THE LYCANTHROPY OF A DICTATOR
There is a tree in Sequoia National Park, California, 260 feet in height, and its diameter at the foot is 45 feet; its trunk alone contains enough wood to make 40 five-roomed houses; and it would take 30 large railway trucks to transport the timber. Such was the tree of which Nebuchadnezzar dreamed, only far vaster. It pictured a dictatorship reigning over the world: "the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof unto the end of all the earth, and all flesh was led of it" (Dan. 4: 11). And it was a God-given power. The Prophet says:- "The Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar the kingdom; and because of the greatness that he gave him, all the peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him" (Dan. 5: 18).
The whole is an amazing picture, for all time, of human power at its apex, measured against the power of God. No dictator could exceed the absolute autocracy of Nebuchadnezzar: his wealth immense, his power unbounded, his enemies destroyed, his own image worshipped as a god. "Whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive" (Dan. 5: 19). Then came the warning dream, given him in pure mercy and grace - a tree dashed to the earth, isolated, its portion with the beasts. Then, with the warning unheeded, Nebuchadnezzar is plunged into the most awful fate recorded of any monarch in history: with the depth of the punishment, as always, measured by the height of the iniquity, he is made what his heart is - a beast, "till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." And the crowning uniqueness of it all is that the entire narrative is a State paper, a decree of the Dictator himself, recording with his own hand the whole incident for the whole world.
The crisis of Nebuchadnezzar’s life approached in a dream of the night. With the exquisite tact of the love of God, a still small voice speaks to his soul in the night watches; and a vivid picture is given the sleeping man of coming danger. "Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit." At the same time the dream indicated that whoever and whatever was the Tree, it was no picture of pure destruction: "nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth" (4: 15). Eternity will doubtless reveal that no great Dictator has ever been without, at some time or other in his life, a vision of the precipice.
Characteristically, the Most High now stamps home the premonition by expounding it to the endangered soul in plain and explicit words. If doom alone was meant, it would fall unforetold: God’s love foretells the worst, to save. "0 king, it is the decree of the Most High: thou shalt be driven from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: wherefore, 0 king, break off thy sins by righteousness, and thy iniquities by showing mercy to the poor." The warning to show mercy to the poor strikes the deep note of evil dictatorship - savage cruelty; and is most signally balanced in the words of a godly Dictator of ancient England, Alfred the Great :- "Comfort the poor, protect and shelter the weak, and with all thy might right that which is wrong." Such noble thoughts are as unknown to any modem Dictator as they were to Nebuchadnezzar.
that the Dictator has had his explicit warning, a pause - one of those dread
pauses in life when God is silent and a man is being proved - follows for a
twelvemonth, when at last the crisis arrives. "At the end of
twelve months" - a blank concerning which we know nothing - "Nebuchadnezzar said, Is not this great
was in "the Royal
Palace of Babylon" that "Nebuchadnezzar
was walking", at the moment in the neighbourhood of
a flash falls the thunderbolt. "While the
word was in the King's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven: Thy kingdom is departed from
thee." The Septuagint adds, concerning the dream,
- "he kept the words in his heart".
Nevertheless Nebuchadnezzar had plunged again into the round of social
pleasures and imperial politics and ambitious dreams: the Tree waved its
branches over the world, unconscious that every month an axe crept closer to
the root: the Most High was totally ignored. Nebuchadnezzar, like the modern Dictators,
banked on the impotence of God. Nor, it
seemed, without reason. Jehovah had
chosen a holy City - that city was in ruins: Jehovah had built a divine
The warning of love, laid by Nebuchadnezzar in its grave, now springs to life in judgment; and God’s estimate of a proud and merciless Dictator is appalling: as a beast in heart, he is now made a beast: what Nebuchadnezzar was adoring - himself - suddenly vanishes into a wild animal, and in a moment he is degraded not merely to a beggar but a brute. "The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar he did eat grass as oxen" - a form of insanity, known as lycanthropy, in which the patient imagines himself an animal* - "till his hair was grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws." For seven years the Dictator was a madman, for only so could the colossal accumulations of pride, that blacked-out God, break down. So deeply is the coming world Dictator’s character that of a brute that his only title, throughout the Apocalypse, is ‘the Wild Beast'.
[* The demoniac often betrays the symptoms of insanity; and it remains to be seen how far the devil-controlled leaders at the end (Rev. 16: 13) will betray mental symptoms. "Mussolini," says Dr. Inge (Church of England Newspaper, June 5, 1936), "may or may not be mad. One well-known foreign doctor who has seen him is convinced that he has incipient general paralysis of the insane." After relating Hitler’s awful outbursts, screaming in his room, pointing to invisible objects he sees in corners, and ejaculating unintelligible phrases - that is, ‘tongues’, Dr. Hermann Rauschning says :- "It is terrible to think that a madman may be now driving the world to war." Jehovah’s word abides:- "I am the Lord, that maketh diviners mad" (Isa 44: 25).]
how blessed to know, vividly revealed here once again, that, so long as a man
is alive, behind the worst distresses there is a loving and pardoning God. When we cannot be drawn to God we can be
driven to Him. When rank, honour, power,
even manhood, had been lost, this Dictator says:- "I lifted up mine eyes unto heaven" - the
recognition of God, the enthronement of God, the worship of God; and the pardon
was instantly proved in the cure - "and mine
understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High". It is exquisite to remember that in the
world’s dawn, perhaps three thousand years before Calvary, "the Lamb hath been slain frorn the
foundation of the world" (Rev.
13: 8): in other words,
The crowning glory of all is the new character of the Dictator. The open confession of such a record could not be surpassed for humility: yet Nebuchadnezzar is such a changed man that he says, - "It hath seemed good unto me" - it hath seemed to me comely - "to show" - and that by a State paper addressed to the whole world - "the signs and wonders" - the miracles of abasing judgment - "that the Most High hath wrought toward me". The miracle of the humility competes with the colossal character of the pride. And such is the lovely graciousness of the new nature that this is what he says of the God who had crushed him beyond any man living. "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven; for all his works are truth, and his ways judgment; and those who walk in pride he is able to abase."
A great without has been written on heathenism. Men and women are toiling without a Bible, without a Sunday, without prayer, without songs of praise. They have homes without peace, marriage without sanctity, young men and girls without ideals and enthusiasm, little children without purity, without innocence, mothers without wisdom or self-control, poverty without relief or sympathy, sickness without skilful help or tender care, sorrow and crime without a remedy, and, worst of all, death without hope. - MRS. WHITFIELD GUINNESS.