The Prodigal King

Robert Wurtz II

The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the tablet of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars. (Jeremiah 17:1)
Jeremiah was lamenting the fact that though the children of Israel ought to have had the laws of God written upon the tablets of their hearts, sin and idolatry was written in its place. The several “thou shalt not” commands had been replaced with “thou shalls.” The repeated warnings not to harden our hearts, given to us by the writer to the Hebrews, come into view. We hardened ourselves when we refuse to hearken to the many impressions that God makes upon our hearts when we are tempted to sin. We are further hardened by the deceitfulness of sin once we indulge in it. Taken together the heart can become as hard as a stone tablet. Such was the case with the remnant Judah. Their sin was written, not with a quill or a pencil, but with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond.
A Change Of Heart
As important as it was for the people of Judah to have what we sometimes call, “a change of heart,” what they truly needed was a new heart. Many people examine their lives and decide upon so-called new years resolutions. In fact, physical fitness centers see an explosion of new members at the start of each new year. What happens? Many attend for a few months, but by summer, things are back to the bad habits and lack of discipline again. Why? Because there is a great difference between a “change of heart” and a “changed” heart. A change of heart has the risk of being temporary, while a changed heart has a chance to be permanent. God is more than willing and able to remove the old and install the new.
The Wretchedness of the Heart
It is impossible for us to comprehend the power of God. We use words like “omnipotence” and “all powerful”, but often these are mere concepts or theological propositions. Do we really believe God can do anything? Or do we hesitate when it comes to believing that God can really give a person a new heart? Jeremiah asks the question later in the chapter:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Jehovah, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
John Wesley adds to Jeremiah’s sobering diagnosis, “There is nothing so false and deceitful as the heart of man; deceitful in its apprehensions of things, in the hopes and promises which it nourishes, in the assurances that it gives us; unsearchable by others, deceitful with reference to ourselves, and abominably wicked, so that neither can a man know his own heart, nor can any other know that of his neighbor’s.” All we can do is observe and weigh a persons’ actions against the word of God. We cannot know their heart. In fact, we lack the wisdom and knowledge to know our own heart. Jeremiah asks, “Who can know it?” (emphasis on can) Answer: God does. Moreover, “What can discern its thoughts and intents?” The word of God.
All things are naked and open to the eyes of God. He knows the heart and He watches it. This is how He caught Satan plotting to rebel in Heaven. He told Satan, “You have said in your heart (…).” Jesus added that it was from the heart issues forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings. (Matthew 15:19)

The Power to Change a Heart
Nebuchadnezzar was a man who had some bad thoughts in his heart. He was proud and arrogated to himself all of the accomplishments of his life. Little did he know, God was watching and listening. In fact, God warned him that the next time he acted out (in this way), he would drive him from men and into the field to live like a wild beast. Sort of like a child that forgets that his or her parent has warned them of the consequences of continued behavior, Nebuchadnezzar, in time, forgot what God said.
At the end of twelve months he was walking in the royal palace of Babylon. The king spake and said, Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling-place, by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty? While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken: The kingdom is departed from thee: and thou shalt be driven from men; and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field; thou shalt be made to eat grass as oxen; and seven times shall pass over thee; until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. (Daniel 4:29-32)
As he had been warned, God gave this man the heart of a beast and he began behaving like a wild animal. Can we conceptualize that? God is so powerful that He changed this man’s heart as if it were a light thing. His whole nature changed from a man who enjoyed the plush pleasures fitting a king, to an animal that wallowed in the field and chewed grass like an ox. Nebuchadnezzar the great king became a circus act in a moment of time. He was powerless to help himself.
What happened? This was no mere “change of heart.” This was not a new years resolution. When the conditions were met God acted and this man’s heart was changed like we would change a computer memory chip! It was a changed heart performed by the hand of God. One day he is lying in his soft pillow bed, the next day he is lying in the field like cattle. All because God changed his heart. He went from man to beast with a proverbial flip of a switch. This is the kind of power for change that God wields. Again, once the man fulfilled the conditions spoken in the dream, the heart was changed. O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken: The kingdom is departed from thee: and thou shalt be driven from men; and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.
Sometimes God has to do radical things to get us to see our condition. In Nebuchadnezzar’s case, He warned Him and He waited. As soon as the fear wore off (that kept him in check for a little while) — he acted out again and God responded as He warned him. Understand that God had a purpose in doing this. We read again, seven times shall pass over thee; until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men. God was trying to change this king’s mind about life. He had to take the man down to the level of an animal to do it. This would not be the last time that God, as an expression of His great love, reveals His willingness to do whatever it takes to save a soul from hell.
I have to wonder, why do people have to live like farm animals before they change their mind? The prodigal son found himself eating the food that the hogs ate and Nebuchadnezzar was chewing grass like a cow. It’s as if he was a prodigal king. I must conclude that there is something about living with farm animals that brings people to their senses. Imagine the absolute humiliation! While at home in the fathers’ house or sitting on the throne in Babylon — these men could not see things right. They had to hit bottom before they gained the right perspective.

Tibetan yak with mountain background
“And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and 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.” (Daniel 4:34 KJV)

Notice how nebuchadnezzar had changed. No longer sitting proud on his throne or boasting about his greatness. From the lowest of the low, he looked up to heaven. No fancy prayers. In fact, we don’t read that he said anything at all. He said, “I lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me…” God knew that this man had changed his mind about things. Compared to the lofty purposes God has for mankind it’s as if the whole human race is grazing the pasture chewing the cud. Living in sin is like a man wallowing in a hog pen in the eyes of God. Literally doing it has a way of waking a person up. Notice how easy it was for God to change this man’s heart back to normal. He lifted his eyes and God changed him.

Rather than making a new years resolution this year why not have a willingness to change our mind and agree with God about our condition? No need for drawn out prayers… God is simply looking for our mind to truly change. If we lift up our eyes He will change us too.

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