The Bible has its share of villains whether it’s King Herod, Pontius Pilate, or Judas Iscariot. Even King David plays the role of villain before repenting of his sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. There are two Old Testament villains who stand in stark contrast to one another who can teach us a lot about Christianity.
Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar are two of the baddest guys in the Bible. Both enslaved the Israelites. They both contended with two of the greatest heroes of the Bible – Moses and Daniel, respectively. The difference is that Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson while Pharaoh did not.
When you read through the account of Exodus, you will see a lot of heart hardening on Pharaoh’s behalf. Every time Moses performs a miracle Pharaoh hardens his heart. At first it may appear that he acknowledges the power of God but then he will quickly go back on his word. This happens repeatedly during the first several plagues that strike Egypt.
After a time though there is a slight change. Instead of Pharaoh hardening his heart, we’re told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. This thought may make some of us uncomfortable but it’s important to remember that this hardening of the heart is not arbitrary and it only happens after many times of Pharaoh doing it himself.
It appears as though Pharaoh crosses a point of no return, a place where he will never repent and God turns his sinful heart against him in order to bring about the destruction of Egypt due to the hardness of Pharaoh. History tells us that after Pharaoh’s army is drowned in the Red Sea, the nation is no longer the world power that it had been.
Compare this to Nebuchadnezzar. By all accounts Nebuchadnezzar was more ruthless than Pharaoh as he conquered a large part of the Middle East. Pharaoh was considered a god in Egyptian religion but Nebuchadnezzar’s word was just as unquestioned. Pharaoh killed a lot of Israelite baby boys before Moses but there were still those who defied him. When Nebuchadnezzar called to execute all of his wise men for being unable to interpret his dream, nobody questioned him in this.
The ultimate difference between the two men is that Nebuchadnezzar ultimately humbled himself after being humbled. Pharaoh was put in his place time after time through the plagues and yet even after the death of his own son he went back on his word and sent his army out after the Israelites.
Nebuchadnezzar was humbled on multiple occasions as well. His wise men were shown to be foolish. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refused to bow to the idol he created and they walked away from their punishment unscathed. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t learn his lesson completely from these incidents but one could argue that God at least kept them on his mind after each subsequent failure.
Eventually it would take a seven year madness to humble Nebuchadnezzar. God humbled him just as He did with Pharaoh. But Nebuchadnezzar decided that he was no longer going to fight against the Lord’s will and he thereby humbled himself.
Christians and non-Christians alike have similar choices to make. When we mess up – and all of us will – will we humble ourselves and learn from those mistakes like Nebuchadnezzar or will we proudly and stubbornly harden our heart and continue to do things our own way?
God can use a man, even one as wicked as Nebuchadnezzar, when they repent. On the other hand, Pharaoh got exactly what he had coming to him for defying God and ignoring His hand at work.