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! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, 21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds— 22 Your Majesty, you 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.
23 “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’
24 “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 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. 27 Therefore, Your Majesty, 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.”
28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. 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.
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.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
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. 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.Daniel 4:19-37
Danielle wanted to walk away, but she couldn’t. It happened at an office Christmas party during the white elephant gift exchange. Everyone had agreed to spend no more than $15.00 on a gift to exchange. However, during the exchange one of the gifts turned out to be a smart watch. The gift was way over the price that everyone had agreed on and she could see who had brought the gift. Becca was smiling as everyone gave in to the pattern of opening gifts and stealing gifts in order to get the expensive watch. The gift ruined the lighthearted intent of the gift exchange, then afterward Becca couldn’t help but make known to everyone how it was nothing for her to bring such an expensive gift. Finally, Becca cornered Danielle bragging to her and Danielle wanted to walk away, but she couldn’t. She knew what Becca needed to hear. Danielle told Becca that she ruined the lighthearted fun of the Christmas party by showing off her wealth. Sinful pride had taken hold of Becca, and pride takes hold of you and I too. In our reading from Daniel 4, we are reminded that God takes away our sinful pride leaving us to walk in humility before the King of Heaven.
Around 600 years before Jesus was born, Daniel along with thousands of Israelites were taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Finally, God’s people had turned away from him so many times, he allowed the Babylonians to destroy the Southern Kingdom of Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem and carry off the Israelites to spend 70 years in exile in Babylon. The harsh punishment of Israel was meant as a wakeup call to return to faith in God as God’s prophets continued to remind them. Daniel served as a prophet and kept his hope in God’s promise to deliver his people from captivity. Daniel was from the tribe of Judah meaning he was connected to the same tribe as King David, King Solomon and King Jesus. Daniel had a lot going for him and King Nebuchadnezzar saw him as a valuable asset for his kingdom. Daniel served at a high level in the Babylonian government bringing him into contact with King Nebuchadnezzar, especially when the King had certain dreams needing interpretation. In Daniel 4, God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream and the interpretation of it to Daniel. The dream revealed something that gave Daniel pause as we hear in verse 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.’” Daniel knew all too well how pride and unbelief bring God’s punishment as a member of the exiled Israelites, and King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream revealed the same was coming for him.
God had used Nebuchadnezzar to punish unrepentant Israel, and now he was going to learn a lesson in repentance. Daniel knew the dream spelled bad news for the King. He held back the interpretation, perhaps because he cared about him or because it is not easy for any of us to share the law and God’s threat of punishment with others. Also, Daniel knew Nebuchadnezzar did not take bad news so well like in Daniel 2 when the King got so mad that he ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be put to death because they could not interpret a dream, and mad enough to throw people into a burning furnace in Daniel 3 when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not bow down to a 90 foot his statue of a false god. Finally, Daniel shared the interpretation of the dream. He told the King that his dream of a huge and powerful tree that would be cut down and the stump bound with chains was the King. God was going to humble the great King Nebuchadnezzar by causing him to go mad living out in the field like an animal taking away his kingdom for a time, but Daniel shared God’s promise that 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 then pleaded with the king, 27 “Therefore, Your Majesty, 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.” Daniel told him to repent if he wanted to be saved from God’s judgment.
Repentance is what saves you from God’s judgment. Repentance comes from faith. It is our faith that causes us to admit we have failed to do what God wants us to do and asks for forgiveness through Jesus. This repentance was the message of John the Baptist in our gospel reading from Matthew 3, 1 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” John was sent by God to prepare the people for Jesus by telling them to admit their sinfulness before the perfect God and ask his forgiveness. Some came to faith and repented through John’s message, 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” The Pharisees and Sadducees did not believe and did not repent, and made it abundantly clear by producing rotten fruit, the most rotten of which was rejecting Jesus and putting him to death on the cross. Like Nebuchadnezzar who put people to death when they defied him, the Pharisees, Sadducees and the supposed people of God, Israel, had been killing God’s messengers for centuries when they called them to repent of their sins. Rejection of God rather than repentance was their pattern and had become as bad as the habit of hitting the snooze on an alarm clock because you don’t want to leave sleep behind to get up and live.
Daniel was brief when he called out Nebuchadnezzar’s sin saying, 22 “Your Majesty, you are that tree!” The message was clear, but Nebuchadnezzar did not listen and a year later, God’s promise came true. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was taken from him because God caused him to lose his mind and live out in the field eating grass like a cow as punishment for his pride and unbelief. At the time of John the Baptist and Jesus, many heard the call to repentance, but rejected. Today many hear the call to repentance but reject. Rejection makes the world violent because rejecting repentance means accepting sin. Accepting sin means each person does whatever they want and when two people want two different things there is conflict, and when the world is filled with people who want different things the conflict intensifies turning hatred, greed and lust into war, famine and broken families. When God’s Word calls you out on being part of the hatred, greed and lust of the earth and you do not listen, but continue to do that sin, you reject the King of Heaven. You and I do this every day, so our lives must be lives of repentance.
Recognizing the King of Heaven, faith in God, means a life of repentance. God punished Nebuchadnezzar for a time, but the King said, 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.” The King of Heaven does not want anyone to be lost. He uses his law to show you your sin and call out to him for forgiveness. We can be confident of our forgiveness in him through our Savior. God revealed how he would save us from the punishment of our sins through Jesus through the words of the prophet Isaiah, 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Jesus was punished for your sins and through his suffering you are healed.
What God has done for us keeps us humble before the King of Heaven. In our reading from Romans 15, Paul gave this message from God, 4 “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Through God’s Word, we have hope. That hope in Jesus makes us humble. It humbles us because we see how God punished pride and gave home to those who trusted him to provide what they needed. In our reading from Daniel 4, we saw Nebuchadnezzar punished for his pride, while Daniel kept his hope in God during his exile in Babylon. Daniel knew Babylon was not his final home and that King Nebuchadnezzar was not his ultimate king. You and I share the same hope as Daniel.
Through our Savior Jesus, we have been rescued from this world of sin and death. While we are still here in the earthly kingdom, it is hard to have hope in heaven. We are surrounded by prideful people and we ourselves still struggle with pride because of our own sinful natures. The way we combat pride and losing hope is through God’s Word. God gives us this encouragement through Paul in Romans 15, 13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We walk in humility when God’s Word fills us with hope. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to strengthen your trust in Jesus. By continuing to gather together with one another because we have the same hope in Jesus joy and peace are ours.
Years after the Christmas party white elephant gift situation Becca came up to Danielle and said, “Thank you for telling me I was wrong for the way I was acting at the Christmas party. It took a long time, but now I see you were right.” This doesn’t always happen, but by God’s grace, this has happened to you. God reveals to you time and time again how you have acted in sinful pride against him. All of this to show you your need for the Savior. Jesus did not walk away from us when the world fell into sin, he came to save you and the world. Thank God that someone showed you your sins, your prideful, selfish unbelieving heart. Thank God that he called you to repentance preparing your heart for the coming of the Savior. Thank God for your brothers and sisters in Christ who continue to share the Word of God with you and want you to be prepared for the Savior’s birth. May the Holy Spirit continue to renew your faith that allows you to walk in humility before the King of Heaven. Amen.