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 said, ‘Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?’ While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.’ Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws.
‘Pride comes before a fall.’ A saying often accompanied by a shaking of the head, and maybe the uncharitable thought, ‘They had it coming.’ The successful and powerful invariably have their detractors. Some are keen to befriend the person who has ‘made it’; others are hostile, quick to denounce signs of arrogance and self-satisfaction.
King Nebuchadnezzar had been warned about his humiliation. He had had a dream, interpreted fearfully by Daniel (Daniel 4:19-27). Did he believe Daniel’s interpretation of his downfall, isolation and mental illness? (Daniel 4:34 mentions the restoration of his ‘reason’). Did he live in dread, waiting for calamity to strike? Or did he push that worrying dream aside and settle back into his comfortable life? As we picture him surveying the magnificent city of Babylon, full of self-congratulation for this pinnacle of his achievements, there’s no evidence of self-doubt. Here is a man certain of his own greatness, with no thought of any higher power than his own.
But at the moment when he took the greatest pride in his achievements, King Nebuchadnezzar was struck down. The dream was fulfilled. In isolation from human society, he ate grass alongside the animals and assumed a grotesque appearance. The acclaimed magnificent king had become a shunned wild man.
Nebuchadnezzar fell as far as it was possible to fall, in order to learn that God, not he, was sovereign. How often do we, in all our self-sufficiency, need to be reminded of our dependence on God, the source of our achievements?
Glorious God, When we are proud, let us learn humility. When we enjoy popularity, let us take care for those on the edge. When we take satisfaction for work well done, let us give thanks for your creativity working through us. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Gillian Poucher, Minister, Gainsborough United Reformed Church.