds him up before the church. He sent Daniel to proclaim the powerful word of Jehovah.
Twelve months after the word of Jehovah was spoken through Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was standing in the palace of Babylon. He looked around and thought he was the sole ruler. He alone built this spectacular empire for one purpose: to glorify himself, to praise his own majesty, “for the greatness of his name,” says our passage.
Then Jehovah speaks. “To you, 0 Nebuchadnezzar is the word.” Jehovah, the God of Israel speaks, the God of Daniel, the God of the man whose name is not Belteshazzar, but Daniel, “my God is judge.” He speaks to Nebuchadnezzar from heaven.
Can you see that scene? Can you see the mighty monarch there? In the same hour he collapses. God reaches down with His powerful hands and squeezes that puny brain of Nebuchadnezzar between His fingers, and that brain turns into the brain of a beast. Nebuchadnezzar drops down on all fours. He scrambles around looking for grass. He is kicked out of the palace.
All the people who used to shiver in terror before him, now drive him out. The look of this man’s eye could send you to the executioner. Now he is booted out. “Out you go! Wallow with the swine. Throw him with the animals.”
There he was on the ground. His hair grew long as eagles’ feathers. His nails grew as birds’ claws. Now every day you see him looking around with a dumb look on his face like a cow, looking for more grass.
This man used to drink wine and eat the rarest delicacies of the earth. He ordered shrimp and oysters for his table, and all the empire would be set in motion to get them. And now he is eating grass, chewing it like a cow. He was driven with a stick. The cowherd, the lowest in the kingdom now stood over him.
People of God, look at that man, among the cows. Was this the man who used to rule every nation on earth? Now he is lower than we are. Look at the crowd gather around the fence staring at that great wonder. The greatest king in all the world, the one who used to strike fear in all their hearts – there he is. We’ll mock him, throw a stone at his head – he is only an animal now. He can do nothing to us now.
What a sight for the God-fearing in Israel! They knew from Daniel that this scene was created by the Word of their God. They could stand by that fence and see the greatness of the Word of the Lord who spoke and brought this man down to where he had to struggle with the cows for a place to rest. He got wet with the dew of heaven. What a mess Nebuchadnezzar was! Church of Christ, we see the sovereignty of the God of Israel. Those in pride He is able to abase. He exalts and He abases.
That God is the same God today. He is the same God of the church of the Israel of God. He is the God who says, “Look around at the great men of this world who say, ‘We will destroy Israel, and bring her down to the dust.’” Yet the God of Israel is judge. He is on top. His sovereignty is shown in Nebuchadnezzar’s fall.
God worked the ruin of Nebuchadnezzar so that we can see He had planned it before. First of all, Nebuchadnezzar could not say, “Well, I guess these things happen, you know. I got a brain tumor and things went wrong in my mind, and I went on this health diet for seven years (eating grass) and got better.” No, God told him a year before, “Here is a dream, Nebuchadnezzar, and here is Daniel to show you that it did not come from any god, nor from your god, but it came from the God of Israel. He sent you the dream.” God showed Nebuchadnezzar what His sovereignty means.
He says, “My people, I want you to realize that I let you in on my plan for this king. I let Nebuchadnezzar know and I let you know through Daniel that I was going to do those things.”
This was God’s plan and He carried it out. Not the greatest man on the earth can stand in His way. Not even Nebuchadnezzar, who could take all the men of the whole world and make one big army out of them to fight against God, could do a thing when God spoke. When God said the word, that was it!
No power, no wisdom, no astrologer, army, riches or brains – nothing stops the word of Jehovah. When He spoke, Nebuchadnezzar went down. He bowed. He went down on all fours before God. God says to His people now, “I told Nebuchadnezzar before so that when the time came, my people, I would put a pen in Nebuchadnezzar’s hand and make him write out this chapter. I took him, a rebellious, proud man, the anti-Christ, you might say, and I made him write this chapter in Daniel so that my people throughout all the ages might see how I alone am sovereign. I can take even a vessel of wrath and force him to write pages of sacred history.” That is the sovereignty of God.
Church of Christ, God displays this same sovereignty in His plans throughout history. I want you to see that. Go all the way back to Genesis 3. God had said, “If you exalt yourself in disobedience to me you shall die.” Now that is the sovereignty of God, isn’t it? God says, “If you live in rebellion against my commandments, I will put you down. If you try to be as God, I will put you down. You do not raise yourself up against me.” Napoleon said, “I crown myself emperor. I rule all empires of the world.” The Lord said, “I will put you down.” Then you see him on an island in the middle of the Atlantic, a nobody, a poor, fat, pitiable wreck. And there he died.
God says, “Thou shalt not eat thereof, for the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” God decreed it, and God brings it to pass. “You shall be as gods,” said Satan. “You shall die,” said God. And they died.
Listen to Hannah again. “The Lord killeth, the Lord maketh alive. The Lord bringeth down, and the Lord raiseth up.” Jehovah does it. Hannah said it some 500 years before Nebuchadnezzar, and 3000 years before Napoleon.
I want you to turn with me to the book of Isaiah. In chapter 14, God gives a clear picture of His plan for Nebuchadnezzar. He really paints the outlines very clearly so that at least 150 years before what happened in Daniel 4, God foretold it to His people. His people had to know that things do not come by chance.
The first thing God wanted Israel to know was that people like Nebuchadnezzar were just slaves of God. Did you know that? God had said before, “In my plan, I raised up Nebuchadnezzar. I made him conquer, and gave Egypt and all the countries of the world to him. I made them weak; for he is my slave. He will do according to my plan.” Even in Nebuchadnezzar’s power, God was using him.
Church of Christ, let me stop here a moment and remind you that you live in a day that is fearful, and it will get worse. We move toward the time that God speaks of in II Thessalonians 2, when the man of sin, the great wicked one, shall be revealed. There is a day coming where a great man like Nebuchadnezzar shall rise up who maybe will rule all the world. It is for you to know that God raised him up and it is His purpose. God raised him up that He might put him down, that at the coming of Jesus Christ every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. God raises men up to confess the sovereignty of God.
In Isaiah 4:4 we read, “Thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon…” This is the song that God gave His people to sing. He taught them 150 years before so that when they could see that old king now eating grass, being pushed along by the herdsman, hit over the back by a cowboy, they might know. “Take this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, ‘How hath the oppressor ceased! The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers.’”
Let us go down to verse 9, “Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.” The picture of hell here is Sheol or Hades, the abode of the dead. The whole world of the dead are lying in their graves. All the great dead kings of the past see Nebuchadnezzar coming down to death. They sit upon their thrones, and all the great kings throughout history look at him, and they say, “Art thou also become weak as we: art thou become like us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.”
Here comes Nebuchadnezzar, and all the dead say from their graves, “You are become one like us? You too are fallen. You too shall have a bed of worms and blankets of worms to cover you.” It reminds us of King Herod later in the city of Tyre when God sent an angel to strike him. He was eaten by worms. The almighty God, Jehovah the God of Israel, sends Nebuchadnezzar down to the grave, the abode of the dead. “How art thou fallen from heaven, 0 Lucifer, son of the morning. How art thou cut down to the ground which did weaken the nations!”
Nebuchadnezzar, the great and only king and the hope for all peoples, as he proclaims himself to be, was brought down. “For thou hath said in thine heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven.’” These are shades and echoes of Babel and Babylon again. “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I shall be like the Most High.”
Again, church of Jesus Christ, you not only see a Nebuchadnezzar, but you see the great men of today. Many scientists will say, “I will tell you where man came from and where man is going. The government will tell you. I will say what is right and what is wrong. I will decree what is murder and what is not murder.” They exalt themselves to the throne of God. They will say what is right and what is wrong. “It’s right to kill an unborn baby. It’s wrong to kill a swan,” they say. They will be God, and exalt themselves.
It is coming here also. The eternal Jehovah says, “Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell…they that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, ‘Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake the kingdoms? That made the world a wilderness, that destroyed the cities thereof, that opened not the house of his prisoners?’” All these are the great men of the ages.
You will see the greatest men of all time brought down to the grave by the Word of Jehovah, the God of Israel. You will also see the great and terrible leaders of today bent down, crushed to the shades of Hades by the mighty word of our God.
Isaiah 14:24 says, “The Lord of hosts, (that is, Jehovah of hosts) hath sworn saying, ‘Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.’” God wrote that down 150 years before it happened so that His people might read and say, “Yes, that is our God. He told us exactly what He was going to do. Verse 26 says. “This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand (Jehovah’s hand) that is stretched out upon all the nations. For Jehovah of hosts has purposed, and who shall disannul it? His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?”
150 years later, our sovereign God took Nebuchadnezzar’s hand and made him write his own personal confession, “And none can stay His hand and none can say unto Him, ‘What are you doing?’” No one stops the hand of Jehovah.
Church of Jesus Christ, that decree is true for today too. It is the same Jehovah who rules for His people today. He lets His people know His plans. He speaks to those who are familiar with their Father, those who walk closely to Him in their living and in their reading of His Word. They know and can understand what the purposes of God are.
So when great and mighty men arise – the Hitlers, Napoleons and Stalins – they come as no surprise to God’s people. For as Nebuchadnezzar says in verse 17, “He setteth up even the basest of men.” It is His purpose in all the earth. God’s sovereignty alone is displayed, as Nebuchadnezzar says, “whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing.” Nothing!
The whole earth is like a big hill of ants. The biggest ant could start up and do what he wants. The whole army of ants could rebel against you. They could say, “We are going to rebel against this man. We are going to rule here.” Yet with one kick of your foot, the whole ant hill is upside down. That is the Lord as He sees the nations. One word from Jehovah and everything is upside down. That is the sovereignty of our God.
In Revelation 17, God speaks about the Babylon of the last days – today. The same Babylon, the same power, the same might, the same pride of man, the same king who says, “All of you depend upon me for your daily food, for your protection, for everything you have. I have wisdom and understanding. I have knowledge of right and wrong.” Babylon will tell you.
God says in Revelation 17:17, “For God had put into their hearts to fulfil His will.” He is sovereign. He is ruling. Even in their rebellion, God almighty has them in His two hands. He turns them exactly the way He wants. They defy God and say, “But we are in the place of God.” God says that He put in their hearts to fulfil His Word, His will. He makes them give their kingdom to the beast until the word of God shall be fulfilled. The Lord’s sovereignty is displayed in His plan and His will carries it out.
Finally, church of Christ, God’s sovereignty is exercised as Jehovah, as the covenant God. He is the God who has covenanted with His people, not a God who sovereignly rules in isolation. He is not an arbitrary God who merely throws things around, but a God whose sovereignty is exercised for His people and His purposes, that His people might be a glory unto His name and a praise to Him.
First of all, I want you to see that God’s sovereign plans are always revealed to His people. We are not kept in the dark; God shows Himself and His plans.
There is another dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. He did not even know what it was and all the wise men could not tell it. But Daniel said, “There is a God in heaven who reveals secrets.” There is a God in heaven who speaks, only to His people. You are that people. The world works for Babylon. The magicians, soothsayers, sorcerers, astrologers and wise men finally have to confess that they can’t get a handle on the future. “The gods live beyond us and we live here,” they say.
But the Israel of God, the people whose name is “my God is judge,” the Daniels are always able to confess that there is a God in Israel who reveals secrets. He lets us know. He does not keep us in the dark. He is a revealer. He revealed it to Daniel a year before it happened. He revealed it to His people through the prophecy of Isaiah 150 years before it happened. God does not keep secrets from His people. His sovereignty is exercised with the unfolding of His plans to His people.
Now the question comes to you, “Has God revealed His plans to you? Or do you live in the middle of life completely puzzled and turned upside-down by new developments in the world and the general confusion? Does it take you totally by surprise? Perhaps we don’t spend enough time looking at the world through the spectacles of God’s Word, so we can see God’s sovereign plans unfolding.
In Matthew 24, Jesus Christ said, “See, I have told you before.” I let you know about my plans. Let us not neglect that Word of God. He reveals His sovereign plans in covenant with His people. “My God is judge” is the name of Daniel. My God – He belongs to me.
He is the sovereign God of all the world, who takes Nebuchadnezzar and squeezes him like putty. And that hand that squeezed Nebuchadnezzar’s brain is the hand that holds mine. He is my God, the God of His people, the God of Israel. Even in their sin, even in their captivity, even as He punishes them, He is still their God. Even in judgment He says in Jeremiah 31:1, “Yet I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”
The identity of God and His people is complete. It comes down to His great love for His people. God’s sovereignty is exercised in this world. He takes the world leaders and every great man that exalts himself against God, and He turns them this way, He twists them that way. He pushes them around, raises them up, knocks them down. This is all for one reason: He loves His people. Do you want to be identified as one of His people? Or do you want to be a great man of the world whom God takes and crushes?
The world keeps telling the church, “Come on out, be great.” God says to His people, “Oh my despised people; weak, poor, captive – look at what I am doing. I do it all for love of you.” The purpose of God is what we find in Psalm 2, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree…” This is the decree: There will be no Nebuchadnezzar. But there will be a king, a sole ruler in this world. There will be a tree under whose branches all shall take refuge, and from whose limbs fruit shall nourish His people. A tree came that God sent into the world to become despised and rejected of men.
It was a branch of His planting, that was, so to speak, cut down out of the land of the living, as Isaiah says in chapter 53. But it was a branch that Jehovah would exalt. There would be a king that Hannah sang about, “He shall give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.” You know what the word in the New Testament for “anointed” is, don’t you? Christ! He will exalt His Christ. The sovereignty of God will be shown. There is a sole ruler, the Christ of God.
Oh how great it is that we can see that God’s sovereignty was exercised. He pushed this Nebuchadnezzar aside to raise up a sole ruler, a sovereign, a monarch, a king. God says in Daniel 7:13-14, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man come with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one which shall not be destroyed.’
That is the Christ of God, isn’t it? He came for His people. It says in verse 27, “And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.” God almighty is exercising His sovereignty in the world of that day, the day of Nebuchadnezzar. He brought this great man down that His people might truly believe that He would raise up a king of His own choosing, His own son and the son of His people to be the sole ruler and king. He brought it to pass, didn’t He? And He is going to bring it to pass for His people. Jesus Christ rules and will rule all things. The saints shall rule the earth. Our God is sovereign, and my God is judge. Amen.