Was Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, Genuinely Converted to Saving Faith in the God of Israel?1
In the previous article we looked briefly at the strange case of Nebuchadnezzar who appears to have been disciplined by God with a case of boanthropy. The discipline apparently worked, as the King lifted his eyes to heaven and experienced the restoration of reason (Dan. 4:34).
He proceeded to bless God, praise and honor him. Is this an indication that he experienced a change of heart and had trusted God for forgiveness? This would appear to be the case, especially in light of his declaration in Daniel 4:34-35 of God’s sovereign dominion and irresistible will.
But not everyone agrees. Joyce Baldwin does not believe he was converted. She contends that Nebuchadnezzar’s reference to God as “the King of heaven” (Dan. 4:37) is indicative of his lost condition:
“This impersonal reference to God keeps Him at a distance, and this last word of Nebuchadnezzar in the book, while formally acknowledging the power and justice of God, appears to fall short of penitence and true faith” (116).
Also, if truly saved, why didn’t Nebuchadnezzar restore the religious culture of Israel and release the captives or display other virtues which are the fruit of regeneration?
On the other hand, E. J. Young believes he experienced genuine saving faith. Among his arguments (114) are the following.
(1) There is discernible a progress in his knowledge of God, as can be seen by comparing his earlier statements in 2:47 with 3:28 and finally with 4:34,35.
(2) Nebuchadnezzar also acknowledges the utter sovereignty of God with respect to his own experience (4:37b).
(3) The king utters several true statements concerning the omnipotence of the true God (4:34-35).
(4) The king appears to worship this God, whom he identifies as King of heaven (4:37a). He “blesses” God as the Most High (4:34). He also “praises” and “honors” him as eternal (4:34).
If that were not enough, we read in Daniel 4:37 how Nebuchadnezzar praises, extols, and honors the King of heaven. He acknowledges that God’s “works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride [as had Nebuchadnezzar, prior to his discipline] he is able to humble.”
These reasons lead me to agree with Young that, “although the faith of Nebuchadnezzar may indeed have been weak and his knowledge meagre, yet his faith was saving faith, and his knowledge true” (114).
Of course, this raises the question that Daniel nowhere addresses in his book. If Nebuchadnezzar truly was saved and forgiven, what role, if any, did the blood sacrifices of the old covenant play? Nothing is said about Nebuchadnezzar looking in faith to the shed blood of the Levitical sacrifices as the ground of his forgiveness. Did he consult with Daniel on this matter? Did Daniel, on hearing Nebuchadnezzar’s words, speak to him of the fact that only on the basis of the shed blood of the sacrificial lamb could he be reconciled to God?
We don’t know. In any case, it is difficult for me to think that a man who appears to repent and praise God with such clarity and evident sincerity could remain under divine judgment.