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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

The Man Who Stood on Top of the World

By Robert C. Crosby
March 13, 2011

When was the last time you felt on top of the world? What was the occasion? Had you just landed a new job, finally finished a challenging project, or experienced some other kind of success?

Who would you say is truly standing on top of it all today, this very moment? If you’re talking about the entertainment world, it just may be Oprah Winfrey. Sports: Probably NBA superstar LeBron James. Internet technology: You may say Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — Time magazine’s 2010 “Person of the Year.”

But if you had asked that question in the sixth century B.C., there would have been only one answer: Nebuchadnezzar. For several years he stood on top of the world.

Nebuchadnezzar was an astounding success. The absolute monarch, he ruled over an empire that became legendary for its grandiosity and excess. At the center of his domain was the famed city he built, Babylon. About 50 miles away from modern day Baghdad (Iraq), this city was vast in its appearance and size.

Its surrounding walls stood 300 feet high and were 25 feet thick. There were 250 towers, each 450 feet tall. And the city’s golden image of Baal was made of more than 50,000 pounds of gold. Archaeologists estimate that 95 percent of some 15 million bricks used to construct countless buildings throughout the Babylonian empire were individually inscribed with Nebuchadnezzar’s name.

Babylon was also home to one of the ancient “Wonders of the World,” the Hanging Gardens, and to a palace considered to be the most magnificent ever built. Nebuchadnezzar ruled it all, and at the very moment he found himself at the top of his game, he paused to reflect on himself and his own “greatness.”

“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30, ESV).

Nebuchadnezzar had a kingdom, yes, but he also had a problem, a soul sickness, in fact. Can you tell? It is the same thing that affects and infects people today, all people. It’s called pride. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that pride is “the essential vice, the utmost evil.”

Have you noticed that pride is our default mode? It fills us up with ourselves — our wants, our wishes. But no matter how much attention and acclaim prideful persons can draw to themselves, it is never enough. As big a kingdom as they can acquire, they always want more.

Not only is pride never satisfied, it also makes you compete with people instead of commune with them. Lewis also wrote:

“Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind ... [and] pride is essentially competitive — by its very nature. ... Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.”

Pride makes you see only what others “should” be doing for you. It only looks through its own set of lenses. Its view of life has the ability to fuel such selfishness within us that the only lack we can see is our own, the only injustices that ever occur are toward us, and the only one who is truly entitled to the best of everything is ... you guessed it ... yours truly!

But perhaps worst (and best) of all, pride will precipitate a fall of some sort in your life. You can count on it. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” When Nebuchadnezzar’s pride crossed the line, God gave him a dream and then sent Daniel to him to warn him of the fall he would soon face.

“You shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:25).

Ultimately, Nebuchadnezzar completely fell apart as a person. His pride was his undoing. So much so that he became animal-like. He became so deeply troubled that his sleep was disrupted, his mind confused, his life riddled. Pride damaged his person and altered his soul.

As arrogant and full of pride (and of himself) as Nebuchadnezzar was, the good news is this: God did not leave him alone. God has an unlimited number of ways for dealing with my pride and yours. For Nebuchadnezzar, God used a dream and a prophet to reach out to this taunting tower of a man. Daniel warned this prideful leader, “Your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules” (Daniel 4:26, NIV).

A kingdom is simply any place over which someone rules. In Babylon, at least in Nebuchadnezzar’s mind and heart, he ruled. Yet God was determined to lead him through a series of humbling experiences that would not let up until he fully accepted that “Heaven rules.”

While Nebuchadnezzar is a paramount example of pride in the Bible, Jesus is certainly the ultimate model of humility. While pride makes every effort to elevate itself, humility assumes a lowly position, preferring others and putting itself last. Pride clings to its greatness and yet ultimately loses it; humility surrenders its greatness and, as a result, wins it forever. Pride seeks to control people; humility, instead, yields itself up to God and His control.

Humility is not only the antithesis of pride; it is also the antidote for it. Either we will learn to “humble ourselves” or we should be prepared for God to humble us.

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5,6, ESV).

Perhaps God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to rise so high and then to fall so far as an example to us of the fact that it is God, and God alone, who raises up and brings down. After he was disciplined by God, the freshly humbled king of Babylon had a whole new view:

“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. ... 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” (Daniel 4:34,37).

One of the subtlest lies pride ever tells us is this: “Pride is always someone else’s problem, not mine.” That’s it. When you swallow that one, you have been caught by pride and caught deeply. Either identify it and repent of it before God or hold on to your seat.

Ultimately, heaven will reveal who really was the most successful person in the world. But, for now, the story of Nebuchadnezzar begs the question: Which “king” rules over your “kingdom” — King Pride or King Humility?

Nebuchadnezzar missed the point. He zoomed in far too close on his own estimations of success. A more wide-angle view that took in the greatness, sovereignty and graciousness of God was the only one that would do. God — who met up with the “man who sat on top of the world” and found him full of a sickness called pride — ultimately went to great lengths to ensure that no matter how high this leader rose, he would come to find that he was still living under a Mighty Hand.

ROBERT C. CROSBY is professor of practical theology at Southeastern University (AG) in Lakeland, Fla.

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