Robert Duncan Culver


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Dr. Robert Duncan Culver


   IV.            Chapter 4: The Dream of a High Tree

A.     Introduction

There have been those in the history of theology who have taught that God has no personal dealings whatsoever with those who are outside the "covenant of salvation." I think those men have not read their Old Testaments well, for here in the chapter before us is re­lated the story of a heathen king in whom God took a great personal interest. It is true that he dealt with the king in judgment, but accompanying the judgment was a divine revelation which gave the king the meaning of the punishment, thus directing him toward moral improve­ment. That is, the punishment was gracious and corrective rather than penal. The fifth chapter of Daniel tells the story of another king to whom God sent judgment with an accompanying revelation—but in his case the judgment was wholly penal. It brought to an eternal end all hope for correction or improvement of the men concerned. In Nebuchadnezzar's case we are to regard the corrective judgments with accompanying explanations as manifestations of the "goodness of God" which according to Paul "leadeth thee to repentance".[205]

There are many very right-believing Christians who need to improve their characters by learning after Nebuchadnezzar the lessons of his terrifying experiences. They know all about the Holy Trinity and the deity of Christ. They have "correct" views of the Second Advent. But, even though they have truly committed themselves to these truths and to the God who gave them they have not fully bent their necks beneath the sovereign rule of God. They have not committed themselves to the corollaries of God's existence. If God is, then God reigns! "The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men".[206] A Biblical statement of the great confession includes, "that Jesus Christ is Lord"; another, "that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus".[207] To deny Christ the place of Lordship is to deny him the place of God; to deny the supremacy of God in the heart is to deny his supremacy in heaven; to deny his supremacy in heaven is to deny his existence as God.

Nebuchadnezzar's last words in the chapter that lies before us are: "Those that walk in pride he is able to abase." It is best to make one's self humble before God has to make one so. How good it is, then, to heed the words, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up".[208]

B.      Introductory Matters (4:1-9)

1.      Salutation of a State Paper (4:1-3)

Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. (Daniel 4:1)

These words form the official address of what was originally a state paper of the second king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Nebuchad­nezzar son of Nabopolassar. Although that the paper is in the Bible by the prophetic authority of Daniel is clear, it seems equally clear that Daniel did not write it. Nebuchadnezzar speaks in the first person throughout, making indirect claim to authorship of it. The formal structure of the chapter, addressed to all the subjects of the king, shows it to be a public document.

Nebuchadnezzar left behind him many building inscriptions, in­scribed memorial stones, and the like in Mesopotamia and Syria. Those, now discovered and translated, run into hundreds of lines of transla­tion. They show that the king took a personal interest in these writ­ings, apparently composing many of them himself. Merodach, patron god of Babylon, is addressed and praised in most of them. As in our chap­ter, he frequently refers to himself in the first person and expresses himself in poetic parallels, as for example, in verse three of the chapter before us:

"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.”

As an excellent example of Nebuchadnezzar's writings, recaptured for the twentieth century by the archaeologist's spade and the translator's art, the following lines of "poetry in prose" are cited from a Neo-­Babylonian document known as the India House Inscription.

"After that the lord of my god had created me,
   that Herodach had framed the creature in the mother,
   when I was born,
   when I was created, even I,
   the sanctuaries of the god I walked in.
Of Herodach, the great lord, my god my creator,
   his cunning works highly do I extol.
Of Nebo, his true son, the beloved of my majesty,
   the way of his exalted godhead highly do I praise;
   with all my true heart
I love the fear of their godhead,
I worship their lordship."

Among the many ancient writings of Nebuchadnezzar which recently have been recovered there has appeared no copy of this chapter of Daniel. No one should be surprised if it should happen, however. Stranger things have happened. The striking similarity of style, outlook, and ideas, etc. of the above-cited example and many more of Nebuchadnezzar's writings to the chapter before us strongly supports the authenticity of our chapter.

I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. Daniel (4:2)

The miraculous events of Scripture are called "signs" because they have meaning or significance; "wonders" because they produce wonderment as effect among those who witness them.

The better rendering "most high God" shows that Nebuchadnezzar, though evidently still a polytheist,[209] recognized the superiority of Jehovah the God of Daniel. The whole intellectual, moral and religious atmosphere of the ancient world made belief of a strict monotheistic sort difficult even for the Jews. Every town and village had its own local deity, to say nothingof the multitudes of supposed nature spirits. In the language of Paul, ancient men could naturally say, "there be gods many, and lords many" but they could not add with him, "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things".[210] Evidence is that the Jews only grad­ually came to believe in the non-existence of their neighbors' gods, except as Satanic spirits stood behind the image worship. There is no doubt that many understood this. Paul did, viz. "We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and there is none other God but one".[211] Several of the prophets declare the unreality of the pagan gods.[212] But, if even a wise and well-informed king like Solomon could lapse into idol worship then we may be certain that belief in a plurality of gods had a firm grip on men's minds in ancient times.

This chapter, according to verse 2, is intended as Nebuchadnezzar's personal testimony of faith. It has an utterly sincere ring, like Peter's "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard".[213]

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 4:3)

The exclamation of praise to God for his mighty works is the proper reaction of man to the attributes of God in manifestation, that is, God's deeds. The Bible presents such spontaneous expressions of praise as this of verse 3 as reaction to God's omniscience;[214] to his work of creation;[215] or to his benevolence.[216] Christian hymnody echoes these praises in such exclamations as "Amazing grace! how sweet the sound!" and innumerable other lines familiar to practicing church-going Christians.

2.      Circumstances at Court Leading up to the Proclamation (4: 4-9)

The first circumstance was successful accomplishment. The king was "at rest" in his palace. This was the quiet that came as a result of his wars of conquest and completion of great construction projects in Babylon. It is the bright background against which the gloomy dream stands in contrast.

The second circumstance is personal and national growth. He was "flourishing in my palace." Ordinarily used of growing plants in Hebrew, from which the Aramaic word here seems to be borrowed,[217] the first readers would. Have thought of a luxuriant, green vine' in connection with "flourishing".[218] Thus the recital anticipates both the correspondence between the dream and the king's actual career and the contrast between the happy estate of the king before his insanity and the humiliating degradation during it is heightened.

The next suggestion is of trouble within. The king is pros­perous and successful, but a frightful dream has upset him.[219] "Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown." The enemies outside the gates had all been subdued. But within the king himself was a dreadful enemy soon to break forth—"he that ruleth his spirit [is better] than he that taketh a city".[220]

To add to the king's distress was frustration. Again he caused his wise men to be brought before him [221] as he had done before and again they failed him [222] even though the task was sim­pler than that of producing both a dream and its interpretation as in chapter two. It would seem from our point of view that this school of quack doctors should have been dismissed long since. They were failures [223] and they were jealous opponents of the ones who had discredited them.[224] But, evidently there was enough national and personal pride about the king that he would not dismiss these most prestigious representatives of the traditional heathen wisdom of his country. Americans, who traditionally overturn a "brain trust" every four to eight years, may find it hard to sympathize or understand this persistent trust—if we think of the wise men as political counselors. Actually, however, they correspond more with the "intellectuals" of our day, who seem somehow to retain considerable respect in spite of their egg-head reputation.

There was finally an appeal to the very man whom the king's pride had tried to ignore, Daniel the prophet. And, since the inter­pretation Daniel gave of the king's former dream had not been hopeful for the indefinite continuation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dynasty, he probably was more than a little afraid of what this frightening dream might portend in Daniel's view. Observe that the text does not say the wise men could not interpret the dream, but that they "did not" make it known. Actually the dream rather suggests a sad future even apart from special interpretation. It was a sad story to start with. Perhaps, be­ing time-serving sycophants anyway, the wise men simply didn't have the courage to tell the king what they thought the dream portended. Daniel, the king could be sure, would always speak the truth. This kind of a prophet is seldom popular with a king, however much he may be respected. [225]  

C.      Narration of the Dream (vv. 10 - 18)

1.      The tree

Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed; I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: the leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it. (Daniel 4:10-12)

Trees are the most useful of all plants. They provide fruit for man's table and food for beasts as well. They make shade for man and beast—no front yard is complete without one as is likewise no cow pasture. They provide fuel for warmth and cooking as well as lumber for construction of house, factory or barn. Hundreds of articles of commerce have always been made of wood. Trees, therefore, are frequent biblical symbols. A tree in the first garden stood for knowledge, another for life.[226] A whole family of trees, olive, fig, vine, and bramble, are the central features in Jotham2s fable.[227] The blessed man is compared to a fruitful tree.[228] An almond becomes a prophetic sign.[229] A "vine tree" stands for useless Jerusalem and the mighty cedar for the mighty Assyria.[230] So it was no new symbolic motif that ap­pears as a tree in the fabric of the king's dream.

The records left by Nebuchadnezzar in his inscriptions, re­cently recovered and translated, show that he not only dreamed about great and high trees but also spent many of his waking hours thinking about them and working with them. He not only had an especial admira­tion for the cedar forests of Lebanon but also loved the arts of lum­bering and carpentry. Except for Babylon itself the most precious and loved spot in his empire was the forested Lebanon. Out of at least four trips to Syria, at least, two were for the purpose (in part) of obtaining cedar logs for adornment of palaces and temples in Babylon. In the Wady Brissa Inscription B he speaks of how Lebanon was a "cedar mountain, the luxuriant forest of Merodach, whose scent is fragrant." He goes on to say that after quieting affairs in his kingdom he marched with his army to Lebanon, drove enemies out of the region and then "That which no other king had done, I did. The steep mountains I cut through, the rocks of the mountain I shattered, I opened the passes, a road for the cedars I smoothed. Before the king Merodach, mighty cedars, tall and strong, of costly value, whose dark forms towered aloft, the massive growth of Lebanon, like a bundle or reeds...I transported in the shape of rafts…unto Babylon." One is reminded of the great rafts by which Solomon transported cedar along the coast of the Mediterranean from Phoenicia to Palestine for construction of his temple.[231]

The fact that the tree was seen "to the end of all the earth" suggests that the fame of the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar was world-wide. The fact that beasts gathered beneath it and birds in its branches, and that "all flesh was fed of it" brings to mind that Babylon became a very great metropolis and that Nebuchadnezzar and his successors are reputed to have stored immense quantities of grain and other foods within the city to care for the city's needs for many—some say twenty—years.

2.      The Watcher

And I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven. (Daniel 4:13)

"Watcher" means wakeful one, and is almost certainly a name for an angel. The ancient Greek version renders it angel. The idea is of the wakefulness of those on guard. As watchers of God they are his "eyes." "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good".[232] The word "and" between "a watcher" and "an holy one" means "even." That is, the watcher is a holy watcher. Note that the watcher, even an holy one is the singular subject of the next verse.

3.      The Decree

He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit; let the beasts get away from under it, and fowls from his branches: Nevertheless leave the stump of his roots in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth: Let his heart be changed from man's, and let a beast's heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him. (Daniel 4:14-16)

These ominous, details are the features of the dream, no doubt, which had made the king afraid. They indicate the near destruction of the person in whose career the events are to take place. That it was a prophecy of a man rather than of a tree, as such, is indicated by the words of verse 16, viz., the changing of the heart from a man's to that of a beast could be predicated only of a man. These suggestions of unhappy changes in the future were sufficient to upset the "rest" of the king "flourishing" in his palace.

If there was any natural psychological suggestion in the past experience of Nebuchadnezzar to bring on this dream it was most likely his experiences in Lebanon where he had personally directed and parti­cipated in the falling of many trees for transport to Babylon. There is something very impressive about the falling of a tall straight tree. No matter how good a purpose is to be served, it always seems as if something wrong is done when so great a majesty is laid low.

4.      The Authority and Intent of the Decree

This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men. (Daniel 4:17)

This verse is the very heart of the message of the book of Daniel, and especially of this chapter. Couched in simple language as an explanation of the authority and intent of the decree of the angels concerning the dream it gives us the very key to the understanding of the affairs of men and nations of every age.

Observe in the first place that the angels of God,   called watchers and holy ones, are the ones who speak with God's authority here. The ministry of angels in general and in relation to the giving of Holy Scripture in particular is one of the most neglected areas of Bible study today. It does not fit in with our modern "scientific" and natur­alistic outlook. It is usually deemed sufficient today to discover the natural cause of things without looking further at the divine side of things. Yet, according to Hebrews 2:2 the entire Mosaic Law was mediated through angels. These angels appear often in the stories of the patriarchs. And, further on in this book of Daniel the authority of God's angels over the affairs of nations is asserted.[233]

Nebuchadnezzar is reminded that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men." This is affirmed throughout the Bible: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein";[234] "Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing".[235] It does not often seem that way. Hitler claimed to recognize no god save the destiny of the German nationally. Mussolini acknowledged "no god save my own sovereign will." The Marxist rulers about the world today regard God as a superstitious notion provided by the upper classes to keep the poor in line. In professed Christian lands God is frequently only a name called up by politicians to help win elections. But, this verse reminds us that God reigns. If rebellion exists it is temporary and only by God's permission. If there is ignorance of Him that too will in time be corrected. "There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God".[236] And, let the nations know that "he is the Lord of heaven and earth," and as regards the nations, He "hath deter­mined the times appointed, and the bounds of their habitation".[237]

But God has made men his "vicegerents" to rule in his place. To use Nebuchadnezzar's words, He "giveth it to whomsoever he will." This, of course, has its bright side. Human government is a necessary thing, not only to prevent violence and to secure physical safety but to "promote domestic tranquility" and to secure the "general welfare".[238] We love the fatherland and wish to admire and respect our national leaders. But this also has a sad side. Nations and their rulers are held responsible to exercise justice, to protect rights, and to promote purity. If they do not they are punished by wars, pestilences, and other disasters. Damas­cus was to be punished for unnecessary brutality toward their neighbors (Amos 1:3); Gaza for kidnapping their neighbors (Amos 1:6); Tyre for breaking their national covenants (Amos 1:9); Ammon for inhuman atrocity (Amos 1:13) etc. This discussion could be extended indefinitely. This is sufficient to show that Nebuchadnezzar's report of the angels' decree is a most important bit of information.

Further, it is to be noted that God "setteth up over it [i.e., the kingdom of men] the basest of men." Basest here likely means hum­blest, most base-born. In our "land of the free and home of the brave" we are accustomed to accepting rail-splitters and former haberdashers as well as farmers and ex-coon-hunters as presidents of the land. But this has not always been true even in our land, and it most certainly was not the expected thing in the great nations of antiquity. It was usual even for "pretenders" and assassins who became rulers to try to trace their ancestry back to some famous person, or even to a god or god­dess. But to keep man in his place God has raised up the most low­born to become kings. The greatest empire of antiquity was the Roman. Its emperors were the scions of noble families who prided themselves in their Roman descent. Yet the later emperors were low-born Germans, Vandals, etc;—men whom the proud patricians of Rome would have label­ed barbarians. On this point John Calvin wrote:

"And when there was no greater pride in the world than in the Romanempire, we see what happened. For God brought forth certain monsters which caused the greatest astonishment among the Greeks and all the Orientals, the Spaniards, Italians, and Gauls; for nothing was more monstrous than some of the emperors. Then their origin was most base and shameful, and God could not show more clearly how empires are not transferred by the will of man, nor even acquired by valorous counsel, and power­ful troops, but remained under his own hand to bestow upon whomsoever he pleased."

5.      The King’s Appeal

This dream I king Nebuchadnezzar have seen. Now thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation: but thou art able; for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee. (Daniel 4:18)

This appeal, for all its earnest sincerity, and in spite of all the fine things the king says about Daniel's God at the end of the chapter, is still the appeal of a pagan worshipper of zany gods. He thinks the source of Daniel's wisdom is the presence of "the spirit of the holy gods" in him. The form of the words "holy gods" in the ori­ginal Aramaic makes it clear that he is not referring to the one true God whose name Élohîm (Aram. Élohîn) is plural. He addresses Daniel by his pagan Babylonian Bel-honoring name, and obviously had called on his other counselors first.

D.      Interpretation of the Dream (4:19-27)

It is worthy of note that God’s man was quite unhurried about producing an answer to the king. The interpretation had to wait for the moving of the Spirit of God upon the mind of the prophet. The Spirit of God will not be subject either to authorities or to coercion. Simon of Samaria thought the gifts of God could be purchased with money and was sadly mistaken.[239] "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him",[240] and one of the marked charac­teristics of the man who fears God is a willingness to be quiet and to wait for him. Daniel was "astonished one hour," that is, for a period of time. During this time "his thoughts troubled him." This was not because he was fearful but because the sad message brought about a measure of reluctance to deliver it. One wonders if Samuel did not feel in a similar way about the fearful message God gave him for Eli.[241] How frequently the Bible tells all those who would see the salvation of the Lord to "stand still and wait."

1.      An Ominous Hint

Belteshazzar answered and said, My Lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies. (Daniel 4:19b)

The king had said in effect, Speak up Daniel! And now Daniel did just that. His first words were to the effect that Nebuchadnezzar would get no immediate comfort from his words but that his enemies and detractors would. Again we understand that the king had intuitively recognized bad news in his dream and why Daniel had been hesitant to relate the interpretation in the king's presence. When later at verse 25 it is said that "They shall drive thee" etc. it is to be understood that "They" are these enemies within the king's own administration who were happy to demote him. Perhaps it was the loyalty of Daniel and others like him which prevented worse from happening to the king.

2.      Interpretation of the Tree

The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the height thereof to all the earth; whose leaves were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and upon whose branches the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong; for thy greatness is grown, and reacheth unto heaven, and thy dominion to the end of the earth. (Daniel 4:20-22)

The tree is the king reigning in his kingdom and pride. Daniel's recapitulation of the king's dream is almost exactly that which Nebuchadnezzar had related. Having thus assured the king he knew all about the dream he came straight to the point and this without either fear or harshness.

Aside from the value of the interpretation there is a mighty lesson in proper witnessing and preaching here. Calvin has captured it so well that we shall not try to improve on his words though now 400 years old.

"Here we see…how Daniel acted respectfullyto the king, and thus was mindful of his prophetic duty, while he punc­tually discharged the commands of God. We must notice this distinction, for nothing is more difficult for ministers of the Word than to maintain this middle course. Some are always fulminating through a pretense of zeal, and forget themselves to be but men: they show no sign of benevolence, but indulge in mere bitterness. Hence they have no authority, and all their admonitions are hateful. Next they ex­plain God's Word with pride and boasting when they frighten sinners without either humanity, or pain, or sympathy. Others again, who are wicked and perfidious flatterers, gloss over the grossest iniquities; they object to both Prophets and Apostles, esteeming the fervor of their seal to have driven away all human affections! Thus they delude miserable men, and destroy them by their flattery. But our Prophet, as all the rest, here shows how God's servants ought to take a middle course. Thus Jeremiah, when prophesying adversity, feels sorrow and bitterness of spirit, and yet does not turn aside from unsparing re­proof of the severest threats, as both sprang from God (Jer. ix. 1). The rest of the prophets also act in the same manner. Here Daniel, on the one hand pities the king, and on the other, through knowing himself to be the herald of God's anger, he is not frightened by any danger while setting before the king the punishment which he had despised. He felt no fear of the tyrant, although many do not dare to discharge their duty when an odious message is entrusted to them, which stimu­lates the impious and unbelievers to madness."[242]

Considering that Calvin wrote in the Reformation era when there were plenty of impious and cruel tyrants about, any one of whom would have been happy to kill Calvin, his words have special force.

3.      Interpretation of the Watcher

And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, and saying, Hew the tree down, and destroy it; yet leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth, even with a band of iron and brass, in the tender grass of the field, and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let his portion be with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him. This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king. (Daniel 4:23-24)

Most of this is repetition of what the king had already said. But there is one most important addition by way of interpretation! The decree which in Nebuchadnezzar's recital had been attributed to the angelic watcher is here said to be "of the most High." Nebuchad­nezzar was to know that no puny Babylonian deity was to be in charge of these disasters. Neither were they to come at the instigation of the gods of any foreign enemies. Rather these angelic watchers are messengers of the sovereign Lord and Creator of the entire universe, God Most High, identical with Daniel's God. It may be regarded as still another road sign leading the king away from his polytheistic faith. In Nebuchadnezzar's mouth the expression "God most high" means that among the many high gods, Daniel's is the highest. But in Daniel's, and it is he who here speaks, it means that there is one God and he is supremely exalted, high over all his vast creation.

4.      Interpretation of the Decree

That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven and seven times shall pass over thee till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whom­soever he will. And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots; thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule. (Daniel 4:25-26)

The decree is interpreted to predict a period of unpleasant humbling experiences for the king during which he would learn to acknowledge the sovereign rule of God, following which the king would be restored to his former happy state.

"They shall. drive thee from men." Nebuchadnezzar was son of the great and lordly Nabopolassar, himself of a noble Chaldean family. It was this Nabopolassar who had asserted the independence of Babylon from the Assyrians in about 625 B.C. and a dozen years later had been a major force in effecting the destruction of Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. Nebuchadnezzar himself, had fought and won great battles, had shown himself to be an intellectual and generally progressive monarch. His capital city, Babylon, bore everywhere the marks of his greatness. To have been told, then, that he was to be demoted from aristocrat to peasant, from lord of Babylon to be one of its street-cleaners would have been bad enough, but to be driven even from human association was utterly devastating to his self-esteem.

"Thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field" etc. where his food would be from their pastures, mangers, and troughs was to lose all human dignity. His experience was to be similar to that of the prodigal son who "would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat".[243] "A man's pride shall bring him low"[244] —and Nebuchadnezzar would learn just how low!

"Till thou know that the most High ruleth" etc. God was deal­ing with Nebuchadnezzar in grace rather than in penal judgment. It was to teach rather than to exact punishment that God was to bring these things on Nebuchadnezzar. If the king had been willing to reflect on the fate of his neighbor nations he might have been spared this painful lesson. At a time not more than a few months or years re­moved Ezekiel, another Jewish prophet in exile, was spelling out the lesson for the benefit of the Pharaoh of Egypt.[245] The Assyrian had been a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches," whose "height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and all the fowls of heaven had made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt great nations." But God said "Because thou hast listed up thyself in height, and he hath shot up his top among the thick boughs, and his heart is lifted up on his height; I have therefore delivered him into the hand of the mighty one of the heathen; he shall surely deal with him: I have driven him out for his wicked­ness." Now Nebuchadnezzar himself had been recently the very one who carried out God's prophecy here by conquering the Pharaoh of Egypt. The similarity of the whole description, especially the underlined portion above, to the prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar's chastening is start­ling. Sad it is that each generation seems to find it necessary to learn all over again the lessons of their fathers!

"Thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee," etc. This was somewhat reassuring to the king. He was to be "cast down, but not forever." When God chastens for gracious purposes "the latter end," as with Job, is always "more than his beginning".[246] In fact, so like the treatment God gives his own is that reported here that one wonders if Nebuchadnezzar may not ultimately have been truly converted in heart.

"After that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule." This is about as near as the Old Testament level of revelation can come to Romans 10:9 ("that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus") and to Phil. 2:11 ("that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord"). Whether or not Nebuchadnezzar carne to true heart confession (Romans 10:10) it remains true that to acknowledge that "the heavens!' (God) is Lord is the heart of saving faith.

A special consideration is the light the phrase "the heavens do rule" sheds on our Lord's words for his kingdom "Kingdom of heaven" (in Matthew) and "kingdom of God" (in Luke). "Heavens" (always plural in Hebrew and Aramaic Scripture) is a figure of speech for the God whose throne is in the heavens. Matthew likely reported our Lord's own Aramaic words in literal translation since his Jewish readers would understand. For Luke's Greek-speaking Gentile readers to whom the figure would mean no more than "kingdom of the skies" or some similar meaningless phrase, the figure had to be changed to a literal expression. Certainly the basis of our Lord's conception of his own kingdom is laid in this very book of Daniel.[247]

5.      The Advice of Daniel (v. 27)

Daniel's words of advice are quite like other Old Testament calls to sincere repentance, mentioning the outward marks or evidences rather than the inward change behind then.[248] Yet those prophets believed there should be a rending of the hearts as well as of the garments and we may be sure that Daniel did the same.[249]

Perhaps there had been much personal impurity ("sins") which needed to be broken up by truly right living. His oppressive treatment of his subjects ("iniquities") needed to be replaced by showing mercy to them. At any rate he was to put his change of heart on display! It is ever so.

The suggestion of a lengthening of his tranquility points to a truth about all divine threats of judgment—that they are conditional upon obdurate, unyielding, continuing rebellion. God's repentance is conditional upon ours.[250] The threats and warnings of the Bible are the very means God is using to bring us all to turn from our sins. Let us never empty the word of its warnings.[251]

E.       Fulfillment of the Dream (vv. 28 - 33)

At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. (Daniel 4:29)

Josephus, the famous first century Jewish historian has written of Nebuchadnezzar that he built a new palace besides that of his father. After describing its splendors he says: "Now in this palace he erect­ed very high walks, supported by stone pillars, and by planning what was called a hanging garden, and replenishing it with all sorts of, trees, he rendered the prospect an exact resemblance of a mountainous country. This he did to please his queen, because she had been brought up in Media, and was fond of a mountainous situation.” This, Josephus says, is a report extracted from Berosos a native Chaldean historian.[252] Excavation of Babylon in the past century has quite fully authenticated Nebuchadnezzar’s building acti­vity, especially the construction of an enormous palace, on which was probably super-added the hanging gardens, Here in the midst of trees like the ones he loved in Lebanon and like the one of his dream of a year before the fulfillment took place.

The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty. (Daniel 4:30)

As a matter of fact, everything the king claimed for his city here is quite strictly true. He could see stretching out endlessly a great street for religious processions. He had rebuilt it. There were new gates which he had built. There were several palaces and many temples to say nothing of the miles of walls„ "He also rebuilt the old city, and added another to it on the outside, and so far restored Babylon, that none who should besiege it afterwards might have it in their power to divert the river, so as to facilitate an entrance into it; and this he did by building three walls about the inner city, and three about the outer".[253] The sad fact was that it really was all for his own praise and glory rather than for the praise and glory of his Creator.

Suddenly, without any further indication, "While the word was in the king’s mouth" a voice from heaven declared that all the things prophesied by Daniel would immediately take place.

Commentators in general agree that some form of insanity over­took the unhappy king. The insane, especially those who are occupied with delusions about their identity, supposing themselves to be some important person, an animal, etc. have always required some kind of special treatment. Pagan people have frequently supposed the insane to be actually indwelt by the person or god whom the insane person supposed himself to be. They have been, therefore, sometimes treated with a great deal of deference and respect. If this is the case with Nebuchadnezzar, he may very well have been placed in one of the city parks with other zoological "specimens" to carry on as he pleased. There the symptoms and characteristics so simply described in verse 33 could have developed. Secular writings [254] give some support for this view of things,[255] but the inscriptions have not yet provided support. Yet stranger things than this have happened. There is no reason to doubt the story.

That the events described had something to do with a loss of mental powers is made certain by the fact that they came to an end by the return of the king's understanding.[256]

F.       Conclusion; Restoration of the King (4:34-37)

The length of the period, "seven times" cannot be specified. Likely it was seven years, though this is notcertain. Perhaps seven is intended (Calvin) only as a perfect number to mean "long enough."

An important psychological fact is that the king heard a voice from heaven and likely directed his eyes in that direction at the onset of his insanity, and after the passage of "seven times" again looked toward heaven, as if taking up where he left off, to receive from heaven a return of understanding.

The results of the king's chastening experience are clearly seen in the praise, confession and testimony displayed in this por­tion.

Taking the evil of sinful human pride as the theme of this chapter, its development can be seen clearly as follows.

There is first the root of sinful pride.[257] This was two-fold: a sense of great personal accomplishment unmixed with any sense of dependence upon God and personal self-exaltation.[258]

There is in the second place the essence of sinful pride.[259] It consisted mainly in taking to one's self honors rightly belonging to another. It was God who had delivered to the king the goods and powers by which he built this city. Nebuchadnezzar gave God nocredit.

In the third place there is the result of sinful pride.[260] Not only was there the abasement involved, as spelled out by such passages as Proverbs 16:16 and 29:23, but specifically insanity. Sin of any sort when engaged in without restraint is a kind of insanity.[261]

In the fourth place there is the cure for sinful pride in a return to reason and to God.[262] Nothing is more reasonable than the gospel, even though the world in its wisdom does not know it. Dedication to God in Christian living is a "reasonable service".[263]


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