That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:33)
When I was a kid, I loved to watch monster movies. I found them both fascinating and frightening. My favorite movies were of the Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. He was a good man, until the full moon, and then he became a bloodthirsty creature. He didn’t want to do that, but the tortured soul could only be put out of misery by a silver bullet fired from a gun held by the hand of someone who loved him. I can recall the words of the old gypsy, Maleva, who said, “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” The movie was rooted in European legends rising from a form of insanity known as lycanthropy. Such madness gripped the monarch of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. It was sent as a judgment of God upon his pride. Before there was a film and a song about werewolves of London, there was the werewolf of Babylon!
Impressed by the miraculous deliverance of the three Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace, we find the king issuing a decree concerning the greatness of their God (Dan.4:1-3). Yet, there is no personal confession of a penitent who has come to faith, just an acknowledgment of the God of the Jews as being the greatest among gods. Many a politician still finds it useful to talk about God, while giving little evidence of true conversion. One may know the vocabulary of the Good Book without knowing the Author!
The story continues to unfold with a nightmare the king has (Dan.4:4-18). In the midst of immense luxury and the trappings of power, we find a troubled man. Sin will do that. Conscience pains the wicked—they are likened to a storm-tossed ocean. He summons the soothsayers who have no answers. How foolish people are to try to find a message for their future in astrology, palmistry, and such! It is the man of God who has the Word of God—Daniel, in this case—who can give guidance.
Though delivering a word of judgment to this malevolent monarch might mean the prophet would lose his head, Daniel proclaims the truth, nonetheless (Dan.4:19-27). Such threats never silenced Elijah, not stopped John the Baptist. Daniel shows his compassion in being alarmed more for the king than his own life. I wonder in these days when judgment seems imminent, are the people of God more concerned about their own preservation than the salvation of sinners? The coming of judgment on this nation and its leaders should not surprise us. Daniel reminds us here that God is sovereign. Nations rise and fall; rulers come and go; God rules!
Nebuchadnezzar was given opportunity to repent, but refused (Dan.4:28-33) and retribution fell. God was patient, but at last the deadline was crossed. The madness that descended on him—his lycanthropy—brought on the behavior of a beast. Really, it just revealed what was in his heart! This is how sin degrades us.
After seven years of this, sanity is restored by a gracious God (Dan.4:34-37). The king is more than willing to humble himself and confess the glory of God. Nebuchadnezzar never forgot this lesson—and neither should we!