Humbled for Good
King Nebuchadnezzar - a fascinating figure in Scripture. Conqueror of the Jews, God utilizes him unwittingly as their caretaker. Perhaps for this reason, God takes a special interest in him. This is no more vivid than in Daniel 4.
Others have made hay of Nebuchadnezzar’s psyche: he is what we would call today a narcissist. Absorbed with himself, this self-consumption only poisons his soul. He then relates to individuals and the nations like a grabby, unweaned child - always wanting more, always using others and the nations to satisfy the yawning hole in his soul, a hole that was created not by God but by that poisonous self-absorption. (D.A. Carson helpfully points out here that this is different from the other “ditch” of arrogance, called the egotist, who is supremely confident in himself and who could not care less whether you exist or not. But that’s for another blog post.)
God takes notice. He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. In His wisdom, God intends to bless Nebuchadnezzar. But in order to do so, He must humble him. And he does, a year later, when King Nebby’s pride is in full bloom, giving him a case lycanthropy, causing him to wander about like a dog. But then God lifts the insanity, and Nebuchadnezzar is restored.
There are three elements of the story that we would all do well to understand.
First, the fundamental need of all of us is to see God, as He is truly is, in His sovereign glory. To have our hearts oriented towards Him, in faith.
Second, this produces in us a fundamental stance in life of humility. But we see from this story and others, that biblical humility has not one but two elements: a vertical and a horizontal. The vertical says “God is great; I need Him.” The horizontal bends this toward others. As we are satisfied in Him, we train our powers toward others, for their flourishing in God.
Thus, thirdly, Daniel commands habits for Nebuchadnezzar to practice in response: “Therefore, O King . . . break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (4:27) Nebuchadnezzar may cease shredding the nations, but he is still a narcissist, until he repents and becomes generous, toward God and man.
A heart turned to God, humbled, lived out in habits of repentance. These habits then circle back to God: we are only imitating His generosity to us in Christ.