While the words were still in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven: "It is decreed to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that the kingdom has departed from you.
I. WE SEE PRIDE VAUNTING ITSELF IN BOASTFUL VAIN-GLORY. A year had elapsed since the faithful voice of Daniel had wakened the conscience of the king. At first the monarch intended to reform, but procrastination destroyed the sensitiveness of feeling, blinded him to the imminence of danger, and gave momentum to his downward course. The city grew in magnitude and in magnificence. The royal plans proceeded towards completion. Outward prosperity shone upon him in still clearer glory, Notwithstanding, the hour of reckoning was about to strike. Walking upon his elevated palace-roof, and surveying the grandeur of the city, Nebuchadnezzar gave the reins to natural pride - thought and spoke as if there were none greater than he. This is the end pride ever aims at, viz. to make man a god unto himself. Yet was there a solitary stone in that vast pile that had been created by Nebuchadnezzar? Was the mind that designed the whole self-originated? Were the ten thousand artisans who had daily wrought upon those buildings the workmanship of man or of God? Pride is idolatry. Pride becomes mad atheism. There is no sin that is so frequently and freely condemned in Scripture as pride. By it the angels lost their high estate. Into this pit Adam fell. "Ye shall be as gods," the tempter said. "God resisteth the proud." They are a smoke in his nostrils. "Pride goeth before destruction." One step only between haughtiness and hell. Insolent arrogance verges on madness.
II. WE SEE HUMAN PRIDE MOVING TO ACTIVITY THE COUNSELS OF HEAVEN. If the statesmen or the artisans in Babylon overheard the utterance of the king, they might have regarded it as a harmless outburst of vanity. Yet God doth not so regard it. It disturbs the tranquillity of heaven. It is regarded there as the language of hostile defiance. The limit of God's forbearance was leached. There is a time to be quiet and a time to act. The cup of Nebuchadnezzar's sin was full. He had despised the messages of kindly expostulation from Jehovah, and now no delay was permitted. The king had barely ceased to speak when Jehovah responded. But the words of Nebuchadnezzar were not intended for the ears of God. Ah! still he heard them. He regarded them as an indirect menace to him, and he at once replies. The verdict has passed the Judge's lips. The kingdom is alienated. In a moment empire is lost. Rank, honour, power, are lost. Manhood is lost. Intelligence, memory, reason, love, - all lust. Bare existence only remains. Like the prodigal boy, he descends step by step into a deeper degradation, and at length herds with the beasts of the field. Yet this is but an outward and visible portraiture of the inward degradation.
III. WE SEE HUMAN PRIDE MEETING WITH FITTING RETRIBUTION. We have here in concrete form - in the history of a living person - the abstract truth, "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." This is its natural and fitting outcome - its proper fruit. We cannot doubt that every form and degree of sin has, in the Divine code, a suitable and adequate punishment. There is not simply one rigid penalty for every mode and measure of transgression. The justice that presides on the eternal throne has eyes of subtlest discrimination and balances of exquisite nicety. Every step in the judicial procedure of God is accordant with natural principles. Even the forces of material nature will possibly be employed in vindicating the Divine Majesty. The indolence and sensual indulgence of the Babylonian palace served to emasculate Nebuchadnezzar. The rousing energy which war had demanded in earlier years had braced the monarch's mind. But now the years of public peace had been so misused that inertia bred softness and luxury produced effeminacy. Step by step character deteriorated, though, perhaps, not detected by mortal eye. At length, by the Divine fiat, Reason abdicated her seat; the animal got the better of the man. In his imbecile condition the king imagined himself an ox, and preferred to browse in the fields. He was held last by this hallucination. His relatives and attendants, very possibly, feared to resist him. They humoured his infatuation until, in the royal paddock, his hair grew ragged and coarse, his nails became long and bent like eagles' claws. This is the monarch who disdained to recognize God - the monarch who plumed himself on his self-sufficiency! Draw near, all proud doffers of God, and see this portrait of yourselves! - D.
I. THE FALL OF PRIDE WARNS YOU OF THE SINFULNESS AND DANGER OF PRESUMPTION AND VANITY. "Pride goeth before destruction." "Those that walk in pride, He is able to abase."
I. WE SEE WHAT SHOULD BE THE END OF ALL GOVERNMENT (v. 11, 12). A great man is often symbolized by a tree in ancient and Oriental writers. The king's tree gave shelter to some, a home to others, and protection to all. As the shade and fruits of trees protect and support the beasts that seek shelter under them, so government should protect and support their people. The end of every government should be the greatest possible amount of freedom and happiness to all the people. It should protect the weak, give shelter to the oppressed, hope and employment to the poor, and provide for the diffusion of useful knowledge. By the stump of the roots remaining is meant that his kingdom should not be destroyed or alienated from him during his affliction. A regent, probably his own son, Evil-merodach, governed for him during his insanity.
Is not this great Babylon, that I have built.etc. God will warn him no more by dreams nor by prophets, as He did; but His judgments shall speak (Job 33:14). The first note in this verse is the time when God spake from Heaven. "Pride." saith Solomon, "goeth before the fall"; so when pride had spoken, then judgment spake, even while the proud word was in his mouth. See how God shows that these brags offended Him, and, therefore, He judges while he speaks. How short is the triumph of the wicked! When they begin to crow, God stoppeth their breath, and judgment seizeth upon them when they think no danger near them. We cannot sin so quickly, but God seeth us as quickly. How many have been stricken while the oath have been in their mouths! as Jeroboam was stricken while he struck, that they might see why they were stricken, and yet all this will not keep us from swearing.
II. This history teaches us another thing — THAT PROSPERITY IS DANGEROUS. It is not always the beggar that loses his soul. The man who has just lost all his property is oftentimes not in as much danger as the man who has just gained a large fortune. It requires more care to hold a full cup than an empty one. "Adversity may depress, but prosperity elevates to presumption." On the lofty pinnacle, where all is sunshine, we need a special power to keep us, a special arm to sustain us. Let me warn you, then, to remember that prosperity is not always permanent. Commercial disasters often come in a way and at a time least expected. The tendency of prosperity is to lead to dangerous expenditures and speculations. What now seems so promising may result in disappointment.
III. THAT PRIDE IS IN ITSELF AND IN ITS UTTERANCES AN EXCEEDINGLY DANGEROUS THING, AND ODIOUS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. "And those that walk in pride, He is able to abase" (v. 29-35).
IV. We have here one of the most striking and instructive lessons of GOD'S POWER TO HUMBLE THE PROUD that is recorded in the Bible. Babylon's mighty monarch had made many successful campaigns, and obtained great glory. He was the head of the mightiest kingdom and ruler over the greatest city then in the world; but his riches and his fame, his treasures and his power, could not preserve his peace of mind. His well-appointed guards and numerous army could not keep him from being terrified by dreams. The majesty and all-governing influence of God are here displayed in his acknowledged, absolute, undisputed sovereignty over the world. God's victory over the mightiest and proudest conqueror was easy and complete. How utterly in vain, then, for the impenitent to hope to escape from the presence of God!
(W. A. Scott D.D.)
II. IT IS A GREAT MISFORTUNE TO BE DEPRIVED OF REASON. It is one of the greatest calamities that can befall men in this life. You should be thankful for the use of reason and speech, and for the flowings forth of human sympathy. These are all God's gifts to you. You should be careful not to impair your understanding by neglecting to use it, or by abusing it.
III. The king of Babylon TESTIFIES TO THE BENEFITS OF SANCTIFIED AFFLICTION. No doubt Nebuchadnezzar found, as David did, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." There are lessons in affliction that we never can learn in prosperity. When God hides the sun from us He reveals to us a thousand suns by night. You know that on a sick bed, or in the moment of an unexpected shipwreck, in the hour of bitter and sorrowful bereavement, vows and resolutions are formed which, if kept, would lead to great zeal in behalf of religion.
IV. YOU ARE HERE TAUGHT THE OMNISCIENCE OF GOD. The king was walking on his palace top, and he said to himself, "Is not this great Babylon that I have built?" And, at the end of days, he "lifted up his eyes unto Heaven." In both instances God was nigh unto him. He heard the thoughts of his heart in his pride, and he heard the whispering of his soul in his penitence. There is not a thought that flutters in your hearts — there is not a purpose in your mind formed for to-morrow or for the future — there is not a secret spring of wickedness arising in any bosom — there is not a design that is cherished in the secrecy of any heart, either for good or evil, that you can hide from God. His eye pierces the darkness — His ear hears in silence — His laws and His presence are everywhere. He is the final Judge who will bring every secret thing to light, and judge every man according to the thoughts of his heart the words of his mouth, and the deeds of his body, whether they be good or whether they be evil.
(W. A.Scott, D.D.)
Homilist.I. HERE IS AN IMPIOUS EXULTATION. "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom?" Here:
1. There is no recognition of the services of others. "I have built." Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men had worked hard in the undertaking; and without them it would never have been accomplished, if begun, Personally the king did nothing but order, and yet he takes to himself the credit. This conduct is repeated every day. Men say, I have made a fortune, I have built mansions, I have won battles, etc. The services of others are not taken into account.
2. There is no recognition of the help of God. Who gave him the workmen? Who gave him the materials? Who gave him the time? God. And yet He is not mentioned. What impiety then is there in this boasting!
II. HERE IS A RUINOUS SELF-EXULTATION. "While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from Heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from thee." Whilst he was glorifying himself as the greatest of kings, he was hurled down into companionship with cattle. It is often thus. Just when a man has reached the great object of his ambition, and is flushed with exultant pride, ruin befalls him. When the rich man was saying to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up," etc., the voice came to him, and said, "Thou fool." "When," writes Dean Milman, "John XXI., Pope of Rome, was contemplating with too great pride the work of his own hands, and burst out into laughter, at that instant the avenging roof came down on his own head." Thousands of examples can be quoted. It has been said that every wave of prosperity has its reacting surge, and we are often overwhelmed by the very billow on which we thought to be wafted on to the haven of our hopes. "This is the state of man," says Wolsey; "To-day he puts forth the tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms, and bears his blushing honours thick upon him; the third day comes a frost, a killing frost; and — when he thinks, good easy man, full surely greatness is a-ripening — nips his root, and then he falls."
I. HIS SIN. It was no crime in Nebuchadnezzar that he was a great man. There was no harm at all in being the ruler of a mighty kingdom, provided that his elevation to so high a place had been accomplished by honest means. His sin was pride. His success, in everything he undertook, called forth no gratitude to God. His constant prosperity only hardened his heart. He drank with greediness the fulsome flatteries with which fawning courtiers filled his ears. Pride has its degrees. It is measured by circumstances. None of us can reach the giddy height where Chaldea's monarch stood. The hero, of nerve and judgment, and military skill, who can direct the movements of armies, and plan the successful assault, and head the fierce onset, is proud of this. The man of letters, who can read with fluency the languages of the dead, and tell the measure of the stars, and trace out the pathway of comets, is more than gratified with his complete success. The individual possessed of neither genius nor learning, but who, by plodding industry and far-sighted investments, or by lucky speculations, gathers up a heap of gold, gazes upon it with heartfelt satisfaction, as the fruit of his labours. We need not go into the higher ranks of life to witness the effects of pride. They may be found in the humblest mechanic, the farmer, the day-labourer of any sort. (Deuteronomy 8:11-13, 14-17.)
II. HIS PUNISHMENT. Daniel had foretold it in these dreadful words: "O bring Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken," etc. No further time is allowed for repentance. The day of mercy had gone by. The same hour was the sentence carried into execution. Had trembling princes bowed before his throne, anxious to win his favour, or turn aside his wrath? Now is he banished from the abodes of men, an object of pity or contempt; "and none so poor to do him reverence." Did a hundred provinces send in their yearly tribute, to swell the coiners of the king, and purchase dainties for his festive board? Grovelling in the dust, crushed in mind, lost to all the tastes and habits of a man, "he did eat grass like an ox." Had the carved and gilded roofs of magnificent palaces shielded him from the heat and cold? Not even a tattered tent was left. His body was wet with the dew of Heaven, and the pitiless storm spent its fury upon his defenceless head. (Isaiah 14:12.) The degree of punishment is determined by the degree of wide. Few can be guilty to the extent that Nebuchadnezzar was. Few can fall so terribly and so low. But pride is always hateful unto God. Pride will certainly be punished. (Proverbs 16:5; St. James 4:6; Proverbs 29:23.) Can you call to mind no instances, within your own remembrance, in which pride has been most signally punished? Can you think of no one who boasted of the abundance of his wealth, afterward crippled by misfortune, and brought down to want and beggary? (Jeremiah 9:23, 24.) One stage more in Nebuchadnezzar's history is left.
III. HIS REPENTANCE. Seven long years of wretchedness accomplished that blessed work. Listen to his own touching account of it: "At the end of the days I lifted up mine eyes unto Heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honoured Him that liveth for ever and ever." With humble and contrite heart he now confessed that God's judgments, although so terrible, had been good and just. This sincere acknowledgment received its merited reward. The glory and greatness of his kingdom was again restored. How kind and merciful is God! The first and faintest prayer of the returning penitent he heard in Heaven. Does the possession of money fill your heart with delight, and lessen your desire for bettor things? God will find means to take it away. Are the powers of mind which He has given used only to advance your selfish purposes, or turned against the cause of truth? The palsy or madness may be near to put an end to your hopes.
(J. N. Norton.)
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