Can A Narcissist Change? Nebuchadnezzar Case Study

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One of the most frequently asked questions is whether a narcissist can change.  To answer this properly we need to know what kind of change we are talking about.

It is possible for people to modify their behavior for a period to accomplish a short-term goal.  And it is possible for people to moderate how they handle certain situations to avoid consequences.  However, in both cases, when under stress the narcissist will revert to “type” and reveal what is really in his heart.

While a narcissist’s short-term tactical behavior modification may provide temporary relief for those suffering at his hands, the narcissist has not truly changed.  Since the source of his thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions is the insolent pride residing in his heart, true and lasting change can only come from his heart.

The conventional wisdom is that narcissists rarely, if ever, truly change.  However, that does not mean it is not possible.  All things are possible with the God who spoke the universe into existence.  Jesus declared this after a rich young ruler walked away when Jesus challenged him to give up his greed.

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”  And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 

Matthew 19:23-26

There are two reasons it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  First, he has no sense of need, and second, he is unwilling to release his grip on his false idol of money.  But, while difficult, God can overcome these barriers to change his heart.  Pride is similar.

God proved that He can change the heart of the proudest by humbling the most powerful king of his time, Nebuchadnezzar.

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Nebuchadnezzar Case Study

God uses extreme examples when He really wants to make a point.  While He reveals Himself through the natural and repetitive in His creation, He also directly intervenes in radical ways.  There are myriad examples[i].  He does so to not only accomplish His specific purpose in each case but to also demonstrate His sovereignty and power – as well as His love and mercy.  To us His interventions seem “miraculous”, but to God, it is like snapping His fingers.

In one extreme example, God used the most powerful person in the world to prove that He could humble anyone.

Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful ruler of the Neo-Babylonian empire, and at one point had control of the entire middle east[ii].  He showed classic traits of having insolent pride.

For example, in Daniel 2 Nebuchadnezzar made an impossible request of his advisors.  They were to not only interpret the king’s dream but also had to describe the actual dream itself without the king providing any clues.  When the advisors made a reasonable request for assistance, Nebuchadnezzar became furious.

Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.”  Because of this the king became indignant and very furious and gave orders to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. 

Daniel 2:11-12

Later, Nebuchadnezzar set up a 90-foot statue of himself and required everyone in his kingdom to bow to it.  The righteous Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused.  Nebuchadnezzar responded in “rage and anger” (Daniel 4:13), and arrogantly said, “what God is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan 4:15).  When the three righteous Jews continued to refuse, Nebuchadnezzar “was filled with wrath” to the point that “his facial expression was altered” (Daniel 4:19).

However, despite his high position and insolent pride, God was able to humble King Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel told the story to Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar.

O king, the Most High God granted sovereignty, grandeur, glory and majesty to Nebuchadnezzar your father.  Because of the grandeur which He bestowed on him, all the peoples, nations and men of every language feared and trembled before him; whomever he wished he killed and whomever he wished he spared alive; and whomever he wished he elevated and whomever he wished he humbled.

But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly, he was deposed from his royal throne and his glory was taken away from him.  He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like that of beasts, and his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes.

Yet you, his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this, but you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven

Daniel 5:17-23

Nebuchadnezzar journeyed from total insolent pride to this amazing declaration.

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” 

Daniel 4:37

That was a miracle!  However, it did not happen overnight.  Even though God took a radical last step in getting Nebuchadnezzar’s attention, humbling him, and genuinely converting him, it was a 30-year multi-step process.  This process is shown through Nebuchadnezzar’s statements at the end of each encounter with God and His people.  They show the king’s progressive understanding of the God of Heaven, and his standing in relationship to Him.

Here are his statements over the 30-year period:

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604BC

Nebuchadnezzar’s conclusion after God gave Daniel the interpretation of the king’s dream – “your God is one of the top gods”.

The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” 

Daniel 2:47

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585BC

Nebuchadnezzar’s realization after God rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to burn them alive – “their God is totally above any other god”

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” 

Daniel 3:28-29

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574BC

Nebuchadnezzar’s confession after God warned him, and then banished him for seven years to eat grass like the animals – “the Most High God is my God.  He is great and mighty, and His kingdom is everlasting”.

Nebuchadnezzar the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth: “May your peace abound!  It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. 

“How great are His signs and how mighty are His wonders!  His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom And His dominion is from generation to generation. 

Daniel 4:2-3

Nebuchadnezzar finally recognized God for who He is, the sovereign King of heaven.   He recognized his own humble position in relationship to Him as well.  With such an incredible change, we should listen to his final statement again:

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.” 

Daniel 4:37

God worked in many ways over many years to accomplish this.  He revealed Himself to Nebuchadnezzar by providing supernatural insight to Daniel and supernatural protection to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  God also directly intervened in Nebuchadnezzar’s life by giving him dreams and, in the end, physically humbling him.

When Nebuchadnezzar finally looked up, and recognized the God of Heaven and his proper relationship to Him, the process was complete.[iii]

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[i] https://verticallivingministries.com/2013/06/18/chart-of-all-the-supernatural-events-recorded-in-the-bible/  Chart adapted from Appendix 2 in Norman L. Geisler. Miracles and the Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker (1992).

[ii] By 572 Nebuchadnezzar was in full control of Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenicia, Israel, Philistinia, northern Arabia, and parts of Asia Minor.

[iii] While God clearly demonstrated that He “is able to humble those who walk in pride”, He has not promised to do it 100 percent of the time.