1 Kings 22; 1 Thessalonians 5; Daniel 4; Psalms 108-109
ONE OF THE REASONS WHY the narratives of Daniel 4 and Daniel 5 are put side by side, even though they clearly come from two quite different periods of Daniel’s life, is that each serves as the foil of the other. Both are accounts of rich, powerful, arrogant men. The first, mercifully, is humbled and therefore spared and transformed; the second is simply destroyed.
Many critics doubt that the account of Daniel 4 is anything more than pious fiction to encourage the Jews. They note that there is no record of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity in the surviving Babylonian records, and they doubt that the empire could have held together had the emperor himself gone mad for a period of time. Neither argument is weighty. Official records would not have talked much of Nebuchadnezzar’s period of insanity, and in any case records from the latter part of his life have not so far come to light. Moreover, we do not know exactly how long Nebuchadnezzar was insane: it is uncertain what “seven times” (4:16) means. Certainly the Roman Empire survived under Caligula, whose insanity no one doubts.
In our short space, we may reflect on the following:
(1) Nebuchadnezzar’s dream reflects his megalomania. He has a narcissistic personality: he is corroded by his own greatness yet is so insecure that his grandiose fantasies must be nurtured by incessant self-admiration. Unlike the egotist, who is so supremely self-confident that he does not care a rip what anyone thinks of him or her, the narcissist is often hypersensitive and emotionally fragile. Regardless of all psychological speculations, the man’s arrogance before God is unrestrained (despite the experience of chaps. 2 and 3), and God resolves to humble him.
(2) Daniel’s approach to Nebuchadnezzar, once he has heard the dream, should be studied by every Christian preacher and counselor. On the one hand, he is deeply distressed to grasp what Nebuchadnezzar is going through, or going to go through (4:19). On the other hand, once he is prevailed upon to give the interpretation of the dream, he does so with admirable clarity and forthright truthfulness. He neither maintains professional detachment nor resorts to mealy-mouthed indirection.
(3) The psychotic breakdown is probably a form of lycanthropy (which today is subdued by antipsychotic drugs). But once his sanity is restored (4:36), Nebuchadnezzar articulates the lesson he has learned: God is sovereign, he raises and abases whom he wills, none can withstand him, and every virtue or strength we possess we derive from him. To think otherwise is to invite rebuke, for “those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (4:37).