Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:37)
In the early years of the Christian church (first half of the 2nd century AD) there was a heretic by the name of Marcion. In part, what marked Marcion as a heretic was that he rejected in toto the entire Old Testament (Hebrew Bible). Marcion reasoned that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament. For Marcion, the God of the Old Testament was vengeful and wrathful and angry, while the God of the New Testament was loving and patient and merciful. The church immediately (and rightly) excommunicated Marcion, making him the first arch-heretic.
Why did Marcion come to that conclusion? In part, it’s for the same reason people do today: our biases blind us. A good example of this is taken from the fourth chapter of Daniel. As we noticed so far, king Nebuchadnezzar was a hard nut to crack. His pride and hubris were legendary. You would think that the king would have learned his lesson. If you recall, early in Daniel’s tenure, the king had an upsetting dream, one that haunted him. Daniel alone of all the Magi was able to interpret the king’s dream; this event marked the first time that the king came face to face with the one and only true God, a God he acknowledges as the “God of gods and Lord of kings.” But God wasn’t done with king Nebuchadnezzar. His pride drove him to build a statute of himself made of gold, representing his dominion and domain. He commanded everyone to bow down to his image. We know the story; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not bow down. So the king commanded his guards to bind and to throw these three men into the furnace; which they did. To the surprise of the king, these three men were not touched by the fiery furnace; not even the hair of their heads was singed. The king promoted these three young men, and proclaimed that “no god was able to rescue this way” (3:29).
But God wasn’t done with king Nebuchadnezzar. This takes us to the fourth and final chapter of the life of Nebuchadnezzar. In chapter 4, the king is once again uneasy about another dream, his second dream. The king once again decreed that his astrologers and magicians and enchanters interpret his dream. And none of these spiritualists and occultists could interpret the king’s dream. You would think the king would wise up and realize that these spiritualist and occultist were imposters. Just like today, spiritualist and occultists are imposters. The only spirits that inspire occult practices—for example, things like card reading, astrology, séances, etc.—are demonic spirits. This is why God forbids such occult practices. God forbade such practices then, as He does now! King Nebuchadnezzar should have known this. But his pride and arrogance drives him to these demonically inspired imposters. And as you would guess, these imposters could not deliver when it mattered. So the king again comes to his senses and beckons Daniel to interpret the king’s dream. Daniel interprets his dream. He tells the king:
It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will (4:24-25).
Then Daniel pleads with the king to repent and humble himself before God because his pride would be his ruination. But we are told the king did not follow Daniel’s counsel:
All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like the birds’ claws (4:28-33).
Why did this happen? It happened because the king ignored the prophet’s message and would not repent. But God was not done with king Nebuchadnezzar. After God in his mercy and grace and longsuffering gave the king 12 months to repent, God lowered His blow of judgment. For seven long years God humbled the king by driving him, quite literally, insane. But notice that the duration was itself an act of mercy. God had every right to strike the king with insanity for an indefinite period and then leave him to die, but God did not. God in His mercy struck him sufficiently to realize an important truth. As Alistair Begg says, “God was showing king Nebuchadnezzar that in truth he was not a mighty, self-sufficient, all powerful ruler but a lowly, needy, dependent creature.” Finally the proverbial light bulb went off; the king got it. He finally…
lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (4:34-25)
The king finally came to his spiritual senses. Daniel pointed the king to God, but it took the work of God to open his heart. But notice God’s work. God wasn’t vengeful or wrathful or angry. God was patient, merciful, and loving. This is how God has always worked in the Old Testament. God was longsuffering with Sodom and Gomorrah. God was longsuffering with the Canaanites. God was longsuffering with the Ninevites just as He was with king Nebuchadnezzar.
As Christians, what should we learn from this? What can we take home? First, we can take home the fact that God has always been and will always be a patient, longsuffering God. In fact, what distinguishes the Old Covenant era of law vs the New Covenant era of grace in salvation history is that God is even more longsuffering and patient in our dispensation of grace than in the old dispensation. That’s not to say God was not longsuffering in the Old Testament. As demonstrated in Daniel, the God of the Old Testament is the same longsuffering and patient God as He was in the New Testament Apostolic church and is in the church age today. The difference is that under this age of grace (that is, the time between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ), the state of affairs under the condition of God’s longsuffering and patience has been accelerated and enhanced. Second, we can take home the fact that God’s grace of longsuffering and patience is not infinite. When Christ returns the age of grace will give way to the day of the Lord, the day of ultimate judgment and wrath. In the meantime, our calling as Christians (and especially the corporate church) is to relay a message to the world. What is this message? As Psalm 2:12 says, our message is a mandate, a mandate and warning to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Our mandate is to relay this message of amnesty, that is, the gracious and merciful terms of surrender of our conquering king to an already conquered enemy. It was customary in the Ancient Near East before kings razed conquered lands—i.e., demolish walls, public building, infrastructure, etc.—to first expend much effort through the power of persuasion to convince foreign people to submit willingly. The mandate of the Great Commission is simply king Jesus sending his ambassadors to relay the message that the king of the age to come has already conquered the god of this age, that total destruction is impending. Holy Spirit power has been given to the church to persuade the foreign nations (the city of man) to submit willingly in this dispensation of grace and mercy. This is our singular and most important mandate given to the church. This mission defines who we are: ambassadors of Christ imploring the world of sinful men and women to be reconciled to God. Amen!