Nebuchadnezzar and Billy Graham: A Study in Pride and Humility
King Nebuchadnezzar had no peers. He was the uncontested ruler of the world of the 6th century B.C. Babylon, his city, rose out of the desert plains like a Manhattan skyline. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which legend says he built for his wife, were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. His royal palace was immense. Its walls were 387 feet high and 87 feet thick. Four chariots abreast could ride on them. The mighty Euphrates flowed through the city. Its population reached two million people. It boasted temples, terraces, and palaces. All of this was under the 43-year dominion of Nebuchadnezzar. He was part oil baron, part royalty, part hedge fund billionaire. Were he alive today, he would dominate the Forbes list of billionaires.
But all of this was about to end. The prophet Daniel warned him:
“You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” (Daniel 4:25 NIV).
What did Nebuchadnezzar do that warranted such a collapse? What was the crime of Nebuchadnezzar? The king was afflicted by the oldest and most insidious of lies: pride. He thought that he ruled. He thought that Babylon ruled. He thought that his kingdom ran the world.
King Nebuchadnezzar was all about King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was sent to warn him: when the mighty fall, the fall is mighty. But did Nebuchadnezzar listen?
Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty” (Daniel 4:29 NIV)?
God’s discipline was drastic and swift. Even as Nebuchadnezzar was boasting, he became an ancient version of Howard Hughes: corkscrew fingernails, wild hair, animalistic (see Dan. 4:30-33). One minute he was on the cover of Time Magazine, the next he was banished like the beast of Babylon. And we are left with a lesson.
God hates pride.
The Lord detests all the proud of heart (Proverbs 16:5 NIV).
I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech (Proverbs 8:13 NIV).
Why the strong language? How do we explain God’s abhorrence of the haughty heart? Simple. God hates pride because he loves his people. Pride is the poison pill of the soul.
Pride prevents salvation. If we see only self, we never see our Savior. Arrogance stiffens the knee so it will not kneel, hardens the heart so it will not admit to sin. The heart of pride never confesses, never repents, never asks for forgiveness. Pride is the hidden reef that ship-wrecks the soul.
Pride prevents reconciliation. How many marriages have collapsed beneath the weight of foolish pride? How many apologies have gone unoffered, due to a lack of humility? How many wars have been born from the womb of arrogance?
Pride drove Nebuchadnezzar crazy. It will do the same to us. It is no wonder, then, that God hates pride.
To the degree that God hates arrogance, he loves humility. “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NKJV).
I witnessed an example of this humility last October. I partnered with Michael W. Smith for a ministry weekend near Charlotte, NC. The retreat was held at “The Cove,” a beautiful facility that is owned and maintained by the Billy Graham Association.
A few hours before the event, Michael and I met to go over the weekend schedule. But Michael could hardly discuss the retreat. He was so moved by what he had just experienced. He had just met with Billy Graham for the purpose of planning Rev. Graham’s funeral. The famous evangelist was, at the time, 94 years old. He was confined to a wheelchair, on oxygen. His mind was sharp and spirits were high. But his body was seeing its final days. So he called for Michael. And he called for his pastor. He wanted to discuss his funeral. He told them that he had a request.
“Of course,” they said. “Anything you want. What is it?”
“Would you not mention my name?”
“Can you not mention my name? Just mention the name of Jesus.”
Billy Graham has preached to over a billion people. He filled stadiums on every continent. He advised every president of the last half century. He has consistently been at the top of every most-admired list. Yet, he wants to be unmentioned at his own funeral.
Can God become so big that we finally see how small we are?
Those who walk in pride, God is able to humble. But those who walk in humility, God is able to use.
King Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson. It took seven years, but he got the point. The words he spoke are worthy of an epitaph: “those who walk in pride [God] is able to humble” (Daniel 4: 34-37 NIV).
There is a modern ring to the Nebuchadnezzar story. We live in a day when people make a big deal out of themselves. Some have turned self-promotion into an art form. The apostle warned us this would happen. “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud” (2 Timothy 3:1-2 NIV emphasis mine).
May the Nebuchadnezzar story remind us: God controls human kingdoms and he has been known to humble the proud leader. Miss this message and prepare to fall. Receive it and prepare to be blessed.
©Max Lucado, May 2016