The Beast Heart
March 7th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
THE BEAST HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-7-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the most fortunate pastor in all of God’s world. I am the undershepherd of this precious flock. The title of the sermon is The Beast Heart, and it is an exposition of the last half of the fourth chapter of Daniel. We are now preaching through the Book of Daniel, and the first message in this series was presented last Sunday morning at this hour.
Several people this week have asked me: “You say that the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel is a tract. It is a personal testimony written by Nebuchadnezzar through Daniel [Daniel 4:1-37]. If that is true,” they have asked me, “how is it that you say that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], when this is a tract written by a heathen king?”
We must understand what is meant by that inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God. The inspiration, the infallibility, the inerrancy lies in the truth of the record. It is here just as it happened. In the Bible, Satan speaks. But those words are truthfully and inerrantly recorded, what Satan did and what Satan speaks. In the Bible, long pages of what Job’s comforters say; and they were like vermin. But it is written here in the Bible. In the Bible, you have the sayings of false prophets and false witnesses and false apostles.
But the inerrancy lies in the truth of the record. It is exactly here in the Bible as it happened. And when I read the Bible, I am reading the truth of the record. So in the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel, I have a tract written by a heathen king [Daniel 4:1-37]. And it happened exactly as it is recorded here in the immutable, infallible Word of God.
Now, a brief summary—it starts off with the king being at rest in his palace in Babylon [Daniel 4:4]. His wars of conquest are done. He is now consolidating his world authority and building his golden city. And as he lies at rest, you would think he would dream dreams of affluence and wealth and splendor and grandeur, but instead he sees a dream that frightens him. It is a tall, towering, terrible tree that is cut down [Daniel 4:10-18].
And when Daniel finally is invited to interpret the dream [Daniel 4:18], the dream is a message from God to Nebuchadnezzar. It is a rod of smiting and correction. He shall be insane seven years until he repents and before God bows in acknowledgment of his sins, turns from them, and receives the Most High God as the Lord of his life [Daniel 4:24-25].
Now, the decrees of God as He threatens men with judgment are always conditional—always. The universe apparently runs by mechanical laws and motions. Actually, it is not true. The universe and we are run by a personal God. So, when Daniel has delivered that message of awesome judgment to King Nebuchadnezzar, he closes with an appeal, “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee” [Daniel 4:27]. As graciously and as sweetly as a courtier could bow before his monarch, does Daniel plead with Nebuchadnezzar: “O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee. Break off thy sins by righteousness, thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; it may be”—for He is a God of mercy and forgiveness—“that it shall be the lengthening of thy tranquility” [Daniel 4:27]; that God will forgive and will bless.
Now, why this awesome judgment, why this awesome judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar? Ah, could you imagine the threatening of God, seven years to be insane and to live like a beast? [Daniel 4:15-16, 23]. Why that awesome judgment upon Nebuchadnezzar? For several reasons: one, he was a personally cruel and tempestuous and violent man. He had no self-restraint in his anger. And every conquest added to his arrogancy and his vanity. He was cruel beyond what even Oriental monarchs are and have been known to be.
For example, in the Book of Daniel, in the second chapter he is preparing to butcher a whole class of men because they could not recall to him a dream he had forgotten [Daniel 2:9-12]. In the third chapter of the Book of Daniel, he is heating a furnace seven times hotter for the roasting of three Hebrew young men who refused to bow down before his golden image [Daniel 3:15, 18-19]. In the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophet Jeremiah [Jeremiah 29:22] he names two Jews that Nebuchadnezzar roasted in the fire. In the twenty-fifth chapter of the second Kings, he refined cruelty and put out King Zedekiah’s eyes only after he had slain his sons before his face [2 Kings 25:7]. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the second Book of Kings, he takes Jehoiachin—who is only eighteen years of age [2 Kings 24:8-15]—he takes Jehoiachin and imprisons him for an offense for thirty-six years [2 Kings 25:27]. Nebuchadnezzar personally is cruel, and violent, and tempestuous, and fiercely antagonistic and vindictive!
All right, another thing: politically, politically he brought untold misery to the world, not content with laying under tribute the nations that he conquered. But he learned that bitter lesson from that cruel Assyrians: he uprooted the people, and he deported whole nations and scattered them and resettled them among strangers and in a strange land [2 Kings 24:15-16]. Think of the hopelessness and the helplessness and the untold and indescribable misery of whole peoples as they were deported out from their homes and land into a foreign and a strange country. Why, the very path of the victor’s march could be marked by the corpses of women and children and the old and the sick, who were not able to keep pace with the army.
And think of those people as they lifted up their eyes and their homes gone, and their nation destroyed, and they’re living in a strange and a foreign land. I can feel the heartthrob and the blood drops and the very tears of the one hundred, thirty-seventh Psalm: “By the rivers,” by the canals, “by the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. We wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For they that wasted us required of us a song: and they that carried us captive required of us mirth. How do you sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” [Psalm 137:1-4].
That is Nebuchadnezzar; not only was he personally cruel and vindictive, and not only was he militarily and politically indifferent to the cries of a helpless people, but he was himself arrogant and prideful and lifted up. Why, when Daniel said to him, “Thou art that golden head” [Daniel 2:38], Nebuchadnezzar wanted the entire image to be made out of gold [Daniel 3:1], and he, that image, in the third chapter of this book, Nebuchadnezzar sets himself above his gods [Daniel 3:3-7]. They do his bidding, and if one of his gods displeases him, he burns the priests, and he razes the temple even with the ground.
Why the judgment of God upon Nebuchadnezzar? Again, he refused to repent. Nebuchadnezzar the king, in his authority and in his grandeur, had before him a courtier. And that courtier bowed before him and said, “O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee. Break off thy sins by righteousness. Turn away from thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor” [Daniel 4:27].
Did he do it? Why, though he was eminently, preeminently successful—the greatest general possibly who ever marched at the head of a conquering army—yet righteousness was no part of his program. The prophet Habakkuk describes in prophecy prediction the coming of the army of Nebuchadnezzar. “Lo,” quoting the Lord:
Lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land…
They are terrible and dreadful…
Their horses are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves. They shall come all for violence: their faces shall set to the east, and they shall gather captives like the sand.
“Righteousness”? He didn’t know the word, nor did he propose to learn it. And as for mercy—“Break off thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor”—I don’t know whether he ever heard the word or not. To us it is second nature to think of the desperation and despair of the poor [Daniel 4:27]. But Nebuchadnezzar, like Napoleon for one thing, they were cannon fodder. And as for his golden city, he was building it with slave labor. And he populated his empire, around Chaldean Babylon, by those miserable, unhappy wretches, whom he dispossessed from home and homeland and brought to be his slaves and servitors. Mercy? Whoever heard that the poor had rights? Mercy? They were like animals to him to be used for the furtherance of his own prideful ambition.
And the day of judgment fell. At the end of twelve months [Daniel 4:29], twelve months, how earnestly did the Lord plead and wait! At the end of twelve months, why, he’d forgotten about it; it had gone out of his mind, the appeal of his servant and statesman, Daniel [Daniel 4:27]. Twelve months—God waited, hoping, praying, maybe! But at the end of those twelve months, ah, Nebuchadnezzar may have forgotten, but not God [Daniel 4:29].
The mills of [God] grind slow,
But they grind exceeding small;
And though He tarry long in grinding,
Yet, with exactness He grinds us all.
[adapted from a quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]
And at the end of twelve months that judgment fell. If a man will not listen to the quiet pleadings of the Lord, if he hardens his heart and closes his ears against the sweet whisperings of the Lord of heaven, then the Lord has terrors in His hand. He has damnation and judgments at His command. He has a smiting rod and a correcting staff. And those judgments of God are awesome to behold. It came about like this.
At the end of twelve months, he was walking on the top of his golden palace. I can just see that—the king, proud, arrogant, the dictator of the whole civilized earth. The riches of the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, the Elamites, the Egyptians, the Armenians, the Assyrians, the Jews—the whole earth were his, all of them, all of it. I can just see him as he walks on the top of his golden palace, followed by his administrators, satraps, his lords and his counselors, as he walks they reverently, at a distance, follow behind as he walks.
When he comes to the end of the terrace, he turns, and they obsequiously, sycophantly bow on either side, and open a way for him to walk in between. He does not mark their presence. Not even mindful at all, for he’s filled with pride—selfish, egotistical, vain. The king spake and said, “Is not this great Babylon?” And I can see him look over the balustrade of his golden palace at the horizon of Babylon from sky to sky, it rises in splendor: “Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of my kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” [Daniel 4:30]. Oh, every syllable of it describes the vainglory and pride of that arrogant monarch.
And just when he said it, like a clap of thunder, like an earthquake, like an intervention and interdiction from heaven, like lightning and fire, his mind snaps! He’s insane—standing there in that moment, in grandeur and arrogance, the authoritarian, totalitarian monarch of the civilized world, his eyes steady, his gaze clear, his mind, the gifted genius of that golden head [Daniel 2:38]—and the next moment his eye is unsteady. He has the countenance and furtive look of a beast. He’s mad! And as one in fear and despair and dismay hides himself, so the king ran away from his fears—an ox, an animal hiding himself in the thickets along the Euphrates River [Daniel 4:31-33]. The abasement was abysmal. It was complete and remorseless. This king, who as the general of his army conquered the whole earth, now hides in fear and desperation in the thickets, in the fields, in the forest, in the wilderness. And this man who sat at the table, tasting of all of the dainties of the earth, now eats grass like an ox [Daniel 4:33]—a monomaniac—all of his faculties and emotions except just one. The horror of it! The agony of it! The distress for seven long, interminable years; “And at the end of the days”—seven years—“I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven” [Daniel 4:34]. What does that recall to you? The one hundred twenty-first Psalm: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from God, who made heaven and earth” [Psalm 121:1-2].
“At the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven” [Daniel 4:34]. Does that recall to you the story of the prodigal son who, far away from home and in a far country and in a pigpen, came to himself? “He came to himself…” [Luke 15:17]. Does that bring to your mind the Gadarene demoniac, whom Jesus healed? [Luke 8:26-34]. And he’s now sitting and clothed and in his right mind, looking up into the face of Jesus [Luke 8:35].
“At the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes to heaven.” He had turned. He’d changed. He’d repented. “And I blessed the Most High God, and I praised and honored Him that liveth forever and ever” [Daniel 4:34]. He found the Lord!
Some men won’t find Him any other way. They have to be beat down. They have to be smitten unto the rod of God’s correction. They won’t learn any other way. And Nebuchadnezzar was that. Under the awesome judgment, he raised his eyes up to heaven and blessed the great Most High who liveth forever and ever [Daniel 4:34]. And is God merciful? He always is! When you change, He changes. When you turn, He will turn. The smiting hand and the correcting rod become our staff, our strength, and our blessing.
“And my reason returned unto me” [Daniel 4:34]. Well, you could just preach a sermon if we had time. When a man’s outside of God, he’s mad. When a man turns aside from the mercies of the Almighty, he’s insane. He’s lost his mind. But when a man is his best self and his finest intellect, when a man has reached the zenith of his glory as a thinking, intelligent, moral creature, his reason has come back. He’s thinking right: “My reason returned unto me; and the glory of my kingdom; and my counselors and my lords sought me; and I was established in my kingdom, and the excellency and majesty was added to me” [Daniel 4:36].
Look at that just for a moment. Do you realize what that says? Why and how could it have been that that kingdom was maintained for Nebuchadnezzar for seven interminable years while he was mad? Why, it’s something that God had to do. Did you know that when Nebuchadnezzar died, his son, Evil-merodach, inherited the throne? He reigned three years. He was murdered by a usurper.
And did you know the kingdom only lasted twenty-seven years after that? And it was destroyed forever. It disappeared from the face of the earth. And yet, for seven long years the kingdom is maintained for Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 4:32-36]. Why, would you not have thought that those nations that he had conquered would have rebelled? Would you not have thought that those wild tribes that he held in subservience would have been on pillage, and rampant, and rampage, and plunder? Yet the kingdom is quiet. How can that be?
I think for one thing, his wife Amytis, the queen—the Median, mountain girl whom he had married, and on whom he had lavished those unbelievable, ah, how many things of grandeur, raising a mountain there called the hanging gardens, the seventh wonder of the world—the queen, Amytis, must have been a part of that. But above all and most of all, I think it was his faithful vizier, Daniel, who did it.
He guided the affairs of the kingdom, keeping the promise of God before him, that at the end of those seven years, if Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself, God would give him back his scepter and his throne and his kingdom [Daniel 4:32]. And known to Daniel the exact day of those seven years, I can see that glorious statesman prophet and faithful friend—isn’t that a strange thing? He seemingly loved that king despite his vindictiveness and his cruelty and his fierce, volatile spirit. Daniel seemed to love him. And I can just see Daniel at the head of the king’s counselors and lords and governors. I can see him at the head, searching in a wilderness, in a forest, in a thicket.
“The counselors and my lords sought me” [Daniel 4:36]. And led by Daniel, they find the king in some wilderness place. And he’s the same glorious monarch that had conquered the world and built the golden city and kingdom of Babylon, except this, except this—the old arrogancy was gone. And the old pride was gone. And that bitter, volatile, cruel, vindictive spirit was gone—and humble and bowed, lifting up his eyes to heaven, giving glory to God [Daniel 4:34-35]. Ah, what a scene! Wouldn’t you have liked to have been there that day and have witnessed the colossal, celestial, heavenly change in the life of that golden monarch?
And the first thing he did now—and that’s the last and concluding verse—“Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the true God” [Daniel 4:37]. And in his testimony he asked the whole world to know and to listen and to rejoice with him. Nebuchadnezzar the king—that’s the way it begins—“Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, and nations, and languages that dwell in the whole earth: it is good for me that I tell you the wonders God hath wrought toward me” [Daniel 4:1-2].
The testimony of that heathen king—should we be ashamed of what the Lord has done for us? Should this heathen king out-speak, out-testify, and out-witness us, who have been saved by the cross of the sacrifice of the love and sobs and tears and grace of the Son of God? As he wrote to the whole earth this tract that all peoples and nations might know of the grace of God given to him [Daniel 4:1-37].
What of us? Are there no words of testimony by which I can thank Jesus for the grace and mercy that extended down to me—dying for my sins, raised for my justification [Romans 4:25], interceding in heaven [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25, 12:2], that I might finally some day make it through those golden gates and glorious streets? [Revelation 21:21]. O Lord, are there no words that I can speak, no sentences that I can say, no prayers and praises of exaltation and gratitude? Lord, where are my testimonies and my expressions of thankfulness? God, touch my tongue.
“Pastor, but you don’t realize. I am not gifted in speaking and in testifying.” Listen, we’re not asked to be philosophers, and metaphysicians, and theologians, and rhetoricians, and logicians! My brother, in the kingdom of God, and in the house of the Lord, and in the faith of Christ, the burning logic always is when a man says, “This is what I have felt in my heart. This is what I have seen with my eyes.” That’s logic and rhetoric. That’s philosophy and theology that burn; it’s touched with the coal of fires from off of the altar of God.
I don’t know how to say it; don’t have syllables, and sentences, and words, and nomenclature, and language, and vocabulary to put its meaning—but this I know: “One time I was lost, and now I am found [Luke 15:24, 32]. One time I was blind, and now I see” [John 9:25]. I have found the Lord! Oh, blessed be His name! Praises to His majesty! All glory to God! I’ve been saved! I’ve given my heart to Jesus! Always and everywhere our testimonies, sweetly, quietly, beautifully, deeply meaningfully ought to be made—the sacrifice of love and prayer and praise placed at our Savior’s feet.
Would you do that today? In a moment we shall sing our hymn of appeal; would you come down here and tell me that? “Pastor, I want to be numbered among the people of God. I want the Lord to have me. I open my heart heavenward, Christ-ward, God-ward, and I’m coming today.” A family you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor; a couple you, or just you, “Here I am, preacher; I’m coming today. The same Lord God, who in His grace spoke to Nebuchadnezzar, calls me, and I feel it in my heart, and I’m coming.” Make the decision now just where you are. Lord, Lord, make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down that stairway, or into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am. I make it today.” Do it now. God will bless you and see you through. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.