By S M Chen, posted 2-2-2017 –based on events recorded in the book of Daniel, Old Testament, Holy Writ

Nebuchadnezzar Gone Mad. Painting by William Blake (ca 1795-1805) Public domain.

***

Azariah and I were out walking.

Although we, along with others, were captives in Babylon, we had a certain amount of freedom accorded us. We had already proven ourselves trustworthy.

We tried to exercise daily, and walked a fair amount. Mishael was not with us that particular day. I do not recall why.

The path led to a clearing, beyond which lay a pasture with a goodly amount of long grass near its perimeter. In the pasture were cattle, grazing as they’re wont to do much of the time. Our presence seemed not to bother them.

Then I saw something move. It was in proximity to the cattle, but wasn’t one of them. Although I could not see with clarity because of the length of grass, I was quite sure of that.

As we neared, I was surprised to see that the figure was, like oxen, on all fours, but it was smaller than they and didn’t particularly resemble them. Rather, it looked like a man, albeit a wild one. Its hair was long and matted and, when we got closer, the nails were long, almost claw-like. It chewed the grass pretty much as did nearby cattle.

Azariah, Mishael and I had, shortly after we had been brought to Babylon in captivity, requested that our diet be simple fare rather than the less healthy meat and drink from the king’s table. Melzar, our keeper, was initially reluctant to grant our request, but after Daniel’s pleading that we be given a ten-day trial, he acceded. So we were used to a simple diet, but grass? This took matters to a whole new level.

The creature’s clothing was decidedly ragged and consisted of the skin of animals. It wore no shoes. I had never seen anything quite like it.

Azariah, too, was surprised. “What is it?” He wondered aloud.

“I’m unsure.” I gripped the staff in my hand tightly.

***

We crouched down, the better to conceal ourselves, and were silent. Continuing to graze, cattle and man continued to ignore one another, and us.

“Best to leave them alone,” I said, rising. “Let’s go.”

We wheeled about to return the way we had come. But then, after not many steps, suddenly blocking our path was the creature about which I have spoken. How he got there with such stealth and quickness I do not know. He must have been watching us, as we had him.

He opened his mouth. Blades of grass still clung to its edges. “Help me… please,” he said. I had not expected him to speak, and, along with Azariah, shrank back, more in surprise than horror.

“I… will not… hurt you,” as he took a step. “Forgive me,” he said. “I… have not spoken… for seven long years. I have almost… forgotten how.” He had risen on hind legs to his feet, and was actually taller than us.

We walked slowly toward him with the uncertainty most possess upon encountering the strange and unfamiliar.

The silence was awkward but perhaps necessary. “I think… I may know you,” he finally said, after looking us over with more than a little care.

Azariah spoke, “I don’t think so. How would that be possible?”

“You… really don’t recognize me… do you? Ah… but that would be…understandable… would it not? Look at me. No, better not… to look at me. I must look… a sight.” The words were halting at first, then picked up speed as they, like waters of a stream, flowed.

We peered at him and shook our heads.

He raised a finger, less a rebuke than some kind of self-reminder. “I was… once the king.”

Azariah and I looked at one another, flummoxed. This man really was mad.

“It’s coming back to me,” he said. “My memory. My reason. It was not there… for the past… seven years. I was truly… an animal. You saw.”

We did that.

“The plain of Dura. The statue, which you refused to worship. The fiery furnace. Now do you remember?”

Of course we did. But yet – who was he?

Azariah’s face brightened, as if a candle had lit behind his eyes. “It’s not possible, is it? You’re not… You can’t be…”

The wild man smiled. His first smile since our encounter. I wonder if it pained him to do so; he was likely so unaccustomed.

“I am Nebuchadnezzar,” he said, extending his hand.

Instantly both Azariah and I knelt to the earth. We kissed the extremity that, with dirt between long nails, resembled that of a wild animal rather than that of a man. No, not a man. An ex-king. And, though no longer a king, once a king, perhaps always a king.

***

We slowly wended our way back from whence we had come. Nebuchadnezzar had been used to going about on all fours. The sun was dropping. It would not be long before nightfall.

Nebuchadnezzar drew his skins about him and gave a slight shiver. I removed my cloak and put it around his hairy shoulders. Though not overly well nourished, they were still broad.

“I am a foolish man,” he said, as we walked.

“How so, sire?” Azariah asked. It seemed only right that we address him thus.

“Lessons come to every man. Some learn them more easily than others.” His speech seemed almost normal now.

“This is true, sire,” I said.

“It was wrong of me to ask every knee to bow to the great statue I had erected on Dura. There is only one who deserves worship.”

I recalled with vividness the happenings at that time. After all, it was Azariah, Mishael and I who refused to bow and were thence cast into the furnace which been heated seven times its usual temperature. So great was it that the men who cast us therein perished from the heat.

“But then,” continued Nebuchadnezzar, “When I saw a fourth figure in with you three – I see your companion is missing – I somehow knew it to be a heavenly being. The Son of God, in fact. I cannot tell you how I knew; I do not know myself. But I knew.”

“All this is true,” said Azariah. “Your memory has returned, thank Yahweh.”

“You can call Him what you wish,” said Nebuchadnezzar. “I know for a surety that He is the true God. That, for me, was lesson one.”

We continued to walk in silence.

Nebuchadnezzar again spoke. “But that conviction and belief in a higher power did not last. I had another dream, after the one of the man-like statue composed of different substances.”

We did not interrupt him. He continued, “Your friend Daniel interpreted the dream of the tree. He told me what it meant. He even pleaded with me to change my ways, so that the dream’s interpretation might not come to pass.”

“But it did, indeed, did it not, sire?” queried Azariah.

“Sadly, yea verily. Lesson two. Or maybe more. Twelve months after the dream, I spoke with pride of the great city of Babylon, of which I was master and in whose palace I walked.”

He paused, as if reminiscing. Then said, with a seeming twinge, “And thereafter was that kingdom stripped from me, and given to another. And I was driven away, and dwelt among the animals, and ate grass like oxen. Reason and understanding were both lost to me, and I was indeed like a beast of the field and of the wood. I became, in a way, their friend. Though friendship amongst animals is not the same as it is amongst humans.”

“O sire,” said Azariah. “The Almighty has given you a hard lesson indeed. But He has also preserved you.”
“Yes,” said Nebuchadnezzar. “I am grateful. And, if given the chance, I will show my gratitude.”

We walked back toward the center of the city, wherein lay the palace of the king.

***

As is recorded elsewhere, Nebuchadnezzar was restored as king of Babylon, and acknowledged the god of the Hebrews as the one true God.

His later days saw the reign of a once and future king of humility, one who valued goodness, truth and mercy. He did not require further lessons.

***

I think we may someday see him on the other side.