My internet is out at home. Thankfully, my business phone functions quite well as a mobile hotspot. It frustrates me when stuff is out of my control, I can’t fix it, don’t truly understand it, or simply have to wait, whether I understand it or not. I feel like I should be in a therapy group, introducing myself, “Hi, I’m Matt, and I’m a selfish whiner”, imagining the rest of the group replying, “Hi Matt…” I don’t think there’s a 12-step for that, though. There sure should be.
And yet, even though I dislike, intensely, wandering around my life without a map, my King has dropped me into a “Bible study” situation where I begin each session with, “what have you read, and what are your questions?” How terrifying is that? Yesterday, someone asked a question I truly thought I’d never hear, “What about that guy in the Bible who God turned into a beast?”
Can you just sense the palpable collision of synapses, with the imagined sounds of a 100-car pile up added for good measure? Where do you start trying to untangle everything that’s wrong with that question? There are absolutely no werewolves in Scripture! NONE! My mind is racing around trying to guess what movie is being overlaid on top of some Scripture passage, twisted to fit a corrupt modern interpretation or adaptation.
Suddenly, across the room, another guy says, “Yeah, my mom was teaching us about that.” (more brain concussive activity, flashing red light in the corner of my eye, a winking “idiot light” – “danger! danger!”) “He had long hair and nails…like a cow or something.” Sudden flash of insight, relief and joy! Nebuchadnezzar! It was like Jesus calming the storm on Galilee, only in my soul.
We spent the next 15 to 20 minutes going through Daniel 4, one of the only passages in Daniel, not written by Daniel. It is purportedly written by Nebuchadnezzar himself. And it is a fascinating story.
The account begins with King Nebby having a bad dream. It started well, with an impressive tree, but then the tree is cut down and the stump capped with iron and bronze. All the “wise men” of Babylon can’t (or are too afraid to) tell the king what it means, until Daniel shows up. He explains the dream, but then warns and encourages the king to desist in his “pride”. And he does, for about a year.
A year after the dream, King Nebby is on his roof looking at his “hanging gardens”, the splendor of Babylon, and starts extoling himself. Here’s how it reads:
Now all this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. After twelve months, he happened to be walking around on the battlements of the royal palace of Babylon. The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” While these words were still on the king’s lips, a voice came down from heaven: “It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you! You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.”
Daniel 4:28-33 NET
Now in that very moment this pronouncement about Nebuchadnezzar came true. He was driven from human society, he ate grass like oxen, and his body became damp with the dew of the sky, until his hair became long like an eagle’s feathers, and his nails like a bird’s claws.
“Brag, brag, brag…mooo”. That’s pretty much how it went. When you look at the description of what he becomes, I can see the whole “beast-man” thing. It never occurred to me before, but leave it to the imagination of a bunch of young people to totally see something new (or new to me).
Pride is a constant problem for lots of people, and I count myself among them. Wanting control, to have a “map”, to know or understand, are all prideful responses to fear. But, I also have a sneaky evil suspicion that I’m somehow better than other people, that I have “it” figured out, and that others don’t. That’s not fear, it’s the “original sin” of selfish pride, self-centered godless arrogance.
That selfish pride is what plagued King Nebby. He thought he had “arrived”. He had no fear, and that is a dangerous place to be. “Brag, brag, brag…moo”. That’s where anyone not facing their selfish pride authentically is headed. And my King knows it. So, he sent King Nebby a dream, He sent Daniel, and He knows there will be failure in spite of all that.
But there is also redemption:
But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me.Daniel 4:34-37 NET
I extolled the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his authority is an everlasting authority,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’
At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me. My ministers and my nobles were seeking me out, and I was reinstated over my kingdom. I became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just. He is able to bring down those who live in pride.
Fortunately for me, pride is not necessarily terminal. The Creator of the universe seeks me in spite of my pride and restores me as I repent. It sometimes feels like a game of “Whack-a-Mole”, trying to keep the pride in the grave. But all my Master wants of me is to keep working at it. He restores me when I look to Him and praise Him.
Have you ever felt like that?