The Sovereignty of God and a Prideful King: Nebuchadnezzar
God's Control Over Everything
Scott Higgins wrote a story which he based upon an idea found in an article in Christianity today by Phillip Yancey. The story was about a grand chess master who had no ego or pride. He would take on any comers who wanted to test their skills and attempt to beat him.
One day a particularly eager young man sat across from the grand master hoping to win against him and show how good he was. So the master let him begin the game. He noticed on the first move of the young man that he was indeed very good and had been studying. Nonetheless, the master countered his move easily. Soon the young man was checkmate.
The two played over and over again. Each time the younger man would try different moves and different strategies. But each time the wiser, more experienced player would counter each move and ultimately win the game. They played a total of 20 games, and the grand master easily won each time.
Higgins then goes on to say that many people see God as a great playwright writing the script of our lives. Others see him as a member of the audience, watching us as we write our own script. The first of these seems to take away our free will. The second analogy does not take into account God's involvement. Then he suggests that a better analogy is that of God being a Grand Chess Master and we being a novice. We have memorized some basic strategies that we've read about in a book. Some of our moves are foolish. However, the Master responds with great expertise and wisdom. His moves are not pre-programmed, but they are in response to the moves of His opposing player. Without our even knowing it, the Master weaves our moves into His game plan. And, of course, the outcome of the game is never in doubt. God always wins! All history ends up bringing glory to Him.
There was a book that came out a few years ago by J.B. Phillips called You're God is Too Small. The whole premise of the book was that we have an inadequate view of who the God of the Bible is. Our God is far greater than most of us imagine Him to be. One of the areas in which many people fall far short in their understanding is in the area of God's sovereignty.
When we speak of the sovereignty of God we are saying that He is in complete control of everything that happens. It also means that He, as the ruler of the universe, has the total right to do whatever He wants.
Throughout the Bible, it gives us a picture of the God of the universe that is far greater than any of us can comprehend totally. He is a God so vast and great that we will spend eternity learning about Him. He is one that holds the very structure of the universe together (Colossians 1:17). And He is the one who spoke it all into existence in the first place (Genesis 1). This speaks of His power. Total control of everything goes hand in hand with the fact that He is omnipotent, or all-powerful. He not only has the right, as the sovereign of the universe to do as He pleases, He also has the ability to carry it out.
There are many verses in Scripture that proclaim the Lord's sovereignty. Let us just give a few:
1. " Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength" (I Chronicles 29:11-12).
2. "Our God is in the heavens; He does what He pleases" (Psalm 115:3).
3, "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His Kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19).
4. "In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11).
5. "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps" (Proverbs 16:9).
6. "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?" (Daniel 4:35).
This concept of God's total control over everything is so prevalent in Scripture, that you have to explain away a major portion of the Bible in order to deny it.
Sadly though, there are those both in Scripture and today who have chosen not to acknowledge God's control over them and their circumstances. One such person in the Old Testament was King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
I. Nebuchadnezzar's Faulty View of God
Nebuchadnezzar believed in many gods and thus did not have an adequate view of the one true Sovereign Lord. However, he is not alone in his deficient understanding.
Many of us, even today, instead of the real God, have created a faulty view of the Lord. We have made a God in our own image. Many people view Him as no more wise and powerful than we are and a God incapable of handling the universe that He created.
Some of us view Him as a great big policeman in the sky, trying with all His might to keep His creation from having fun, but not quite managing it. We picture Him wringing His hands, wondering what to do when certain unanticipated situations arise.
Some see Him as little more than a big Santa Claus figure who dispenses blessings to good little Christians. Even worse, are the people who believe God created everything, and then sort of abandoned it to work or break down on its own. They see the Creator as having no control over the day to day affairs of life.
However, the greatest faulty understanding of God that a man can have is what king Nebuchadnezzar possessed. It is the illusion that the God of the Bible has nothing to do with his success in life. When things go well in life some men tend to forget that if it weren't for God, they'd have no life at all let alone the power to produce wealth, prestige and all that goes with it.
It is the pride of thinking that: "I am the master of my own fate and the captain of my own ship. Pride is so heinous that it can, at it's worst, forget that God, the creator, and Sustainer of the universe exists at all. It is the false belief that: "I am a self-made man!" Scripture calls people like this fools.
Just like Nebuchadnezzar, there are many who live like this today. However, it was nothing new even then. Mankind has been forgetting who is in charge since Adam and Eve. And there are several examples of this in Scripture, including this prideful king in our story. He bragged one too many times that he was in control. That is until the Lord showed him otherwise.
II. A King is Confronted by the Chess Master
We can see the sovereignty of God and man's willful ignorance of that sovereignty quite clearly in the book of Daniel chapter 4. This King was full of pride and arrogance. And it is here that God, the great chess master, plays with a mere novice known as the king of Babylon and beats him. The interesting thing is that it is the king himself that lets us know that he was checkmated.
Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, was the longest reigning and most powerful monarch of the Neo-Babylonian era. His reign was from 605 through 562 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar's empire was vast. His father, Nabopolassar, rebelled against the Neo-Assyrian army in 620 B.C. and established himself as the king of Babylon. When his son ascended the throne in 605 B.C. he fought several campaigns in the West due to a coalition that Egypt was trying to raise against him. He won the victory.
Nebuchadnezzar is known in the Bible as the destroyer of Solomon's temple and the initiator of the Babylonian captivity in which the nation of Judah was destroyed and many of the best people were exiled into Babylon, including the youths Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
The story in Daniel 4 begins when Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a great tree that reaches up to the sky. It was visible to the ends of the whole earth. The tree had beautiful foliage and abundant fruit. It gave food to all. The beasts of the field found shade under it and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches. Indeed, all living creatures fed themselves from it (4:1-12).
As Nebuchadnezzar continued to lay on his bed, an angel came and said:
"Chop down the tree and strip off its foliage and scatter the fruit. Let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches. Yet leave the stump with its roots in the ground. But with a band of iron and bronze around it in the new grass of the field; and let him be drenched with the dew of heaven and let him share with the beasts in the grass of the earth.
Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let a beast's mind be given to him. And let seven periods of time pass over him. This sentence is by decree of the angelic watchers and the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know that the Most-High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes, and sets over it the lowliest of men" (14-17).
The King was troubled and called Daniel, whom he had named Belteshazzar, to let him know what the dream was about. Unfortunately, Daniel had to tell him that the dream was about Nebuchadnezzar himself. Because of his great pride, he would go mad for seven years and become like an animal, grazing on grass in the field. God would give him a condition known today as lycanthropy, It is a rare psychological disorder in which a person has a delusion that he is transformed into an animal.
Pride is a terrible thing in that it takes away the glory that rightfully belongs to the God of the universe, and gives it to oneself. Before Daniel left Nebuchadnezzar, he asked him to break away from his sins and start to do righteousness so that the Lord may prolong his prosperity (18-27).
Nebuchadnezzar didn't heed Daniel's warning but instead, 12 months later, was walking on his roof and admiring his kingdom. He reflected and said:
"Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power?" (28-30).
While the king was speaking a voice came from heaven and pronounced the Lord's judgment upon his pride and told him that his sovereignty would be removed. Also, he would be driven away from men and be with the beasts for seven years. And immediately the king's sanity was taken from him and he endured exactly what God through Daniel had predicted.
Scripture said that he indeed ate grass like the cows. Further, his hair grew like eagles feathers and his nails like birds claws. (31-33).
Finally, after the seven-year period, he came back to his senses, as God had said. This lead to this heathen king giving glory to the God of the universe. His testimony ends with this:
"Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride." (37).
Unfortunately for the king, he had to endure seven years of humiliation before he could be humbled and, at least temporarily, cured of his pride. If he had only acknowledged God sooner, it would have saved him a lot of trouble. For God alone is the one who controls our destiny. And it is His plans alone that will be of any value for eternity. Our plans die with us.
There is an account that takes place during the Civil War in which Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln wasn't a church-goer but was a man of faith and, at times, quite orthodox in his beliefs. At some point in the breakfast, One of the ministers said:
"Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side."
Lincoln showed great insight in his response by saying:
"Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."
Lincoln reminded the ministers that faith is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want Him to do. Rather, our faith is an open invitation to find out what God wants and allow ourselves to be used for His sovereign purposes.
There are too many Nebuchadnezzar's in the world. And some of them claim the name of Christ. They forget who is in control of this universe and go about seeking their own fame and fortune.
We can go in many directions in applying this truth to all of our lives. God's sovereignty means that those who oppose Him will ultimately be defeated. They will be brought low like the king of Babylon. It also means that there is no other being out there who deserves our worship and our loyalty besides the one true God of the universe. All other so-called gods are false, and no gods at all.
It has been said of Jesus Christ, the Second person of the Triune Godhead, that "every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10). If that is true, then it would be in the interest of those who do not acknowledge the Lord to bow before Him now, before they are forced when Jesus returns. Sovereignty means just that. He is your ruler, whether you acknowledge that fact or not. I urge you if you've never done so, to accept His rule over your life.
To the Christian, sovereignty means that the grand chess master is working all the moves that we make in our lives for the good. That is true even if we move the wrong chess piece, or move it in the wrong direction. And nothing will happen to us unless the Lord has allowed it by His sovereign hand. He uses the good and the bad things that happen to us to make us more like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28,29). There is no tear, or heartache that happens to us that is wasted. God is molding us and shaping us for eternity.
Further, it means that every promise that God has ever made to believers in Him will come to pass. He has promised us that we will dwell with Him for eternity in a New Heaven and a New Earth. It will be free from all of the effects of sin that we experience in this present life. And there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. By His sovereign power that created and sustains the universe, He will make it happen.
Finally, when all of life is over and the chess pieces go back into the box, the game ultimately belongs to the Sovereign Chess Master of the Universe. It will have been His moves that brought each match to a successful conclusion. For my part, I am forever thankful that He included me as a small part of His strategy. And all of us who know and love Him will spend eternity thanking Him for His victory in the game of life when at long last He finally declares: "Checkmate!" Let us praise our wonderful Lord!
© 2012 Jeff Shirley