Of all the Gentile monarchs mentioned by name in the Scriptures, Nebuchadnezzar (or Nebuchadrezzar as he is sometimes referred to) is the most prominent. His name means “O Nebo, protect the boundaries”, or alternatively “O Nebo, protect thy servant”.

He was the oldest son and successor of Nabopolassar, founder of the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean empire. His mother is not known by name but classical historians mention his two wives— Amytis, the daughter of Astyages, and Nitocris, the mother of Nabunaid.

Articles11.4His rise to power  began with his father’s  greatness. The Assyrian  empire was in decline  and the Babylonians  sought independence once more, but this time  under a Chaldean prince,  Nabopolassar, who successfully defeated the  Assyrians at Babylon in  BC 629. He successfully joined forces with Cyaxeres, the Mede, and  destroyed Nineveh in BC 612, thus ensuring the complete demise of the Assyrian power.

There is little revealed about Nebuchadnezzar’s youth, although in some of the clay tablets that have  survived, we find that he was born around bc 630 and spent his teenage years working as a labourer in the restoration of the temple of Marduk, the  chief god of the city of Babylon and the national god of Babylonia (bc 620–615). This sense of  early religious zeal is a feature of his later life as  portrayed in the book of Daniel.

He next appears as a military administrator (bc 610) and then as crown prince, commanding an army with his father in the mountains north of Assyria and then subsequently leading independent operations after Nabopolassar’s return to Babylon in bc 607/606.

The Conqueror

One of his early triumphs was at the head of the army which crushed Pharaoh-Necoh at Carchemish on the Euphrates near Hamath and this led to the conquest of all Syria in bc 605 (Jer 46:2). But all this was disrupted by the sudden death of his father. Nebuchadnezzar hastened home to Babylon to secure the throne and became king in 604 bc. The fact that he could return to Syria shortly afterward reflected his strong grip on the empire.

His campaigns against Judah were brutal. He is portrayed in the record of Kings as the king who came up and besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:1,10,11,25:1,8). In the corresponding record in Chronicles he is the king who left Jerusalem and removed both people and vessels (2 Chron 36:6,7,10). So whether he is coming or going he is a relentless destroyer.

In Jeremiah 21:7 he is described as a merciless and heartless oppressor and in Jeremiah 4:7 he is called “the lion… the destroyer of the Gentiles”. In Jeremiah 50:17 he was likened to a fierce lion that had broken every bone in the body of Judah.

In Ezra he is constantly described as the captivemaker, the destroyer and the plunderer (Ezra 1:7, 2:1, 5:12, 14, 6:5). Look at this emphasis in Esther 2:6 in reference to Mordecai, “Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.” The Hebrew word galah means to denude, and because captives were carried away stripped of their clothes, it came to mean “to exile”. Nebuchadnezzar did not just invade and carry people away; he humiliated them and destroyed every semblance of self-esteem and respect.

God used this man as His servant, not just to ravage Judah, but to “utterly destroy [all the surrounding nations], and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations” (Jer 25:9). All nations were given into his hand to serve him (Jer 27:6) and any nation found resisting this purpose was to be crushed by sword, famine, pestilence and uncompromising warfare (Jer 27:8). His campaigns were likened to an unbreakable yoke of iron (Jer 28:14) and his conquests were likened to wages paid by God for undertaking His work of judgment (Ezek 29:18–19).

This is how God depicted Judah’s reaction to Nebuchadnezzar: “the king of Babylon hath devoured me, he hath crushed me, he hath made me an empty vessel, he hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out” (Jer 51:34).

Nebuchadnezzar personally ordered the blinding of Zedekiah and the death of his sons (Jer 39:5–7). He had little sense of compassion and those who stood in the way of his ambition were swiftly removed.

The only positive thing recorded about him in relation to those in the land is that he issued a decree safeguarding the life of Jeremiah (Jer 39:11–12). In fact, so strong was the command that all the key princes of the campaign personally went to the prison themselves to ensure that Jeremiah was rescued (Jer 39:13–14).

Much influenced by the Assyrian imperial tradition, Nebuchadnezzar consciously pursued a policy of expansion, claiming the grant of universal kingship by Marduk and praying to have “no opponent from horizon to sky”. In the main, though, he is simply a waster and destroyer; a scourge, unleashing God’s anger upon Judah and upon the surrounding nations.

His key campaigns were as follows:

1 he captures Ashkelon and besieges Jerusalem and carries away part of the vessels of the temple and a few captives of noble lineage in bc 604 (3rd/4th year of Jehoiakim—Dan 1:1–2)

2 he attacks Arab tribes of northwestern Arabia (in preparation for the coming occupation of Judah) in bc 599/598

3 he besieges Jerusalem and deposes Jehoiakim in bc 597 (11th year of Jehoiakim—2 Chron 36:6)

4 he besieges Jerusalem again three months later and takes Jehoiachin captive in bc 597 (2 Kings 24:10)

5 he undertakes a further brief Syrian campaign in bc 596/595

6 he repels a threatened invasion in eastern Babylonia, probably from Elam (modern southwestern Iran) in bc 595.

7 he decisively puts down a rebellion involving elements of the army in late bc 595/594

8 he forces the withdrawal of Pharaoh-hophra (Apries) from Judah in the 1st year of the siege of Jerusalem under Zedekiah in bc588

9 he besieges Jerusalem and destroys city and temple in bc 586 (commences in the 9th year of Zedekiah and takes it in the 11th year (2 Kings 25:1–2; 2 Chron 36:11)

10 he carries on a long siege of Tyre, lasting thirteen years, from bc 598 to 585 (7th to his 20th year Ezek 29:18)

11 he enters Egypt in triumph and defeats Amasis in bc 568/567 (Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year Ezek 30:10)

12 he dies in bc 561 and is succeeded by his son Awil- Marduk (Evil-Merodach of 2 Kings 25:27).

In addition to being a brilliant tactician and strategist, Nebuchadnezzar was also prominent in international diplomacy, as shown in his sending an ambassador (probably Nabonidus, a successor) to mediate between the Medes and Lydians in Asia Minor.

The Builder

His main activity, other than as military commander, was the rebuilding of Babylon. He completed and extended fortifications begun by his father, built a great moat and a new outer defence wall, paved the ceremonial Processional Way with limestone, rebuilt and embellished the principal temples, and cut canals. This he did not only for his own glorification but also in honour of the gods. He claimed to be “the one who set in the mouth of the people reverence for the great gods” and disparaged predecessors who had built palaces elsewhere than at Babylon and had only journeyed there for the New Year Feast.

The monuments justify the boast of Nebuchadnezzar; “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?” (Dan 4:30). Among these buildings special emphasis is placed by Nebuchadnezzar upon his temples and shrines to the gods, particularly to Marduk, Nebo and Zarpinat, but also to Shamash, Sin, Gula, Ramman, Mah, and others. He constructed, also, a great new palace and rebuilt an old one of his father’s. Besides this he laid out and paved with bricks a great street for the procession of Marduk, and built a number of great walls with moats and moat-walls and gates. He dug several broad, deep canals, and made dams for flooding the country to the North and South of Babylon, so as to protect it against the attack of its enemies. He made, also, great bronze bulls and serpents, and adorned his temples and palaces with cedars and gold. Not merely in Babylon itself, but in many of the cities of Babylonia as well, his building operations were carried on, especially in the line of temples to the gods.

As king he also built the Ishtar Gate. It was a double gate at the south end of the processional way, which was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. It was covered with brilliant blue glazed bricks and bas-relief animal sculptures. When visitors came upon this gate they would be in awe. In addition to the Ishtar gate Nebuchadnezzar built a majestic palace for himself. Travellers marvelled at the walls decorated with colourful friezes of blue and yellow enamelled bricks. Nebuchadnezzar paved the street sidewalks with small red stone slabs. Along the edge of each stone was carved, “I am Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who made this”, demonstrating Nebuchadnezzar’s absolute power and influence over Babylon.

The inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar show that he was a very religious man, probably excelling all who had preceded him in the building of temples, in the institution of offerings, and the observance of all the ceremonies connected with the worship of the gods. His larger inscriptions usually contain two hymns and always close with a prayer. Mention is frequently made of the offerings of precious metals, stones and woods, of game, fish, wine, fruit, grain, and other objects acceptable to the gods. How different this was to the sacrifices instituted by the God of Israel.

He is also credited with the restoration of the Lake of Sippar, the opening of a port on the Persian Gulf, and the building of the famous Median wall between the Tigris and the Euphrates to protect the country against incursions from the North: in fact, there is scarcely a place around Babylon where his name does not appear and where traces of his activity are not found. These gigantic undertakings required an innumerable host of workmen: from the inscription of the great temple of Marduk, it has been inferred that most probably captives brought from various parts of Western Asia made up a large part of the labouring force used in all his public works.

It is ironic that in the area where God first planted a garden, Nebuchadnezzar built the Hanging Gardens, a botanical wonder, an “impulse deriving from the love of a woman”, to please his homesick Median wife Amytis.

The Man from God’s Perspective

But what was this powerful monarch really like? It is not until we come to the book of Daniel that we begin to understand more about this king.

He is portrayed as personally supervising a special indoctrination program for gifted princes, ensuring that each participant was dependent upon him, as he nourished them through their studies (1:3–5). This reveals a very determined king, who was prepared to take control of some of the minutiae of palace procedures. He sought to win the battle for the mind in those he conquered by subjecting these captives to three years of Babylonian culture, wisdom and idolatry. The fact that he personally quizzed each scholar and promoted those who showed wisdom and skill in their answers tells us how far his zeal went in attempting to convert men to his way of thinking (1:18–20).

Yet he also ruled his subjects by fear (1:10). He had a terrible temper (2:12 “angry and very furious”, 3:13 “in his rage and fury”, 3:19 “full of fury”). In addition to this, he was a man of extreme actions. If you crossed him you would be consigned to death. In fact, he decreed that all the wise men would die, not just those who failed him (2:12– 13). On the other hand if you pleased him he could be extremely generous (2:46–49). He was hasty in his decisions (2:15). When he commanded, he expected his will to be done immediately (3:22).

With a man swinging between such extremes it would have been like walking on eggshells in his presence. Hence Daniel’s explanation of the dream and interpretation was a display of courage borne of faith.

In Daniel 2 we see the king’s religious background coming to the fore. He had no hesitation in going to the wise men of his realm to understand the supernatural (2:1–2). These men were the religious elite of the kingdom skilled in all religious superstitions, yet in his heart he distrusted them and saw through their lies and corruption (2:8–9). So although he was religiously inclined he was not stupid.

The response from Nebuchadnezzar after hearing Daniel’s explanation of the dream is in exact accordance with his deep religious background. He “fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him” (2:46).

He was not embarrassed to recognise the superiority of Daniel’s God. In the presence of overwhelming evidence he was so different to the Pharaoh of the exodus. He acknowledged God as “a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets”. He accepted the supremacy of Yahweh over Babylon’s gods. He accepted the fact that Yahweh had placed him on the throne. He accepted that Yahweh was prepared to reveal his secrets to a Jewish captive. Every one of these acknowledgements indicates a readiness to accept a greater power and wisdom in the face of unassailable evidence. But it did not affect his behaviour. It did not cause him to seek out the Truth of the Scriptures. It was an acknowledgement that was short lived.

The reason for saying this is because in Daniel 3 he attempts to compete against God. The dream of the previous chapter likened his dynasty to a golden head lasting for a limited time, but the king sought to challenge that decision and constructed a complete image out of gold. And he was not merely content with just building an image; he sought the people’s adoration and devotion. This indicates a man infatuated with his presence in history. He seeks immortality through his dynasty and wants all mankind to acknowledge this greatness. The king who bowed down and worshipped Daniel now seeks the same adoration from others.

He might have been impressed with Daniel’s God, but it is soon forgotten. He was furious with those who dared to countermand his decrees. When the three friends stood accused before him he could hardly believe his ears: “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?” He was incredulous that people had the effrontery to disobey his commands and refuse to recognise his gods. He asks in cynical disdain: “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (3:13–15). He perhaps knew deep down that even his own Babylonian gods could not achieve this, how much less someone else’s gods!

After listening to their reply, he was absolutely livid (3:19). His rage was like a burning furnace and his cruelty was oblivious to the fact that he might have to sacrifice some of his mighty men to assuage that anger (3:22).

But when the three friends survived he was on his feet with astonishment. His reaction was effusive with praise, both for the way they stood up against his decree and the way their God delivered them. In the words of 3:28–29 he said: “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.”

The same vehemence and passion is now diverted from his golden idol to God. But notice that the decree does not encourage people to seek out the God of Israel from a sense of thankfulness for His deliverance. It simply seeks to punish people if they speak against Him. Whilst it acknowledges that no other God can deliver “after this sort” or “after this manner” it still allows nations to accept the gods of Babylon who can deliver in other ways. Instead of denouncing idolatry, Nebuchadnezzar merely allowed Yahweh to take the stand with other gods.

In the fourth chapter of Daniel we have a unique section of Scripture. It is a proclamation issued from the ruler of the then known world to all nations honouring the most High God and explaining the signs and wonders that were wrought upon the king. He feels no embarrassment speaking about the way his pride was humbled. He is effusive with praise about Daniel’s position in the realm because “the spirit of the holy gods” is within him (4:8–9). He listens to his challenging rebuke and advice in 4:27 even though he does not act upon it.

But despite this he still clings to his gods, because he makes the point that Daniel was called Belteshazzar “according to the name of my god” (4:8).

And when judgment falls, a voice is heard from heaven confirming the fulfilment of the dream. Imagine that—a Gentile king hearing the voice of God! Seven times pass over and in a moment of lucidity he sees everything clearly: “I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (4:34–35).

This acknowledgment of God is significant. He recognizes the supremacy and eternity of the Most High. He acknowledges the prevailing of His power amongst mankind. In verse 37 he further honours God’s justice.

Some have suggested on the basis of these words that he will be in the kingdom. But is this one, final proclamation evidence of knowing, believing and obeying God in truth? Hardly. Wonderful though it is, the decree is deficient in many areas. It does not renounce idolatry. It does not express any desire to forsake sin. The king still talks of Bel as one of his gods.

So, in summary, we have in Nebuchadnezzar a powerful and ambitious autocrat; one driven by zeal to honour his gods and convert others, but in the end a man who fails to convert himself to the ways of God, despite the presence of Daniel and the miracles that swirled around him.

He is the epitome of pride and brutality; a servant used by God to correct His people. He was the successor to Nimrod and the prototype of all those who seek to exalt themselves in Babylon the Great. He heard the Truth from Daniel but in the end he failed to respond to its power. Let us heed the warning and not fall into the same trap.