It’s (past) time to bring Daniel 4 to a close and bid fond farewell to Nebuchadnezzar. (He actually does show up posthumously in the next chapter, but he’s a distant memory there, which turns out to be part of Belshazzar’s problem. But, I am getting ahead of myself.)
I rather like the pompous, short-fused, crazy guy by now. He’s been a main character since at least chapter 2. Aside from maybe Daniel (and I do mean maybe), Nebuchadnezzar is the character we know best in these early chapters of the book. He stands at center stage in the drama that unfolds in his court: his statue dream takes down his bumbling wise men (ch. 2); his garish image almost takes down Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the white hot furnace (ch. 3); and his tree dream takes him down (ch. 4). Nebuchadnezzar, one of the greatest kings of the ancient world, commanded grand armies and controlled the fates of captive people. But he was helpless before the God of Israel, who stymied his experts (ch. 2), stood in his fire (ch. 3), and reduced him to fur and feathers (metaphorically speaking; ch. 4).
Some people ask whether Nebuchadnezzar converts before he exits stage right in the book of Daniel (see Dan 4:34–37). Well, besides the fact that the narrator neither asks nor answers such a question, we’d first have to sort out what we mean by “convert” in the Old Testament. This discussion, while interesting and beneficial in its own right, would take us far afield from the narrator’s purpose in tracking Nebuchadnezzar for three chapters. Part of his purpose is to portray how the King of kings – the one who gave His people, city, and temple into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand in the first place (Dan 1:1–2) – engaged with a proud, idol-worshiping king on his own turf. He almost methodically dismantled the mere man’s world. First He exposed the short circuit in his connection to wisdom and knowledge. Then He upended the king’s overreaching claim to power (“What god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Dan 3:15). And finally He drove the mighty king right out of his mind.
But He did none of these things until He had put in place someone to speak truth to the king, someone to interpret the events as they happened. Before the royal antics started in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, God put some of His choicest vessels in the king’s hand (Dan 1). Daniel and his three friends encountered the king at every turn with the God who would not go away until the high and mighty king of Babylon acknowledged just how lowly he really was: “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” (Dan 4:37 NIV).
Well said, Nebuchadnezzar. You finally got it.