God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it- Hebrews 12:10b-11 NIV
Daniel chapter four is kind of the definition of the term “plot twist” on a whole bunch of different levels.
In the first three chapters of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar is presented as a classic toxic villain/narcissistic mastermind. He spends most of his time making wild demands and threatening to murder people in innovative ways (Daniel 2:5-6, Daniel 3:4-6). However, chapter four begins with a cheery personal greeting from none other than King Nebuchadnezzar himself.
It just gets weirder from there.
Beginning in verse two King Nebuchadnezzar humbles his prideful self by loudly and proudly extoling the power, wisdom and sovereignty of the Hebrew God.
When Nebuchadnezzar is done praising the Lord he launches into a super personal and kind of humiliating story. He starts out telling the reader about a weird dream he had. The dream was about a tree. A tree that started small but grew to be tall and incredibly beautiful. The tree was covered with large leaves and lush fruit. The tree eventually covered the whole earth. Birds, animals and people all took shelter in and under this dazzling tree.
Out of nowhere, “a holy one” a “messenger” commands in a loud voice the tree is to be stripped of its leaves and fruit and cut down. Yet, the roots are to remain in the ground and the stump is to be bound with bronze and silver. Then the disembodied voice says:
Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him- Daniel 4:15b-16
Daniel is brought in to decipher the dream. The prophet is confronted with the rather unpleasant task of informing the King his dream is about him. In a beautiful exchange revealing the affection Daniel and the King have for one another Daniel gently informs Nebuchadnezzar he is the tree and he will be cut down in the prime of his life by a peculiar form of insanity. His only hope is to change course immediately, atone for his many sins and give God the glory he deserves (Daniel 4:19-27).
In true Nebuchadnezzar fashion, he ignores the warning and just cheerfully goes on with his life. No reflection. No self-examination. No transformation.
A year later, as Nebuchadnezzar is praising his own awesomeness and patting himself on the back He is struck with insanity and begins eating grass like an ox and living like an animal far removed from human society. This strange behavior continues for seven “times” (most scholars believe this is years while some say months). Then Nebuchadnezzar gives God glory and is back in his right mind and returned to his former position, evidently, with no long-term repercussions.
This story is fraught with good news and bad news.
The good news is that, for reasons I will never completely grasp, God loved crazy old Nebuchadnezzar. A LOT. Its obvious God loved Nebuchadnezzar because God pursued Nebuchadnezzar.
God was not content to simply allow Nebuchadnezzar to wallow around in his own sinful grossness until he died and went straight to hell. Instead, God warned Nebuchadnezzar in a dream he was dangerously off course. He informed Nebuchadnezzar what would happen if he refused to change direction. Then God followed through on what he promised. Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and lived like an animal until he gave God the glory He deserves as the maker and sustainer of all things.
This is good news for all us.
If the God of the universe can love a mean, impulsive, self-aggrandizing windbag like Nebuchadnezzar He loves all of us. God gets a lot of bad press these days for being a hateful meanie. Truth-be-told God is good and God is for us. His desire is for all people to be in relationship with Him. God wants a relationship with us so badly He was willing to do the work to make it happen. He sent His only son to pay the penalty for the sins of all of us. All we have to do is believe in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, repent of our sins and we’re in (Romans 5:6-8, John 3:16). It’s that simple.
The bad news is the flip side of the good news. Because God loves us He goes after us. He woos us (Deuteronomy 7:9, 1st John 3:1, 1st Corinthians 15:1-4). He attempts to draws us to Himself but if wooing doesn’t get the job done He flat refuses to let us go without a fight. This means He will discipline us in order to bring us into right relationship with Him, or if we already have a relationship with Him He will discipline us to get us back to a healthy place. Hebrews 12:4-10 tells us God will not allow someone He loves to continue on a sinful path without suffering the consequences of those choices and God loves everyone.
Hardships, difficulties and trials are not automatically God’s discipline or punishment. Trials serve a million different purposes. They grow us up, increase our endurance, deepen our compassion for other people and intensify our longing for the return of Jesus (James 1:2-4, Jude 1:21, Luke 12:36, 1st Peter 1:3-9, 1st Corinthians 1:3-7).
All good and necessary things that have nothing to do with punishment.
That being said, every trial we endure, every hardship we walk through should cause us to ask God straight-up if there’s an issue we need to deal with. This ensures a healthy, unbroken relationship with God and that no pain is ever wasted in our lives.