Chain of Command - Daniel 4

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In any place of employment there is a “chain of command”. A person who works on the line in a large factory does not negotiate contracts. A teacher is not free to expel children. Even the President must submit to the laws of Congress and the interpretations of the court. Even those who are self-employed are subject to government regulations and tax laws.

This morning we are going to read about yet another dream of the leader of Babylon. This dream warned of severe consequences to the King if He did not acknowledge that God is the only One who is truly Sovereign (or in charge).

It is difficult to place this story in the life of Daniel. When the book of Daniel begins, Daniel is in his teens. When the book ends, Daniel is somewhere around 80 years old. Nebuchadnezzar reigned for 43 years and Daniel arrived in Babylon at the beginning of that reign. We can’t really be sure when this takes place but that has no impact on the significance or validity of the story.

The chapter actually begins at the end of the story. Notice, the story is told primarily in the first person by Nebuchadnezzar.  He seems to be a changed man and was writing to tell what happened to him.

2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.

3How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders!

His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.

This text (and the one at the end of the chapter) has led many to conclude that Nebuchadnezzar came to true faith in God. In other words, they believe we will see Nebuchadnezzar in Heaven. God alone knows the heart of men and women. However, after this chapter you may lean toward the idea that the Emperor came to truly believe.

The Dream and Its Interpretation

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream one night that terrified him (5). He saw a large, strong, and abundantly fruitful tree. An angel came from heaven, cut down the tree and bound the stump with chains. The angel then announced that “he” (15) (the tree is now revealed to represent a man) would live with the animals and would think he was an animal too. This would last until seven “times” passed by. Nebuchadnezzar had a feeling the dream had something to do with him.

The King again called for the scholars and wise men of Babylon but they were unable (or unwilling) to give the interpretation of the dream. Daniel finally arrived before the King (either he or the King may have been out of town). Nebuchadnezzar remembered that Daniel had a special gift from God. In verse 9 we see that Daniel is still the “chief of the magicians”.

After listening to the dream Daniel was “dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him.” Daniel knew what the dream meant. Daniel had grown to know and I think, respect the King, and so he was especially distressed by the negative message of the dream. After some prodding, Daniel told the King what the dream meant.

The large tree was Nebuchadnezzar. He was great and people depended on him. The part where the tree is chopped down and the stump tied in chains is explained by Daniel,

24 “This is the interpretation, O king, 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 cattle 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 the kingdoms of men 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. (20-26)

In case you missed it: The dream foretold that the King was going to be driven away from the people and he would live with, and live like the wild animals, It would last for seven “times” (most likely seven years but we can’t be sure). He would be restored when he recognized that God was in charge, not him.

Daniel, boldly warned the King,

Therefore, O king, 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.” [27]

Daniel understood that a person (or a nation) who truly repents (turns away from their God-resisting rebellion) and changes their ways can escape the Judgment of God. Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar changed his attitude for awhile. However, as time passed, the warning of Daniel and the message of the dream seemed less threatening. He returned to his old ways.

Think back to the horrors of 9/11. For the week that followed the attack people flocked to church and bombarded the throne room of God with prayers. We knew we needed Him to protect us. However, as the weeks went on church membership diminished and the religious intensity gave way to “business as usual”. The same thing happened here.

Twelve months later Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of the royal palace admiring the city he had built. We happen to know that there was much to admire. Babylon contained two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Hanging Gardens and the city walls.  The story goes that Nebuchadnezzar built the gardens for his wife who was homesick for the mountains of her homeland. The gardens are reported to have had a very sophisticated watering system. The walls of the city were so wide that it is said there was enough space on the top for a four-horse chariot to turn around!

Babylon was quite a city. It truly was the center of the world in that day. As Nebuchadnezzar looked around he felt a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Then he said, “Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty”.(Ooops!)

Immediately, Nebuchadnezzar recounts that he heard a voice from Heaven,

O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time [could also be seasons] shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. (31-32)

 After this message “He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagle’s feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.”

I don’t blame you for a raised eyebrow here. The story is pretty bizarre. Surprisingly, there is an actual syndrome named “Lycanthropy”. It is when a person actually believes themselves to be a wolf or other animal. There are known illustrations of effects that are very similar to what happened to Nebuchadnezzar.

But how could this happen to a world leader without it ending up in the history books? One of my favorite movies is the movie “Dave” it stars Kevin Kline as a man who did look-a-like appearances as the President of the United States. The actual President had a stroke and Dave was brought in to play the President to keep from a “de-stabilization of world power”. In the movie the look-a-like is a better President than the actual President. The point is that it is possible to keep such a thing a secret.

If you know your history, you know that Woodrow Wilson’s wife ran the country after Wilson had a stroke. She wouldn’t let anyone see him and insisted that everything run through her. Historians believe she was making the decisions in his name.

In the time of Nebuchadnezzar it was fairly common for a Father and Son to serve as Co-Emperors at the same time (almost like an apprenticeship). It is very possible that this was what happened here. Nebuchadnezzar went crazy but his son continued to rule so no one thought anything of it.

When this period was over Nebuchadnezzar was brought to his senses. He realized that he was no match for the power of the Lord God Almighty. Nebuchadnezzar cried “Uncle”. When he repented he was restored to power. The King had been changed and wanted to share that change with everyone. Nebuchadnezzar tells his story to “the peoples, nations and men of every language who live in all the world.”

Nebuchadnezzar understood why this all happened. The angel told him,

17‘so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.’

This whole experience was meant to be a dramatic object lesson. Nebuchadnezzar needed to learn who it is that is really in charge. He needed to be shown that the Lord alone sets up and takes down rulers. In other words, it is about chain of command. The Lord God is the sole Ruler of the world. There is no one who is His equal. No one can stand unless He gives His permission.

God had made His point in the life of the King. Hopefully He will make the point in our lives before something this drastic is necessary.


There are several things for us to learn from this strange account. First, we are reminded again that the Lord is Kingw. It doesn’t matter how much we have accomplished or how many awards we have won. We can do nothing apart from the Lord.

He gives us each day of life

He provides for our needs

He opens and closes doors of opportunity

He takes the seeds we plant and causes the growth

He is the One who alone brings people to faith

Think about how much of our conversation is spent jockeying for position. We trumpet our accomplishments, display our awards and press clippings, and work desperately to prove our significance. Why? Because we think that significance, influence, power and abundance are the true measurement of life. We must learn the lesson of Nebuchadnezzar: the key to life is learning to submit to the One who is Sovereign over all. Are you taking pride in what you have created instead of giving honor to the Lord?

Every time we choose to do things our way rather than the Lord’s way we are in essence saying, “Look at the Kingdom that I have built”. We are ignoring the chain of command and that is a dangerous thing to do. A person who ignores the chain of command must be brought back into their proper position. If it can’t be done the easy way more drastic measures are taken. That might involve demoting someone or even firing them from the job. We should learn from Nebuchadnezzar.

Second We see the Power of God to Change a Life. In this text we see a hard stubborn King brought to his knees and seemingly transformed by the power of God. Many years later a powerful religious leader named Saul had the same experience. God brought him to his knees, changed his heart and changed his name to Paul.

We are much too quick to pronounce people a “lost cause”. It may be a rambunctious child or a self-absorbed adult; a political dictator or an abusive spouse or parent; it may be the addict, a person of a different faith, or the person with a devastating psychological problem. This passage reminds us that God can change any heart!

As his followers our job is not to pronounce people “beyond hope”. Our job is to bombard the throne of God with prayers for His powerful intervention in the lives of these people. Our task is to see the possibilities rather than fixate on the liabilities. We must be people who believe that God can indeed change a human heart.

Here’s a challenge for you: Look for those in your life who are difficult people. Look for those whom you believe are “unlikely” to come to faith. Then begin to pray. Remind yourself of God’s power to change a life. Ask God to help you see with His eyes and with His heart. Deliberately tap into the power of God. If you will pray and be available to the Lord to be used in that person’s life you may be surprised at what God is able to do.

If you are one of those people who have been labeled and “tossed aside” please hear this: God has not given up on you! The situation is not hopeless. You are not a loser even though you may have lost your way. God does not give up as easily as the rest of the world. He made you. He loves you. He sees what you can become. Stop hiding behind that wall of defense and dare to trust the One who wants to make you new.

The Bible is filled with men and women who were labeled “losers” by the world. God took those people and used them to change the world! He would like to do the same with you.

Third, we are reminded that God never does something without giving people a way out. You have to admire Daniel. He knew the dream was negative. He told the truth to the King even though he knew it could get him tossed in the furnace. He not only interpreted the dream, he said, “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.”(27) The prophets always warned the people of God’s approached judgment.

We live in a nation of excuse-makers. We blame our parents, our genes, our environment. We talk about addiction as if it is something that excuses responsibility. The truth is that we have trouble in life because we refuse to change direction and do what God has told us to do. We blame God for our struggles but He is not to blame . . we are!

Are you ignoring some warning today? Are you in some kind of a mess because you have ignored what God has told you? If so, take responsibility, heed the warning, and make the necessary changes.

Finally, We see the importance of guarding our hearts against pride. It is always tempting to measure our lives by the accolades of men or the mountains we have scaled. It is good to have a good reputation and there is nothing wrong with having success in what you do. The problem develops when we view these things not as blessings from the hand of God, but as evidence of our superiority over others. When we allow these things to make us feel that we don’t need the Lord . . . we are in trouble.

So how do we combat pride in our lives?

Think often of this passage. Remind yourself that everything we have and are can be taken away in an instant. This reminds us that they are not of lasting importance. Continually refocus your life on the Lord. Remind yourself that He alone is worthy of worship. Think often about the greatness of God. Humility comes as we measure ourselves by one far greater than ourselves.

Remind yourself of the grim reality of your own sin. Spend time looking not just at the progress that you have made but also spend time looking at the progress that still needs to be made. An awareness of our own sin will keep us from being arrogant in terms of the sin of others.

Recall that we are saved not because we are good but because God is merciful. If we got what we deserved we would be banished from God’s presence forever. Living with an awareness of God’s mercy and grace takes the wind out of the sails of pride.

Make an effort to talk less about yourself and your accomplishments. The Bible says, “Let another praise you and not yourselves.”(Proverbs 27:2)  We feel we have to broadcast our achievements otherwise people won’t notice how “praiseworthy” we are. Let’s be honest, people who brag are tiresome and we want to get away from them as fast as possible. Instead of trumpeting our good deeds to others, we would be better off to confess our failures and weakness. People respond to genuineness, humility, and honesty. Work hard to show an interest in the lives of others. Celebrate their accomplishments. Let them talk. Let them have the spotlight.

When we stop being self-absorbed we will begin to see not only the Lord . . . but we will also see others. We will see their strengths and their beauty. In other words, when we stop promoting and exalting ourselves we will begin to see with the eyes of Christ. We will come to understand His heart, His greatness, and we will come to appreciate and celebrate His mercy and grace. Life will be richer.

This account from the life of Nebuchadnezzar is odd but it is not meant to amuse us. It is here as a warning about the danger of pride. When we push God aside and glorify ourselves we are asking for trouble. But when we learn to abide by the chain of command in life, we will not feel oppressed; we will discover that as we serve Him we will find what we had been looking for all along.

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