There’s an odd story in the Bible of when King Nebuccadnezzar was transformed into an animal and back again. What does this story tell us about allegiances?

The most interesting wild animal in the bible story is of Nebuccadnezzar. It perfectly illustrates further biblical statements about swearing allegiance to the wild animal. In the story, Nebuccadnezzer one day thinks that he is all that. He sees everything that he has accomplished and praises himself for it. At that moment, he realises that he had misunderstood things because at that moment he began to live his life as a wild animal instead of a glorious king. Here is what the scriptures say:

“All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, he was walking around the royal palace in Babylon. The king thought, “Look how great Babylon is! I built the royal palace by my own impressive power and for my glorious honor.” Before the words came out of his mouth, a voice said from heaven, “King Nebuchadnezzar, listen to this: The kingdom has been taken from you. You will be forced away from people and live with the wild animals. You will eat grass like cattle. And seven time periods will pass until you realize that the Most High has power over human kingdoms and that he gives them to whomever he wishes.” Just then the prediction about Nebuchadnezzar came true. He was forced away from people and ate grass like cattle. Dew from the sky made his body wet until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails grew as long as birds’ claws.”

Daniel 4:28-33

It’s an odd story, isn’t it? Why is it included in the Bible? I suspect that quite often we want to find out if this is indeed true. Did this really happen to Nebuccadnezzer? What we often miss, though, in the search for historical accuracy, is that the story also has literary legitimacy. The story is here because it furthers the narrative of God as the centre of the universe and beyond. And that narrative is that God sees alternative rulers as wild animals (beasts) and all who ally themselves with them as being marked as such.

Now I don’t like to use terms like “mark of the beast” because the word “beast” has taken on theological significance rather than merely indicating a wild animal. Using it allows us to ignore our own situations because we can apply it to someone else’s world or time. I have written more on that here and here. But the principle is the same in that when the bible uses the concept of wild animal it is as a government, kingdom, or authority, in which people put their hope. People who have done so are said to have received the mark of the wild animal. As we read in Revelation 20:4,

“They had not worshiped the beast or its statue and were not branded on their foreheads or hands. They lived and ruled with Christ for 1,000 years.”

So, no, the mark of the beast isn’t the vaccine, or UPC codes, or numbers written on the sides of police cars in Israel (Yes, I have heard all of these explanations). Rather, it is a pledge of allegiance to a government, kingdom, or authority that isn’t God. In God’s eyes, this is rebellion because he is the true governor, king, or authority. All others are usurpers. 

Which brings us back to Nebuccadnezzar: He wasn’t actually all that. Instead, everything that he had and all his accomplishments were due to God’s love for him and not due to his own glory, but rather, “The holy ones have announced this so that every living creature will know that the Most High has power over human kingdoms. He gives them to whomever he wishes. He can place the lowest of people in charge of them.” ‭‭Daniel‬ ‭4‬:‭17‬ ‭GW‬‬

As an aside, isn’t it a little bit humorous that Nebuccadnezzar appeared to become a cow? I mean the text does say he “ate grass like cattle.” One would have thought that arguably the most powerful king of all time would manifest as a more wild, wild animal. Right?

So what ended up happing to Nebuccadnezzar? Did he learn a lesson from this? Did anything change in his life? Let’s read on and see:

“At the end of the seven time periods, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my mind came back to me. I thanked the Most High, and I praised and honored the one who lives forever, because his power lasts forever and his kingdom lasts from one generation to the next. Everyone who lives on earth is nothing compared to him. He does whatever he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who live on earth. There is no one who can oppose him or ask him, “What are you doing?” Just then my mind came back to me. My royal honor and glory were also given back to me. My advisers and nobles wanted to meet with me ⌞again⌟. I was given back my kingdom and made extraordinarily great. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, will praise, honor, and give glory to the King of Heaven. Everything he does is true, his ways are right, and he can humiliate those who act arrogantly.”

Daniel‬ ‭4‬:‭34‬-‭37

Nebuccadnezzar’s allegiance was changed. He now acknowledged the King of Heaven as supreme. Where does that leave us? Does that mean that we shouldn’t be concerned with the politics of our day? Does that mean that we should not participate in anything to do with earthly kingdoms? No. Our role in society is pretty clear. Jeremiah 12 lays out the terms of our engagement. We are to remain a part of society, to continue living our lives, to building a future for our families, and praying for our cities. What Nebuccadnezzar’s story does tell us is that to claim that our own systems are sufficient to make the world a better place, without acknowledging God’s role in the whole process, that our favourite political candidate or party isn’t really the answer. Rather we should live as if God were the head of government, the King, the authority. What would that look like?

It leads me to ask myself, “Where does my ultimate allegiance lie? Am I working towards seeing God’s kingdom fulfilled on earth?”

I know that this is a favourite topic of many of you. I also know that you probably have different view of the meaning of “beast” and the “mark of the beast.” Why not let us know your thoughts in the comments below?

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