Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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When You Need a Right-Sized View of God (Daniel 4)

Dannah Gresh: The sovereignty of God doesn’t depend on human thoughts or activity. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Heaven rules whether we acknowledge it or not, whether our presidents and kings and prime ministers and premiers acknowledge it or not, Heaven rules. That should bring comfort and assurance to every humble, believing heart.

Dannah: This is the Revive Our Hearts podcast with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for October 4, 2021. I’m Dannah Gresh.

People who are arrogant and proud tend to act like they’re in control. They might even seem like they have all the power over a situation. But Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is going to remind us today that God is the One with all authority. His sovereignty is the reason for our hope. Nancy began a series last week titled, “Heaven Rules.” Let’s listen as she continues walking us through the story of Daniel.

Nancy: Well, I hope that you’re joining us and following along in the book of Daniel in this series, maybe reading a chapter ahead before each episode so you can be looking for Heaven rules sightings. They’re all over the whole Bible. They’re all over our world and our lives, but they really stand out in an amazing way in the book of Daniel.

Now, in the last session, chapter 3, we saw that King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed the power of God in rescuing His servants (God’s servants) who refused to bow before the king’s image. After that incident, Nebuchadnezzar was impressed with the Hebrews’ God, but he wasn’t ready to submit himself to this God. Nebuchadnezzar still wanted to rule his own life. He still wanted to be his own god.

Listen, it’s one thing to know about God; it’s one thing to see evidence of His existence and His power and to be impressed with Him. But it’s a whole other thing to bow before God as the God and King of your life. And that’s what God is after. It’s not enough that you just know who He is or what He’s like or that you know these stories or you would acknowledge, “He’s great!” He wants to be the God and King of your life.

Now, Nebuchadnezzar was a proud man, so this submission to God did not come easily to him. Today we come to chapter 4, and we’re going to see that God humbled Nebuchadnezzar deeply to teach him that Heaven rules.

In fact, if you’ll just look at verse 26 of Daniel chapter 4, you’ll see where the title for this series comes from. The last two words of verse 26: “Heaven rules.” That’s the only time that phrase, as a two-word phrase, actually appears in the Bible, but you see it said in many different ways throughout the book of Daniel.

If you’ve been following Revive Our Hearts the last couple of years, you know that “Heaven rules” is a thing with us because heaven does rule. We need it in COVID. We need it in cancer. We need it in times of confusion. We need it in times of chaos. We need it in times of messy elections and crazy things going on at a national and international level. We need the constant reminder that Heaven rules. So that’s the theme of Daniel. That’s the theme of the Bible, in one sense.

Now, this chapter, chapter 4, starts in the first three verses by telling us the end of the story that’s going to unfold in the rest of this chapter. So let me just read verses 1 through 3, but keep in mind, this is the summary, this is the end, so you know where the story is heading.

King Nebuchadnezzar,

To those of every people, nation, and language, who live on the whole earth:

May your prosperity increase. I am pleased to tell you about the miracles and wonders the Most High God has done for me.

How great are his miracles, and how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.” (vv. 1–3)

Now, let’s just stop right there. Clearly this represents a dramatic change in Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude. Compare it to the previous chapter, chapter 3, verse 4, where King Nebuchadnezzar ordered “people of every nation and language” to fall down and worship a massive gold statue he had built to honor himself. Something has changed.

At that point, the king had been all about his own greatness, his own kingdom. And now Nebuchadnezzar proclaims the greatness of the Most High God and the greatness of “His kingdom.” What follows in chapter 4 explains what brought about this transformation. And to summarize it, it was a process of Nebuchadnezzar being deeply humbled and experiencing the bankruptcy of himself and his own kingdom. 

And as we read this story, I want to remind us that this is a process that all of us have to go through in one way or another. It’s the process of humbling that transforms us from being worshipers of ourselves to becoming worshipers of God.

Now, verse 4 of Daniel, chapter 4. Roll the clock back twelve months, and here’s where we pick up:

I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace.

Nebuchadnezzar had it made. He was self-sufficient. As far as he was concerned, he had no need for God. He was blind to his need. But, mercifully, God broke into Nebuchadnezzar’s sense of well-being and independence and got his attention. And He did it through a dream.

I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and flourishing in my palace. I had a dream, and it frightened me; while in my bed, the images and visions in my mind alarmed me. (vv. 4–5)

This was a dream that was sent by God to warn the king of the danger he was in and to give Nebuchadnezzar an opportunity to repent of his idolatry and to become a worshiper of the true and living God.

So I issued a decree to bring all the wise men of Babylon to me in order that they might make the dream’s interpretation known to me. I told them the dream, but they could not make its interpretation known. . . . Finally Daniel, named Belteshazzar after the name of my god—and a spirit of the holy gods is in him—came before me.

He knew there was something different about Daniel. He knew it had to do with his God, but he really didn’t know. 

“I told him the dream. "Belteshazzar, head of the magicians, because I know that you have the spirit of the holy gods and that no mystery puzzles you, explain to me the visions of my dream that I saw, and its interpretation." (vv. 6, 8–9)

Now, Nebuchadnezzar knew that Daniel had supernatural power available to him because Daniel had previously told the king both the dream and the interpretation in a previous dream. And so now with this dream, Nebuchadnezzar is hoping that Daniel can provide an explanation. “What does this mean?” Here’s the dream.

“In the visions of my mind as I was lying in bed, I saw this: 

There was a tree in the middle of the earth,
and it was very tall.
The tree grew large and strong;
its top reached to the sky,
and it was visible to the ends of the earth.
Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit was abundant,
and on it was food for all.
Wild animals found shelter under it,
the birds of the sky lived in its branches,
and every creature was fed from it.” (vv. 10–12)

So here we have a magnificent tree that was extraordinary in every way—the tree in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. It had a massive size. It could be seen everywhere in the whole world. It was splendid. It was beautiful. It provided abundant food and shelter for every creature on the earth. You couldn’t say enough good about this great tree.

And then we get to verse 13, and suddenly there’s a dramatic change in the scene. Verse 13, Nebuchadnezzar says: 

“As I was lying in my bed, I also saw in the visions of my mind a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven. [This was an angelic messenger from God.] He called out loudly: 

Cut down the tree and chop off its branches;
strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit.
Let the animals flee from under it,
and the birds from its branches.
But leave the stump with its roots in the ground
and with a band of iron and bronze around it
in the tender grass of the field.
Let him [This tells us this is talking about not just a tree, but it represents a human being, a man. Let him] be drenched with dew from the sky
and share the plants of the earth
with the animals.
Let his mind be changed from that of a human,
and let him be given the mind of an animal
for seven periods of time.” (vv.13–16)

So here’s a messenger from God, an angel who decrees. It’s God’s decree; the angel’s just the messenger. He decrees the destruction of this mighty tree. No longer would it provide shelter for animals or birds or people. It would be reduced to a stump that would be shackled. The tree would no longer be supreme, would no longer be magnificent. Now it would be subject to the elements.

And as we’ve seen, the tree represented a man who would lose his mind and be given over to animal instincts, animal behavior for seven years. That’s the meaning of the “seven periods of time.”

Now, the angel is still speaking, verse 17, and he says:

“This word is by decree of the watchers,
and the decision is by command from the holy ones.”

And then he goes on to tell the reason and the purpose for this dream. Why did God give Nebuchadnezzar this dream?

“This is so that the living will know
that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms.” (v. 17)

Put an HR in your Bible right there—Heaven rules. The living need to know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms—not Nebuchadnezzar; not the Babylonians—but God. 

“[God] gives kingdoms to anyone He wants
and sets the lowliest of people over them.” (v. 17)

This sentence found here in verse 17 is found two more times in this chapter—verse 25 and verse 32. So it’s an important sentence. God wants Nebuchadnezzar to know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone he wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.

The goal of this dream, the goal of God intervening in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, was that Nebuchadnezzar and every person on earth for all time would know that Heaven rules, that every earthly kingdom is subject to His authority and that God determines who rules nations. God determines this.

Now, the fact that this dream applied directly to Nebuchadnezzar seems pretty obvious to me as we read his story. Does it seem obvious to you as he had this dream about this great tree and now it’s cut down and God says the reason—the angel says—is so you may know that the Most High rules? Like, you don’t think Nebuchadnezzar might have said, “Oooo, I think that’s about me!” No. That wasn’t obvious to him.

Look at verse 18. He says to Daniel,

“This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, [his Babylonian name—Daniel’s Babylonian name] tell me the interpretation, because none of the wise men of my kingdom can make the interpretation known to me. But you can, because you have a spirit of the holy gods.”

So as I’ve been pondering this, I’m thinking, This is what pride does. Pride makes us blind to our own condition. It makes us blind to how God’s Word applies to us. We read it, and we say, “I have no idea what that means. I have no idea what that’s talking about. I have no idea who that’s talking to. That must be talking to somebody else. But talking to me?” Pride keeps me from seeing that God is saying, “You are the person who needs this. This is about you. This is for you to apply.”

We sometimes need others to tell us what we can’t see ourselves. God sent Daniel into the kingdom for such a time as this to help this proud monarch know that God was talking to and about him.

Now, the rest of this passage . . . it’s just such an incredible passage. It speaks for itself. That’s why I’m taking time in these sessions to read lengthy portions of Scripture, because there’s no way I can improve on it. It’s just so clear, so powerful.

Then Daniel, whose name is Belteshazzar, was stunned for a moment, and his thoughts alarmed him. (v. 19)

Why? Because he knew what he was going to have to say to the king. And he also knew the anger and the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar. And it could be, “Off with your head!” if the king didn’t like the message. 

The king said, "Belteshazzar, don’t let the dream or its interpretation alarm you." Belteshazzar answered, "My lord, may the dream apply to those who hate you, and its interpretation to your enemies!" (vv. 19–20)

You see here that Daniel took no joy in delivering this message of judgment to the king, even though he knew it was deserved. It really concerns me when I see Christians, Christian leaders, Christian bloggers, Christian commenters on social media blasting the powers that be. They may deserve God’s judgment and wrath. Who doesn’t? We do as well, apart from God’s grace. But Daniel took no joy in saying, “You’re going to be cut down.” He was alarmed. He was grieved. He didn’t want to see that happen even though he knew the judgment was well deserved.

Verse 20, Daniel says to the king, 

“The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, whose top reached to the sky and was visible to the whole earth, and whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant—and on it was food for all, under it the wild animals lived, and in its branches the birds of the sky lived—that tree is you, Your Majesty. For you have become great and strong: your greatness has grown and even reaches to the sky, and your dominion extends to the ends of the earth.

“The king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, 'Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump with its roots in the ground and with a band of iron and bronze around it in the tender grass of the field. Let him be drenched with dew from the sky and share food with the wild animals for seven periods of time.'

“This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree of the Most High that has been issued against my lord the king.” (vv. 20–24)

Daniel respected the king, but he knew that the Most High God was over that king. This is the interpretation, verse 25:

“You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals. You will feed on grass like cattle and be drenched with dew from the sky for seven periods of time [seven years], until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants. [That’s the second time we read that in this chapter.] As for the command to leave the tree’s stump with its roots, your kingdom will be restored to you as soon as you acknowledge that Heaven rules.” (vv. 25–26)

Heaven rules. Heaven rules whether we acknowledge it or not. Whether our presidents and kings and prime ministers and premiers acknowledge it or not, Heaven rules.

And that phrase, that reality should bring comfort and assurance to every humble believing heart. When we hear “Heaven rules,” that should encourage us. That should give us strength. That should give us hope.

That should give us perspective in this fallen world to know the reassurance that Heaven rules. It should make us smile. It should make us be okay and content with whatever's going on around us.

But that same phrase, “Heaven rules,” should instill fear and dread in every proud heart that wants to be its own god. “Heaven rules?” Yes, Heaven rules.

So Daniel spoke truth to power. He warned the king that he was to be brought down by God. But I love that he still held out hope for this proud king. There’s an incredible picture of God’s grace and His mercy here because the tree was to be cut down—there was to be nothing of its original splendor and glory. But he said, “Don’t dig up the stump and its roots. Your kingdom will be restored to you as soon as you acknowledge that heaven rules.”

Nebuchadnezzar could be restored. He would be restored, if he would only humble himself and acknowledge that Heaven rules.

Our God is a holy Judge. That thought should be terrifying to people who want to live unholy lives. But our God is also a merciful, restoring Savior, and that should bring such hope and peace and mercy and grace to those who put their trust in Him.

So our message as servants of the Most High God is one of both judgment and salvation. Judgment to proud, unrepentant hearts, and salvation for those who are willing to humble themselves and submit to heaven’s rule.

“Therefore, may my advice seem good to you my king. Separate yourself from your sins by doing what is right, and from your injustices by showing mercy to the needy. Perhaps there will be an extension of your prosperity.” (v. 27)

Daniel made clear that the only path to restoration was repentance. Repentance—“separate yourself from your sins by doing what is right.” Repentance is a heart attitude evidenced by a change in behavior. And look, the repentance had to go two ways: vertical—toward God; and horizontal—toward man, “showing mercy to the needy.”

Now, it’s clear from what follows that Nebuchadnezzar was not ready to repent.

All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months, [a year later!] as he was walking on the roof of the royal palace in Babylon, the king exclaimed, "Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built to be a royal residence by my vast power and for my majestic glory?" (v. 28)

Whew! In spite of this dream, in spite of this clear warning sent from God, Nebuchadnezzar still didn’t humble himself. He still refused to heed God’s warning. For a whole year, he persisted in his pride. He took glory to himself that belonged to God.

You say, “Wow! What a man! He’s so proud! He’s so stubborn! He’s so resistant!”

Let me tell you what’s been speaking to me as I’ve been studying this passage. There is a Nebuchadnezzar in my heart. There’s a Nebuchadnezzar in your heart. There’s a Nebuchadnezzar in every heart. “Look at what I’ve done. My power. My glory. My way. My strength. My ideas. My opinions. My peace. My happiness.” Me, me, me. That’s the essence of pride. That’s the essence of Nebuchadnezzar.

But the good news of the gospel is that God is long-suffering—boy is He ever! God gave Nebuchadnezzar time to repent—a whole year. Why didn’t God cut down that tree as soon as the dream was had and the interpretation was made clear? Because God, according to 2 Peter 3, “is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”

God waits. God is patient. God is patient with us. God is patient with our world. God is patient with unbelievers. God is patient with the proud. He doesn’t cut down that tree, in many cases, right away. Why? Because He is waiting for us to come to repentance.

But here’s the thing: He will not wait forever. The dream will come true. The tree will be cut down if it refuses to be humbled.

While the words were still in the king’s mouth, [“Babylon that I have built by my vast power and for my majestic glory”] a voice came from heaven: "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared that the kingdom has departed from you. You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals, and you will feed on grass like cattle for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms, and he gives them to anyone he wants." (vv. 31–32)

God’s merciful just to repeat His Word to us. That’s the third time we’ve read that in this chapter. That’s the mercy of God.

At that moment the message against Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people. He ate grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with dew from the sky, until his hair grew like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. (v. 33)

As promised, the great and mighty tree was cut down. God removed Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom from him. God took his mind from him. God reduced him to insanity and to an animal-like existence.

And if we refuse to humble ourselves under His mighty hand, we will force Him to humble us. Heaven always gets the final word.

God’s discipline in Nebuchadnezzar’s life had its intended result. Look at verse 34.

But at the end of those days, [Seven years! Seven years living as a wild man, living as an animal] I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified him who lives forever: 

For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom is from generation to generation. [Heaven rules.]
All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
[Here’s the king who said he was Nebuchadnezzar the Great over Babylon the great. All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing.]
and he does what he wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can block his hand
or say to him, "What have you done?" (vv. 34–35)

God’s discipline had a profound effect in Nebuchadnezzar’s life. For years, he had exalted and honored himself. Now he gave praise and honor and glory to the God of heaven. Now he realized his smallness in comparison to God’s greatness. He lifted his eyes up to heaven, and it transformed his life.

At that time my sanity returned to me, and my majesty and splendor returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and my nobles sought me out, I was reestablished over my kingdom, and even more greatness came to me. (v. 35)

Jesus said it this way in Matthew chapter 23, verse 12: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

You see, an exalted view of self and a small view of God are devastating to our spiritual and mental health. But a right-sized view of God—lift our eyes to heaven—and a right-sized view of self can lead to restored mental health and flourishing. It’s a message we need today. It’s a message our world needs. Pride is a pathway to certain ruin. But humility and repentance are the pathway to restoration.

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of the heavens, because all his works are true and his ways are just. [Get this last sentence.] He is able to humble those who walk in pride. (v. 37)

He is able to humble me when I walk in pride. He’s able to humble you when you walk in pride. He’s able to humble our world’s leaders when they walk in pride—and He will. Beware of pride.

First Peter 5, “God resists the proud but He gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time.” (v. 5)

And so, Father, we lift up our eyes up to heaven. You are great. We are small and weak and frail and needy. Give us grace and mercy to humble ourselves and to praise, exalt, and glorify the King of heaven. Amen.

Dannah: We can take great comfort in knowing that God’s power is mightier than any ruler or authority or human action. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been sharing about God’s sovereignty in a series on the book of Daniel. The way we hold tight to the promise that Heaven rules is by fixing our gaze on Christ.

To help you keep that perspective, we want to help you steady your heart on God’s Word through our 31-day Advent card set. You may be saying, “Wait! Advent season already?” It might seem early, but Christmas is just around the corner. So we want you to get a head start on preparing for Advent with this resource.

Each day’s card will remind you of God’s promises and His presence. This pack even comes with a stand for you to display these truths on your counter or your desktop. You’ll receive the daily Advent card set as our way of thanking you when you give a gift of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. Make sure to ask for the Advent card set with your donation. 

Also, I want to remind you about an event coming up this weekend! Revive '21 officially begins this Friday, October 8. We’re so excited this conference is almost here, and I hope you’re making plans to join us live! We’ll spend this weekend understanding what it means to get grounded—grounded in God, in His Word, and so much more. That’s such an important topic in this constantly changing, shaking world. You’ll hear messages about how to stand firm in Christ and together, we’ll experience a powerful time of worship.

This year, you have the option to attend in-person or on the livestream. Just go to ReviveOurHearts.com to select your method of attendance and register. It’s not too late, but hurry, before it is!

Tomorrow Nancy will help us put our world into eternal perspective as she continues in the series, “Heaven Rules.” Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is calling you to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

All Scripture is taken from the CSB.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.

About the Host

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.