Pride comes before the Fall
Daniel 4 “Pride comes before the fall”
(PPT) Jesus told the story of two men who lived in Jerusalem. One was a humble, poor beggar who loved the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The other was a proud, wealthy man who looked down upon the poor beggar and never took the time to look up to the living and true God. They died about the same time. Since Lazarus, the poor beggar, was trusting in Jesus Christ alone for his salvation, he immediately went to Heaven.
(PPT) The wealthy man died and found himself in the torment of Hell. Now he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side. He begged and pleaded that Abraham would send Lazarus to him for just a moment so he could dip his finger in water and cool his tongue because he was in such agony.
Abraham answered, “No.” He said, “There is a great chasm fixed so that no one in Heaven can cross over into Hell and no one in Hell can ever cross over into Heaven”. Then the proud, wealthy man begged and pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to his five brothers to tell them about this place of torment so they would not end up there. The wealthy man now understood how his pride and prosperity had kept his heart away from the Lord, and he was desperate to get his message out so his family would not end up in the same torment. He said, “I beg you, Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:27, 28).
Can you see the urgency and the passion of this proud, wealthy man to get this message out to his loved ones? But it was too late; there was nothing he could do now!
And when you turn to Daniel 4, King Nebuchadnezzar did have the same urgency and passion to tell his people. He said it himself in verses 1, “Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples…His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and his dominion is from generation to generation”. He concludes in verse 37, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honour the King of Heaven, for all His works are true and His ways are just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride”.
What was it that he wanted to tell his people? It is this, “Pride comes before the fall”, he says it, “He is able to humble those who walk in pride”. How did he learn it? Well, he learnt it through the worst experience of his life.
(PPT) It begins with a nightmare. The first time he had a troubling dream about the great statue we read in Daniel 2 and he had sleepless nights! Now, here again, he receives another nightmare about the great tree. He said it himself in verse 5, “I saw a dream and it made me fearful…and alarming me”. I wonder why he had this troubling dream or nightmare.
Well, let me tell you, the king still hasn’t grasped it, that’s why. Up till this point, he had heard God’s message through Daniel & three friends, but it only got into his head and not his heart.
In Daniel 2, Daniel revealed to the king that his kingdom and the succeeding kingdoms will fall. But in the midst of that, the Sovereign God would establish a Kingdom that will last forever. In response, the king replied, “Surely your God is a God of all gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of this mystery” (2: 47).
Notice that he said “a God among all gods, a Lord of kings…” This tells us that he acknowledged Daniel’s God but he had not yet grasped it.
When the King witnessed how God protected the three Jews from harm and delivered them from the burning furnace. What was the king’s response? Well, the king only impressed by the miracle, so, he passed a law that no one was to speak against the God of the faithful Jews (3: 28-29). But he’s still not yet bowed down and worshipped the Sovereign God – still hasn’t grasped it.
In Daniel 4, God gives him another troubling dream so as to make this powerful and prosperous king to bow down and acknowledge God as the God who must be worshiped, not the king or his kingdom and power. This time he grasped it. Of course, he had to learn it through the hard way. He personally tells us his experience from verses 4-33.
It begins with verse 4, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace”. This man had enjoyed the good life & luxury. He had grown in great success. He was king of the greatest empire in the world at the time, Babylon. You could imagine him sitting and relaxing in his palace called the Hanging Garden, one of the 7 wonders of the world.
The Babylonians worship and believe gods but Nebuchadnezzar was an exception. He would not bow his knee to anyone—no human and no gods, not even the Babylonian gods. Daniel & three friends had been faithfully witnessed to the king, and he had come to recognise Yahweh, the God of heavens and earth. Still, he would not bow down and worship the Sovereign God.
This king was content, prosperous, successful, and proud, but he just refused to accept that the Sovereign God over the kingdoms of men including his own kingdom and powers. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 19: 23, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven”.
(PPT) So here’s the message of Daniel 4: the Sovereignty of God is over all human kings and kingdoms. Everyone, including Nebuchadnezzar, must grasp the truth and submit to His Sovereignty. The narrator makes it very clear what’s the central emphasis by repeating the “Most High” is ruler and sovereign, five times in vs. 2, 17, 24, 25, & 32. I hope you do see it. But why this message is that important? Why it’s so crucial for the king to grasp the Most High God was sovereign over the kingdom of men?
Put it this way, King Nebuchadnezzar was not an atheist. In fact, no one in the ancient world was an atheist. The king might not believe in Sovereign Yahweh, the God of heaven and earth, but he certainly believed in some kinds of gods who ruled in the heavens above.
The Babylonians made some kind of sacrifices every now and then. So, in that sense, the king and the people in the ancient world were never an atheist.
But the problem is, these gods were confined themselves up there in the spiritual realm - they do not live among the mortal beings. This is what the king’s wise men said in 2: 11, “…there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal beings”. So, these gods have no authority over the earthly realm. They left the human beings to look after themselves.
That gives us a clue why the king believed that he alone was supreme power on earth. Even Daniel recognized it, he said in 4: 22, “it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth”. Like the glorious tree in the dream, his power and kingdom spread like branches wide and far, and every creature depended on it for shelter & food.
But the king he failed to recognise this: (PPT) power breeds pride. Yes, he was prosperous and successful and contented but he began to think he’s supreme and he did not need God anymore. He thought he had everything, self-sufficient and self-assured king, but Daniel 4 tells us that he still lacked something important – the need of God.
That’s why God sends him a message. Nebuchadnezzar needed to grasp that God was Sovereign and ruled over his earthly kingdoms and all the kingdoms of men, no matter how powerful they think they are. (PPT) This was clearly announced to the king in verse 17, “The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, 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”. (PPT) Like what Apostle Peter says, “God opposes the proud but he gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5: 5),
So, we are talking about an important Christian theology – the Sovereignty of God, and that’s the central theme here. He rules over all human powers and authorities. But so what? What does God’s Sovereignty has to do with us today. This is important. Theology must come down to earth because God is among us, and He’s interested what’s happening in our life here on earth. I can think of three reasons why this truth is fundamentally important. If we don’t grasp it, we will have trouble to live our life faithfully & excellently.
(PPT) First is accountability. One of the major problems facing the world is its attempt to construct a ‘universal morality’, especially for those who called themselves atheists. They lecture on moral education without believing the Sovereign God, but have all this solves the problem of human miseries?
Many nations and institutions who do not acknowledge the sovereignty of God have tried but none has succeeded, but why? This is very simple.(PPT)The Scripture, especially Daniel 4, we believe the Sovereignty of God and He rules all humans powers and kingdoms, and He holds all men accountable for acts of right and wrong.
If men do not accept or believe in the Sovereignty of God, what is then the basis for holding on to a morality of good and evil? Ravi Zacharias, a stimulating bible teacher from India, he wrote a book entitled, “Without God, man has no life”.
(PPT) That is to say, without God, there is no absolute definition of what is good and right, no matter how sincere people are. As a result, human powers take on the role of God and they define what is good and right according to what they believe or accept in their kingdom or society. They decide what is right or wrong in their own eyes as in the days of Judges. Even if they commit atrocities, there is nothing to stop them. That explains why we see so much social chaos nowadays – everyone does what is right in his own eyes!
That is what Nebuchadnezzar was in danger of. He’s the most powerful human king. He believed he was supreme and hence put everyone under his thumb. He decides what is right and good for the people. Anyone found against him or disobeyed his rules and ethics, they would be put to death. We saw that in chapters 2 & 3.
But in the dream, God revealed to him that He holds all human kingdoms and power accountable. Verse 27 tells us what God expects of him as king, be kind to the oppressed and show mercy to the poor. Obviously, the king failed in this, and hence Daniel called on him, “break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities”. He must renounce his sin and do what is right.
(PPT) Don’t you think this is a sober reminder to us all? He has saved us from His wrath, redeemed and forgiven, and He has shown us mercy and grace. As a result of that saving faith, here I believe God expects us to be kind to the oppressed and show mercy to the poor just as He has shown it to us. Most of us work and serve in the society throughout the week, is there someone who needs to be shown mercy and kindness? Perhaps people or person whom the society regards contributing little to the prosperity and progress of the nation, is there such a person? That is what it means to “live faithfully and excellently” by our acts of kindness and mercy to others.
(PPT) There is a second reason why it is important for us to remember the Sovereignty of God, and that is humility. He is sovereign and He rules over all human powers, kings and kingdoms. Verse 17 tells us he gives kingdoms and powers to anyone He wishes and puts the humblest men over them. Many leaders and kings may think they are the ones who set up kingdoms and powers, they sincerely believe they work it all out with their hands and powers, but ultimately, it is God who appoints ordinary and humblest individuals to rule on earth.
My point is that: (PPT) be humble! That’s what God want to teach Nebuchadnezzar, but he had forgotten what Daniel told him earlier in 3: 37, “You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory”!
He had enjoyed great success and prosperity, and instead of humble, he became proud and arrogance! He said it in verse 30, “…Is 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?”
(PPT) Notice that there are two parts to pride in verse 30 itself. One is “I myself” and the other “For the glory of my majesty”. In other words, what Nebuchadnezzar is saying is this: “by my power and for my glory”, and that’s the heartbeat of pride - by my power for my glory, I built the great Babylon and this kingdom!
Of course, that’s not just the king’s problem – it’s a major problem for many people, including us. What do most people think when they say, “by my power”? They say that is the source of their greatness and success. When I have achieved what I have built, this is all my intelligence and hard work. This is all my human powers to my success and achievements. John Piper put it this way, (PPT) “pride gives us the pleasure of independent, self-determining and self-sufficient” – how true that is!
It all came from me and through me, like Tom Jones’ sang his song, “I did it my way”, but, look, for whose benefits? Nebuchadnezzar says, “For my glory” – it all about the enjoyment of my glory. It brings us self-glorification. That’s the essence of pride. It desires glory and glamour that come from our earthly achievements. Pride makes us the recipients of greatness and success – for my glory.
(PPT) Again, John Piper summarises it well, pride is “the enjoyment of self-sufficiency rather than God-sufficiency and the enjoyment of self-exaltation rather than God-exaltation”.
Some of us may enjoy a powerful and successful position on earth, but we have the tendency to think we establish it or set it up by our power – I did it all by myself! So, this passage reminds us: don’t let power and success gets to your head, and that’s what God reminds Nebuchadnezzar also. Like Nebuchadnezzar, we forget the One whom we worship, we forget He’s the One who makes us successful.
When we forget that God is the Master and Giver of all that we achieve and enjoy, we are prone to pride and arrogance, and that’s the worse enemy of our soul. In his book, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis called it “the great sin” because not only it created enmity between man and man, but also between man and God.
That is what God warned his people about in the OT at the time of Exodus. (PPT) He says in Deuteronomy 8: 10-18, “When you have eaten and are satisfied…be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…you may say to yourself, ‘My power and strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me’…”
So, beware. You & I must guard against it. Pride had caused Nebuchadnezzar to forget God, and it can cause us to forget God too. All of us living in this modern and technological advancing world where everyone is saying, “My power and strength of my hands have produced this wealth or success for me”.
If we are not careful, we can get so caught up, full of pride, and then forget the Lord our God, saying, “I have what I need, why do I need God?” If we forget God, ignore Him, reject Him, we lose our life. That is what Jesus says in Mark 8: 36, “For what does it forfeit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”
I read a short success story of Bill Gates, the man behind Microsoft giant, the richest man on earth, and everyone admires and envies his success. The sad thing is that, he does not believe in the sovereignty of God. He believes that it was his “intelligence and hard work and competiveness” put him where he is today. He echoes Nebuchadnezzar’s slogan, “I did it by my power and for my glory!” He does not recognise the Grace of God who gives him all his wealth and Microsoft success. His power & pride have caused him to forget God.
A pastor was relating a marriage wedding he performed for a godly young couple. They were faithful in the work of the kingdom and talked much about the Lord. After they were married, they both started working in hopes of getting enough money for a home. The husband worked two jobs and became less regular at church. They soon bought their house and worked even harder to fill it with things & decorations.
Soon they both drifted away from the church, from His word, from fellowship of believers. The pastor visited them, and they had grown completely cold to the things of the Lord. They weren’t interested at all. In just a few short years their marriage ended, period.
That is what the Apostle John warns us about in his epistle 1 John 2: 15-16, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eye and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world”.
(PPT) Finally, there is humiliation. Daniel urged the king to recognise and accept God’s Sovereignty over his life, and be humble in his achievements and powers because God is the one who gives it all to him. In verse 27, Daniel urged the king to repent and do what’s right by showing mercy to the poor, but did he?
He might have listened to the warning about the danger of pride, but whether he repented from it or not, the narrator never informs us. Even, if he had taken in the warning, it looks like he had forgotten about the message again. The narrator tells us in verses 29-30, “twelve months later”, the king reflected, “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?”
In other words, he returns to his arrogance and pride again. He heard the warning message, but he didn’t grasp it. And now, he still has not learnt or he simply refuses to take heed. As a result, God permits the king to suffer humiliation.
Reading from verses 32-33, for seven long years, Nebuchadnezzar wandered like a wild beast in the desert. He ate grass like an ox, his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle, and his nails were like the claws of a bird. Now I wonder what that looks like. I manage to obtain a closest picture to describe the king’s humiliation, and it looks like this… (PPT)
(PPT) Some OT commentaries mention that he suffered some kind of mental disorder called zoanthropy – a person thinks he’s a beast and acts like a beast. Or, lycanthropy, a person thinks he is a wolf and develops the appetite of a wolf. Such insanity makes a person outcast and incapable of human responsibilities, as the narrator says in v.33, “he was driven away from mankind”.
So, you see, this is a tragic situation. Here’s one of the greatest, most prosperous, most powerful human kings to ever live and now utterly and completely humiliated. Now the question is: why did God allow Nebuchadnezzar to go through such painful experience? Is this all necessary? What’s the point of this painful experience?
I believe that reason is to show Nebuchadnezzar that God despises the proud and give grace to the humble. God wants to show Nebuchadnezzar the “cruelty of pride”. When a man wants to become like God, he becomes like an animal. Pride, arrogance, puts man in a class with the beasts of the field. That’s the point of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity.
God had warned the king through Daniel in verses 24-25, and it came to pass. Daniel urged him to take heed and repent and this would not happen, but he didn’t. He could have discovered the truth in the easy way, but instead, the painful way.
Certainly there is a precious lesson for us all, don’t you agree? (PPT) If we refuse to honor God’s glory, we lose our own glory. If we refuse to receive His sovereign control in our life, we lose our own control. If we refuse to repent and believe Him, the day will come when we may lose that opportunity. When we refuse to share what we have with those in need, we become poorer than the poor. If we refuse to take heed of God’s warning signs in our lives, we cannot escape their consequences.
It had happened to the Israelites, and now it happens in Nebuchadnezzar’s experience, and I believe it still can happen today. And when we look closely at Nebuchadnezzar’s experience of disorder, all this is a result of man’s persistence rebellion against God.
And no doubt, some of the saddest of all sufferings in human experiences are the disorder of minds or mental illness and some of these have complex “disorders of mind” that are beyond cure.
There are times I see some families face with those struggles. For them, it would take a longsuffering, patient, love, understanding, and most of all, the grace of God to deal with these problems we are facing today. In some of these cases, restorative process not only long, but also may seem impossible, humanly speaking.
But the good part is that through this valley of humiliation, though it was painful experience, by the grace of God, Nebuchadnezzar was saved and kept to witness the praise to God. At the end of the 7 years painful experience, Nebuchadnezzar said, “I Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praise and honoured Him who loves forever” (v.34). Then he went on to acknowledge the Sovereignty of God in verse 35.
That’s what the valley of humiliation is all about. It brings the king to his knees. He gets back his sanity only to sing and proclaim the Sovereignty of God. The slogan before was “By my power and for my glory”, but now, “By His power and for His glory”. Before this, the only sovereignty he accepts is his own, his kingdom and power, but now, Nebuchadnezzar pondering God’s sovereignty, praising and honouring God’s Sovereignty and he now enjoys, delights and rests in it.
Where did he learn all that? He learnt all that through the valley of humiliation – a painful experience of his life. In fact, God had been dealing with Nebuchadnezzar. In chapter 2, God uses nightmares and troubling dreams, challenged by his own officials who refused to bow down in worship of the king’s golden image, but the king just refused submit to God. So, finally, through the valley of humiliation, sickness and affliction, the king was brought down to his knees to recognise and worship the Sovereign God.
All this while, Nebuchadnezzar thought he was supreme, sovereign, self-reliance, independence, and he did not see any need of God and His grace. He did not see any need to bow down to worship God because he himself is a god and people worshipped him.
That tells us something. (PPT) You can’t receive grace if you spiritually don’t think you need it. If you spiritually are self-reliant you are not even in a position to embrace it because you don’t think you need it. And it is precisely this God is dealing with in Nebuchadnezzar. He had to break him down, deal with his state of pride and arrogance before he’s willing to embrace God’s grace and sovereignty.
Now, we can either do it the easy way or the hard way. I’m sure those of you who are parents, your children would know that there is one thing they feared most in the house – Mr. Belt or Mr. Cane. Sometimes I use it to our children, and I would say something like this, “Do you want Mr. Cane?” If they don’t respond, I always have one last chance and the words are like this, “Girls, we can do this the easy way or the hard way”.
That is precisely the case with Nebuchadnezzar. He could have done it the easy way but the king rejected it. He refused to repent, refused to acknowledge and worship the Sovereign God, so the Lord did it the hard way. He permits Nebuchadnezzar to experience a painful humiliation.
I’m sure we all can relate to that in our own experience and life. Because of our rebellion and stubbornness, how many times the Lord has to use sequence of events and life episodes, to bring us to the point of acknowledging Him and to declare our trust in Him? We know circumstances in our lives when we have been going astray and the Lord has had to do it the hard way because we refused to repent under his tender loving care.
Let me finish with a story.
A pastor went to a hospital to visit a dying man who had a severe bone cancer was quickly and painfully eating away his life. He who was not a Christian. The pastor shared the gospel several times, but there was no spiritual response. Nevertheless, a friendship did develop between the pastor & the patient.
As the story goes, it was discovered that the patient was a remarkable self-made man. He had been raised in Spain but this young man turned his back on God and religion completely. He fled his country as a teenager and came to America without a word of English. He worked and studied hard. He eventually went to college and studied psychiatry, using it to confirm his unbelief. Soon, he became wealthy and successful. He became chairman of the psychiatry department of one of our nation’s most prestigious hospitals.
Then the cancer came. In just a few months the bone tumour destroyed the man’s accomplishments of a lifetime. He was once kept in top shape by miles of daily swimming but now the cancer devastated his body.
Even his mind began to deteriorate because of the advances of the disease. Finally, with his spirit broken and his body racked with pain, the man ran out of pride and became tired of his own answers, which really weren’t answers at all.
When the pastor next visited him, the despairing doctor confronted him: “I have treated depression all my life, but I have no answers for what I am going through. If your God really has some answers, please help me with the hell I am experiencing now. Give me some peace—if you can.”
The pastor said, “You have gained everything a man could gain in every avenue of life. You have wealth, respect, intelligence, and achievement. These may all have to be put aside before you gain this thing you want. You have succeeded in every sphere of life except the spiritual, and to succeed there you must not follow any of the rules you have used before.
You cannot conquer the spiritual world by your own efforts. You must first admit your helplessness and inability, confessing that you have nothing to stand on. To enter God’s kingdom and know his peace, you must not come as a self-sufficient man but as a helpless child”.
The man stared at him but remained silent. The pastor prayed with him and soon left. A few days later the cancer had progressed to the extent that the man’s leg broke spontaneously as he moved in his bed. The doctors decided to operate on him, even though he was in such a weakened condition.
On the eve of his operation, the patient wrote the pastor a letter. It began with the Apostle’s Creed written in Spanish. Then the note continued in English with these words: “Jesus, I hate all my sins. I have not served or worshiped you. Father, I know the only way to come into your kingdom is by the precious blood of Jesus. I know you stand at the door and will answer those who knock. I now want to be your lamb, take me with you.”
Did he get heal? The answer is no. He never regained consciousness after his operation. He learned Nebuchadnezzar’s lesson that those who walk in pride, God is able to humble. The Sovereign God chose to break him of his pride with a severe bone cancer. It was the worst thing that ever happened in this man’s life, but in reality it was the best. You know why? He is in Heaven now, where Jesus is saying, “I am with you forever.”
But it need not has to be the hard and painful way. Jesus says, “Come unto Me, all you who are heavy laden and find rest in Me for my yoke is easy” – my yoke is easy! So, don’t make it hard on yourself. If the Lord’s grace is upon you, He’s going to bring you back one way or the other.
But you can spare yourself from having the hard way by being humble and respond to the goodness of His tender loving hands. You can spare yourself the hard way by “repenting & believing” and receiving His gift of Salvation now today.
As Augustine said long ago,(PPT) “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination”. So, don’t procrastinate – come to Him today!