Daniel chapter four provides us with a most remarkable event in the life and experience of the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. It shows how God works in the life of humans to bring them to an acknowledgment of recognising the God of heaven the Creator Who is above all and all that exists. It also shows that God has an interest in rulers, kings and those in government. Not all is revealed to us how God works, but we can be sure that He works and Daniel chapter four gives us a glimpse of His workings with people especially those in higher office.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:1 “For there is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God”. Paul wrote this while living under rulership of Nero and he was not a God fearing ruler, but the opposite. Two things we have to keep in mind. First, not all in government do recognise that they are in government ordained by God. Second, we do not know in what manner God works in the life of those who are in government.
Daniel 4 gives us a sample of the way how God is working in the life of those who are in higher office. In the OT we find prophets who were sent by God with messages from God for people serving in government. John the Baptist was not afraid to speak to Herod about his sins and paid for it with his life. So we can be sure that in modern times God is not any different but deals with those in government in His own way and not everything is ending as here in Daniel chapter four. Pharaoh was approached by Moses with a message from God and he refused to listen. His army perished in the red sea. Others who refused to accept God’s message have met with a similar fate.
David’s case was different. He was not less a sinner than King Saul was, but David was called a man after God’s heart (1Sam.13:14), because he sincerely repented.Ps.51. Saul was rejected and lost the kingdom, 1Sam.15:26 Samuel said to Saul “Thou hast rejected the Word of the Lord.”
Regarding David being a man after God’s heart, read Psalm 35 and 51 and it is clear why David in spite of his sins he was still the man after God’s heart. All of us have sinned, Rom.3:23 but the difference is do we accept or reject God’s offer of grace and forgiveness, John 3:16; 2Cor.5:19-21; 1John 1:9.
Some have given Daniel chapter four the title PRIDE BEFORE THE FALL. Scripture has much to say about pride and its result: Prov.16:18; 20:23; Eze.16:49.The war in heaven which started all the trouble and misery here on planet earth was caused by pride and an extreme attitude of self esteem. In Rom.12:3 we read that the apostle Paul warns against that kind of attitude. Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28: 12-19 reveal to us the reason for the starting of the war in heaven. In these scripture passages in Hebrew poetic language the fall of Lucifer from heaven is described how and why he became Satan.
We have in Daniel chapter four clear reason why Nebuchadnezzar fel from his kingdom and was brought low.
Different commentators give different dates for the period in Nebuchadnezzar’s life when this took place. It’s obvious that it must have taken place somewhere in the latter part of his life when to a large extent he had completed building his empire. George McCready Price in his introduction of this chapter writes as follows: “Of all the ancient forms in which the book of Daniel appears, the Septuagint alone gives us a date for this incident – the eighteenth year of the king’s reign, which would be 587BC” (Price p.99)
Dr.Bill Shea writes as follows and which comes close to what Price informs us from the Septuagint “Nebuchadnezzar did not date this account of God’s dealings with him, but we have some indication of the time frame in which these events occurred. The king reports that he was in his palace contended and prosperous. Such a description would apply most naturally to a period some time during the middle of his forty-three year reign. During the first third of his reign Nebuchadnezzar took the army out in almost constant campaigns. During the last third, he went back on the road with the army again. Thus it was especially during the middle third of his long reign that he was at peace and prosperous because his major military conquest had been accomplished by that time”. (Shea page 47)
Daniel whom we recognise as the author of the book by his name writes this chapter in terms of a report given by Nebuchadnezzar himself. Daniel 4:2 reads as Nebuchadnezzar speaking “I thought it good……” Right through the whole chapter we find Nebuchadnezzar talking about himself.
It starts in terms that the king is addressing himself to all the people of his empire. Something has happened in his life which they ought to know and he wishes them “Peace be multiplied to you” This is even today a common practice in the Middle East. Shalom in Hebrew and Salaam in Arabic.
In Daniel 4:2 he adds then also the reason “to shew the signs and wonders that the high God has wrought toward me” In Christian terms of today he gives his conversion testimony. We, living in the 21st century should take this as addressed to us as well. In Daniel 4:3 Nebuchadnezzar shows now clearly from personal experience what Daniel had told him in Daniel 2:44, proclaiming it now himself that God’s Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom and His dominion is from generation to generation.” Quite a statement from a monarch as Nebuchadnezzar was, and as he is known in history.
Like in Daniel 2:29 this dream also came to the king when he was at rest in his house. The dream again impressed him deeply even made him afraid and troubled him, Dan.4:5
Did he have an inkling of thought that it contained a view of what would happen to him?
Again he orders his wise men to appear before him, 4:6 and 7 and this time he is able to relate the dream and demands from his wise men to give him the meaning of it. But again his wise men fail to give the king what he demands, a proper interpretation. They have no clue whatsoever what this all could mean
It shows clearly that the wise men of this world, not being in tune with the Creator God of Heaven are not able to interpret matters which are from heaven. They are in darkness and not in the light. Pharaoh in the days of Joseph had a similar experience with his dream (Gen.41:8) His wise men could not explain his dream, because it was a dream from God. Joseph who was a true worshipper of the true God in heaven was called to explain the dream Divine things can only be understood by people who are in touch with the divine.
Daniel 4:8, 9 Again Daniel comes to the rescue. Nebuchadnezzar recognises that Daniel is different than his wise men. The spirit of the holy Gods is in him and that he is not baffled with any mystery. He speaks about God in the plural because that is still his belief but will change in due course.
Nebuchadnezzar tells Daniel what he saw in his dream. He gives a very clear description and needs no comment. He sees a tree growing into the heavens and in all the earth with much foliage and abundance of fruit. Beasts and fowls find shelter in and under the tree.
Then an angelic figure comes down from heaven with a loud message to cut the tree down to the ground, but leave its trunk or stump and roots. The king remembers very well what the heavenly figure said What’s left over of the tree becomes part of the grass and with the beasts in the grass and man’s heart be changed into a beast’s heart. The period that this would last is set at seven times. The angelic figure adds that this ordeal is decreed by the Most High who rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to the one He wants to, even the lowliest of men, 4:17 The NASB translation reads” This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers. And the decision is a command of the holy ones in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realms of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men.”
No wonder the king was deeply impressed and very anxiously wanted to know what this all meant. He challenges Daniel to give him the interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar confesses that his wise men are unable but Daniel is able because the spirit of the holy gods is in him. For the second time he makes such a strong confession regarding Daniel. (4:18; 4:8, 9 and 2:47)
Daniel enlightened by the Spirit of God immediately becomes aware of the fact that an enormous and awful task has been put on his shoulders and mind. He has to tell king
Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler of that mighty empire Babylon a heavenly judgment is ahead of him unless he repents. In the culture of that time it could cost Daniel’s life.
Jeremiah, God’s prophet to God’s people suffered imprisoned and almost lost his life, for telling the truth. Jer.20:1-8; 37:11-21; 38:1-13. If this happened to a prophet of God by the king of God’s people what can be expected from a heathen king who is told unpleasant truth by a Hebrew captive and prisoner of war, as Daniel in reality was? We can well imagine that Daniel was quiet and could not speak for a full hour. He was overwhelmed by the task before him. His mind troubled him. Dan.4:19 How to reveal such an ordeal to such a mighty king as Nebuchadnezzar. But the king seeing the troubled face of Daniel does encourage him to go ahead and not be troubled over it. 4:19
Daniel takes his courage and we can be sure by prayer starts to reveal to the king what the dream is all about. Even while the text does not say that Daniel prayed we can be sure he did, most likely during that one hour of silence. Nehemiah stood before his king and ruler Arthaxerxes who asked him why his face looked so sad. We know that before he told the king the truth and what was on his mind, he prayed to the God in heaven. Neh.2:1-4
We expect that Daniel did the same in his circumstances.
As a wise and careful communicator as Daniel is he introduces the interpretation by saying “My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee, and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies” Dan.4:19b. That would soften the blow in Nebuchadnezzar’s mind.
Then in one sweep of a speech Daniel explains the dream and what the tree was all about and that this all applies to the king who has grown in greatness and stature and whose empire has covered the earth. 4:22. As his empire was illustrate by the head of gold in the image dream of Daniel 2:36-38 here it is illustrate by a huge tree. This is not the first time a tree is used for illustration of an empire and people. Read Eze.31:1-6
In Psalm 1 the righteous is illustrated by a tree planted by the river of life. We find trees in the Garden of Eden for testing faithfulness, Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:22 In Revelation 22:2 we find the tree of life. Good trees in Psalm 104:10;Eze.19:10 and wicked trees in Psalm 37:35. Thus we may assume that Daniel had knowledge of God’s use of trees to illustrate matters of spiritual importance.
But then follows in 4:23 and beyond, the ordeal. The king would be cut down and find his way in the grass with the beasts. The tree is not lasting in its beauty for ever. The angelic being is called a watcher. We are being watched, all of us. In 1Cor.4:9 we read that we are a spectacle, an event to be watched, by angels and by men. Nebuchadnezzar also had been watched by the powers of Heaven. The tree would be cut down but not to the point of total destruction. The stump would be left and protected by a band of iron and brass around it In the cutting down of the tree a sufficient part had to be left above ground in order to put a band around it for protection against total disintegration.
The kingdom would not be taken away completely from Nebuchadnezzar only for a certain length of time, seven times or years, and then when he would acknowledge the God of heaven he would be restored to the kingdom. 4:25, 26. This is illustrated by the protective band around the stump, left over of the tree, a band of iron and brass. Some think it means the empires to follow the empire of Babylon, but that is not true. According to Daniel 2, the metallic image, iron was the Roman Empire and brass the Grecian, but Greece came before Rome. Here in the dream of the tree, iron (Rome) is mentioned first before brass (Greece) so we can safely disregard that kind of interpretation. The band is a protection that the tree would not disintegrate altogether meaning the empire would not fall apart during the absence of Nebuchadnezzar. It would have been very human that in the absence of Nebuchadnezzar a palace war or civil war or a revolt against Babylon in the occupied nations would take place. But nothing of that nature happened during the seven years of Nebuchadnezzar’s mental illness.
In 4:24 Daniel assures the king of its interpretation and this is the decree of the Most High which is come upon my lord the King.” After that follows the most difficult part of what Daniel has to say in 4:25. He tells Nebuchadnezzar in terms not to be misunderstood what will happen to him. He will be driven from men and will find his lot with the animals and eat grass as oxen. This would last for seven times or seven years till he would give honour to the Most High that rules the kingdom of men. In Jewish literature times is often used to indicate years. Three times it is mentioned here in Daniel 4: 16, 23, 25 and an extra fourth time when the ordeal becomes fact in 4:32. This gives assurance that this cannot be misunderstood. In an other chapter of Daniel we have the same expression times to indicate years.
In 4:26 Daniel assures Nebuchadnezzar that the kingdom will not be taken away from him altogether, but shall be sure unto thee on condition that he will acknowledge the rulership of the heavens. Daniel could not have made it clearer than he has done. Each time Daniel makes it clear that Nebuchadnezzar has to humble himself under the divine rulership of the Most High of heaven, which is the God worshipped by Daniel, Yahweh.
In 4:27 Daniel changes from a prophet interpreting dreams and visions to an evangelist calling people to repent and turn away from their sins and worship the Creator God. If the king would accept that challenge there may be a lengthening of his tranquillity or according to the reading of the NASB a prolonging of your prosperity.
Prophets often acted as prophet and evangelist at the same time. Jonah told the people of Nineveh what was going to take place Jonah 3:4 His message had a repenting influence upon king and people. John the Baptist preached a repenting message as a prophet. He told who was coming and what needed to be done, Mark 1:3-5; Luke 3:1-18. Jesus as the greatest prophet of all started His mission with a message to repent, Mark 1:14, 15 but at the end of His mission He found out it had been to no avail and He gave his final message over Jerusalem, a message of doom, Matthew 23: 37, 38. However after His resurrection when Peter as a prophet and evangelist preached his message of repentance it had great result. The people asked What shall we do? Acts 2:37 Peter answered Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, Acts 2:38. The result was that the same day 3000 were baptised. We challenge you that when the message of repentance comes to you to accept and not to reject the Word of God. However in Nebuchadnezzar’s case he did not repent and in the following section we learn what took place.
Daniel 4: 28-36
After 12 months, that is ordinary calendar months or one year, Nebuchadnezzar walked in his palace most likely at ease and happy over what he saw around him, and he started to boast over his achievements and accomplishments, 4:30. But while the words were still in his mouth a voice came from heaven that the kingdom had departed from him, 4:31.
It could not have come any quicker and with greater speed. The watchers had been watching him and acting without any delay. The watchers from heaven can act very quickly. When Daniel was still praying an angel from heaven came with the answer,
Dan. 9:20, 21.
The message of the watcher from heaven was as Daniel had predicted the same as in the interpretation of the tree dream. We read in Dan.4:33 that the same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar and he was driven from men to be with animals (in the grass) and did eat grass as oxen.
When Israel came out of Egypt through the exodus they were warned not to boast on their accomplishments but to give honour to God. Deut.6:10-15; 8:10-17. Jeremiah in his prophetic message gave a similar warning, Jer.9:23, 24. Jesus did the same in Luke 12:19, 20 and John in his Revelation of Jesus Christ writes in Rev.3:17 about the last church and its boasting and failing to see their real condition.
We are easily trapped by sin when we are at ease and not on guard. Think about David in 2 Sam 11:2 and the awful sin he committed. The following scripture passages do warn against pride and its result, Prov.14:3; 16:18; 29:23, and in the NT in Luke 1:51 and 1Tim.6:17.We should be humble about our achievements and in everything give honour and glory to God. Jesus teaches us that after we have done all things we should look upon ourselves as unprofitable servants, Luke 17:10. Isaiah tells us that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, 64:6
But let’s go back to Nebuchadnezzar and find what happened to him. The king would be in this situation until he would acknowledge that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whosoever he will, Dan.4:32. This happened at the end of the days, the seven years, when he gave honour and glory to God, 4:34.
The king was already alerted to the God of Heaven before in Daniel 2 when the forgotten dream was revealed to him and in Daniel 3 with the experience of the three Jewish captives who remained alive in the king’s fiery furnace. But it had not yet made upon the king the desired lasting impression, he needed something more what would touch his personal life and being. He needed a complete born again experience as was later taught by Jesus in John 3:1-7.
What kind of mental disease was afflicted upon Nebuchadnezzar? Various commentators have answered that question in the same manner. Nebuchadnezzar may have had the kind of mental disease called boanthrophy. During the time of that affliction he was not cared for in an institution so his appearance grew wild (Ev.Co.p.595)
Dr.Pfandl in his book on Daniel states:” The sickness of Nebuchadnezzar has been subject of considerable debate. He suffered from a form of insanity in which human beings think that they are animals. It could have been lycanthropy, the wolf man syndrome, or boanthrophy in which a person thinks he or she is an ox. A Babylonian cuneiform text published in 1975 may refer to Nebuchadnezzar’s madness. The text states,’ The king gave contradictory orders, refused to accept the counsel of his courtiers, neglected his family and no longer performed his duties as head of state’” (Pfandl p.43/4)
In those days there were no mental sickness institutions to care for people and as a result Nebuchadnezzar had to fan for himself out in the field of grass among the animals. The kingdom had departed from him, 4:32 and the king from his kingdom. All took place as Daniel had made clear in his interpretation of the dream. It also lasted seven years as was stated before several times in 4:16; 23; 25.
Then we read in 4:34 that his understanding returned to him and he gave honour and glory to the most High. Who lives for ever and whose kingdom is from generation to generation. Now he realises that the earthly is nothing and the heavenly is everything.
As a result he is restored to his former position as king and his counsellors and lords seek him again. 4:36.
Here we have the culmination of his conversion and testimony, the extolling of and giving glory to the King of Heaven and recognition by experience that this King is able to abase those who walk in pride.
We will close with the word of Ellen G.White in Prophets and Kings page 521 “The once proud monarch had become a humble child of God; the tyrannical, overbearing ruler, a wise and compassionate king. He, who had defied and blasphemed the God of Heaven, now acknowledged the power of the Most High and earnestly sought to promote the fear of Jehovah and the happiness of his subjects. Under the rebuke of Him who is King of kings and Lord of lords, Nebuchadnezzar had learned at last the lesson which all rulers need to learn, – that true greatness consists of true goodness.”
May we all learn that lesson in time before it is for ever too late. Let all of us be truly humble and meek in God’s eye. Psalm 37:11 assures us that the meek shall inherit the earth which was later in Matthew 5:5 confirmed by Jesus Himself. The wicked and pride will suffer eternal loss, Ps.37:14, 15, and 20. All must decide now and choose life or death.
Pastor Jan T.Knopper
Edited October 2010
Revisited August 2013