During the summer before I entered the fifth grade, my cousins were home. Their dad was in the Air Force, and they were preparing to move to Japan. I always loved when they came to visit (still do). We played, laughed, talked, and enjoyed that time. There was one particular day that I remember well.
My young brother had been playing in a plastic swimming pool earlier in the day. He has a great imagination and if my memory serves me correctly, he was pretending to play baseball. He would pretend the ball was pitched to him. He would pretend to hit the ball and then he would round the bases. Home plate was the swimming pool of course. There was always a play at the plate, and he would have to make a head first slide into the swimming pool in order to beat the tag.
Well, he left all of his gear in the pool. Or at least he left his bat. This was not your typical plastic wiffle ball bat. It was a molded plastic bat made to look as though it had wood grain in it. The plastic was thicker than a normal wiffle ball bat. You couldn’t bend it over your knee like you could a wiffle ball bat. As the bat sat in the pool all afternoon, it slowly began to fill with water.
That afternoon, my older cousin, my brother, and me were out in the yard. My cousin began to swing the water-logged bat. For some reason my Atlanta Braves hat was in the pool as well. My cousin picked up the hat had tried to hit it.
I was standing about twenty feet to his left. Almost in perfect position to be playing third base if we were playing on a short field. For a second, I looked down. I looked away. I cannot remember if I happened to look back at what he was doing or if someone called my name. I am leaning toward the latter. As soon as I looked back toward him, I saw the bat flying through the air, spinning.
At this moment all things turned to slow motion. It felt like a minute before the bat got to me, but it had to be a split second because I had no time to raise my hand to block the bat.
BAM! The bat crashed into my face leaving those fake wood grain impressions. As I grabbed my face, I could feel blood running through my fingers. I screamed!
My dad and my aunt were in the front of our house painting shutters. They didn’t move when they heard me scream. I guess I must have screamed a lot. They just thought I was being dramatic. So, my older brother obviously disturbed by the blood ran and got my dad. When we got the bleeding stopped, I got into the car and he took me to the doctor. I looked into the mirror of our Volkswagen Beetle and my nose obviously no longer straight. The doctor popped it back into place and then followed up with surgery a week later.
For a split second I had looked down. I often wonder what would be different if I had been looking up. What if I would not have taken my eyes off of the bat? There is no way of knowing what the outcome would have been. I only like to think that I could have had time to pull my arms in front of my face. Maybe I could have walked away that day with two bruised forearms instead of a broken nose.
In Daniel chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar looks down from his rooftop to his kingdom below. He sees the great Babylon – the city that he built, the palace that he built, the hanging gardens that he built – his kingdom. He boasts of his greatness and his glory. And his kingdom was great. He did had two of the ancient wonders in his kingdom – the forty-foot-high double-encased walls that chariots could ride on and the famous hanging gardens. By worldly standards, he was on top. He had everything that anyone could want. He was the most powerful man in the world. So, he did what powerful men do. He looked down and he admired the kingdom that he had built. He was distracted from looking up by all of the wonderful and glorious things that he had built.
But, as he looked down, he was about to receive a lesson from above. A year prior to his rooftop boast, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. It was a horrifying dream. It was a dream that Nebuchadnezzar could not figure out. It was a dream that was about his future. No one in the land could interpret the dream for the king except for Daniel, the man of God. Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that his dream was a prophecy about his fate. A tragic fate that would leave him humiliated. If he did not change his arrogant ways, he would be driven out from his kingdom and made to eat the grass like the oxen (Daniel 4:4-27)
Nebuchadnezzar looked down on his kingdom and he boasted arrogantly about how great he was. In Daniel 4:31, the words of his greatness were still in his mouth with a word from heaven came down and decreed his fate. Nebuchadnezzar was immediately driven from men and began to eat grass like an ox (Daniel 4:33). How humiliating! At one point he was at his highest height. At another point, we was brought as low as you could possibly get.
What do you look down on? What kingdoms have you built that you take pride in? We build kingdoms of friendship, grades, sports, and reputation. We build kingdoms of wealth, houses, jobs, and families. We take pride in how much money we have. We take pride in how big our house is. We take pride in how good our children are. We take pride in how good our grades and our jobs are. We look down on these little kingdoms, and we like Nebuchadnezzar declare how great we are and how great our little kingdoms are. We look down on our social media profiles and we admire the number of notifications that we get. We live and die by the number in those little red circles. They give us a false sense of security about how great we are.
Others don’t look down on little kingdoms and say, “How great I am!” You look down on yourself and think about all your shortcomings. You look at everyone else’s kingdom and think that you are not worthy. You don’t like the life you’ve been given and you certainly don’t enjoy it. You would probably never be caught boasting and bragging about how great things are. But, you too are looking down on your kingdom, and perhaps you would do everything in your power to keep your life miserable. N. D. Wilson has a quote in his book Dandelion Fire that says, “Self-loathing and self-worship can easily be the same thing. You hate the small sack of fluids and resentments that you are, and you would go to any length, and betray anything and anyone, to preserve it.” Self-loathing – looking down on yourself – is still a form of worshipping your own little kingdom.
What happened to Nebuchadnezzar after his humiliation is a lesson for all of us to learn. In Daniel 4:34, Nebuchadnezzar says, “At the end of the days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to the heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him who lives forever.”
Nebuchadnezzar looked up. He looked up to the heavens and realized who was really in charge. He confessed that God is the Most High. He took his focus off himself and looked up to God.
Nebuchadnezzar’s fall and restoration is a lesson for us all. Let’s learn from his mistakes so that we are not humiliated like him. Take your eyes off of yourself and your kingdom. Look up. Look up and see the world around you, nothing you have built is greater than the world that God has built. Look up from your phone. Look up from computer. Look up from your job. Look up and recognize that God is the King. Look up to Jesus, the one who was lifted up for your sins (John 3:14-16).
Looking down leads to destruction. Looking up leads to life.