I was a fool – a right royal fool if you like. I had seen the power of Israel’s God before and only a fool crosses swords with a God so mighty. That is a loser’s game, and I did not get to be king of this vast empire by choosing to be a loser. I knew (or thought I knew) how to vanquish every earthly power, and what are my priests and diviners and all their crowd of hangers-on for, if not to keep me in the favour of the gods of Babylon? Give them their appointed festivals and sacrifices, and they seem well content. A king can do business with gods like that, and know where he stands. They have their sphere of power, and I have mine.
But Israel’s God is different. I thought He was nobody, the god of a defeated people, the god of an empty temple – like we found when we ransacked Jerusalem. But it seems that this God, who has no statues, no representation except an empty altar stained with blood, wants more than any other God. He is not content with the forms of worship, He wants the submission of our hearts – even kings have to bow to him. I should have known, I had seen what happened when those three young men refused to worship my statue, and were thrown in the fiery furnace. He walked in the flames with His servants, and the worst I could do to them was set at nothing . Even then He was demanding my submission; I had made a decree that none should blaspheme Him, but even that was not enough. He wanted me.
He even sent a dream as warning, and gave Belteshazzar the wisdom to interpret it. And still, even then, in the pride and folly of my heart I ignored Him. I still worshipped myself, and my own achievements, more than any god. And the day came when I looked out over Babylon, that great city, and saw it as the living proof of my own glory, and spoke the words of my own sublime praise. And in that moment, in my very act of speaking the highest untruth, that glory and honour belonged to me, rather than Him – in that very moment my sanity departed, and I became as a beast of the field, and was driven forth from the society of men. I ate grass like a brute beast, and this body of mine, perfumed and pampered, for seven years was washed by nothing except the dew of heaven, and my hair and my nails had no servants to care for them. All my kingliness that I thought made me so great was gone in a moment. I had no authority any more, and, it soon became apparent, even my humanity was not my own accomplishment, but could be taken away from me. There was nothing left for me to boast in; only my life was preserved. All those things that identified me as human had been stripped from me, and the meanest beggar in the street was more fit for the throne than I was.
And then, after seven years of humiliation, I lifted my eyes to heaven, and I was restored. I have learned, and those who watched what happened to me have learned, that I am not king of this great empire through any virtue of my own, but because god, the great God, the only true God, has chosen to let me rule. And I was a fool to ever believe that all glory, honour and dominion did not belong solely to Him.