What sinful pride is not: “Pleasure in being praised is not pride.” Here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, “I have pleased him; all is well,” to thinking, “What a fine person I must be to have done it.”
“We say in English that a man is ‘proud’ of his son, or his father, or his school or regiment, and it may be asked whether ‘pride’ in this sense is a sin. I think it depends on what exactly, we mean by ‘proud of.’ Very often, in such sentences, the phrase ‘is proud of’ means ‘has a warm hearted admiration for.’ Such admiration is very far from being a sin. But it might, perhaps, mean that the person in question gives himself airs on the ground of his distinguished father, or because he belongs to a famous regiment. This would clearly be a fault, but even then, it would be better than being proud simply of himself. To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.” Lewis 125, 126
Daniel chapter 4 and 5 is about sinful pride. The sovereignty of almighty God and the sinful pride of unbelieving Babylonian kings are on display. In this morning’s chapter we witness our sovereign God humble perhaps the proudest man/creature that ever breathed. Based on the text before us (which is the final Biblical word we have on Nebuchadnezzar) I would be more surprised if we did not recline with him at Abraham’s bosom than if we did. Chapter 4 is such a classic ‘locus classicus’ illustration of pride transformed to humility that the margins of my Bible have become the repository of the Bible’s teaching on the subject.
Let’s go to school on Nebuchadnezzar this morning and Belshazzar tonight observing and learning lessons on how our sinful pride mars and skews our perception of reality, turns us into monsters and, for untold many, has been the cause of their own destruction as in the case of Belshazzar. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Let’s learn from their sins.
Read Daniel 4 – Pray
We will discuss three observations/lessons this morning and three tonight.
- Our sinful pride renders us dull to the Lord’s goodliness, kindness, mercy and forbearance.
Consider that this was Nebuchadnezzar’s third supernatural personal encounter with the almighty sovereign of the universe.
- In chapter 2 God comes to him in a disturbing dream about four future kingdoms and their destruction and how it will be the Lord’s kingdom that will destroy them and finally prevail. And he is so moved that he falls prostrate before Daniel and professes “Surely your God is God of gods and the Lord of Kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” Daniel 2:47. He has a moment of clarity. He sees! But it’s only for a moment and then his sinful pride blinds him to the God of gods again.
- In chapter 3 after throwing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the blazing furnace he sees a fourth being “like unto a son of the gods” walking about with them unharmed and unbound and after summoning them out worships – I think. “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who has sent his angel and rescued his servants!….I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way!” Daniel 3:28-29. Again, he sees! He gets it! God has revealed himself to him but then, like a vapor, that understanding and acknowledgment and that accurate perception is gone, blown away by his sinful pride.
- And now in this chapter the Lord comes to him again in a terrifying dream and Daniel interprets it and tells him in so many words he is going to be driven mad and the laughing stock of everybody that sees him until he acknowledges that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes. “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 that then your prosperity will continue.” Daniel 4:27
What do you hope your response would be? I hope I would fall on my face right then and there and take this godly man’s advice – cover myself with dust and sackcloth, beg pardon and not let Daniel out of my sight until he can give me some encouragement that I’ve been heard.
What does Nebuchadnezzar do? Amazingly nothing, he brushes it off. Perhaps what is even more amazing is that the Lord lets him live out this day. He doesn’t do that with Belshazzar as we’ll see tonight. But for twelve lazy months he forbears Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance giving him opportunity after opportunity to repent. But his own sinful pride rendered him dull to the Lord’s goodness, kindness, mercy and forbearance.
“When God…wishes to lead us to repentance, he is compelled to repeat his blows continually, either because we are not moved when he chastises us with his hand, or we seem roused for the time, and then we return again to our former torpor. He is therefore compelled to redouble his blows.” Calvin
But to be roused only for a short time is very much like despising his goodness and forbearance which is designed to lead us to repent of our sinful pride. If we are honest, we’ll begin by confessing we have too much of Nebuchadnezzar in us and need to learn this lesson. Our sinful pride renders us dull to the Lord’s forbearance with us.
How often has he come to us? How often has he drawn near to us in our lifetime? Times without number I’m sure and often we were unaware or didn’t repent or give thanks as we know we should.
- By nature, sinful pride places excessive value on oneself and ones achievements. “Is not
this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Daniel 4:30.
I suspect if we had accomplished as much as he did we’d be tempted to say the very same! Listen to Alexander Whyte, “Nebuchadnezzar was by far the most famous of all the kings of the East…before he came to his great throne, he had won victory after victory over all the surrounding nations…But the fame of this magnificent monarch has rested even more on his unparalleled works of peace than on his great successes in war. Great as he was as a warrior, he was still greater as a statesman and administrator. The vast public works that he planned and executed for his capital and his kingdom in walls and in water works, in parks and in gardens (his hanging gardens 1 of the 7 ancient wonders of the world), in palaces and in temples – all these things in their vastness, in their usefulness, in their beauty, and in their immense cost make Nebuchadnezzar to stand out absolutely unapproached among the great builder-kings of the ancient East.” Examples: The Ishtar Gate is reconstructed out of original materials and on exhibit at the State Museum in Berlin. Four chariots side by side could ride atop his city wall.
He found it a city of brick and he made it a city of marble. The average person who visited Babylon was astounded with its vastness, beauty, majesty, strength, order, design, sculptures, engravings and sophistication.
On our vacation back East, we spent a night and a day in Washington D.C. I had forgotten how inspiring and impressive the Lincoln Memorial was especially at night. We walked up flight after flight of steps and found ourselves reverently shuffling toward this marvelous larger-than-life likeness of one of our greatest presidents. How real, how human he looked even though sculpted from stone. We re-read the Gettysburg Address beautifully engraved in marble. I remembered he scribbled those thoughts together on the train ride to dedicate that battlefield and I was awed with his majestic command of English. We tore ourselves away and began walking out of the memorial, perhaps more accurately they tore me away, and we were arrested by the obvious thoughtful symmetry of sidewalk, gardens and pools leading the eye inescapably to the towering Washington Monument. We saw it twice there on the horizon and there in the reflecting pool and the moon hanging about 2 o’clock, now all unforgettably etched in my mind. Impressive!
And so was Babylon. Everyone thought so. Babylon earned such title as “Babylon, the Queen of Kingdoms,” Isaiah 47:5, “Babylon, the Eternal Queen,” Isaiah 47:7, “Babylon, the Jewel of Kingdoms,” Isaiah 13:19. Everyone thought so visitor, tradesman, smith, wiseman, begger and the King.
So pleased with himself, he strolls out to the roof of his palace. “All of this is because of me, all of this is for me and people are going to read about me in their histories – my glory, splendor, fame. All those people within the city walls and without, all the people of my vast empire, my empire that dwarfs all preceding Egyptian and Assyrian kingdoms, all these people are my people, my property, they serve me. They live and move and have their being to serve me. I am sovereign, apart from me there is no other.”
Before he could finish that sentence he was insane, a beast on all fours. Sinclair Ferguson remarks, “Nebuchadnezzar was smitten with the symptoms of what is known as lycanthropy (from the Greek, Lukos meaning wolf + anthropos, meaning man) wolf man. And he remained in that pathetic, embarrassing condition for seven times, which probably does not mean seven months or years, but the complete period fixed by God’s decree (seven being taken as the number representing perfection or completeness).
Imagine the most powerful, the most feared, the most accomplished man, the only other man in scripture (besides the Lord Jesus Christ) that God calls “The King of Kings.” People tremble before him. Now if they saw him what responses….
One end of the spectrum, if you were family or you loved him you felt great sympathy, helplessness, embarrassed, wanting to hide him and protect him and his reputation as much as possible. But if you were a captive Jew dragged from your homeland witnessing family members put to death by this man, I imagine your thoughts and emotions would be different. “Ha! ‘Vengeance is Mine,’ saith the Lord. You deserve every bit of this and much more. I pray you never recover wolf man. Have some more grass! Beast!” (Incidentally, no hint of that from Daniel.)
Is it possible for any creature to fall further! Once enthroned as the King of Kings, seated in Babylon the jewel of kingdoms, surrounded by the wisest men his empire offered, treated to the most sumptuous meat and drink with the world his oyster – to this! Woe, woe, fallen, fallen is Nebuchadnezzar the Great. Why? Because by nature sinful pride places excessive value on oneself and one’s achievements.
Nebuchadnezzar needed to learn about his achievements, what you and I need to learn. Lewis said in Screwtape Letters, “The Enemy (God) wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world and knows it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbors’ talents.”
When we walk about our palace roof and consider our achievements, we need more of this spirit, “Lord, you put this design or program in my head and I did my best with the material resources I had and You made it come out so beautiful! It’s beautiful! I don’t know how to improve it!” Or look upon someone else’s work, “Lord, who designed this! Who made this! What talent! Genius! Simply genius!”
- Our third, final and briefest observation and lesson is a natural issue from placing excessive value on oneself and one’s achievements and that is…
Pride stymies us from giving due credit, thanks and praise to God from Whom all blessings flow.
This is part of the interpretation that Daniel told Nebuchadezzar after his first disturbing dream
in Chapter 2. “You, O King, are the King of Kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion
and power and might and glory; in your hands He has placed mankind and the beasts of the field
and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, He has made you ruler over them.” Daniel 2:37-38
Nebuchadnezzar, what do you have that you did not receive?
Our pride renders us dull to the Lord’s goodness, kindness and forbearance. Let us respond more
quickly. Our pride places excessive value on ourselves and our achievements. Let us repent. Our
pride stymies us from giving all credit and praise to Him. Let us return thanks – remembering…..
The Lord is not out to humiliate us as He did Nebuchadnezzar. He is not out to hurt our pride. He is out to destroy it before it destroys us. For surely it will. It has a voracious appetite; nothing about us is more ambitious. It is not only His enemy it is our own menacing, undaunted enemy and the chief cause of many of our miseries. Eternity is at stake.