Part 3: The God of All Kings
I am blown away by the ways God worked to get Nebuchadnezzar’s attention and show him that He is the only sovereign being. But what I really love is how he not only displayed His power, but that he knew Nebuchadnezzar’s heart.
First God gives this pagan king His people, but Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t realize that. Then, when Nebuchadnezzar seeks to fill his service with the best men, the Lord says, “Okay, here you go – take my very best and faithful men, and see that they surpass yours in every way!” Nebuchadnezzar does see this – but he does not acknowledge that they are great because of their God. If they were great because of their God, that would mean their God was better than his own, and that was a truth better left alone – though it did not keep him from using the gifts of these men.
How often must God endure this treatment! How many times a day do each of us enjoy something wonderful without taking a moment to thank the One who provided it? Most mothers know what this feels like – that moment of triumph when, at the fifth store you go to, you finally find not just a doll, but the doll, not just a pair of shoes, but the pair of shoes, and when you give them to your child they say, “Wow, awesome!” and run away to enjoy it without ever even looking at your face. In one second the triumph turns to disappointment and hurt, because your beloved child accepted only the material gift and none of the love and devotion that was attached to it. I believe this is what God experiences daily, yet instead of becoming angry and bitter from the constant denial of praise, He says, “okay, you don’t see me in that – I’ll show you in a different way.”
Here is where we can see that God definitely knew this king’s heart. He gives Nebuchadnezzar a dream that rocks him to his core, and that makes him doubt the people he trusted most. He didn’t even understand what the dream meant, but it is obvious that the Holy Spirit did a work, and it left him questioning the power of his magicians and sorcerers and gods. But he did not want that feeling – we have already established that this is not a man prone to doubt or second-guessing. So to ease his mind, he makes an impossible demand on his men.
Let’s pause here a moment – this, too, is such a common response to the promptings of God in a person’s life! When the Lord moves in a way that makes a person feel that something is missing in their life (Him!), they set out to fill that hole with the love and acceptance of a man, woman, child, or group. We see people fall madly in love and rush into marriage, but as soon as their spouse lets them down and isn’t able to meet their every emotional need, the marriage falls apart. Many will assume the problem was that they did not find the “right” person, when the truth is that there is no person who will ever make them feel as fully loved and accepted as their soul longs to be, because only the Lord can do that.
So Nebuchadnezzar’s advisers make it clear that he has asked too much, and he orders their execution. It is said he does this out of anger, but I think it was a rage fueled by fear that he had found a vulnerability, an uncertainty, and an unfixable problem in his life. When Daniel comes to him is able to both tell him his dream and interpret it, Nebuchadnezzar is forced to acknowledge that the God Daniel serves must be better than the other gods, but heaps his praise on Daniel rather than the source of his power.
I think Nebuchadnezzar participated in a common mental game that day. He set up a test with a desired result: if his advisers could meet his demands, it would prove he was still in control of the highest authority. The other half of that, of course, is that if they could not, then he had finally discovered something outside of his authority. When it looks like his test has failed, he is freaking out, not even knowing what to think past his anger. So when Daniel steps in, rather than hearing that the real answer to his test was that the Almighty God was in control and was trying to get his attention, he grasps on to the tiny straw that said, “Your test was passed! Your demand was met by this man! You ARE in control!”
People play this cyclical game in bad relationships, and they use it with God. Their truth-seeking spirit points them towards God, and He does make Himself known – but their fearful and broken soul creates false examples of how God has already proven himself unfaithful, incapable, or undependable. An encouraging encounter with a stranger makes them wonder about what role God might have played, so they decide to send up a prayer that night before bed: “God, if you are really there and care about me, give me the job I interviewed for today.” When they don’t get the job, their hope in God is popped like a balloon and they assume they have proven that there is not a God that cares about them. Some remain in this cycle for their entire lives, never daring to knock down that wall holding them back from embracing the love of their Father and even actively building it up to protect their heart from getting hurt. God was not content to let Nebuchadnezzar remain behind that veil, so His pursuit continued.
Nebuchadnezzar was not in want of anything, and as the most powerful ruler in the known land, he had few real threats. So the Lord decides to demonstrate His power by meeting the needs of someone else in a way that Nebuchadnezzar would have to notice. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had become very important to this king, and I’m sure their loyalty to him padded his ego in a much needed way. To hear of their refusal to follow an order cut straight to his heart, because it reminded him that he was not their highest authority – their God was. I can imagine the battle going on in his soul as the guards led the men to the furnace: “They must die! It will prove my authority and greatness over all! But they are some of my wisest men, and if that is because of their God, what if He turns on me? What if He is more powerful than my gods of protection? But no! I am in control, and they have broken my decree, so they will pay!…”
I think that a part of Nebuchadnezzar, the small, hidden part that was exhausted from being great all the time, was relieved when those men walked back to him unharmed. So he acknowledges that the God of these men was actually worthy of his own praise, because He was obviously more powerful than any force he had ever encountered. Worthy of praise and worthy of a nation-wide decree not to speak a word against Him – but still not worthy of the full and humble surrender of Nebuchadnezzar’s heart.
The bible says that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5), and will not accept just a portion of ourselves – He wants it all. Why? Because He wants His love to touch and heal every part of us. Anything that we hold back remains in the dark, and God is the God of light. He requires our complete humility because it is the only way He can fully restore us to himself and shape us into the incredible creatures He intended us to be. He wants this for every person, and He wanted it for Nebuchadnezzar. So He cut to the chase, and made His plan known – did that get his attention? I think that by this point Nebuchadnezzar had reached a point that many people are at, where the truth is directly in front of them, but they don’t even know how to not step around it. It is too engrained in them, too uncomfortable to even consider. So they go the hard way.
God proves His faithfulness to His word and does as He promised to this king whose heart He wants. Nebuchadnezzar’s life now stands as an incredible example of how ruthlessly the Lord seeks out his beloved, how we can throw every kind of obstacle in His way, but He will never give up: He needs only for us to give up our fight against Him.