Throughout history, pride has been a common characteristic among kings. Moses preemptively warned future Israelite kings against pride by requiring them to write a copy of God’s law and to keep it with them (Deut. 17:18–20). Solomon attempted to warn his son about pride through the proverbs (Prov. 16:18). The Chronicler recorded God’s judgment on pride of an otherwise godly king, Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:16–21). Ezekiel warned a Tyrian king that pride leads to judgment (Ezek. 28). Daniel recorded the humiliation of proud Babylonian kings Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. This passage focuses on the fall and restoration of Nebuchadnezzar.
In the verses which precede our passage, Daniel interprets the king’s dream. The tree of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom will be cut down, but its stump and roots will survive to grow again. Daniel 4:4–18 records the king’s testimony concerning the dream, and verses 19–27 provide Daniel’s interpretation of the dream. Daniel warns Nebuchadnezzar of God’s impending judgment on him, encouraging him to rule with justice and compassion.
Pride Declared (28–30)
One year after the warning, Nebuchadnezzar’s prideful words lead to his humiliation: “Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built to be a royal residence by my vast power and for my majestic glory?” He built … for his residence … by his power … and for his own glory. This king, who had already acknowledged the might and dominion of Most High God and His eternal Kingdom (vv. 2–3), failed to recognize that he was stealing glory from the same God.
This is a far cry from the humility of King David of Israel, who was careful to give God the glory due His name: “Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom, and you are exalted as head over all” (1 Chron. 29:11).
Reality Defined (31–33)
Nebuchadnezzar’s prideful declaration was his own indictment, and the heavenly announcement of his judgment was immediate: “The kingdom has departed from you.” He lost his right mind, withdrawing from humanity, failing to groom himself and eating grass like an animal. God replaced his pride with humiliation.
When the days of the king’s humiliation were completed, he would acknowledge that “the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and He gives them to anyone He wants.” Let the reader note that “Most High” is the same name Nebuchadnezzar used in his declaration following the supernatural rescue of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (4:2).
Honor Given (34–37)
After seven times (likely 7 years), God granted the king his right mind again. God also returned to Nebuchadnezzar his awe of God, like he had after the rescue at the fiery furnace. The king gave honor and glory where it was due: “Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified Him who lives forever” (v. 34).
Scholars are of differing opinions regarding the faith of Nebuchadnezzar. Did his decree constitute a confession of faith in Yahweh (as in Gen. 14:22), or was he making a henotheistic statement that the God of Israel was chief “Most High” among the pantheon? Both are plausible explanations, though there is no extant archaeological evidence to indicate that Nebuchadnezzar converted exclusively to the worship of Yahweh.
Honor was extended once again to the king, and his realm was expanded after his return to sanity. More significantly, however, Nebuchadnezzar confessed the power and authority of God in heaven and on earth: “There is no one who can block His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (v. 35).
The Most High is also called the “King of the heavens.” The king of Babylon, at that time the most powerful ruler in the Near East, acknowledged the authority of Israel’s God over him. Without a doubt, he learned his lesson concerning pride: “He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (v. 37).
By Douglas K. Wilson, Ph.D.
Wilson is dean of Christian Studies at University of Mobile in Alabama.