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    May 12, 2013

    The Insanity of Arrogance

    Preacher: John Repsold

    Series: Daniel: Overcoming Under Siege

    Keywords: pride, arrogance, humility, insanity, sovereignty of god, rulers, power


    This message looks at both the sovereignty of God and the pride of man through the lens of the rise, the fall and the restoration of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4. We examine the foolishness and the effects of replacing God with anything less than God.


    The Insanity of Arrogance

    “Overcoming Under Siege” Series

    Daniel 4

    May 12, 2013


    INTRO:  This past week I was talking with Neil Anderson, one of my good friends here in Spokane, about his recent trip to Papua New Guinea. As many of you know, he was a missionary there for over 30 years. 

                Well, something is happening in PNG now days that is turning the culture on its head.  Some natural gas company has come in and is building a huge pipeline across the country to move 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to market.  So it’s pumping several billion dollars in a country where a $20 bill used to get you a night at a hotel and a meal.  But now with inflation running wild from the infusion of money, a chocolate bar that used to be well less than a buck now costs $15!  And most of the nationals are leaving their villages just to get jobs on the pipeline that will keep up with the inflation. 

    And to think that anthropologists are all worried about what missionaries do to an indigenous culture!


    Some of us are old enough to remember shortages.  During WWII (which I don’t remember), you had to have ration cards to purchase everything from meat to tires.  I am old enough to remember gas rationing in the 70’s.  Some countries today are even experiencing shortages of water and clean air.

                But there is one thing that has never been in short supply in our world.  PRIDE.  Yes, human pride.  You see it everywhere, especially where there is either money or power or both.  There’s never been a shortage of pride on the international stage of world leaders. 

                Take Napoleon, for example.  On the morning of the battle of Waterloo, he was describing to his commanding officer his strategy for the day’s campaign.  He said, “We’ll put the infantry here, the cavalry over there, and the artillery in that spot.  At the end of the day, England will be at the feet of France, and Wellington will be the prisoner of Napoleon.” 

                The commanding officer is reported to have said, “But we must not forget that man proposes and God disposes.” 

                With typical arrogance, the little dictator pulled his body to its full five-feet-two stature and replied, “I want you to understand, sir, that Napoleon proposes and Napoleon disposes.” 

                Victor Hugo, the novelist, wrote, “From that moment, Waterloo was lost, for God sent rain and hail so that the troops of Napoleon could not maneuver as he had planned, and on the night of battle it was Napoleon who was prisoner of Wellington, and France was at the feet of England.”


    Arrogance and pride are both abundant in our world and insane in God’s eyes. It is safe to say that pride—the belief that we know better than anyone (including God) how to make decisions—is at the root of all sin.  Pride is the oldest of human sins and the ugliest of human traits.  We are repulsed when we see it in others yet we are blinded so often to where it exists in us. 


    We come to chapter 4 of the book of Daniel today.  It is still in that section which was written in Aramaic.  And this chapter has yet another peculiarity to it:  the entire first half of it is written, not by Daniel or some other God-fearing Jew, but by the Gentile and pagan king of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar. 

                Let’s pick up in 4:4.  (We’ll come back to the first 4 verses in a little bit.)  Read 4:4-8.

                For years, the book of Daniel has been subject to the criticism of people who just can’t seem to bring themselves to believe that God could miraculously and accurately tell people what is to come and have it written and recorded in great detail before it ever comes to pass.  So critics have tried to poke holes in the book.  Chapter 4 is one such place they pointed to for years.  They claimed that the story that is about to unfold about Nebuchadnezzar going into the desert for seven years was a mistake in the Bible.  The reason they held that is because nowhere could they find in Babylonian history that Neb ever left his throne for 7 years.  But here’s what came to light over time and further archeological discoveries.

                The Nebuchadnezzar of chapter 1-3 is a different person from the Neb of Daniel 4.  There were actually 3 Nebuchadnezzars in Babylonian history, four if you count Saddam Hussein who referred to himself as Neb the Second. 

    • The 1st king of Babylon was Neb I who reigned from 625-605 B.C.  His name was Nabopolassar. 
    • His son was Neb II, and he reigned from 605-562 B.C.  He’s the Neb or Daniel 1-3.  He had a couple of sons and relatives who reigned after him,
    • One for a year (Evil-Merodach, 561-560 B.C.), one for  3 years (Neriglisar, 559-556 B.C.) and another for less than a year (Labashi-Marduk, 556 B.C.). 
    • Then along comes a guy called Nabonidus.  He was not a descendant of Neb II and he got the throne by overthrowing Marduk.  He ruled from 555-539 B.C. as the last king of Babylon.  He called himself Neb III or just Neb, probably because he wanted to identify himself with the great line of great kings. Belshazzar of Daniel 5 is Nabonidus’ son, as we will see in a couple of weeks.

    The problem comes in that ancient Babylonian documents show Nabonidus, or Neb III, as the last king of Babylon.  What apparently happened is that, after becoming king, Nabonidus started building his own palace and capital in the Arabian desert at a place called Tema.  He later renamed it Babylon (2?).  He placed his son in the old city of Babylon as his co-regent. But the funny thing is that, according to the Babylonian Chronicles something strange happens in Nabonidus’ fourth year.  He isn’t heard from for 7 years!  Those, then are the 7 years in which Neb III was insane. 

    But back to the story!

    Life was good for Nebuchadnezzar.  His kingdom was not fighting a war.  He was able to stay home, in his favorite palace.  He was “contented and prosperous” by his own admission.  That’s quite a statement for any man or woman, let alone an empire ruler, to make—contented and prosperous.

    We live in a nation of prosperous people by the world’s standards.  We have thousands of millionaires and hundreds of billionaires in America.  Lots of prosperity, but little contentment.  However, even the rare few people who manage to be both prosperous and content may not be all that well-off. And God will probably not leave them there for very long. 

    Something was deeply wrong with Neb’s life, even though the engine of his emotional contentment seemed to be purring right along.  There were no flashing warning lights on his emotional dashboard, no annoying bells or pleasant GPS voice telling him he was about to drive off a cliff. 

    Why on earth would God want to trouble a trouble-free man like this?  For the same reason God allowed and allows most of us to hit some speed-bumps in the road of life.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob loves…and loved…the whole world.  This is an amazing story of Divine pursuit of a pagan Gentile.  Just when Neb should have been enjoying sweet dreams of the contented, God sent him a sour dream of confusion.

    APP:  How many of us were significantly moved initially to begin considering the claims of God upon our lives through some personal crisis?  And how many of us have experienced somewhere along the journey with Jesus being taken out of happy contentment and thrust into seeming chaos?  God uses confusing situations far more than quiet contentment to call to us about some desperately needed change. 

    PERS:  In my life it was not a crisis that brought me to initial faith in Jesus Christ; it was a chaotic life experience 15 years later that revealed some deep shortcomings in my character, my view of myself and of life itself.  [Share about the “career crash” of language school and our first term in Spain.]


    Life’s “terrifying” experiences, the kind that we would rather skip and never have to experience, those are the things that may hold some of God’s most needed and necessary messages to us.  They will probably be very confusing at first.  Even the most astute and respected people around us may not be able to make sense of them for us.  But God will usually make know some ray of wisdom at the appropriate time.  He did for King Neb. 

                Daniel was that man in vs. 8.  Neb reminds us that Daniel had been renamed when he was taken captive.  Instead of his Hebrew name Daniel meaning “Yahweh is my Judge,” the pagan king had changed his name to mean “Keeper of the hidden treasure of Bel.”  Bel was the supreme Babylonian deity and another name for pagan Baal. That’s why in verse 8 he says Daniel is “called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god….” 

                So Neb tells him the troubling dream in vss. 9-18 (read).


    Now it’s Daniel’s turn to be concerned.  Vs. 19 tells us that he was so troubled by the dream that it was evident to the king immediately.  Daniel is feeling the same way about this dream that the kind did, only his problem with it is one of knowing what it means rather than not knowing. 

    APP:  I find it interesting these days to talk to people about what is unfolding in our own country.  There is a certain sense of concern and anxiety about where things are headed.  Most people express concern over where we’re headed economically or even socially.  Poll after poll show that a majority of Americans think we’re on the wrong path right now.  But most of them don’t seem to know why they aren’t feeling good about what is coming down the pike. 

                But if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the cause of that sense of foreboding should be significantly different.  Sure, we’re equally concerned about what runaway national debt and unsustainable social spending is going to do economically to our nation.  But for the child of God, it is the moral rot and decay that should send shivers up our spine.  It is the growing indifference and outright hostility towards God in our culture that should make us shudder.  Economic collapse is frightening enough.  But moral and spiritual implosion?  That will leave us on the trash heap of history far faster and more dramatically than any recession or depression. 


    It’s interesting to note here that Daniel’s reaction to this pagan king was quite different from what most of us would expect.  If my life had been turned completely upside down by an invading, enslaving, international power who ripped me out of my family, my city and my nation only to reeducate, rename and retool me for their own use, I think I would have been dancing in the streets at the news of this dream.  Finally one of these pagan idiots was going to get his just dessert. 

                But that wasn’t Daniel’s heart at all.  He was genuinely grieved about Neb III’s future.  He genuinely wished that this dream applied to Neb’s enemies, not to him. And remember, Neb 3rd was probably not the nicest guy to be around.  As we shall see, he was apparently pretty stuck on himself.  His arrogance was breathtaking…and probably repulsive.  Do any of us like arrogant politicians no matter what country or political party they are a part of?  

    APP:  How does Daniel become this kind of man who genuinely grieves over the impending demise of arrogant national leaders?  I don’t think the text gives us a definitive, single-issue reason for that.  But absolutely every time we see Daniel dealing with one of these pagan kings, we see a man of great personal conviction, great strength and great respectfulness.  And we also see a man who seems to be constantly praying.

    • We saw him in chapter 2 calling on his 3 Hebrew friends to pray with him “for mercy from the God of heaven” concerning the mystery of King Neb 1st’s dream.  And in that same chapter Daniel writes a beautiful prayer song of praise when God answers their prayer and reveals the dream. 
    • We’ll see it in chapter 6 when Daniel is trapped by an unjust law as he prays 3 times a day, apparently in view of others, despite the threat of being eaten alive by lions for anyone who prayed as he prayed. 

    Somehow, praying that is often and praying that is in line with God’s heart for corrupt, godless national leaders will build a heart of compassion and godly love in us for those very leaders.  If not, then something is going wrong in our praying…or we probably are just not really praying at all for those leaders. 

                Would this not be why Jesus exhorted us to “Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,” (Mt. 5:44)? How much of Jesus’ own prayer life was taken up with praying for those who were persecuting him throughout his 3.5 years of ministry to them?  I think it must have been quite a lot. 

    APP:   Some of us need to change our prayer patterns with respect to leading government officials.  Maybe then God will change our hearts about them and the judgment He is bringing upon them. 


    Well, Daniel gives the interpretation of the king’s dream in vss. 19b-27[Read.]


    Notice what change is needed in Neb’s life in order for his kingdom to be restored to him? 

    Vs. 26—“…your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules.”  This is the only time in the Old Testament that “heaven” is equated with God himself.  Why do you think Daniel said this?  Neb believed Baal or Bel ruled over all other gods.  Daniel is giving him a God-challenge.  If he is ever to be restored, there will have to be a change of heart spiritually, a change that acknowledges the supremacy of Yahweh, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe itself. 

    APP:  One of the chief ways we as the people of God demonstrate that we “acknowledge that God rules” is in our prayer life.  Several weeks ago, we introduced the idea of a sort of “church” or “corporate prayer journal.”  When we pray, we are acknowledging that God rules in this life, both in our experience and even that of arrogant people far from Him. 

    [Talk about prayer corner we’ve set up in the southeast corner of this room—prayer requests…& prayer answers.  Show and hand out slips of colored paper and white and encourage people to write down one prayer request or recent answer.

                From the issue of recognizing the true God, Daniel now moves to the steps that must take hold in Neb’s life IF he is ever to recognize God in truth.

    Vs. 27—“Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice:  Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.  It may be then that your prosperity will continue.”    

    • “Renounce your sins by doing what is right….”  There needed to be more than simply a verbal declaration of correct theology; there needed to be a visual demonstration of correct living…righteousness in life that reflected allegiance to the God of Righteousness.  This IS the nature of genuine repentance:  you can’t help but experience a change in how you actually live.  If you don’t, I would say you have reason to question whether or not you have actually experience repentance as God defines it.  That doesn’t mean perfection.  But it does mean a change of heart that leads to a change of life.
    • “[Renounce] your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.”  Those in power have a particular responsibility to watch out for those without the power.  I do not think by saying that that it is always easy to discern who are truly the “oppressed” in a society.  When the power of the state is used unjustly to hold or grind down those who have little power, oppression rules.  Governments can oppress both the poor or the rich.  They can oppress individuals or classes of people. 

    Oppression knows no boundaries.  But caring for the oppressed has always been a BIG part of God’s heart for this world. And we can wag our finger at a government that seems to favor the powerful be they economically or politically or socially. But what are we doing to reflect God’s heart for the oppressed?

    • This is why we remain downtown—to get closer to the oppressed in our city.
    • This is why I challenge you to serve this city’s core at least once a quarter at Cup or City Gate or Street-Wise (1st Cov.) or the UGM or tutoring a struggling child or…. Those are the simple, entry-point encounters with the oppressed.  And if we’re not willing to engage at that minimal level, I’m pretty sure we won’t enter into the lives of other oppressed in this city that may take a lot more compassion and effort on our part than once a month or once a quarter.   

    It won’t always be fun or exciting or convenient.  But it will change you. 

    But to be honest, only about 15-20% of you have ever taken advantage of these opportunities to “be kind to the oppressed.” According to this passage, something happens to the wickedness of our own hearts when we enter into the struggles of the oppressed.  Don’t be another Neb 3rd.   


    Well, apparently this little dream session didn’t actually carry that much weight with Neb. 3rd.  God gave him a full year, a complete cycle of the seasons, to see what he would do.  And vs. 29 tells us how it happened. 

                Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” 

                Wow!  He packs 3 personal pronouns “I” or “my” into once sentence.  Arrogance has found its full flower.  His accomplishments by his strength for his glory.  It was all about Neb the 3rd

                That’s not to deny he presided over some pretty impressive accomplishments.  Babylon was a truly extraordinary city.  The walls were 335 feet high, which is almost a quarter of the height of the Empire State Building.  They were 87 feet thick.  Each side of the quadrilateral they enclosed was 15 miles in length.  Four chariots abreast could be driven on top of the wall.  The Euphrates River flowed through the middle of the city, which had a population of 2 million.  On one bank of the river there were abundant terraces that led to a central altar, and in the middle of the city was the huge temple of Bel.  

                And Neb was proud of his massive city…perhaps just as our nation has become proud of all its massive historical, military and economic accomplishments in this world.  Our founding fathers understood that it was God or “Providence” as they often called Him who was responsible for any success we had experienced up to that point.  And what we had then was nothing compared to what we enjoy today. 

                I do not think that it is arrogance to acknowledge that great things have been done by a person or nation.  I like what Isaiah 26:12 says:  Lord, you establish peace for us;
        all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

    There is nothing wrong with acknowledging reality…whether that is acknowledging that a particular person has done something noteworthy or that an entire nation has accomplished something amazing.  But attributing those accomplishments to human effort and genius apart from the providential blessing of God on a life is folly.  That is arrogance.  And, unfortunately, that is where much of America is today—proud of what they have done and foolishly thinking that God has not had any part in their accomplishments.

    Neb’s failure to look to God and worship Him as God did not make him a better man; it made him more like one of the beasts.  That’s what failure to acknowledge God will always do.  Trying to replace God with a human being does not make man a more noble, better human being; it makes man less human and more like the animals. 

    EX:  Let me give you an example of this.  Every now and then in the paper or magazines of our day, you will see that, in order to justify some new morality or human behavior, the elite intelligencia of the day will appeal to the animal kingdom.  Romans 1 clearly states that when we “neither glorify God as God nor give thanks to him” that we “become futile and our foolish hearts are darkened.”  “Althought we claim to be wise, we become fools and exchange the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” 

                Paul goes on to describe the downward moral slide into sexual immorality that takes place in a culture that denies God.  Homosexuality is there described as one of the results of denying God. 

                How interesting, then, that in the evolutionary naturalistic philosophy of our day, when we want to justify what used to be called “perversions” of legitimate sexuality, the ay to do it is to show that animals do it too.  There are numerous articles out that are trying to find in the animal world justification for our perverted human sexual behaviors, be it multiple heterosexual or homosexual or bisexual partners.

                Take a September 6, 1982 issue of Newsweek magazine.  It was accompanied by a picture of a baboon presumably killing an infant baboon, and over this was a headline that read, “Biologists Say Infanticide Is as Normal as the Sex Drive—and That Most Animals, Including Man, Practice it.”  The implication is clear—Man is an animal.  Other animals kill their young.  Therefore, it is all right for humans to kill their young too. 

    Never mind that most animals don’t kill their young…or that, if they do, it is nowhere near the scale most nations today are practicing in the systematic murder by abortion of millions upon millions of children each year (over 1.5 million in our own nation annually for the past 40 years or 1 murder for every 2 lives births today.) 

    When we deny the supremacy of God, we demean the image of God in man.  When we set man up as his own god, we actually demote mankind to something less than what God intended.  But when we submit to God himself and seek to honor his supremacy, we find that the nature, the behavior and the morality of mankind rises to meet God in all His greatness and beauty.  If we will not look up to become more like God, we will inevitably look down and increasingly become like the animals. 


    This is precisely what happened to Neb. The 3rd…only it happened in a very short time.  One moment he was a bright, handsome, thriving executive king, his mind sharp and clear.  The arrogant words of vs. 30 were no sooner out of his mouth than, like a clap of thunder, his mind snapped.  In an instant he was reduced to the behavior and mental state of an animal. 

    Vs. 33

    There is a 7 year span of time between verse 33 and verse 34, somewhere around 2,500 days. 

    But thank God the story does not end there.  When he “raised his eyes toward heaven,” his sanity returned.  The more we look to God and the less we look to ourselves, the more sane we become as human beings.  True sanity should lead us to do just what Neb did both at the beginning and the end of this chapter.  Go back to vs. 2-3 and compare them with vss. 34b-35


    This is what sanity looks like:  a very high view of God.  And sanity looks like praise and worship of God as He is, not necessarily as we would like him to be.  Look at the end of vs. 35 and vs. 37.

    --Vs. 35—God does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.  No one can hold back his hand or say to him:  “What have you done?”

    --Vs. 37—“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.  And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” 

    The opposite of human pride is humble submission to the sovereign God in everything, even the things we do not understand about life. 

    ILL:  Here is the same reality that Job discovered through severe suffering:  we can try telling God what He has done wrong, but it will not diminish His greatness one ounce.  It will only pull us down into the insanity of questioning God and justifying our incomplete and imperfect judgment of God.  Only when we admit his justice and rightness in all He does while embracing humility before Him will we find peace and life in an often chaotic and conflicted world. 

                Human sanity is founded upon right thinking about God just as insanity has its roots in wrong thinking about our Creator. 

    APP:  As I close this message, can I ask you to let God speak to you about anywhere where the insanity of arrogance or human pride might be getting in the way of God blessing you as fully as He might want? 

    • Is there a pride issue God has spoken to you about today?
    • Maybe it is simply that God wants you to acknowledge as Isaiah said, “All that we/I/you have accomplished, God has done for us.”  It is not prideful to acknowledge that we’ve been part of accomplishing some things in life.  But walking in humility recognizes that none of it would have happened had God not given us the ability, drive, circumstances, resources, gifts…if God had not “done it for us.”
    • Maybe it is learning to humble ourselves under the counsel or direction or authority of other wiser people God has put in our lives.