When God Makes Madness Obvious

Daniel Siemens

Power can become a drug. Political power can seduce a person into narcissism and megalomania. God and world politics: teaching for today from Daniel 4.

Nebuchadnezzar has become intoxicated by power. His power has reached its peak: he is the undisputed ruler of a huge empire. He has conquered peoples and nations, and they must all serve him. He’s also a magnificent city planner: he made Babylon the largest, richest, and most impressive city in the world. 

When God spectacularly reveals the future to him in a dream (and then communicates its interpretation through Daniel), Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t convert to Yahweh, the God of Israel. To the contrary: he himself wants to play God. He has a golden effigy of himself built and declares war on God. He wants to determine the course of history himself. However, he experiences defeat at the inauguration ceremony for this golden statue—public disgrace.

Daniel’s three friends are thrown into the fiery furnace but remain unharmed. Nebuchadnezzar is impressed, and yet he still doesn’t convert to the true and living God. His hubris and narcissism increase even more. He’s convinced of his genius and omnipotence. The God of Israel—who appoints and deposes kings, who created him and revealed Himself to him—plays no role in his life. Nebuchadnezzar is godless, and his godlessness drives him mad.

When reading the story of Nebuchadnezzar, we marvel at God’s patience, long-suffering, and mercy. God warns Nebuchadnezzar again through a dream. We’ll let him tell it in his own words:

“I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace. I saw a dream that made me afraid. As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me. So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream. Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation. At last Daniel came before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods—and I told him the dream…” (Dan 4:4-8).

Two things stand out here. Even though he has already experienced that only the God of Daniel can reliably reveal dreams and the future, the king still calls his magicians and fortune-tellers first. He is holding onto his occultism and idolatry. He hesitates to summon Daniel. He only allows him to be brought in when it becomes clear that he can’t get what he needs any other way.

Second, he emphasizes that Daniel is called Belteshazzar, after the name of his own god. Nebuchadnezzar still clings to his belief in many gods; he is attached to his idols and serves them. Finally Daniel arrives, and the king tells him his dream.

“Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him. The king answered and said, ‘Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.’ Belteshazzar answered and said, ‘My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies! The tree you saw, which grew and became strong, so that its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth, whose leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in which was food for all, under which beasts of the field found shade, and in whose branches the birds of the heavens lived—it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. And because the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, “Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field, and let him be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven periods of time pass over him,” this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will. And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules’” (vv. 19-26).

No wonder Daniel was so horrified and disturbed! A worse humiliation for a king could hardly be imagined. But Daniel knows how to avert the disaster. He gives Nebuchadnezzar clear instructions: “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity” (v. 27).

The sins of godlessness and unbelief always bring more sins with them. There were undoubtedly grave injustices, abuses of power, and oppression of the poor under the reign of the Babylonian ruler. The king would need to grieve, repent, and confess his sins. He should replace his sinful practices with actions that please God, and allow justice to prevail. Daniel knows that God is gracious and will forgive a repentant sinner. The call to repentance and conversion is God’s appeal to every transgressor. God calls us personally to change and repent when we persist in unbelief and godlessness. But Nebuchadnezzar is firmly in the grasp of his own power. He ignores the warning and rejects his godly advisor’s counsel. God is still patient with this recalcitrant world ruler for twelve more months. Then His warning is fulfilled:

“All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’ While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.’ Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws” (vv. 28-33).

Nebuchadnezzar goes mad. We can hardly imagine the horror and confusion at the royal court. And it was certainly thanks only to Daniel that the king remained alive and retained his throne for the seven years to follow.

Nebuchadnezzar becomes an animal. This phenomenon is also known to science and has been described in clinical research. Jan Dirk Blom, a lecturer in psychiatry from Groningen, Netherlands, counted 13 cases of lycanthropy, a subtype of zoanthropy (the delusion that one is transformed into an animal). “The definition of lycanthropy through the ages is fairly universal, namely that once a man is changed into a wolf, he acquires its characteristics, roaming around at night, howling in cemeteries and attacking man and beast in search of raw flesh […] This peculiar delusion tends to co-occur with clusters of signs and symptoms that allow for more conventional diagnoses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and so on. […] This monothematic delusion would appear to be even less prevalent than previously suggested. With 13 cases reported over a time span of 162 years, we should take heed not to cry wolf too often.”  

That’s the clinical diagnosis. The Bible says that godlessness is the greatest of all sins, and it always leads to madness in the end: through self-deception, overconfidence, megalomania, spiritual and moral confusion, and spiritual darkness. Every person who rejects and defies the Creator and His commandments reveals his own madness. The Bible calls this madness foolishness or dullness:

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good” (Ps 14:1).

It’s fatal to think we can get away with wickedness and our own sinful way of life. Assuming that everything will continue to go well, just because it always has, is dangerous and naïve. God had already told His chosen people, the Jews, that if they don’t obey Him but instead break His commandments—if they choose to go their own sinful way—then God’s curse would come upon them. Among other things, the following would happen: “The LORD will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind” (Deut 28:28).

God doesn’t necessarily have to directly intervene here. His action in cases like these is often more passive: He withdraws His protection and blessings, and gives up on these individuals or this people. He lets them go their own way and reap what they’ve sown. They reap the fruits of their sinful life. The madness of the godless is being revealed today, just as Paul described in Romans:

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:21-28).

When a society distances itself from God, disregarding His commandments and trampling on His holiness, then God gives that society up to its sins. He lets them go their own way. And then the madness of godlessness becomes obvious. One way this madness is being expressed today, is man’s turning away from the divine order of creation. It becomes evident in the acceptance of homosexual lifestyles and the way people now assert, “Marriage is for everyone! We’re more progressive than God.” The Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman, but society says, “Marriage is also between two men or two women.” The folly of godlessness is also evident in gender confusion. For example, now when you sign up for a Facebook account, you can choose from among 60 genders! God created only two sexes, and declared His creation very good. But today people say in their arrogance, “No, that’s not good enough! We know better. There are at least 60 genders, and everyone can choose their own. You are born neutrally and then choose your gender yourself, and you can change it anytime.”

Another example of human’s megalomania and its fatal consequence is the madness surrounding climate change. An apocalyptic doomsday scenario is being painted for the world’s citizens: The earth will perish from the consequences of manmade climate change, if we don’t intervene and save ourselves. Each person who leaves too large a carbon footprint is personally responsible for climate change. Now mankind is preparing to save himself and the world, turning mankind into the savior of the earth. Saving the climate is the new religion of our day.

Some time ago, Beda Stadler wrote in the news magazine Cicero: “But what really makes me angry is how politicians have managed to turn CO2 into a poison. Photosynthesis is like a real-life feeding of the 5,000 for every biology student. Sunbathing plants absorb CO2 and use it to produce energy and oxygen. It’s wonderful, yes, fantastic! When pasta or french fries are created from this plant-based energy store, I go into raptures. To portray CO2—the food of vegetables, the cheapest fertilizer—as a poison is infinite slander.”

Luisa Neubauer is one of Germany’s most famous climate activists. In her book From the End of the Climate Crisis, she asks among other things: “Is having children being responsible toward our fellow human beings? Statistically, nothing leaves a greater carbon footprint than a child.” Parents who bring children into the world and raise them are branded carbon criminals!

Dr. Wolfgang Thüne, meteorologist and longtime weather moderator at a public television network, explains in his book Prophets in the Battle for the Climate Throne: “There is absolutely no chance of correctly predicting the weather more than nine days out. In terms of the climate, however, an irresponsible guild of scientists is presuming to make forecasts for the next 90 years, and supported in it by uncritical political stakeholders. The climate catastrophe’s forecasters argue that CO2 is contributing to global warming by means of reflected radiation.”

Dr. Thüne makes it clear that this is physically impossible: “Ultimately, heat can only flow from warm to cold, and not the other way around. So how could an atmospheric layer with a temperature of -18°C (roughly 0°F) heat the earth’s surface, which has a temperature of 15°C (roughly 60°F)? Instead, what’s correct is that the earth has an atmospheric radiation window that’s always open, allowing the earth’s waste heat to escape. If this were not the case, the earth would never have cooled down and there would be no life on it today.”

When God makes madness obvious, it surfaces and can no longer be hidden. But it’s not just politicians, scientists, and other influential people in society who are at risk of God making their madness obvious. Every individual who defies God’s commands and wants to be his own god, is in danger of God giving him up to his sin, and also making his personal madness obvious.

Descent into the madness of godlessness follows a pattern: 1. Ignoring God’s facts and signs. 2. Rebelling against God and His commandments. 3. Challenging God and practicing idolatry. 4. Ignoring God’s warnings. 5. Flouting God’s patience and the call to repent. 6. Glorifying oneself and not God.

When God makes madness obvious: 1. Man’s impotence and folly are exposed. 2. Sins are punished. 3. God’s judgment against man becomes evident. 4. The imago Dei (image of God) is lost. 5. God receives the honor that He is due. 6. The lesson that man didn’t want to learn is learned.

But, thanks to God’s goodness and mercy, seven years of madness weren’t the end of Nebuchadnezzar. God gives him one more chance to repent. We can admire God’s amazing grace in this ruler’s life. God has mercy on the Babylonian king, allowing him to become alert and sober up:

“At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan 4:34-37).

Nebuchadnezzar is converted. It’s a late conversion, but of course God has forgiven him and he can start anew. There are seven lost, wasted years behind him. But prior to that, how many decades were consumed in a frenzy of power, in his own self-love and arrogance? The things God could have accomplished through Nebuchadnezzar, if he had been converted immediately after the first dream! So much good could have been done if the king had humbled himself and repented, after the three friends’ spectacular rescue from the fiery furnace. But by this time, he’s probably old and frail. He may not have much time left to serve God. Nevertheless, the amazement in his court, in the capital city, and in his whole kingdom must have been tremendous. After seven years of madness, the people were seeing their king back on the throne, regally dressed and of sound mind. He becomes a living testimony to God’s grace. And for the last years of his life—maybe even months—he is an evangelist to his people. At the very beginning of chapter 4, we read how Nebuchadnezzar fulfills his role as God’s messenger:

“King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation” (vv. 1-3).

How Nebuchadnezzar must have wished he had converted to God sooner! Why would you wait any longer? Nebuchadnezzar is God’s warning example to anyone who persists in sin and ungodliness, thereby flouting God’s words and patience. How many years, perhaps decades, have you already wasted? You ignored God. You wanted to be your own master. Don’t wait until your best years have been squandered and you are old and frail. Don’t wait until God makes your madness obvious.

Midnight Call - 11/2022

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