In the last post we looked at the giant Nimrod (also called Amraphel) and the building of the tower of Babel. Jewish tradition said that all the world was forced to pay a tax of bricks and labor for building it, and all that did fell under a curse as God confused their languages. The curse may have had other consequences; before that time, it wasn’t unusual for people to live more than 600 years. This is how Abraham was able to slay Amraphel, who was about 600 at the time.
Nimrod was the grandson of Ham, who was given Africa for his descendants to inhabit. Japheth spread out to the north and west, with Shem inhabiting lands to the east. This means that Nimrod was not only a giant among men, but that he invaded the land of Shem to build his empire. It began a tale of two cities in Bible typology: Jerusalem, the city where God placed his Name (and glory); and Babylon, where men gathered to build their own city, tower, and name or glory.
When Nebuchadnezzar rose to power in Babylon, he embraced the old titles and rebuilt the old city. Herodotus said he also began to rebuild the tower on the original site, but never finished it on account of a curse. For seven years he lived outdoors eating grass like an ox, his hair like a lion, nails like claws, both speech and mind confused. Fortunately, his minister Daniel kept his kingdom together and watched over him until God made him into a new man and lifted the curse.
Prior to it, God gave King Nebuchadnezzar a dream in which he saw a great tree, strong and tall, reaching to heaven. It’s branches overshadowed the entire earth. In it there was enough fruit for all flesh. Wild animals lived beneath its branches, and birds of the air dwelt in them. I hope you recognize what it symbolized, for the tree was Nebuchadnezzar himself.
“And behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. He cried with a loud voice and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree, and cut off its branches. Shake off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the wild animals be driven from beneath it and the birds from its branches. Nevertheless, leave its stump and roots in the ground, and he shall lie down outdoors in the tender grass, wet with the dew of heaven and bound with an iron and copper chain. His portion shall be with the wild animals, to graze on the vegetation of the earth. His heart shall be changed from that of a man, and the heart of a wild animal will be given to him. Seven years shall bring this change upon him. This saying is by the decree of the watchers, and this decision by the word of the holy ones, so the living might know that the Lord is the Most High over the kingdom of men, and will give it to whomever He will, and set over it even objects of contempt among men.’”
The dream began with something resembling the giant Nimrod’s tower of Babel, except that it was alive – a giant tree – that reached to the heavens and spread its branches over the whole earth. Nimrod was the first world ruler and Nebuchadnezzar second, but the resemblance ends there because the curse was never lifted from Nimrod. As a giant, he was nephilim, the Hebrew word for giant that literally means a “fallen one” or an unredeemable person. After the seven years, Nebuchadnezzar received a new heart and was redeemed.
He is the only gentile writer in the OT, and became a fervent believer in YHVH. I fully expect to meet him in heaven, among all the believers down the ages that received the grace of a forgiving God. Before he could be redeemed, God had to break him – as He broke Abraham on Mount Moriah, and Jacob on the night he wrestled with the angel until daybreak. The tower of rebellion, the towering tree of human greatness must be cut down before we can be born again as little children, in smallness, that God makes a kingdom of priests wearing crowns to cast at His feet.
The watcher declared that the Lord gives the kingdom of men to whomever He will, even to objects of contempt among men – like Jesus. Like us.
In the next post we’ll examine this theme in the teaching of Jesus.