LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
If you asked Bible students to name one of the kings of Babylon, my guess is that the most common answer would be Nebuchadnezzar. That is understandable, seeing that he is mentioned by name in eight books of the Old Testament. As the leader of the Babylonian Empire from B.C. 605-562, he left a great mark on the history of the Middle East during his lifetime, including his role in destroying Judah.
Nebuchadnezzar’s reign over the Babylonian Empire was going on while Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel were serving as prophets of Jehovah. It was a period of change and turmoil, a time when God’s arm of judgment came down against the Southern Kingdom of Judah and other nations in that region which rebelled against Him. Nebuchadnezzar was “in on” much of the action. What can we observe about the life of this mighty, memorable monarch?
First, the Bible describes Nebuchadnezzar as a servant of the Lord. “Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, says the LORD, and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them . . .” (Jeremiah 25:9). God also said, “And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant . . .” (Jeremiah 27:6). It has perplexed some students of God’s word to read that Jehovah referred to Nebuchadnezzar, a ruthless man and idolater (Daniel 3:1), as “my servant.” How can it be true that Nebuchadnezzar served the living God?
Actually, the references to King Nebuchadnezzar as a “servant” of God are made in contexts in which the Lord explained that He would use Nebuchadnezzar as the instrument by which He would punish Judah and others (Jeremiah 25:4-12). So, calling Nebuchadnezzar the Lord’s “servant” does not mean that he faithfully served Him, but rather that he was one through whom God carried out His will. In a similar manner, God earlier used the king of Assyria to punish evildoers, calling him “the rod of my anger” (Isaiah 10:5). Later the Lord used King Cyrus of the Medo-Persian Empire to free the Jews from captivity and help them rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Cyrus was not a true worshipper of Jehovah, but because of his role in carrying out God’s will in overthrowing Babylon and assisting the cause of the Israelites, God called Cyrus “my shepherd” and His “anointed” (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). As the Ruler of the universe, God sent “his armies” to destroy the rebellious city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Matthew 22:7). That simply means that God, who rules in the kingdoms of men, used the Romans soldiers to carry out His will.
Second, Nebuchadnezzar was a king whose dreams had relevance that reached far beyond his own life. In one dream he saw an image with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet a mixture of iron and clay. A stone then came and destroyed the image (Daniel 2:32-34). What in the world was that all about? The prophet Daniel’s explanation was that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream pointed to five kingdoms. From the Bible and secular history, we learn that the first four kingdoms were the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, and the Roman Empire, in that order. And the 5th kingdom? It was the kingdom that the Lord would set up in the days of the Roman kings. God’s kingdom would never be destroyed. That kingdom was the church of the Christ (Matthew 16:18,19), to which God adds all saved people (Acts 2:47; Ephesians 5:23). That kingdom sounds important, does it not?
Third, Nebuchadnezzar gave lip service to the God of heaven, but was not totally devoted to Him. He learned that “there is a God in heaven” (Daniel 2:28). After Daniel explained his dream about the five kingdoms, he proclaimed to the prophet, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings . . .” (Daniel 4:47). Just three verses after that we read of how Nebuchadnezzar made an idol out of gold and compelled all of his citizens to bow down and worship it (Daniel 3:1-6). Later he praised the God of heaven as the only one that can deliver (Daniel 3:29), but there is no indication that he every fully devoted himself to serving wholeheartedly the one, true God. Let us learn a lesson. It is not acceptable to draw near to the Lord with our lips if our heart is far from Him (Mark 7:6). God is not happy when we try to serve Him and other so-called deities (Matthew 6:24). He wants our complete commitment at all times.
Fourth, Nebuchadnezzar was brought low because of his pride, but then he humbled himself. Nebuchadnezzar took pride in his own power and honor, so God brought him low, causing him to dwell among the beasts of the field (Daniel 4:28-33). What lesson did the once mighty king learn? He himself said, “And those who walk in pride He is able to abase” (Daniel 4:37). The New Testament declares, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10). We need to have the mind of Jesus. He showed us the model of humility by submitting to the Father’s will (Philippians 2:5-8).
Finally, Nebuchadnezzar, even though he was a Gentile, was accountable to the God of heaven. The Law of Moses was given only to Israel, but there was always a law or code of conduct to which the non-Israelites of the Old Testament era were required to submit. Listen to what the prophet Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar: “Therefore, O king . . .break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor . . .” (Daniel 4:27). Where there is no law, there is no transgression/lawbreaking (Romans 4:15). If the king was guilty of “sins” and “iniquities,” then that means that he had broken God’s law (1 John 3:4). So, here is a case that shows the Gentiles of ancient days were held accountable by the Lord.
More could be said about Nebuchadnezzar, but perhaps these ideas will stimulate you to further study.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.