Dan 4:1 Nebuchadnezzar the king, To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you.
Nebuchadnezzar the king:
This is a unique chapter for several reasons, one of those reasons being that It was written by a gentile king. Daniel includes this epistle from Nebuchadnezzar in his collection of prophecies and highlights of his life that we call the Book of Daniel.
To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth
This letter of Nebuchadnezzar is addressed to the whole world, probably intended for distribution throughout the kingdom. Many proclamations of the kings of Babylon and Assyria were similarly addressed.
This letter was probably written in Aramaic as that was the official language of the kingdom, and as we have already mentioned several times in this study this portion of Daniel is one of the few places in the Bible where the original language of the text is Aramaic.
Dan 4:2 I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me.
To declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me
This is basically Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony about his salvation, if indeed he was saved.
I thought it good
Here we see his motivations for declaring his testimony to the world: he thought it good. This is a good lesson for us too. It is good to tell people what God has done for you, Doing so is a way of evangelism, and in some situations and for some people it is the most effective way for you to tell people about God.
I also would like to think that these are the words of a man who has been changed and now desires the same for those he has influence on; his passion is to tell people about the God that saved him.
Many of you might have felt similar to this when you were saved.
Dan 4:3 How great are His signs, And how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion is from generation to generation.
Nebuchadnezzar starts and ends this epistle with a doxology. He praises God for his miracles and the fact that God’s kingdom, unlike his own or any other kingdom among man, is an everlasting kingdom.
Dan 4:4 I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in my house, and flourishing in my palace.
I think this mention of prosperity here is significant to the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony in that it may be drawing attention to the hardness of one’s heart in the midst of prosperity.
In what follows we will see that God goes to extreme measures to humble Nebuchadnezzar. I have a hunch that this attention-getter was proportional to the amount of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and prosperity, which was very high.
One lesson we might take from this is that we should never consider anyone unsaveable, especially those in leadership who we are encouraged by God to pray for. I suspect there would be a lot more conversions of world leaders if there were a lot more Daniels in the world, who we will see even more clearly in Chapter 6 was serious about his prayer life.
Dan 4:5 I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts on my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.
Dan 4:6 Therefore I issued a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.
Dan 4:7 Then the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers came in, and I told them the dream; but they did not make known to me its interpretation.
Dan 4:8 But at last Daniel came before me (his name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god; in him is the Spirit of the Holy God), and I told the dream before him, saying:
Dan 4:9 “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, because I know that the Spirit of the Holy God is in you, and no secret troubles you, explain to me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and its interpretation.
We have here a very similar situation as we saw in Chapter 2. Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which he feels is very significant, so he calls in his advisors for its interpretation.
As in Chapter 2 I will note that God seems to use the local strongly held belief in the importance of dreams as a vehicle in which to speak to Nebuchadnezzar.
What I mean is that there is no doubt that he and other kings of the ancient world often had dreams that were of no significance, yet they were probably interpreted for the kings by similar dream advisors all the same. Here though, as was the case in Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar is troubled, which I take to mean that he understood that this dream was special in some way. We know from the text that indeed it was God who had sent him this dream and that his feelings about it being significant were indeed correct.
I wonder if God still does this today with people in places of tremendous power. That is if He sends them ominous warnings in their dreams. We know that God still works with people through dreams (Acts 2:17). I wouldn’t at all be surprised if world leaders today were also warned of their destruction unless they repent like Nebuchadnezzar was here as we will see.
Though these two instances (Dan 2 & 7) are similar, there are some differences. For example it seems that though the advisors were not able, or some would argue were unwilling, to interpret this dream, Nebuchadnezzar does not get upset with them like in Chapter 2 or at least we are not told he did.
I would note that it should be remembered that at the end of Chapter 2 Daniel was put in charge of these guys and was presumably training them to do their jobs. So this shouldn’t represent an exact duplicate of the former instances because these guys were supposedly now using the Daniel method of dream interpretation, though it becomes clear in the book that many of them resented Daniel and therefore didn’t listen to what he had to say, especially if what he had to say was for them to repent and turn to Yahweh worship.
Only after they fail is Daniel called in. We are nowhere told why Daniel was not there at first, but it can be safely assumed that those he was chief over were expected to be able to do this without him.
Nebuchadnezzar, after referring to Daniel by his Hebrew name, which would appear to indicate a change in Nebuchadnezzar, he then explains that he is referring to the one known as Belteshazzar.
Dan 4:10 These were the visions of my head while on my bed: I was looking, and behold, A tree in the midst of the earth, And its height was great.
Dan 4:11 The tree grew and became strong; Its height reached to the heavens, And it could be seen to the ends of all the earth.
Dan 4:12 Its leaves were lovely, Its fruit abundant, And in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches, And all flesh was fed from it.
Dan 4:13 “I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven.
Dan 4:14 He cried aloud and said thus: ‘Chop down the tree and cut off its branches, Strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the beasts get out from under it, And the birds from its branches.
Dan 4:15 Nevertheless leave the stump and roots in the earth, Bound with a band of iron and bronze, In the tender grass of the field. Let it be wet with the dew of heaven, And let him graze with the beasts On the grass of the earth.
Dan 4:16 Let his heart be changed from that of a man, Let him be given the heart of a beast, And let seven times pass over him.
Dan 4:17 ‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.’
Dan 4:18 “This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen. Now you, Belteshazzar, declare its interpretation, since all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known to me the interpretation; but you are able, for the Spirit of the Holy God is in you.”
So there you have it: The dream God gave to Nebuchadnezzar. A very big and fruitful tree was ordered to be cut down by the decree of a watcher in order to glorify God. A period of time was set where the man’s heart would be changed to that of a beast including eating grass and it will be done “’In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.’“
This idea of the watcher is interesting. The term according to Stephen Miller is:
“literally “one who is awake” and occurs only in this chapter (vv. 13, 17, 23) in the Bible, although in the Genesis Apocryphon from Qumran it is used as a term for an angel.19 Montgomery adds, “We have here the earliest mention of the Wakeful Ones, generally known in our translations as the Watchers, who play so important a role in Enoch, Jubilees, the XII Testaments, etc.” 20 The idea is that this heavenly being is awake and keeping watch over the activities of the human race.21” (Miller, 1994-08-31, p. 133)
We usually think of this term “Watcher” as only referring to fallen angels but it is clear here as well as places like Ezek 1:18 that unfallen or holy watchers are to be included.
This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones
The idea that the watchers are here decreeing judgment of Nebuchadnezzar is very interesting because the giving out of judgment is the primary job of the so-called “Divine Council” which are basically synonymous with these un-fallen or holy watchers. We see that they did not however always judge righteously, for example in Psalm 82.
A Psalm of Asaph. God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods. How long will you judge unjustly, And show partiality to the wicked? Selah Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked. They do not know, nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are unstable. I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men, And fall like one of the princes.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; For You shall inherit all nations.- Psa 82:1-8
God divided the nations to the sons of God or “Divine Council” after Babel.
Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you. 8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of men, He fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the SONS OF GOD. 9 For the LORD’s portion is His people, Jacob His allotted heritage. - Deut 32:7
In 2 Chronicles we have an insight into a council meeting in which God has made a decree about the king, but he includes the angels in the decision-making process, on how exactly it will be done.
Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right hand and His left. 19 And the LORD said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab king of Israel to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. 20 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ The LORD said to him, ‘In what way?’ 21 “So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the Lord said, ‘You shall persuade him and also prevail; go out and do so.’ 22 Therefore look! The LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.” - II CHRONICLES 18:18
It is not unusual that Nebuchadnezzar would know of watchers who decreed fates.
As mentioned previously these beings were very well understood in Babylonian and Assyrian mythology. Although they had a kind of paganized view of them, they understood that the watchers had a function of decreeing fates.
Nebuchadnezzar knew what a “watcher” was and that they had the authority to determine how he was humbled.
For more on the Divine Council of the Bible see Dr. Michael Heiser’s work on the subject at his website www.thedivinecouncil.com.
Dan 4:19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!
This gives some credence to some commentators’ views that this dream was easy to interpret and that even his trained advisors knew the interpretation but were afraid to tell the king.
Daniel himself doesn’t even speak and is very worried until Nebuchadnezzar reassures him, and then he tells him what it means, and even then Daniel gives a caveat that he wishes that the dream applied to Nebuchadnezzar’s enemies.
So here is the interpretation of the dream:
Dan 4:20 “The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth,
Dan 4:21 whose leaves were lovely and its fruit abundant, in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their home—
Dan 4:22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth.
So this first part is clear: The fruitful tree is Nebuchadnezzar and his flourishing kingdom.
Dan 4:23 “And inasmuch as the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze in the tender grass of the field; let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let him graze with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him’;
Dan 4:24 this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king:
Dan 4:25 They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
As we will see this came to pass in a very literal way. David Guzik makes the point that Nebuchadnezzar probably had no clue as to how literal it would be. He really would be turned mentally into an animal.
It would seem that any commentator on this passage is contractually obliged to mention that something like what is being described here is a real medical condition. Guzik writes:
“The form of insanity in which men think of themselves as animals and imitate the behavior of an animal has been observed. Some call it generally insania zoanthropica [Clinical lycanthropy] and more specifically in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, boanthropy, the delusion that one is an ox.
ii. Walvoord quotes a Dr. Raymond Harrison of Britain, who in 1946 had a patient suffering from boanthropy, just as Nebuchadnezzar suffered. [including eating grass outside the asylum]”
Clinical lycanthropy is an interesting condition. In reading briefly on it I noted that there is neurological activity that is showing a genuine change in perception of a person’s body shape, etc.
But there also appears to be in some cases occasional lucidity or coming back to normal for a brief spell, where the person can describe the feelings they are having. This lucidity, in Nebuchadnezzar’s case, may have been an opportunity for him to repent, which we will now see was the ultimate goal of this judgment.
Dan 4:26 “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules.
After you come to know that Heaven rules.
This realization is what all of us must come to. The difference is that Nebuchadnezzar had further to fall than some of us in order to realize that God, not us, is the king of our lives and everything else.
Testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. - Act 20:21
Repentance toward God is a part of our need — we are all in rebellion against God (Rom 3:10-19). We need to change our minds about that rebellion, to lay it down, admit that He is God, and we and our ways and our plans must take a back seat to His.
Even Nebuchadnezzar had a belief that Yahweh was greater than other gods before this occasion (Dan 2:47) but he did not yet humble himself to Him. This process is God benevolently bringing Nebuchadnezzar to a place of humility for his own good.
Dan 4:27 Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
Daniel’s beautiful council to his king and perhaps friend: “Please stop sinning — perhaps we can lengthen the days before this happens.” Notice that Daniel does not suggest it can be altogether avoided. Perhaps he knows that the decree has been made and the decision is final. In other words God knows that it will take a very big act for Nebuchadnezzar to change his mind and Daniel agrees with that. Daniel only suggests that the time before the inevitable humbling can be lengthened.
And because it was a full year later that this happened, as we will see, we can reasonably assume that there was in fact a lengthening of time given. That is to say that Nebuchadnezzar might have taken Daniel’s advice here to a degree.
Dan 4:28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar.
Dan 4:29 At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon.
Dan 4:30 The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”
He is looking at the kingdom and attributes its greatness to himself. This is despite having the more than enough testimony from Daniel who in a miraculous way in Chapter 2 showed Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom was given to him by Yahweh, and that is the only reason it is his to rule or that it is prosperous.
Remember this is the king recounting his testimony. These words of pride might have been bitter to him now as he recounts the story, especially knowing what happens next.
Dan 4:31 While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!
Dan 4:32 And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”
Dan 4:33 That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.
A voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!”
So part of Nebuchadnezzar’s testimony is this voice that made sure he remembered the previous dream and the reason that this was going to happen to him, namely , so that he will know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
Many commentators note that there is a period of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign in which there is no record of any of his decrees or any other official business; they have essentially an argument from silence of this event’s historicity.
Dan 4:34 And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation.
Dan 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
Dan 4:36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me.
Dan 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.
At last, in a moment of clarity Nebuchadnezzar repents.
“Now the account reverts to first person, and Nebuchadnezzar continues his personal testimony. At the end of the seven years, the king raised his eyes toward heaven, an act of submission, surrender, and acknowledgment of his need for the Most High God. Yahweh had proven he was truly the sovereign Lord and could humble the greatest king on earth. God observed Nebuchadnezzar’s simple gesture of humility and repentance and graciously restored his “sanity” (“knowledge, power of knowing”). Then the king “praised” God as sovereign (“the Most High”) and “honored” and “glorified” him as the eternal One (“him who lives forever”)” (Miller, 1994-08-31, p. 143).
Dan 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
He recognizes in these statements the very thing he needed to which according to verse 32 was that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
God is God and we are not. We owe him our lives on that basis alone. Just as Job learned, God can do what He pleases and we should trust Him. We can rest knowing that this God with total control is a good God. Jesus tells us to look to Him and His personality for the character of God (John 14: 7-11).
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.
This is really the last we hear of Nebuchadnezzar except for Daniel’s recap and validation of the events of this chapter.
This is when he is brought before Belshazzar during this drunken party to explain the writing on the wall to them. He says:
O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses. “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. - Dan 5:18-23
So I think we can take Daniel’s word for it here that Nebuchadnezzar didn’t end up all that bad; in fact, he might even have been saved. I think in a way this section of scripture details the evangelism of Nebuchadnezzar from the first moment that Daniel and his friends impressed him with their knowledge, to the dream interpretation, to the fiery furnace, and finally to this humbling of Nebuchadnezzar. It shows us that we ought not to give up on the people we are praying for, especially those in power.
It shows us that we all need to repent and realize God’s kingship of our lives and submit to him. And know that he will bring things in your life to get you to do that because he loves you and doesn’t desire anyone to perish.