Who Was King Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible?

The Powerful Babylonian Ruler God Humbled

King Nebuchadnezzar
Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, who reigned c. 605 BC – 562 BC. Lithography.

adoc-photos / Getty Images 

The biblical King Nebuchadnezzar was one of the most powerful rulers ever to appear on the world stage, yet like all kings, his might was nothing in the face of Israel’s One True God. 

King Nebuchadnezzar

  • Full Name: Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylonia
  • Known For: Most powerful and longest-reigning ruler of the Babylonian Empire (from BC 605-562) who figured prominently in the Bible books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
  • Born: c. 630 BC
  • Died: c. 562 BC
  • Parents: Nabopolassar and Shuadamqa of Babylon
  • Spouse: Amytis of Media
  • Children: Evil-Merodach and Eanna-szarra-usur

Nebuchadnezzar II

King Nebuchadnezzar is known to modern historians as Nebuchadnezzar II. He ruled Babylonia from 605 to 562 BC. As the most influential and longest-reigning kings of the Neo-Babylonian period, Nebuchadnezzar conducted the city of Babylon to its height of power and prosperity.

Born in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar was the son of Nabopolassar, founder of the Chaldean dynasty. Just as Nebuchadnezzar succeeded his father on the throne, so did his son Evil-Merodach follow him. 

Nebuchadnezzar is best known as the Babylonian king who destroyed Jerusalem in 526 BC and led away many Hebrews into captivity in Babylon. According to Josephus’ Antiquities, Nebuchadnezzar later returned to besiege Jerusalem again in 586 BC. The book of Jeremiah reveals that this campaign resulted in the capture of the city, the destruction of Solomon’s temple, and the deportation of Hebrews into captivity.

Nebuchadnezzar’s name means "may Nebo (or Nabu) protect the crown" and is sometimes translated as Nebuchadrezzar. He became an incredibly successful conqueror and builder. Thousands of bricks have been found in Iraq with his name stamped on them. While he was still crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar gained stature as a military commander by defeating the Egyptians under Pharaoh Neco at the Battle of Carchemish (2 King 24:7; 2 Chronicles 35:20; Jeremiah 46:2).

During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar greatly expanded the Babylonian empire. With the help of his wife Amytis, he undertook the rebuilding and beautification of his hometown and capital city of Babylon. A spiritual man, he restored the pagan temples of Marduk and Nabs as well as many other temples and shrines. After living in his father’s palace for a season, he built a residence for himself, a Summer Palace, and a lavish Southern Palace. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of Nebuchadnezzar's architectural achievements, ranks among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The Wonderful city of Babylon
The wonderful city of Babylon with the Tower of Babel in the distance, and one of the Ancient Seven Wonders, the Hanging Gardens, is shown in this re-construction by Artist Mario Larrinaga. Built by King Nebuchadnezzar to please one of his wives.  Hulton Archive / Getty Images

King Nebuchadnezzar died in August or September of BC 562 at 84 years old. Historical and biblical records reveal that King Nebuchadnezzar was an able but ruthless ruler who let nothing get in the way of his subduing peoples and conquering lands. Important contemporary sources for King Nebuchadnezzar are the Chronicles of Chaldean Kings and the Babylonian Chronicle.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s Story in the Bible

The story of King Nebuchadnezzar comes to life in 2 Kings 24, 25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 21-52; and Daniel 1-4. When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in BC 586, he transported many of its brightest citizens back to Babylon, including the young Daniel and his three Hebrew friends, who were renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The book of Daniel pulls back the curtain of time to show how God used Nebuchadnezzar to shape world history. Like many rulers, Nebuchadnezzar reveled in his power and preeminence, but in reality, he was merely an instrument in God's plan.

God gave Daniel the ability to interpret Nebuchadnezzar's dreams, but the king did not submit wholly to God. Daniel explained a dream that predicted the king would go insane for seven years, live in the fields like an animal, with long hair and fingernails, and eat grass. A year later, as Nebuchadnezzar was boasting to himself, the dream came true. God humbled the arrogant ruler by turning him into a wild beast.

Archaeologists say a mysterious period does exist during Nebuchadnezzar's 43-year reign in which a queen controlled the country. Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar's sanity returned and he acknowledged the sovereignty of God (Daniel 4:34-37).

Satue of King Nebuchadnezzar - Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream
Colossal statue representing the rulers of the world, standing in a landscape of all the world's kingdoms; hand-colored engraving, circa 1750. Titled 'Colossus Monarchic Statua Danielis,' based on Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream from Daniel 2:31-45.

Strengths and Weaknesses

As a brilliant strategist and ruler, Nebuchadnezzar followed two wise policies: He allowed conquered nations to retain their own religion, and he imported the smartest of the conquered peoples to help him govern. At times he recognized Jehovah, but his fidelity was short-lived.   

Pride was Nebuchadnezzar's undoing. He could be manipulated through flattery and imagined himself on a par with God, deserving of worship.

Life Lessons from Nebuchadnezzar

  • Nebuchadnezzar's life teaches readers of the Bible that humility and obedience to God matter more than worldly achievements.
  • No matter how mighty a man may become, God’s power is greater. King Nebuchadnezzar conquered nations, but was helpless before the almighty hand of God. Jehovah controls even the rich and powerful to carry out his plans.
  • Daniel had watched kings come and go, including Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel understood that only God should be worshipped because, ultimately, only God holds sovereign power. 

Key Bible Verses

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in Him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God." (Daniel 3:28, NIV)
The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you." Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:31-33, NIV)
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble. (Daniel 4:37, NIV)

Sources

  • The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, p. 692).
  • “Nebuchadnezzar.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary.
  • “Nebuchadnezzar.” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1180).
  • “Nebuchadrezzar, Nebuchadnezzar.” New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 810).
  • “Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadrezzar.” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (p. 953).