“Nebuchadnezzar: The Golden Boy” by Rosanna McFadden
What is the matter with you people? Your foreheads should be down on the ground right now. Is it possible that you don’t know who I am? Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Jews — at least I have been since that loser Joiakim yielded to the Babylonian army 18 months ago.
You might think I’m a jerk, but let me tell you, it is not my fault. Nothing is ever my fault. The problem is, I’m surrounded by idiots — starting with my parents, who gave me the name Nebuchadnezzar. Spell it with me: N-E-B-U-C-H . . . see what I mean? You have it written on a piece of paper and you still can’t spell it. I had to have two of my teachers put to death over that name. One because he misspelled it, and the other because I misspelled it. What kind of teacher lets an eight year-old misspell his own name? Idiots.
Which is why, when I became king of Judah, I did a very smart thing. I had my people find the best-read, smartest, and best-looking Jews and bring them to my court to be educated as Babylonians. Four of these Jews really stood out. The leader of these four guys we called Belteshazzar — a great Babylonian name — but it never stuck. Everyone still called him by his Jewish name, D- Dan- Daniel. Thank goodness the other guys went by Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, which is SO much easier to say.
These guys were GREAT. Very special. They picked up Chaldean in a hurry, were well- read, had good insights, and were super-smart. A little weird though, as I found out later. I had ordered that they have the best of the palace food and wine, because good people deserve the best, but they ate only vegetables and drank only water. So the vegetarian thing I get, I mean, animal rights, save the planet, whatever, but why not drink the wine? Grapes are vegetables, right?
After Belteshazzar and the other guys had been at the palace for a year, a crazy thing happened: I had a dream. A weird dream. Do you want to hear about the dream? [Tell them about the dream, Nebuchadnezzar} What is the matter with you people? Everyone knows that dreams are messages from the gods that foretell the future, but I didn’t know what this one meant. Fortunately I have a whole staff of magical folks — magicians, enchanters, sorcerers — whose job it is to tell me the future. So I called in all the magical people, and they said, “O King, live forever! Why have you called us here?” Now remember, I am smart, and I know these people are going to tell me whatever they think I want to hear. So I say, “I want you to interpret my dream.” And they say, “Great. What was the dream?” And I say, “No, you tell me the dream and what it means.” And they’re like “How can we tell you what the dream means if you don’t tell is what the dream was?” And I said, “If you’re so magical, you ought to be able to tell me what my dream was.” But they couldn’t. Not a single magician, sorcerer, or enchanter. Idiots. So I ordered them all put to death. And Belteshazzar, he gets wind of this and says “Oh, don’t kill them, I’m sure my God can tell what the dream was.” I gotta hand it to the kid, he had guts. So I gave him a night to sleep on it.
He came in the next day and said, “O King, live forever.” And I asked him to tell me about my dream and what it meant. And he starts to go on about how this wisdom isn’t his, it’s from his God who is Lord of heaven and earth and whatever. Just tell me the dream. And guess what: he nailed it. The dream and what it meant. Do you want to hear about the dream? [What is the matter with these people: who set up this rally?]
Here’s the dream: I saw a statue with a head and shoulders made out of gold, silver chest and arms, a bronze torso and thighs, and legs made out of iron mixed with clay. A boulder broke off a mountain and rolled into the statue and broke it into pieces which feel to the ground and crumbled and blew away in the wind. Then the boulder got bigger and bigger until it was as big as the whole world. Weird, right? And here’s what it meant: the golden head and shoulders are me, which I pretty much figured, it being the head and all. And I didn’t really listen after that, since it was about lower kings and other kingdoms and blah blah blah.
So after I gave Belteshazzar a nice reward — because smart people reward smart people — I did what you’d probably expect. I made a huuuge statue of myself: over 60 cubits tall. That’s taller than this building! (I’m surrounded by idiots) and I had the whole thing — not just the head and shoulders — covered in gold. I had it set up on the plain where everyone could see it. And then I called together the governors, the regional officials, the bureaucrats — all the little folks — and I said, “Here’s the deal: see that huuuge golden statue? The one of Me? Whenever you hear music — pipes, drums, tambourines, electric guitars, pipe organs — whatever; whenever you hear music, you tell the people to stop whatever they’re doing, face that statue, and bow down and worship. Me. Got that?”
I am pretty sure I heard music right before I walked in here. So my question to you is, Why aren’t your foreheads down on the ground right now? What is the matter with you people?
This was just a part of Nebuchanezzar’s story. It’s kind of a riches to rags to riches story. But before I get to the rest of his story, I want to talk a little about jerks. My inspiration for this series has come from the book Famous Jerks of the Bible by Margaret Brouillette. And her theses is that by exploring the stories of biblical jerks, we can learn what NOT to do in our interactions with one another, and especially in our relationship with God.
As she notes, ‘jerk” is not a biblical term, but there is a term like it, and it shows up more than seventy times in the book of Proverbs. Do you know what word Proverbs uses? Fool. Foolishness is the opposite of wisdom, and wisdom is understanding and respect for God. Fools — or jerks — are people who rely on their own understanding and have a higher opinion of themselves than they do of God. Proverbs doesn’t pull punches when it talks about folks like this. Proverbs 26:11-12 says, “Like a dog that returns to its vomit [that’s a vivid image] is a fool who reverts to his folly. Do you see a person who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for fools than for them.”
I took some creative license with my portrayal of Neb. I exaggerated and even invented some of the ways that Neb was a jerk — that’s part of the reason I’m encouraging you to read ahead, so you know what is actually in the biblical record. But my goodness, there is so much there which I didn’t have to invent, and couldn’t have even imagined. Neb was clearly a jerk: a power-hungry, vengeful, narcissist — hallmarks of the personality disorder of narcissism are grandiocity or an exaggerated sense of self-importance, excessive need for admiration, and lack of empathy. Neb checks all those boxes. Perhaps you can think of contemporary public figures or even people you know who may be jerks in this way. Neb didn’t stop behaving badly after putting up a huuuge statue of himself: he put the other three Israelites, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego into a furnace to burn to death for not worshipping that statue. What a jerk.
But even jerks can change, and amazingly, Neb does. The words which we spoke as part of our call to worship, praising God as the Most High — those were Neb’s words from Daniel chapter 4. But here’s the thing: for Neb to go from being a jerk who demands that everyone worship his image to being a person who praises God, took a lot more than just hearing a pretty good sermon and realizing, gee, maybe I should care about other people: it took a lot more than that. After another prophetic dream, which again, Daniel interprets, Neb was driven from human society, made to eat grass like oxen, he slept outdoors, grew hair as long as eagles’ feathers, and nails like birds’ claws. He is humiliated. God did this to Neb so that Neb would recognize his foolish ways and come to understand the sovereignty of the Lord. Neb’s self-glorification leads to his terrible downfall, but when he comes to end of that period and glorifies God, he is restored to the throne of Judah. And these are the last words we hear from Neb:
I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven,
For all his works are truth, and his way is justice;
And he is able to bring low those who walk in pride. (Daniel 4:37)
Not every jerk we will consider in the coming weeks comes to this realization. But the through line for all of these jerks is a distorted view of themselves, and especially of the relationship between themselves and God. Even those of us who praise and honor God and believe in the salvation of his Son Jesus Christ and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we all make mistakes and fall short — persistently so. This doesn’t make you a jerk — it means that you are human. But if you set yourself in the place of God, and convince yourself that YOU are the Most High, and start to expect other people to treat you like that, you are in the company of Neb, who acted like a jerk. His story warns us that God is able to bring low those who walk in pride.
Next week we will hear from Jonah, the pouting prophet. If all you remember about Jonah is something about a whale, that is not the whole story. You can read it in the book of Jonah; it’s four chapters long, and you can even skip chapter 2 if you want. As you go into the coming week, remember that God is the Most High — and we are not. Don’t be a jerk.