by David Vickers
Daniel 4 v 28-37
This story is set in Babylon (what now is in northern Iraq). Neb’s father had been an Assyrian officer and had led an uprising which resulted in Babylon becoming the power in the region. Neb had been married off to the granddaughter of the ruling Mede king to keep a peace with the neighbouring Persian Empire. Neb had been responsible for the destruction of Solomon’s temple and the walls of Jerusalem with the capture of many of its inhabitants, whom he took as prisoners to Babylon. Some of these young Hebrew men were selected for training in his court, probably for political reasons. They were given Babylonian names which gave glory to Neb’s family god – Nebu, but they never gave up worshipping the God of their ancestors. Neb recognised that these men were different. They had confidence in their god. They had a certain wisdom which he respected. Neb’s own advisors were magicians, astrologers and other yes-men that he increasingly distrusted. Neb also saw some of these men protected from the flames of the furnace where they were thrown as a result of a trick played by Neb’s advisors. In the flames he had seen a fourth man who he assumed was something to do with their god.
So Neb had a conflict of truth and reality. He was a powerful and rich man. Was this due to him personally, or to his gods. And yet these Hebrew men showed him that there may be a higher god which wen counter to his own culture and beliefs.
Daniel interpreted one of Neb’s dreams in which he was out in the wilderness, long matted beard and claw-like finger nails – living wild with the animals. A year later, at a time when his pride in himself was particularly great, the interpretation came true, exactly as Daniel had said. I do not believe that God caused this insanity, but He would use it as part of His plan for His people. Neb lost all contact with any reality. Today he might be diagnosed as having a psychotic illness like schizophrenia. According to the Bible, this lasted for seven years. It was certainly a long time. But he did not die. Someone was feeding him and protecting him all this time.
And then Neb, in a lucid moment, cried out to the god of the Hebrews, “Yahweh, help me”. God heard his cry from the heart and Neb was healed. He returned to his palace and everything was restored. Now he believed and would follow this God of gods. He found his kingdom in good shape. Daniel and his Hebrew friends had ruled in his absence and done well. They were well respected by the Babylonians. So he let them continue in their roles. He was so grateful to have been introduced to Almighty God who had done this great thing in his life. His people could have abandoned him, been frightened by him, have not allowed him back into the palace. But God had sorted everything out. God is able to heal any illness. Even in the illness, He does not abandon us but is in it with us. All those around can do is prayer and ask for mercy and restoration.
So what of God’s great plan. Daniel carried on as Prime Minister with his friends beside him. even after the death of Neb. When the Medes annexed Babylon into the Persian Empire, they too saw their value and kept them on. All this led to King Darius and later King Cyrus allowing the exiles to return, to rebuild Jerusalem and the prophecies of Isaiah and Habakkuk were realised. God had told Isaiah that a remnant would return. He had told Habakkuk to look to the nations and expect something incredible to happen in his life-time. The restoration of Jerusalem and the Hebrews was to set the scene for the ministry of Jesus 600 years later. God used a mental illness as part of His plan. We often don’t understand why illness happens. We just need to trust in God’s plan for us and for all.
And what of the name Nebuchadrezza? This was the name that his father gave him and it means, “Nebu, preserve my son”. But the Hebrews altered all their scriptures (our Old Testament) to call him Nebuchadnezzar as a term of abuse meaning “Nebu, preserve my Jackass son. So Neb was remembered for this period of mental illness with name-calling for all time.
Let us learn to understand mental illness, to care for and protect and not call names. Mental illness can come to any of us at any time. As Christians, our attitude should be different from those around us. In our compassion we also have confidence that God, in his plans, sees the bigger picture and is capable of doing the incredible.