You may know this story well. King Nebuchadnezzar has a strange vision of a massive tree, so large that it reaches the sky and can be seen from far away. The tree is adorned with fruit and serves as home to wildlife of many kinds. But amidst the tree’s grandeur comes a call for it to be cut down, smashed into smithereens, and made to be useless—stripped of its glory and left as a stump.
Perplexed by this dream, the king calls upon Daniel to interpret it. Daniel tells him a sobering truth: the great tree represents the king. Having lost his majesty, the king will be driven away and left to make his home amongst the animals. Only when he acknowledges the sovereignty of the Lord will his kingdom and honour be restored. In other words, Daniel had the difficult task of speaking to Nebuchadnezzar about his pride.
Nebuchadnezzar was a very volatile and complex character. How many of us have bosses like that? Or how many of us are like that? At the beginning of the chapter, Nebuchadnezzar testifies to the greatness of God and claims to acknowledge the Lord’s dominion. Yet we read that the prophecy of the tree is fulfilled one day when the king is out walking, shamelessly admiring Babylon and marvelling at what he believes is the work of his own hands. It is almost as if he has forgotten about Daniel’s interpretation of the dream and the clear warning to be humble before God.
In a moment of outrageous divine intervention, Nebuchadnezzar is stripped of his kingship and turns into the very animal he had been warned about: he eats grass like an ox, grows feathers like an eagle, and sprouts claws like a bird. Only in this state does Nebuchadnezzar finally realize who was really in control all along. God humbled the prideful Nebuchadnezzar by showing him who was the true king of the world. Repentance was required—an acknowledgement of God and Nebuchadnezzar’s dependence on him.
We too need to realize that we are not the source of our gifts, and that if we do not use the blessings which have been lovingly given to us in humble service to the Lord, they may well be taken away from us. In doing so we are met with the opportunity to recalibrate our focus on the Lord and turn toward him. We will never serve as the gospel witnesses we are called to be unless we acknowledge together that the Lord is God, and that apart from him, we are nothing.
Like King Nebuchadnezzar, we may be tempted to loudly declare what we have done or are doing and claim the praise for ourselves. We need to be mindful that humility, not boastfulness, is the true mark of God’s servant.
Are we seeking to fulfil the Lord’s purpose for our lives, or are we rather obsessed by our own potential?