Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, November 7, 2004

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the king of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to abase (Daniel 4:37).

God promised Abraham that if he and his descendants would follow God and obey Him, then they would be as the stars in the heavens, or as the grains of sand on the beach, and that they would have dominion over all the land of Canaan. If they would only be obedient, they could be His chosen people.

They were, however, unable to follow God. The Old Testament lists the children of Israel’s numerous failures to obey, their punishments at the hand of their enemies, and their cries to the Lord for help. From the long view of history, we can see that the general trend was a steady descent from the close relationship that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had with Jehovah to the dispersion and loss of the 10 tribes of Israel, and the Babylonian captivity of Judah.

Our purpose today is to trace this descent of the human spirit from its beginnings to its end in order to see what it is that destroys a man’s spiritual life, and then, by studying what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, to see how we can rise up from our lowly states, and receive the King of Heaven into our lives.

There is a central concept that we need to have very clearly in mind before proceeding, and that is the representation of “Babylon” or “Babel.” First, as far as the internal sense is concerned, there is no difference between the words “Babel” and “Babylon.” “Babel” is simply the Latin, and “Babylon” the Greek form for the same Hebrew word. So, throughout the Word, wherever they occur, they stand for the same idea. The idea that Babylon represents is the love of dominating others from the love of self.

This evil is a constant threat to every church. We know that it was this evil love that destroyed the Ancient Church, for in Genesis it is told how men built the tower of Babel to reach unto heaven itself. They sought dominion over other men’s lives, then over their thought, and finally it mounted up so far that it became the love of dominating the holy things of heaven (See AR717).

The church becomes Babylon when charity and faith cease, and in their place the love of self reigns. This is why the Lord permitted King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to capture the people of Judah and take them to Babylon, for it represented the final state of the Jewish church as to its internals before the Lord came into the world to bring it to its end and establish a new church in its place.

For today, we shall focus particularly on three events which occurred during the Jewish captivity in Babylon. In these three events, we can see both the destruction of a church from the love of self, and the ascent out of the love of self through successive states of self-examination, repentance, and reformation.

The first event is Nebuchadrezzar’s dream as recorded in Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed and saw huge statue. Its head was of fine gold, the chest and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet partly of iron and partly of clay. And while he watched, a stone was cut out of a rock without hands which struck the image in the feet, and destroyed it.

Nebuchadrezzar’s dream describes four churches: The golden head was the Most Ancient Church which ended with the flood. The silver chest and arms stands for the Ancient Church in Asia and Africa which perished by idolatries. The belly and thighs of bronze stand for the Israelitish church which perished by the profanation of the Word, signified by their crucifixion of Him who was the Word. The legs and feet of iron and clay are the Christian Church which was ended at the council of Nicea and consummated when the Lord made His second coming in the Heavenly Doctrine (See P.P., TCR 760, AC 1551).

But perhaps most important is the stone which destroyed the statue, for it signifies that when a church is in its last state, when heavenly love has been replaced by the love of self, and when the Word is used to confirm falsity and evil, it is no longer really a living church and is no longer able to see the truth in the Word. This happened to the Jewish Church and is happening with many people today, with those who cannot see that there is anything internal in the Word, and who would not receive it even if they could see it (See AC 9406).

The second event is the story of Daniel’s three friends who refused to worship the golden idol set up by Nebuchadnezzar, and who were thrown into the fiery furnace, and were protected by the Son of God.

Nebuchadnezzar stands for those in a church who love and worship themselves, not God. Such people want anyone who does not agree with them to burn in hell. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego represent those who wish to remain true to the Lord. When Nebuchadnezzar tries to kill them, they are protected by the Lord, and Nebuchadnezzar is forced to acknowledge His power (See P.P.).

The third event was Nebuchadrezzar’s second dream. He saw a tree of such height that it reached the heavens, but an angel came down from heaven and cut it down, leaving only the stump and roots bound by a strap of iron. Nebuchadnezzar saw himself grazing like an animal, until an angel proclaimed that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men.

The great tree is another representative of the desire to dominate by means of the things of religion. When the angel cut it down, it meant that such evil would be cut down in its season, it would not be allowed to prosper.

The stump bound with iron means that the Word, which is the foundation of every true church, would yet remain with them.

That Nebuchadnezzar would graze like an animal shows that such men are so stupid in respect to the truths and goods of the church as to no longer appear as men, for when seen from heaven they appear to be no more than beasts.

Finally, we are told that after Daniel interpreted this dream for Nebuchadnezzar, the king did in fact go insane for a time, and was not permitted to return to his kingdom until his pride had been broken.

Three times Nebuchadnezzar defied God, and three times he was humbled. It is our thesis that Nebuchadnezzar stands for that love in every man which wants to rule over others, and is willing to use the holy things of the Word to accomplish this evil end. In each example already mentioned, we have seen that Nebuchadnezzar has suffered successively harsher and harsher punishments. This is a descending series, showing how in the course of our lives, as we journey down the path of regeneration, we fight deeper and deeper evils. Ironically, the better we get, the more we regenerate, the deeper evils we are able to find within ourselves because we are better equipped to look deeper!

If this was all that we saw, it would be rather discouraging, so it is absolutely essential that we also see that there is an ascending series as well. Each time Nebuchadnezzar fights God and looses, he issues a proclamation stating his discoveries about God. If we look at these decrees, we shall see that even as a man descends into the depths of temptation and despair, he opens up for himself the opportunity of a deeper and more complete appreciation and understanding of God.

The love of self reigns universally in hell – it is the first love in the heart of every devil. It begins innocently enough as an instinct for self-preservation, but if left unchecked can eventually turn a man’s life into hell itself. We all know that purpose of life in this world is to learn truth and live it, so that the Lord can give us a new angelic will. But those who are in the love of self do not get a new will in the enlightened understanding, but instead get a “Voluntary” of evil loves below the will, a new hellish will suitable for a life in hell (See AC 9296:3)!

We are not talking about childish selfishness and pettiness here. The evil of the love of self represented by Babylon and its king is a fully developed adult evil. It begins as selfishness, a “me-first” attitude where others are simply ignored in regard to one’s own needs and desires. It then develops into a pride in one’s own accomplishments accompanied with a derision of the works of others. As the love of self grows, it turns into contempt for others who are less clever than self, and finally a hatred for anyone or anything that would dare to contradict the desires and needs of self. Eventually other humans fall so far below contempt that they are not even noticed, and the love of self focuses all its hatred on the Lord, the only One who remains to challenge the supremacy of self. In this way the love of self grows until it becomes the hatred of the Lord, and the burning passion to pull Him down and replace Him with self.

The love of self is not just an inconvenience, a character flaw. It is the heart and life of hell itself! And if we are to enter into the life of heaven, this must be removed from us first. But how?

Purification from the loves of self and the world are only effected by means of the truths of faith (See AC 9088:2). Any evil must be seen before it can be shunned, and only the truth from the Lord in the Word gives us the light to see our evils. So, Nebuchadnezzar, who as king of Babylon represents the evil of the love of dominion from the love of self was given the dream of the statue, and after Daniel reveals and explains the dream, Nebuchadnezzar says, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret” (Dan. 2:47). The first step has taken place. Nebuchadnezzar has had a message from God, he has had the secret revealed to him by the prophet.

The Lord speaks to each of us, too, if we will only listen. He speaks to us, warns us, leads us away from our follies through the letter of the Word. As Nebuchadnezzar did not seek Jehovah until he had a disturbing dream, it is also true that many people go for many years without feeling any particular need or hunger to search the Word for answers. It is as if God diminishes in importance until He is just one of many things in our lives – until some disturbing event happens that we cannot otherwise explain away. We then as it were rediscover the Word, and rediscover God. Suddenly, He is no longer just one of many ideas and philosophies competing for our attention, but He moves once again to the fore. He becomes “God of gods.”

After Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego miraculously survive being thrown into the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar says, “Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this” (Dan. 3:29).

As we begin to live the truth we have rediscovered, we also discover that our lives begin to change, that we feel better about ourselves, that we feel better about others. As we repent of our evil ways, we finally begin to get the idea that the Lord has real power to change our lives, that when we do things His way, they go easier, and things are generally more pleasant. We realize that no philosophy of man can provide genuine happiness in life, that only the Lord’s Word can really change our lives for the better. We see that “no other God can deliver (or save) like this” (Dan. 3:29).

But no evil can be removed from a man except by means of temptation even to despair, for only when our pride is broken, when we are truly humbled before God, will we finally realize that of ourselves we are nothing, and that He is everything and all power. This is the confession of the angels, and from it comes all eternal happiness. In proportion as it is acknowledged that nothing of good and truth is from self, the love of self departs (See AC 10227:2). In the world of spirits, those who are being prepared for heaven are let down into their true nature so that they can see and feel what they are in and of themselves without the Lord’s uplifting power, and they are horrified. So too with Nebuchadnezzar. He was the most powerful king on earth, and yet he was humbled so that he ate grass like the cattle, dug for roots with his fingernails, and his hair became matted and filthy. And finally, after he recovers his sanity as a totally humbled and convinced man, he said, “I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. …I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the king of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways are justice and those who walk in pride He is able to abase” (text).

From himself, man thinks and wills evil and rushes into hell (See AC 1321). The love of self reigns when man does all things for the sake of himself and his own family (See AC 7367). The only way out of the loves of self and the world are by shunning evils, for only when a man admits God into his life and asks for His help can be begin to leave his own little hell. Only God can uplift a man out of hell, and even He can only do this when He is invited to. And that is the point. The Lord wills that everyone become an angel of heaven. He is constantly providing opportunities for each of us to turn towards Him and ask for His help. If we are willing to search the Word for truth, to shun evils as sins, we, like Nebuchadnezzar, will find that the Lord is “God of gods,” that He can save us, and that His “works are truth, and His ways are justice, and those who walk in pride He is able to abase” (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: DAN 4:28-37

(Dan 4:28-37) All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. {29} At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. {30} The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” {31} While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! {32} And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” {33} That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. {34} And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding 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 is from generation to generation. {35} All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?” {36} At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. {37} Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 7367 – 7372

7367. The love of self reigns with a man, that is, be is in the love of self, when in what he thinks and does, he does not regard his neighbor, thus not the public, still less the Lord, but only himself and those who belong to him; consequently when he does all things for the sake of himself and those who belong to him; and if for the sake of the public and his neighbor, it is merely for the sake of the appearance.

7368. It is said “for the sake of himself and those who belong to him,” because he together with these, and these together with him, make a one; just as when any one does anything for the sake of his wife, of his children, grandchildren, sons-in-law, or daughters-in-law, he does it for the sake of himself, because they are his. In like manner one who does anything for the sake of relatives and of friends who favor his love and thereby conjoin themselves with him; for by such conjunction they make one with hi, n, that is, regard themselves in him, and him in themselves.

7369. In so far as a man is in the love of self, so far he removes himself from the love of the neighbor; consequently in so far as a man is in the love of self, so far he removes himself from heaven, for in heaven there is the love of the neighbor. From this it also follows that in so far as man is in the love of self, so far he is in hell, for in hell there is the love of self.

7370. That man is in the love of self who despises his neighbor in comparison with himself, who regards him as his enemy f he does not favor and reverence him; he is still more in the love of self who therefore hates and persecutes his neighbor; and he still more who therefore burns with revenge against him and desires his destruction. Such persons at last love to rage against their neighbor; and the same, if they are also adulterers, become cruel.

7371. The delight which these men perceive in such things is the delight of the love of self. This delight in a man is infernal delight. Everything that is according to love is delightful; and therefore the quality of the love can be known from the delight.

7372 From what has now been described (n. 7370), as a test, it is known who are in the love of self. It matters not how they appear in the outward form, whether pretentious or unassuming; for such they are in the interior man; and the interior man is at this day hidden by most people, and the exterior is trained to make a show of love of the public and the neighbor, thus for contrary things; and this also for the sake of self and for the sake of the world. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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