Apologetics Thursday – Nebuchadnezzar’s Madness

This meme is from a Calvinist page. The reference is to Daniel 4:

Dan 4:29  At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 
Dan 4:30  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?” 
Dan 4:31  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, 
Dan 4:32  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.” 
Dan 4:33  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. 
Dan 4:34  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; 
Dan 4:35  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?” 
Dan 4:36  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. 
Dan 4:37  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. 

A few notes:

The punishment appears to be God reacting to pride, suggesting the free will of Nebuchadnezzar to avoid this fate. Surely the suggestion is that Nebuchadnezzar ought not to have chosen to be so prideful. Nebuchadnezzar was not fated to be prideful, and his pride is an affront to God.

The insanity is designed to teach Nebuchadnezzar. If God is removing free will, why teach? What is the point of this exercise?

The insanity is said to last for 7 years. Is this a prediction of this is when Nebuchadnezzar will become humble? Or, more likely, the time that God chooses to remove the insanity, thus allowing Nebuchadnezzar to re-evaluate his pride.

Is this fate or a rational prediction of the humility?

Is the restored fortune a response to Nebuchadnezzar’s change of heart?

In all, this account does not look much like it should if Nebuchadnezzar’s free will was being revoked. The point of the passage is an object lesson meant to teach Nebuchadnezzar some humility. The temporary insanity is more of a physical limitation than a violation of will.


  1. Making the free exercise of one’s will an impossibility in the basest of ways is preemption by force in the most undesirable of ways.

    1. This is an odd story. One commentary says the “seasons” are summer and winter, so King Neb was only crazy for 3.5 years. They then point to a excavated inscription that reads:

      “For four years the seat of my kingdom in the city … did not rejoice my heart. In all my dominions I did not build a high place of power; the precious treasures of my kingdom I did not lay out in the worship of Merodach, my lord, the joy of my heart. In Babylon the city of my sovereignty and the seat of my empire I did not sing his praises, and I did not furnish his altars; nor did I clear out the canals.”

      There are no other secular or Biblical references to this event that I know of. I’ll see if John Goldingay has commentary on this.

    2. Here is from the Goldingay commentary:

      The account of the king‘s chastisement/madness/illness/exile and restoration has several parallels outside the OT. (a) The Greek writer Megasthenes (c. 300 B.C.) writes of Nebuchadnezzar announcing from his palace roof under some god‘s inspiration the coming fall of Babylon to ―a Persian mule,‖ who Nebuchadnezzar wishes might rather take himself off to some animal-like existence (see Eusebius, Praep. Ev. 9.41.6). (b) A fragmentary cuneiform text apparently refers to some mental disorder on Nebuchadnezzar‘s part, and perhaps to his neglecting and leaving Babylon (Grayson, Texts, 87–92; cf. Hasel, AUSS 19 [1981] 41–42). (c) Josephus refers to an illness of which Nebuchadnezzar died (C.Ap. 1.20 [1.146]). (d) ―The Babylonian Job‖ (Ludlul beµl neµmeqi, ―I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom,‖ ANET 596–600) testifies to chastisement by God, illness, humiliation, seeking interpretation of a terrifying dream, being thrown over like a tree, being put outside, eating grass, losing understanding, being like an ox, being rained on by Marduk, nails being marred, hair growing, and being fettered, and then to a restoration for which he praises the god (Ball, Exp viii, 10 [1920] 235–40). (e) In a number of inscriptions, especially from Harran, Nabonidus testifies to praying before Marduk for a long and successful reign and receiving the deity‘s promise that these would be granted, and to being led by a dream to spend ten years away from Babylon in Tema in Arabia, but then to return to Babylon. Other inscriptions refer in the third person to his years away from Babylon and (with hostility) to his being punished for his ―mad‖ neglect of Babylon‘s deities (ANET 305–16, 560–63; Gadd, AnSt 8 [1958] 35–92; Röllig, ZA 56 [1964] 218–60). Nabonidus is the only known Babylonian dreamer (Oppenheim, ―Dreams,‖ 186). (f) The Qumran ―Prayer of Nabonidus‖ comprises Nabonidus‘s testimony to his being afflicted by God for seven years in Tema by a physical illness. He prayed to his gods for healing, but received it only after a Jewish exorcist () exhorted him to honor the true God (see Bibliography). On Nabonidus, see Saggs, Babylon, 145–52; Oppenheim, Mesopotamia, 152–53.
      Scholars have held a wide variety of views on the relationship between these various documents and the traditions they represent (Mertens, 37–40). Whether or not we can reach any confident conclusions about the historical questions, study of comparative materials may help us to perceive characteristic and distinctive features of the text that concerns us; for example, Bickerman sees the oracle which lies behind Dan 4 as giving the real divine response to Nabonidus, in contrast to that in the Harran inscriptions.

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