Daniel 4


It would seem that Nebuchadnezzar is finally converted to a correct concept of God. He had to learn it the hard way. However, whether he remained loyal and faithful to this truth is not known.

‘King Nebuchadnezzar, To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth: May you prosper greatly! It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.’ Daniel 4:1-2

A decree is sent not only to all the people of the kingdom but to those not in his kingdom. It includes a wish that all might lead peaceful lives. Nebuchadnezzar felt that it was proper for him to make known to the world what God had done to him. We must admire him for wanting everyone to know of the one true God.

‘How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.’ Daniel 4:3

How great and wonderful are the things done by God. He had signified to Nebuchadnezzar that earthly thrones and kingdoms are not permanent. Only God’s throne was permanent. No one is so mighty that he can prevail forever. Earthly kingdoms however great will one day fall but the dominion of God is forever.

‘I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous.’ Daniel 4:4

At rest, in his palace, Nebuchadnezzar was at complete ease. His wars were now over, he had built one of the great cities of the world, he had developed a mighty kingdom, and he had gathered wealth and luxuries around him. He no doubt intended to spend the remainder of his life in ease and happiness. He probably felt he had now attained all his goals.

‘I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So, I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me.’ Daniel 4:5-7

Amid this ease, the king had a dream which brought fear to him. He probably sensed that it spoke of something that was about to happen to him. The wise men are called in as before. This time he did not threaten them with execution if they failed. However, they were unable to tell him the meaning of his dream.

‘Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him about the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.) I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me.’ Daniel 4:8-9

Finally, Daniel is brought in. Why Daniel was not called in at the beginning we do not know. He could have been about the king’s business somewhere else at the time. When Daniel arrived, Nebuchadnezzar related the dream with confidence that Daniel’s God would enable him to give the interpretation.

Daniel is called the “master of the magicians” because he was considered superior to the other wise men.

‘These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.’ Daniel 4:10-12

Nebuchadnezzar now relates his dream. Occupying a central place on the earth was a mammoth tree, standing alone and reaching up into the heavens. Its branches extended out a great distance. Thus, it offered shade to the beasts of the field. The fowls found lodging in its boughs. It abounded in fruit providing food for all.

It was a strong tree indicating it was well proportioned. It could be seen in all parts of the earth. What could better describe the great powerful Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian kingdom? It seems that Nebuchadnezzar understood this vision had reference to him in some way.

‘In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. ‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth.’ Daniel 4:13-15

A “watcher” one who had spiritual characteristics, probably an angel, comes down from heaven and cries for the tree to be cut down and then cut up into pieces thus utterly destroying its glory and beauty. The stump however was to be left. Thus, the tree would live again. It would retain its roots enabling it to shoot up again.

It was to be protected by placing a metal railing around it much as we often protect trees today in public places. The dew falling on it would tend to preserve it and cause it to grow again.

‘Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him. ‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’ Daniel 4:16-17

There is now a sudden change from the tree to something represented by the tree. Obviously, a man, Nebuchadnezzar, is represented by the tree. There was to be a change within him. He now becomes like a beast during a fixed period of time.

We do not know how long “seven times” was. Some feel it represented a year while others think seven represented perfection or completeness thus the time necessary to accomplish God’s purpose. The purpose of God is made clear in Daniel 4:17.

“That the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.”

God gives dominion and authority to whomsoever he chooses.

‘This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So, the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds—Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth. “Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’ “This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.’ Daniel 4:18-27

Nebuchadnezzar now calls upon Daniel to interpret the dream for him. Daniel is reluctant to do this. The king senses this but tells him he had nothing to fear in revealing it. The dream was not one which pleased the king. The tree is the king. The tree which is the king will be brought low. The stump would be spared meaning that his kingdom would be kept safe though he is to be humbled and brought low.

Furthermore, he will be driven from his place among men and the palace. He would be in such a state so as to be treated like an animal rather than a man. He will even eat grass as the oxen do. Daniel recommends that the king repent assuming that the judgment of God might be averted if the king would change.

Included in this call for reform was the suggestion he shows mercy to the poor. Part of the king’s iniquities may have been the mistreatment of the poor. This was often true of monarchs.

‘All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. 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 4:28-33

The judgment predicted comes at the end of twelve months. A full year then was granted him to repent thus to avoid the calamity. Either he forgot the warning or else it was no longer pressing on his mind. It is very hard sometimes to convince a sinner he needs to repent. Most refuse.

About this time a sense of his own importance fills him and he gives vent to self-glorification as he surveys the great city he had built. While he was speaking a voice from heaven declares that the kingdom he has been bragging of, which he had built, is now departing from him. One moment he is bragging and the next he is eating grass.

What was done was done instantly. It is obvious that this was some form of mental derangement. His hair was neglected until it appeared to resemble the feathers of a bird. His nails became like the nails of a bird’s claws.

‘At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. 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 4:34-37

At the end of the designated time, Nebuchadnezzar lifted up his eyes to heaven and blessed God. His sanity being restored his first act was to glorify God. The king admits that God rules supreme and has his own way. Certainly, if God could preserve a kingdom with an ox as its leader then a leader is of little importance to God as he controls the universe.

God can do without any of us regardless of how important we may think we are and how badly we think we are needed. The message now comes over clear and plain. God is the real ruler of this world. He had given Nebuchadnezzar his kingdom. It was not his genus that brought him to so great power but the will of God.

Furthermore, God could hold this kingdom together though its ruler be an ox. Nebuchadnezzar now feels called upon to acknowledge the true God he is now aware of for the first time. He says, “I make a confession, and render praise to him who made the heaven and the earth.”

This had to be a humiliating experience for Nebuchadnezzar. McGuiggan says, “It is almost humorous to envision a foreign ambassador seeking an audience with the king who is out in the field having his lunch!”

If the king had allowed his pride to get in the way, he could have resented what God did to him. However, to his credit, he breaks forth in praise to the one true God and desires that this experience he has suffered through be made known throughout the world. This would indicate he was a changed man.

According to tradition, he is supposed to have lived but about one year after this. It is hoped that he continued steadfastly in his new faith in the one true God that he had been brought to acknowledge. While it was humiliating to the king to have to go through this experience yet it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

We Christians today may have to suffer through many difficulties which are humiliating but if we maintain the right attitude we will be made much better as a result.

While chaos, wickedness, indignities and persecutions exist in the world it does not preclude the fact that God rules the world and not man. In the end, the wicked will be punished but the righteous will be rewarded.

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