We cannot overestimate the embarrassment Nebuchadnezzar suffered from the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to abide by Babylon's law to worship (Dan. 3:16–18). The most powerful man on the planet could not get three men from the people he conquered to render at least token worship to his gods, and it made him irate (v. 19). "How dare they refuse me," Nebuchadnezzar must have thought. "Am I not their lord who proved that my gods are stronger than theirs when I conquered them?"
All of this points to great pride on the part of Nebuchadnezzar, and our knowledge of Babylon at the time indicates that humanly speaking, the king had every right to be proud. Isaiah 13 alludes to Babylon's reign over a huge empire that encompassed the area (in modern terms) from Egypt to Iran and Syria to Saudi Arabia. Nebuchadnezzar's city was incredible, being home to the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The king certainly had no shortage of reasons to be puffed up with pride.
Much of the first half of the book of Daniel is a narrative-based argument that the proud empire that captured Jerusalem was not the real power in control. The events recorded in Daniel 4 certainly indicate as much. Nebuchadnezzar's vision was such that once more, no native Babylonian could interpret the dream (see Dan. 2). Only the Jewish prophet Daniel could discern that Nebuchadnezzar would be reduced to an animal (chap. 4). The God of that "ragtag" group of people Babylon had conquered would humble the proud empire. Nebuchadnezzar would not escape this judgment except, perhaps, via repentance (v. 27).
Again we see the strong emphasis on divine sovereignty found throughout Daniel's work. Nebuchadnezzar and the average Babylonian had no problem assimilating Yahweh into the pagan pantheon; however, the God of Israel brooks no rivals (Isa. 44:6). Nebuchadnezzar had such success because he lived under the sovereign providence of the only true Lord, not because of anything he did or deserved. Apparently, only a drastic humbling could convince the king of His proper place in the grand scheme of things, and so God brought him to his knees through a bout of insanity (Dan. 4:28–33). To paraphrase one writer, a man who thought himself a god was made a beast to learn that he was but a man. Those who will not humble themselves in the sight of the Lord will be cast down, not lifted up (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:6–7).
Lest we think that the Lord has changed since Nebuchadnezzar lived thousands of years ago, we must be reminded that God remains about the business of humbling people. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture commends humility and castigates those who are arrogant and proud, who believe that they are masters of their destiny and achieve greatness solely by their own efforts. May we never think of ourselves more highly than we ought in order that we might enjoy God’s eternal blessing.