Daniel, Chapter 4
4:1-2 Nebuchadnezzar reigned for 43 years (605-562 B.C.). It appears that this event takes place later in his reign, after he has completed a number of building projects (4:30). Many Biblical critics deny the historicity of this chapter claiming that there is no record of this event among heathen writers of antiquity. Actually a couple of ancient writers confirm the events of this chapter. Berosus and priest in the temple of Belus during the days of Alexander the Great noted that Nebuchadnezzar, after he had built various projects, fell sick. Abydenus (268 B.C.), a pupil of Berosus, notes that after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests that he ascended his palace and was seized by some god (See Bible Study Textbook, Butler pp. 142-143). Chapter 4 is a proclamation that was sent throughout the Babylonian Empire by Nebuchadnezzar that praises the true God. Daniel was led by the Holy Spirit to include this official proclamation. Be impressed that everyone in the Babylonian Empire during the days of Daniel learned about the true God! “The king of all the peoples”: The Assyrian and Babylonian kings regarded themselves as kings of all the earth, and in their inscriptions were accustomed thus to speak of themselves. “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom”: Whereas earlier Nebuchadnezzar believed it was his own power and wisdom that had consolidated the kingdom under his authority, he learned that it is God who rules according to His will and uses those He chooses as His instruments. “One thing the king had to admit, no human king thus far was so mighty that he could prolong his own reign if Daniel’s God will it otherwise” (Butler p. 145). One should not be confused that Nebuchadnezzar is speaking so Biblically, for he had clearly interacted with God and Daniel. We need to be impressed that Nebuchadnezzar was a pagan and worldly dictator, and yet he wants to declare to the world what was a very humbling experience for him, when he says “It has seemed good to me” (4:2). The best stories that need telling are those that exalt God and humble ourselves.
4:4 The king was at rest, feeling secure and completely free from apprehension. His wars were over; his kingdom firmly established and prosperous beyond his fondest dreams. “He had built a magnificent city, gathered about him the wealth and luxuries of the world, and now he was preparing to while away the remainder of his life enjoying it all” (Butler p. 145).
4:5 The term “fearful” means petrified with fear. “How easily is the mightiest of mortals made afraid. For all his mighty armies, he could not keep dreams from successfully invading his bedroom” (McGuiggan p. 73).
4:6-7 Here is the repeat of the debacle recorded in chapter 2, and once again all the “experts” in Babylon fail. The king had not learned his lesson, and he had retained and continued to rely upon counselors who could not profit him.
4:8 “Finally Daniel came in before me”: Why did Daniel not come in at first? It could be that Daniel had been out of town or occupied with other matters. “According to the name of my god”: That is, the name “Belteshazzar” included the name of the Babylonian god, “Bel”. “In whom is a spirit of the holy gods”: This narration is just as we would expect, it is a combination of Hebrew terminology and pagan nonsense. This is the way that someone who is gradually learning the truth often talks. Note that the king does not say the same thing concerning his wise men, for there is no spirit of the holy gods in them. The king is attempting to say that Daniel is an inspired man (2 Peter 1:20-21).
4:9 The king is finally relieved that Daniel arrives, for he knows that Daniel can interpret the dream. By this time Daniel has been elevated to the position of authority over all the wise men in Babylon.
4:10-17 This is the dream.
4:18-19 “Then Daniel…was appalled for a while”: Daniel and the king must have gotten along well and Daniel appears to care about what happens to the king for he is reluctant to relay the bad news in this dream. “Do not let the dream or its interpretation alarm you”: Daniel has bad news for the king, but the king makes it easy for him to speak. “There are times when what we have to say is unpleasant (compare Samuel’s word of Eli), but if it is God’s message it must be told” (McGuiggan p. 74).
4:20-26 Here is the interpretation. The tree in the dream represents Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom. He had become great and proud and God would cut him down to size. The king is to learn the lesson that God rules in the kingdoms of men and God can even keep Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom in tact when the king is not even ruling and without his personal supervision. It is a very important part of the vision or the lesson that the kingdom will be kept in tact during the king’s madness. If the kingdom had been lost to Nebuchadnezzar while he was humiliated it would have seemed to prove his point that his personal genius was necessary to the success of the reign. Yet God is going to keep the kingdom together while the king is eating grass like an ox, which demonstrates the powerful lesson that God really does not need a brilliant leader to hold a kingdom together. “Let his mind be changed from that of a man, and let a beast’s mind be given to him” (4:16): The king would be stripped of his mental ability and would have no more mental ability than an animal. “And let seven periods of time pass over him” (4:16): Were probably seven years because seven days or seven months would have been inadequate for his hair to have grown to the length of feathers (4:33). The Jehovah Witnesses here argue that the seven years stands for 2,520 years, and the kingdom that was banded with iron is the Lord’s kingdom that was finally established in 1914 A.D. (Babylon the Great has Fallen, pp. 177-180). Yet the kingdom under consideration is clearly Babylon, “your kingdom” (4:26).
4:27 Daniel’s urgent advice to the king is to repent. Notice that God holds all rulers, pagan and godly, responsible for violating His moral standards. This also reveals that the king of was guilty of injustice, cruelty, oppression and sin.
4:28-30 After a year the king had forgotten but God had not forgotten. “Time destroys memory and the feeling of urgency! Time strips away the veneer and reveals the character” (McGuiggan p. 76). The twelve months may be a period of grace where God endured the pride of the king and waited for him to repent. The king continues in his pride and egotism, for He considered the city of Babylon as his personal possession and as a reflection of his power and glory. Nebuchadnezzar built more than twenty temples and directed construction work on the docks and defenses of the city. Most of the bricks taken out of Babylon in the archaeological excavations bear the name and inscription of Nebuchadnezzar.
4:31-33 “He gave no attention to his bodily appearance. Perhaps, because of his royal position, Nebuchadnezzar was hidden in a secluded park so his true condition could be hidden from the populace. Also in the king’s absence Daniel may have played a major role in preserving the kingdom and possibly in preventing anyone from killing the king” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 1343). “It’s almost humorous to think of a foreign ambassador seeking an audience with the king who’s having his lunch on the lawn!”(McGuiggan p. 77). His hair was left to grow naturally, untrimmed, and is aptly described as growing long like eagles’ feathers. His fingernails and toenails, uncared for, would also grow to great lengths.
4:34 “But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me”: The raising of the eyes toward heaven indicates a return to human consciousness. It appears that one moment the king had been walking and boasting and the next moment some seven years later he lifted up his eyes as he had been eating in the field. The text seems to tell us a little about what it is like to be an animal, that is, animals simply live to eat and sleep. Animals do not think about higher things, such as God, heaven, accomplishments, and so on.
4:34 “And I blessed the Most High and praised the honored Him who lives forever”: Notice that the king is not angry with God for punishing and humiliating him, rather he has learned the lesson. The king is convinced that Daniel’s God is all-powerful and the true ruler of the kingdoms of the earth. Compared to the advantages Pharaoh enjoyed and the utter rejection he made of God’s will, Nebuchadnezzar appears to embrace God as much as he can. His appreciation is similar to the king of Nineveh in the book of Jonah, who repented at the preaching of Jonah. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion”: Earthly kings and empires come and go, but God is always in charge. The king has been removed from the national stage for seven years and God had continued to rule without him!
4:35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing…and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’”: The point being made is that God is not answerable to any man, rather, man is answerable to God. No man has a right to question God, that is a needed lesson for today’s culture. “No one can ward off His hand”: Literally, to smite his hand, which is derived from the practice of striking children on the hand in chastisement. The expression came to mean, “to reprove” or to “interfere with”. Here is means that no one can stop God from acting and carrying out His purposes.
4:36 “And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom…so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me”: It appears that after his humbling, the king arose to even greater heights of glory and power than he had known when he walked in pride. Compare this with Job, where the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning (Job 42:12). Once again be impressed with God’s power. That God could have smitten the king dead is one thing, but that God could so humiliate him and yet keep the kingdom for him, was quite another. McGuiggan reminds us that God could raise up over America an imbecile and keep him in the office of president. Do not say there must be brilliance at the head of the nation. That is exactly what the Babylonian said, and look what happened! (p. 78).
4:37 “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride”: These verbs “praise, exalt, and honor” indicate continued action suggesting that the king did these things habitually. These verbs embody the ideas of reverence, respect, honor, admiration, worship, and faith. The king now seems to acknowledge that God is the true God, the “king” of heaven. All of God’s ways are “just”, including the punishment that had come upon this king. Nebuchadnezzar declares that his punishment was fair and that God did have the right to chastise him. He also admits that God is able to humble those who walk in pride and to me this infers that Nebuchadnezzar repented of his arrogance, for in the context he was the man who had been walking in pride. This same truth is emphasized in the New Testament (James 4:6; Luke 18:14).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017