Daniel Chapter 4

Remember that the dream of the colossal image was ultimately about the coming of the kingdom which shall not be overthrown by man but will abide forever and ever. This would be the kingdom of God. However, when Nebuchadnezzar was given the interpretation of the dream his attention focused on “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold” (2:37-38). Nebuchadnezzar had only heard a message of the dream but did not grasp the message! He erected an image of gold, unto which “people, nations, and languages” (3:4) were to bow. This was clearly meant to be a symbol of his power over the nations and languages.

Notice the king’s words after he heard Daniel’s explanation of the dream – “The king answered unto Daniel, and said, Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret” (2:47). Nebuchadnezzar’s words should not be mistaken for a testimony of converting to the true faith and revelation of the one true God, Yahweh. The king worshipped the God of Daniel as a “God of gods” seeing that Daniel could “reveal this secret” which other gods had failed.

Now, the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar had erected put in trouble Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego. They were sentenced to death by burning. All this harshness was simply a result of the pride of the king who didn’t want his decree disobeyed. He had summoned different dignitaries to the ceremony where he could reaffirm his power over them, and what an inappropriate place and occasion for the three men to have defied his authority! Bound, into the fire they were thrown. But instead of hearing the groaning and wailing of a burning people, the men were seen loosed, walking in the midst of the fire. When they came out of the furnace unscathed, Nebuchadnezzar had again experienced something unusual about the power of Yahweh. But that was not enough! Pride still reigned in the heart of the king of Babylon. However, it was time for him to grasp the message that he wasn’t great by his might, but by the power of Him who knows the end from the beginning. He is the one who raises and also deposes kings. The Babylonian king was made to go through a most humiliating experience. In Chapter 4 he narrates this experience. He wrote the testimony which began with words of praising God.

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

2 I thought it good to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me.

What did the Babylonian king mean by “signs and wonders”?

Signs and Wonders

A sign is a portent. It is something God gives to warn of something to come. It may come in form of a symbol, in a dream or vision, or through a prophetic utterance. However, note that God does not give a sign to imprison a person’s will so that he or she says “God said the bad thing will happen and so there is nothing I can do about it!” Not so. Was it not Hezekiah who had been told, “Thus saith the LORD… thou shalt die, and not live” but he pleaded his case and was healed and made to live 15 years longer?

A sign is given to withdraw man from falling into a pit. As the Scripture says, “For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword” (Job 33:14-18).

As for Nebuchadnezzar, he had his warnings. The dream of the colossus and the experience of seeing the fourth man in the fire. Remember that the three men had been thrown into the fire as a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s ego against those who could not obey his order to worship his golden image. Well, God had spoken once, and twice, and on this third time Nebuchadnezzar had a dream with a “sign” with an unpleasant message. After its fulfilment the Babylonian king was amazed. For a dream to be very detailed and its fulfilment precise to the letter, is an experience to wonder at!

All dreams of Nebuchadnezzar indicated that worldly politics, from generation to generation, are not merely results of the intelligence of man but that there are supernatural powers that influence what goes on in the affairs of men. It is for this reason that the king:

3 How mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.

What experience did Nebuchadnezzar go through for him to make this confession? It was quite an unpleasant and humiliating experience. The following is his testimony:

4 I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace.

Resting and flourishing, and then a bad dream

Nebuchadnezzar’s rest was not one of merely retiring to sit down after a day of hard work. This was a rest of achievement and self-satisfaction. It was a rest of knowing that he is in need of nothing – “I have conquered, I have the wealth, and the whole world reveres my name! I have accomplished my desires through my might and wisdom!” But one day a bad dream came upon him.

5 I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.

6 Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream.

7 Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof.

The tradition of believing in magicians and sorcerers was so deeply engraved in the Babylonian culture that despite their previous failure to interpret the dreams, Nebuchadnezzar still summoned them to interpret this new one he had. But they failed again and the God of Daniel was again vindicated to be the only one from whom true wisdom and revelation could come. To the Babylonians Daniel was a “master of magicians”, a man in whom the “spirit of holy gods” dwelt:

8 But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, saying,

9 O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream[1] that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof.

And this was the dream:

10 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.

11 The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth:

12 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 the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.

13 I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;

14 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 the fowls from his branches:

15 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:

16 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.

17 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.

18 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.

A strange dream it was. The dream had bad news for the king and this greatly troubled Daniel. How would he break the message that the king was to become insane for seven years? So stressed was Daniel that the king noticed it on his face. It became conspicuous that he had something to say but for which he was uneasy:

19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied for one hour, and his thoughts troubled him. The king spake, and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream, or the interpretation thereof, trouble thee. Belteshazzar answered and said, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies.

Daniel went on to interpret the dream telling the king that like the huge tall tree which had grown to become great, reaching unto heaven[2], his dominion had become so great:

20 The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth;

21 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:

22 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.

The greatness made Nebuchadnezzar become proud. But, whatever power he had was actually a result of the working of God (Jer.25:9). In this dream God shows Nebuchadnezzar that the power of men on earth is simply a manifestation of supernatural forces in the heavens. Like was shown in the dream, there are “watchers” (angels) in the heavens who look into the works of man on earth.

23 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;

So there were to be “seven times” to pass over the huge cut-down tree. What did this mean? Well, this was explained by Daniel in simple words:

24 This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king:

25 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.

26 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.

So Daniel explained that the tree represented Nebuchadnezzar who was to be driven from among men to live with animals. As later events showed, this unfortunate situation would happen when the king loses his mind, becoming so violently insane that men would drive (i.e. expel) him to live away from human beings.[3] He would be in this situation until “seven times” pass over him. Like other Bible versions have stated, seven times referred to seven years.[4]

Now it is important to note that the impending judgement on Nebuchadnezzar would not just result from pride only concealed in the heart. Out of the pride came deeds that displeased God. As common with many people with pride, Nebuchadnezzar may have become sinful, and despised the poor, as can be seen in Daniel’s words of admonishment:

27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.

Sadly, the king did not give diligence to follow this counsel. Pride still reigned in his heart. One day it happened that as he looked over the city of Babylon and noticed its beautiful infrastructure, he praised himself and his words were caught by a ‘watcher.’

Idle words then the fulfilment of the dream

The following is a narration of what happened to the king of Babylon on that fateful day and the seven terrible years that followed:

28 All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.

29 At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.

30 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 honour of my majesty?

There is much historical evidence of Nebuchadnezzar’s architectural works. Saggs (2017)[5] notes in the Britannica Encyclopaedia that “Nebuchadrezzar’s main activity, other than as military commander, was the rebuilding of Babylon. He completed and extended fortifications begun by his father, built a great moat and a new outer defense wall, paved the ceremonial Processional Way with limestone, rebuilt and embellished the principal temples, and cut canals. This he did not only for his own glorification but also in honour of the gods.” Scholars have suggested that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, may have been built by Nebuchadnezzar.

31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.

Words are not mere propulsions of pressure coming through vocal words. By words we speak we shall be judged. Is it not the Lord Jesus who admonished saying by “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mat.12:36). The word “idle” in this verse in Greek is argos and refers to a state of being “useless” or “barren.” Surely any word that is void of truth is barren and useless. By words one can sin and that is why we are further cautioned in the Scripture to “study to be quiet” (1 The.4:11).

The angel continued speaking to Nebuchadnezzar:

32 And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.

The dream was fulfilled exactly as had been spoken. Nebuchadnezzar lost all his glory and respect due unto a king. God reduced him to a mere animal to show him that everything he had, including the power to reason and think belonged to God:

33 The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.

After the seven years were accomplished reasoning returned to the king. When he realised what had happened to him, he became aware that human beings have no reputation in the eyes of God. He became aware that the heavens do rule!

Restoration and worship to God

Nebuchadnezzar became humble and worshipped God.

34 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:

35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

36 At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.

37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

So learned the king of Babylon humility. But would his successors follow in his footsteps?

[1] A dream occurs when a person is asleep. In this state one’s consciousness is not active. A vision occurs when a person is conscious of what is going on. Usually we are conscious when we are awake. However, it is possible for someone to see a vision whilst asleep. However, for it to be properly called a vision, it will be a kind of spiritual dream for which one is conscious that, “I am here lying on the bed whilst am seeing this.” That can be called a “vision of a dream” or simply “vision of the night.” On the converse a pure dream is one which has the observer unaware that he is asleep, that is, his or her consciousness is completely not active.

[2] A dubious interpretation has been given to “reached unto heaven” (Dan.4:20) by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Whilst Daniel in no uncertain terms interpreted the tree to refer to Nebuchadnezzar, the Witnesses have given an explicitly contradictory explanation stating that “the tree stands for rulership and sovereignty far grander than that of Babylon’s king. It symbolizes the universal sovereignty of Jehovah, ‘the King of the heavens’, especially with respect to the earth” (p.94-95 in Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy, 1999 publication). One error leads to another: next it is said that Jehovah’s kingdom was centred (or represented) in Jerusalem. Thus, to know when the tree was chopped down, we look for a period of time in history when Jerusalem fell: “God himself had such sovereignty chopped down and banded in 607 B.C.E. when he used Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem” (p.95). Then we come to the “seven times.7 years is expressed in days as 2,520 days, taking a so-called prophetic year to consist of 360 days. Then another conversion: days are converted back to ‘prophetic years’ (Eze.4:6-7) so that 2,520 days = 2,520 years. Counting from 607 BC the 2,520 years brings you to the famous 1914. In that year, the Witnesses teach, “‘the appointed times of the nations’ were fulfilled, and God gave rulership to ‘the lowliest one of mankind’—Jesus Christ” (p.97). Ofcourse the prediction of Charles T. Russel, the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation, that Christ would come in 1914 had failed. This should have been enough to desert the erroneous interpretation but, as with the failure of Adventist’s 1844 and as always happens, the interpretation evolved and was cleverly put into another context. Jesus was crowned to start ruling in 1914! This author has on three occasions engaged with senior Jehovah’s Witnesses elders, asking them, “What authority or exegetical criteria allows one to change an interpretation already plainly given in Scripture, in this case Daniel said the tree was Nebuchadnezzar,  to another completely different interpretation, in this case that the tree actually referred to Jehovah’s kingdom in Jerusalem?” On all three occasions the cold response has been that the topic will be dealt with next time. Unfortunately “next time” has been as long as 15 years, at the time of writing this article. Is it so difficult to see that the simple expression of “reached unto heaven” simply meant that Nebuchadnezzar had risen so high in power over the then world? With regards to power and authority we use the term “rise” to express the extent of greatness. Like Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar, “It is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong: for thy greatness is grown and reacheth unto heaven” (Dan.4:22). “Rise” in power conceptually can only be illustrated vertically, i.e. heavenwards. To take the phrase “reacheth unto heaven” literally would be no different from inferring that Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation to “all people…that dwell in all the earth” (Dan.4:1) had reached every human being alive on the planet. Or that Cyrus’ proclamation that God had given him “all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezr.1:2) literally meant all existing kingdoms, including those of the far east in China. Again, the phrase that on the day of Pentecost there were “devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Act 2:4) would literally mean every country in the world!

[3] Some scholars have suggested that Nebuchadnezzar’s disease was Lycanthropy, a form of madness where the patient becomes deluded to think he or she is a wolf or some other animal.

[4] Clearly the unfortunate events that would befall the king being described in Daniel 4:25 would not have fulfilled in “times” of week-days but years!

[5] Saggs, H.W.F (2017). Nebuchadnezzar II. In Encyclopedia Britannica [Online]. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nebuchadrezzar-II [October 24, 2017].

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