As he proudly paced the roof of his palace, Nebuchadnezzar admired all that he had built. He was an instrumental military leader in Babylon’s defeat of the Assyrian empire and now sat on the throne over the biggest empire the world had ever seen. Ancient texts speak of his grand building projects like the fortification wall around Babylon and the ziggurat to the Babylonian god Marduk. In Daniel 3 he is building a 90 foot tall image of gold (perhaps of himself). He was the golden king (Daniel 2:38) and he knew it. He can hardly believe how great and majestic he is as he asks himself, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30).
But Nebuchadnezzar’s navel gazing was interrupted by God, who reminds him of a forgotten dream from 12 months earlier. At the height of his pride and arrogance, God would chop him down to size and drive him to insanity. He must exist in this humiliated state for the full term God allotted, “until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32). Not only is Nebuchadnezzar not in charge of the world, he’s not even in charge of his own mental faculties. He must learn the hard way that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1).
After being sufficiently humiliated, Nebuchadnezzar regains his sanity and composes a psalm of praise any servant of God should be happy to amen (Daniel 4:34-35). “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” (v37). While I’m not convinced Nebuchadnezzar was proselytized, he at least sees himself and the world in their proper focus at this moment. Nebuchadnezzar has not bootstrapped his way to greatness. The real King who is in heaven saw fit to put Nebuchadnezzar in his position and can take it all away in a heartbeat.
Nebuchadnezzar had to be driven insane to realize he was not totally sane in the first place. The real insanity in this story is not the lycanthropic delusions. Even before he had the mind of an animal, Nebuchadnezzar was living in a delusion. He thought he was the great king. He thought he was in charge of the world. He thought the greatness of Babylon was a testament to his genius. He was living in God’s world without thinking of God. That’s the real insanity of Nebuchadnezzar. The eating of grass like an ox was merely a different and more obvious form of insanity.
This expanded definition of insanity requires us to reexamine our own thinking. As long as a person lives as if God doesn’t exist, makes decisions without thought to the Creator’s will, or takes all the credit for their achievements, that person is living a delusion. If you are at the center of the universe, then you are not seeing yourself or the universe correctly. Real sanity and healthy living must begin with a recognition of the God who created the world and everything in it. Proper self-image begins with realizing we were made in the image of God. This is exactly what Solomon had in mind when he wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). You cannot be wise, or even fully sane, until you revere the God who made you. You cannot get along very well in God’s world without knowing and obeying God!
I am not the first person to point out that we live in a world living in its own delusional state. Not only can we not agree what is right or wrong, we cannot even agree that such distinctions truly exist. Only a culture that has forgotten that “male and female he created them” (Genesis 3:27) can be so confused about how to define gender. Only a culture that has forgotten that all people are made in the image of God can’t get on the same page about which lives matter. Only a people who have hope in this life only will so desperately store up treasure on the earth, hoping that climate control and insurance will mitigate against moth, rust, and thieves. Only a people who no longer believe in demons will be so eager to demonize those we disagree with. Only a nation with little faith in Jesus the Messiah can put such faith in our political messiahs. We are trying to get along in God’s world without God. Insanity.
If the world is going the way of Nebuchadnezzar, then God’s people must go the way of Daniel, who continued to bear witness to the real King to a delusional king and culture that shared none of his values. He did not eat the king’s dainties. He kept praying to the true God in heaven even when such a thing was made illegal. He preached that no matter how evil and chaotic the world may seem at this moment, God sits on his throne overruling the kingdoms of men at all times. He remembered that though worldly forces may seem beastly and insurmountable, God will smash all human pretensions and establish his own kingdom which will never be destroyed. Daniel shows us that the way to sanity in an insane world is the fear of the Lord.
by Drew Nelson