For those of us familiar with the story of the prophet Daniel, we may have heard of the name Nebuchadnezzar.
We may recognize him from various stories we heard in Sunday school from when Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) to Nebuchadnezzar losing his mind and acting like an animal when he gets too puffed up with pride.
But who is this Babylonian king? Why does he represent such a gray character in Scripture? After all, even though he pillaged Israel and kidnapped the Israelites, Daniel still cares for him.
In this article, we’ll dive into a brief history of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, why he represents such a complex character, and what we can learn from him today.
A Brief History of Nebuchadnezzar’s Reign
Nebuchadnezzar II strengthened Babylon and brought it into its golden years, in which his offspring quickly tarnished and ended up destroying the nation.
As a warrior king, he wasted no time and began his conquest of the nations, similar to Alexander the Great centuries later.
In the early 600s BC and late 500s BC, with the weakening and disintegration of the Assyrian Empire, this left a gap wide open for the next global superpower to take over.
Babylon takes full advantage of this, especially under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and he begins taking over surrounding nations.
Among these included Israel. For a while, Israel managed to have something known as a vassal relationship with Babylon. Similar to how mobs work, they would pay Babylon a certain price for their “protection.”
But really, the wealth they distributed to Babylon ensured that the superpower wouldn’t sack and pillage their nation.
Eventually, under the rule of Jehoiakim, the king of Israel refuses to stop paying tribute to Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t take this all that well and lays siege to Israel. Starved and pillaged, the nation didn’t stand a chance.
Nebuchadnezzar proceeds to take Israelite captives in three waves, puts a puppet king in charge of Israel, and when that puppet king rebels, he nearly destroys Israel, leaving but a remnant of the poorest of the poor behind.
His reign continues to be prosperous until the rule of Babylon is passed down to his descendants.
His unready grandson throws a party the night that the Medo-Persians take over the kingdom, snuffing out Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar’s legacy.
Why Is Nebuchadnezzar a Complicated Character?
From the information garnered above, we see this king in a rather negative light. He pillaged, killed, and deposed kings.
Still, Scripture does give us a different picture of him. When God restores Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity, he says,
“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” (Daniel 5:37).
Daniel also expresses concern when he learns what will happen to Nebuchadnezzar when he loses his sanity.
The prophet cares for the same king who threw his friends into a fiery furnace and stole him away from his homeland and family, possibly killing his family members in the process.
And yet, he cares for this king. Nebuchadnezzar isn’t exactly a poster child for morality. But we can learn a great deal about God redeeming even kings and prophets loving their enemies from this example.
What Does the Bible Say about Nebuchadnezzar?
What does the Bible say about this Babylonian King who ruled the nation of Babylon at its peak? Let's explore some verses and discuss every one of them.
2 Kings 24:1 "In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years: then he turned and rebelled against him."
Nebuchadnezzar understood the definition of leverage. Israel, as well as other kingdoms, paid tribute to them. In essence, think about the bully on the playground asking everyone for their lunch money in exchange of avoiding a fist sandwich. Now escalate that to a global scale, and you have Nebuchadnezzar. He had Israel under his thumb until the puppet king Jehoiakim decided to rebel. It didn't go well for Israel. They more than lost their lunch money.
Ezra 1:7 "Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god."
To add insult to injury, not only does Nebuchadnezzar sack Jerusalem and kidnap many of its inhabitants, but he takes away precious items from the temple of the Lord. We see these show up later in Daniel 5 when his grandson decides to throw a party. That party is what becomes the undoing of Nebuchadnezzar's family line and the entire nation of Babylon. They should've learned from the Philistines' mistake when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and placed it in the temple of Dagon. Plagues swept the land, and the Dagon statue crumbled. Perhaps if they had paid a little more attention to history, they could've spared their nation.
"At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever."
In Daniel 4 (verse above) the king has a really interesting come-to-God moment. After he is plagued with an odd disease that makes him act like an animal, due to his pride, God restores him and returns his sanity. Once he has his wits back about him, he praises God and calls him the Most High. We don't really get to hear much about the king after this. We know his grandson eventually takes the throne and does a really poor job of ruling the nation. There's no indication if Nebuchadnezzar followed Yahweh after this. But he certainly has a much greater appreciation for the Israelite God after his trials he faces in Daniel 4. Then again, he seems to have a similar experience in Daniel 3 and doesn't quite learn his lesson. Was he simply a man who knew about Yahweh but chose not to live according to the law of Yahweh? We may never know.
What Can We Learn from Nebuchadnezzar?
Apart from “don’t leave your legacy to your partying grandson” we can learn a lot from Nebuchadnezzar.
We discover the dangers of pride. At the height of his kingdom, God not only takes away Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity, but he also sends Babylon on a downward spiral that has reached its end toward the later years of Daniel’s life.
We also can learn how to love our enemies through Daniel’s example. Nebuchadnezzar had essentially destroyed Daniels’ life and home, but the prophet still worries about the safety and health of this king.
Finally, from Nebuchadnezzar’s short-lived five chapters in Scripture, we learn that even kings and rulers who do not believe in Yahweh can recognize God’s power.
When Daniel’s three friends emerge from the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar says,
“Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God” (Daniel 3:28).
Even Nebuchadnezzar, the king of a global superpower, admits God’s awesome and unmatched power.
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Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author 21+ books. More than 1400 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.
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