DANIEL CHAPTER 4.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream and Its Appalling Consequences.
THE KING TELLS DANIEL HIS DREAM. — V. 1. Nebuchadnezzar, the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, this term, in a public proclamation or royal edict, including all the subjects of the empire, that dwell in all the earth, for the Babylonian Empire embraced practically the entire world then explored: Peace be multiplied unto you, literally, “Peace be imparted to you in rich measure,” a greeting which was in use in the Orient for many centuries and was later taken over by the Christians. Cp. 1 Pet. 1, 2; 2 Pet. 1, 2. V. 2. I thought it good, it pleased the king, he regarded it as the right and seemly thing, to show the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me, the reference here being to the true God, of whose omnipotent power Nebuchadnezzar had received further unmistakable evidence, as he relates in this edict. V. 3. How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! exceeding those of any so-called gods of the heathen. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation. It is a doxology which gives due honor to the true God, even though it does not confess faith in Jehovah. Now follows the account of the happenings which caused this outburst of praise. V. 4. I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at rest in mine house, his wars victoriously concluded, his kingdom at peace, and flourishing in my palace, enjoying wonderful prosperity. V. 5. I saw a dream which made me afraid, the suddenness of whose coming filled him with alarm, and the thoughts upon my bed, which exercised him in connection with his dream, and the visions of my head, those which were presented to the eyes of his mind, troubled me, their fancies and images filling him with apprehension of approaching evil. V. 6. Therefore made I a decree, he issued the command, to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me that they might make known unto me the interpretation of the dream, the dream itself with all its details, in this instance, being very clear in the recollection of the king, so that he desired an explanation only. V. 7. Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers, cp. chap. 2, 2, and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof, their merely human wisdom was unable to penetrate into the depths of the mysteries which God wanted to make known in this instance. V. 8. But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name, given him when he entered the king’s service, was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, “the foremost of Bel,” the chief god of Babylon, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods, of whose eminent prophetic gifts the king had been given evidence on previous occasions, although he was in this case, for some unexplained reason, reserved to the last; and before him I told the dream, saying, v. 9. O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, whose comparatively independent position as the chief of all the wise men at Babylon made it possible for him to be absent from a large assembly of the officials of the royal court on this occasion, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, no secret being too difficult for him to explain, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen and the interpretation thereof. V. 10. Thus were the visions of mine head in my bed, literally, “And regarding the visions of my head upon my bed,” I saw, and behold a tree in the midst of the earth, therefore evidently possessing great importance for the whole earth, and the height thereof was great, it was of conspicuous size to begin with. V. 11. The tree grew and was strong, became great and mighty, and the height thereof reached unto heaven and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth, so that it extended far enough to be seen from the very ends of the world; v. 12. the leaves thereof were fair, its branching, forming the crown, was very beautiful, and the fruit thereof much, growing in large quantities, and in it was meat for all, food for all who lived under its shelter being found on it; 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, the image being that of the entire human race united under the scepter of Nebuchadnezzar and enjoying prosperity under his beneficent government. V. 13. I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one, that is, a holy watchman, an angel delegated by God to watch over the affairs of men, came down from heaven; v. 14. he cried aloud and said thus, making announcement with a mighty voice, as the herald of almighty God, Hew down the tree and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, causing them to fall quickly, and scatter his fruit, in a contemptuous manner, as though possessing no value; let the beasts get away from under it, as no longer safe within his shelter, and the fowls from his branches, which no longer offered them a safe retreat; v. 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, this description already indicating that the application must be made to an animate being, whose fetters were those of the mental and spiritual darkness brought on as the result of the loss of reason; and let it be wet with the dew of heaven, there being no shelter to keep the weather away from him, and let his portion be with the beasts in the grass of the earth, so that he would partake of their food; v. 16. let his heart be changed from man’s, so that this center of intellectual life would lose its human aspect, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him, so that he would fully descend to the level of a brute; and let seven times pass over him, the exact length of these periods not being given. V. 17. This matter is by the decree of the watchers, according to their uniform judgment, and the demand by the word of the holy ones, the angels of God having reminded Him, as it were, of the requirements of His holiness and justice upon so flagrant a transgressor, to the intent that the living, all human beings on earth, may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, dispensing authority and power according to His will, and giveth it to whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the basest of men, a man from the humblest rank of life, if God so chose, assuming the reins of government according to His disposition. V. 18. This dream I, King Nebuchadnezzar, have seen, all its details being clear before his eyes and set forth in the same manner. Now, thou, O Belteshazzar, declare the interpretation thereof, setting forth its meaning, forasmuch as all the wise men of my kingdom are not able to make known unto me the interpretation; v. 7. but thou art able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in thee. The affairs of the whole world and of every nation on earth are in the hands of God, who directs them according to His good pleasure, in the interest of His Church.
THE INTERPRETATION AND THE FULFILLMENT OF THE DREAM. — V. 19. Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonied, he stood aghast at the dream and its meaning, for one hour, for a long period of time, and his thoughts troubled him, for he was overwhelmed with awe. The king, concluding from the appearance of his face that he had found the interpretation, spake and said, Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation thereof trouble thee, fill him with apprehension for his safety if he revealed its meaning. Belteshazzar answered and said, speaking as a loyal subject of the king in whose empire he now lived, My lord, the dream be to them that hate thee and the interpretation thereof to thine enemies! that is, Would that the dream concerned the enemies of the king, and that its meaning related to his foes rather than to him! After this introductory remark Daniel immediately plunged into his explanation. V. 20. The tree that thou sawest, rather, “of which thou sawest,” which grew and was strong, or, “that it was great and strong,” whose height reached unto the heaven and the sight thereof to all the earth, the power of the empire reaching to the uttermost boundaries of the known world, v. 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, just as the king had described it in his account of his dream: v. 22. it is thou, O king, that art grown and become strong; for thy greatness is grown and reacheth unto heaven, since his power exceeded that of any living monarch, and thy dominion to the end of the earth, a real world-power. Note that Daniel, while filled with pity for the king, yet speaks with uncompromising straightforwardness. The same calm and dispassionate condemnation of sin should be found in pastors of today. V. 23. And whereas the king saw a watcher and an holy one coming down from heaven, one of God’s holy angels delegated for this purpose, and saying, Hew the tree down and destroy it, yet leave the stump of the roots thereof, the root-stock, 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, cp. vv. 15. 16: v. 24. this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High which is come upon my lord, the king, being fully decided in God’s counsel, v. 25. that they, the subject being purposely indefinite, shall drive thee from men, casting him out from the society of human beings, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, entirely on a level with unreasonable brutes, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven; and seven times, definite periods of time, shall pass over thee, till thou know, recognizing and acknowledging openly and freely, that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, as the real Sovereign of the several nations of the earth, and giveth it to whomsoever He will. Nebuchadnezzar would, in other words, be seized with madness, which would exclude him from human society for some time, the purpose of the Lord in thus punishing him being to bring him to a realization of his utter helplessness before the true Ruler of the universe. V. 26. And whereas they commanded, namely, the council of watchers speaking in the name of God, to leave the stump of the tree-roots: thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, it would be preserved for him, so that he could reassume his rule after the interval, after that thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule, after he would gladly make this confession, thereby yielding all honor and glory to God alone. V. 27. Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, for Daniel honestly had the welfare of his sovereign in mind, and break off thy sins by righteousness, repudiating all the transgressions for which Oriental monarchs were noted in favor of the exercise of true righteousness and justice, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, to those in any kind of tribulation, if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity, or, “if thy present good fortune is to endure.” A complete change of heart was necessary on the part of the king, together with a consistent practice of the highest virtues as a proof of his regeneration, in order to avert the threatened punishment on the part of the Lord. V. 28. All this, exactly as it had been foretold by the prophet, came upon the King Nebuchadnezzar. V. 29. At the end of twelve months, so soon after he had received his warning, he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon, upon its flat roof, from which he could look over the entire city and get a fitting impression of its splendor. V. 30. The king spake and said, Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom, to be the seat or capital of his entire empire, by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty? It was a statement of inordinate pride, by which Nebuchadnezzar made himself the creator of the size and glory of his kingdom, thereby robbing God of the honor which fitly should be given to Him alone. V. 31. While the word was in the king’s mouth, before he had finished his blasphemous utterance, there fell a voice from heaven, with great suddenness, which made the consequences stand out all the more by way of contrast, saying, O King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken, the emphasis being upon the pronoun: Thy kingdom is departed from thee, that is, he was to be deprived of his position and office as ruler. V. 32. And they shall drive thee from man, away from the society of human beings, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, with the irrational brutes; they, the subject again impersonal, shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know, being fully aware of, and accepting, the fact, that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever He will. V. 33. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar, so that there could be no doubt as to cause and effect; 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. This form of insanity is well known to medical science, a few cases having been found from time to time which exactly agree with the description of the symptoms here given, even to the eating of grass and the living outdoors without clothing; since people in this condition often believe themselves to be wolves, it is known as lycanthropy. V. 34. And at the end of the days, the time appointed for this punishment, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, in the gesture of one seeking help from there alone, and mine understanding returned unto me, so that he once more had the full use of his reason, and I blessed the Most High, thereby acknowledging Him as the one true God, and I praised and honored Him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation, as the king had said in the introduction of this edict, v. 3; v. 35. and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing, they are helpless in comparison with His almighty majesty, and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, so that the companies of even the highest angels bow to His will, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say unto Him, What doest Thou? God is the supreme, the absolute Sovereign of all created things. V. 36. At the same time, namely, when Nebuchadnezzar thus gave all honor and glory to God alone, my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me, so that his former dignity and power were restored to him; and my counselors and my lords, who had repudiated and deserted him when madness seized upon him, sought unto me, so that he was officially requested to resume his position at the head of the nation; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me, so that the authority of his position was even greater than before the strange madness seized upon him. V. 37. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, in issuing this decree with its frank confession, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, the heaping of synonyms showing the intensity of the king’s convictions, all whose works are truth, and His ways judgment, so that Nebuchadnezzar freely acknowledged his punishment to have been well deserved; and those that walk in pride, exalting themselves at the expense of God’s honor, He is able to abase. While Nebuchadnezzar recognized the humiliation which he had suffered as a just punishment of his pride, yet he did not realize the greatness of God’s grace and mercy which was striving to gain him for true repentance. It is safe to assume, however, that this experience was a step in the right direction, and that this great heathen king finally died in the true faith.