To Be or Not To Be Great

The great Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, king of a world superpower, learns true humility.

by Adriana Timsa Zoder

One day I turned on my shower, only to find lukewarm water flowing out. When I turned on the sink faucet, the water was so hot it almost burned me. I called a friend who knows plumbing and heating systems. “Play with the knob,” he suggested. “Go all the way to cold, then bring it back to hot.” I did what he said, and immediately hot water gushed from the shower.

Strangely, this experience reminded me of King Nebuchadnezzar. He had to go all the way to “cold” before he could get warmth back into his life. He had to lose his mind before he could appreciate the One who gave him a mind and everything he possessed.


God labored long with Nebuchadnezzar. In Daniel 2, he dreamed something so terrible that he had to know its meaning. But he could not remember the dream. His wise men and astrologers proved helpless, but God told the dream and its interpretation to Daniel, a Hebrew captive, in response to earnest prayer.

The dream featured a great image representing successive world empires that culminated in Christ’s second coming. Babylon was represented as the head of gold. But that’s as far as the gold—Babylon—went.

The implications were obvious to the proud monarch: Babylon would not last forever. The God of the Hebrew captives would eventually conquer and rule the world.

Nebuchadnezzar received the interpretation with apparent acceptance. He even acknowledged Daniel’s excellent spirit, giving him leadership responsibilities in Babylon. By the end of chapter 2, the king affirms, “…Your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a Revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret.” Verse 47.

Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar failed to remain humble before the God of Heaven. Somehow, the king missed the point—God “removeth kings, and setteth up kings.” Verse 21.


A few years later, we find him building a huge idol of solid gold. Full of pride, he wanted Babylon to remain the golden empire forever. In wanting it so badly, He rejected God’s revealed will about future kingdoms.

How many of us cherish ideas that contradict God’s revealed will for our lives? In His mercy and love for Nebuchadnezzar, God arranged a demonstration of His power to get the king’s attention. In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar summoned his subjects to the plain of Dura, and then commanded everyone to bow before the golden idol. All who refused would be burned alive in a fiery furnace. Only three Hebrew young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to worship the idol, declaring their loyalty to the true God.

Furious, Nebuchadnezzar tried persuasion, but they still refused, so he increased the furnace’s temperature and had them bound and literally thrown into the inferno. Miraculously, they were unharmed, and Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed with astonishment, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Verse 25.

Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed with what God had done for His faithful servants that he extolled Jehovah and threatened anyone who spoke disrespectfully of Him. “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.” Verses 28, 29.

From this statement, it is obvious that God had won Nebuchadnezzar’s respect, but still not his heart. The cruel monarch had yet to learn of God’s love. But even Nebuchadnezzar’s respect eventually faded. Soon the king was back to his old habits of pride. His kingdom had become great, and he ruled with a rod of iron. With merciful omniscience, God warned Nebuchadnezzar through another dream that he is on dangerous ground. (It seems Nebuchadnezzar was so busy that God had to reach him late at night.)

This time Nebuchadnezzar remembers the dream but knows not its interpretation. Again, Daniel is brought into the picture, and the future is laid bare before the king. Unless he repents of his pride, he will have to experience a time of total humiliation. Daniel pleads, “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.” Daniel 4:27.


The king’s reaction is not recorded. But 12 months later we find him bragging, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” Daniel 4:30. No, Nebuchadnezzar had not changed.

No sooner is his boast completed, when the judgment falls from Heaven. The king loses his mind, and for the next 7 years dwells with animals, grows beast-like claws and hair, and eats grass. What a downfall! Is it any wonder the Bible admonishes, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up”? James 4:10. If we don’t, God will do it for our ultimate benefit.

God knows exactly how long it will take us to come to our senses. Theologians call it repentance, but in the parable of the prodigal son Jesus says, “He came to himself.” When the prodigal son came to his right mind, he returned to his father’s house. When we repent, we are ready to be in harmony with God’s will.

When Nebuchadnezzar repented, he wrote a whole chapter of the Bible sharing his testimony, and concluded: “At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me…. Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride He is able to abase.” Daniel 4:36, 37.


We need not go through traumatic experiences before we fully surrender our will to God. As we humble ourselves, submit to Him, and obey Him, He will protect us from unnecessary suffering. Nebuchadnezzar’s lesson was, “The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.” Daniel 4:32. The lesson that comes to us may be something else; but whatever it is, let us heed the warnings God gives us.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9.

Adriana Zoder was a student at Hartland College when she wrote this article.

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