DANIEL - CHAPTER 4
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
4:1. “Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you.”
This chapter records God’s dealings with the king over a period of seven years, which resulted in what many students of Scripture consider to be his conversion, so clearly what is recorded here is what Nebuchadnezzar said at the end of those seven years when his sanity had been restored.
Before beginning our verse-by-verse study of this chapter, we must take a moment to note that Nebuchadnezzar is a double type: (1) he represents the final beast emperor of the Tribulation era, and (2) from the time of his changed attitude which some equate with conversion, he seems to represent the Gentile nations which will emerge from the Tribulation to enjoy millennial blessings, his alleged conversion, following the seven years under Divine chastisement, being a picture of the conversion of the remnant of the nations during the seven years of the Tribulation judgments. His seven years of insanity are a fitting symbol of the madness that will characterize the nations during the seven years of the Tribulation.
The peace bequeathed by the king to all “that dwell in all the earth” points clearly to the peace that will cover the earth in the Millennium under the dominion of the Prince of peace. (The world-wide dominion of Nebuchadnezzar, incidentally, was potential, not literal).
4:2. “I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me.”
So will the nations emerging from the Tribulation into the Millennium proclaim the praises of God, the contrast between the misery of the former Tribulation era, and the blessedness of the latter, lending strong impetus to their worship.
Contemplation of the contrast between our present state as believers, and our former as unbelievers, ought also to impel our worship, and a similar testimony to the world.
4:3. “How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”
Any doubt that this is a foreshadowing of the worship of the millennial nations is surely removed by the words “his dominion is from generation to generation,” see, for example, Ps 145:13 “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.” As for His signs and wonders, surpassing all others are those displayed at Calvary, when the Creator died for His creature’s sin!
4:4. “I Nebuchadnezzar was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace:”
4:5. “I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.”
The disturbing dream revealed the coming of the seven years of insanity that were to follow, and which would culminate, not only in the restoration of his sanity, but perhaps, as some believe, also in his conversion. His being at rest, and flourishing in his palace, portrays the attitude of today’s world relative to the coming seven-year Tribulation era. As Nebuchadnezzar had ignored the testimony of Daniel and his three friends, as well as the signs and wonders of God displayed in His revealing to Daniel both the content and the meaning of the first dream, and in His having delivered Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah out of the fiery furnace, so has the world for the most part ignored the testimony of believers, and the miracle of fulfilled prophecy, to say nothing of the miracle of Calvary. As there were to be for the Babylonian king seven years of insanity during which he would live like a beast before being restored and perhaps converted, so are there coming for the world the seven years of the Tribulation, during which men in their madness will defy God, and live like beasts, before that period culminates in the conversion of a believing remnant out of Israel and the nations.
4:6. “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.”
4:7. “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.”
That dream, as baffling to his wise men, as to the king himself, is a figure of the Scriptures. They too, are incomprehensible to the natural man, as it is written, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Co 2:14). As God, in the dream, had revealed the future of Nebuchadnezzar, so has He in Scripture, revealed the future of the human race, but that revelation is as enigmatic to the men of today’s world as was the dream to the Babylonian king and his counsellors. Like him, however, man today puts all his trust in human wisdom (which in the sight of God is foolishness, see 1 Co 2), looking to it to solve all society’s problems, and to bring in earth’s long dreamed of Utopia, and like Nebuchadnezzar, will yet learn the worthlessness of that wisdom.
4:8. “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,”
4:9. “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 that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof.”
We have mentioned the possible conversion of the Babylonian monarch. What introduces a degree of uncertainty relative to that conversion are some words in these two verses, e.g., he continues to use Daniel’s Babylonian name Belteshazzar, and talks about “the name of my god” (obviously not Daniel’s God), and speaks of “the spirit of the holy gods,” the implication being that there are several gods. It is difficult to believe that a converted man would use such language, even in relation to events preceding conversion.
4:10. “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.”
4:11. “The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth:”
4:12. “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.”
4:13. “I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven;”
4:14. “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:”
4:15. “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:”
4:16. “Let his heart be changed from a man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him; and let seven times pass over him.”
4:17. “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.”
There can be little question that “the watchers” and “the holy ones” are the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Angels do not issue decrees: they carry out the mandates of God.
Since Daniel, in his interpretation, explains the meaning of the dream as it related to Nebuchadnezzar, we needn’t dwell on those details here; but it must be recognized that the application of the dream goes far beyond Nebuchadnezzar, and far beyond the kingdom of Babylon. It points symbolically to what will be in the Tribulation during the reign of the beast.
4:18. “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.”
We repeat, what lends uncertainty as to whether the king was actually converted, is the question of whether he is quoting exactly what he had said originally, or whether these words continue to accurately reflect his thinking after the restoration of his sanity. If the latter is the case, then the reality of his conversion is very much open to question, for it is impossible to visualize a genuine convert describing Daniel as having in him “the spirit of the holy gods.”
4:19. “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.”
Clearly Daniel wasn’t troubled by difficulty relative to interpreting the dream, but rather, by sorrow at having to declare such dire tidings to the king, hence his expressed wish that the terrible news might have been applicable to Nebuchadnezzar’s enemies.
4:20. “The tree that thou sawest, which grew, and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth.”
Trees are the Biblical symbols of men, the cedar portraying rulers and great ones; the lowly hyssop, those who occupy the lowest rungs on the social ladder. The tree here represents Nebuchadnezzar given power and dominion over the known world of his day, and potentially, over the whole earth. Prophetically the application is to the power and dominion that will be given the coming beast emperor of the Tribulation epoch.
4:21. “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:”
Leaves in Scripture represent profession, false as well as genuine, but since profession relates to what is presented to others, the reference here is not only to Nebuchadnezzar’s own boastful announcement of his greatness (see verse 30), but also to his greatness as actually perceived by all those under his dominion.
The abundant fruit, and “meat (food) for all,” speak of the economic greatness of Babylon: it provided employment for all. Artist and artisan alike lived well. The reference to the beasts and the fowls is clearly not to be taken literally. The beasts are the fitting symbol of the spiritual character, not only of the men of Babylon, but of all men who lack the knowledge of God, and particularly of those who have deliberately rejected that knowledge. Note, for example, what is written in Ro 1:18-32 concerning those, who having rejected truth, have been given up by God to live in such depravity as to be guilty of conduct worse than that of animals. Babylon’s evil origin must not be forgotten. The city had been founded by those who had deliberately rejected the knowledge of God, see Genesis chapter 11.
The fowls likewise have an evil connotation, for in Scripture they represent Satan and all the other evil spirits of the air, see Lk 8:5,12. The fowls therefore, lodged in the branches of the tree, declare the truth that every branch of Babylonian society was under the malevolent influence of Satan and his evil spirit hordes. The words of verse 12 “all flesh was fed of it” declare the truth that Babylon provided gratification for every fleshly lust.
4:22. “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 language is hyperbolic. It was only potentially that his dominion extended over the whole earth, and it was only in the eyes of deluded men that his power seemed to be equal to that of God, the king himself, in fact, acting as thou he were beyond God’s control, e.g., “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (3:15).
When we remember, however, that Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylon he ruled, are but paradigms of the final Gentile king and kingdom that will rule the earth in the Tribulation, we must recognize that what was true of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom will be true also of the coming kingdom of the beast, but on a vaster scale. It is significant that Babylon figures largely in those parts of the book of Revelation which refer to the political, religious, economic, and social aspects of the evil system that will dominate the earth in the Tribulation.
As the dream opened with a scene of peace and grandeur and prosperity, so will the reign of the beast. His peace treaty with Israel (described by God as Israel’s “covenant with death”) will seem to bring peace to a world weary of war, but it will be a short-lived peace. As the tree of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was cut down, so will the kingdom of the beast also be brought to an end by the stroke of God.
That the symbolic language goes beyond the kingdom of the beast, to embrace all Gentile might and power, is clear, so that the destruction symbolically foretold in verse 15 is of the whole fabric of Gentile power.
4:23. “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;”
As already noted, the watcher and holy one appears to be God Himself, and the tree is Nebuchadnezzar. The destruction of the tree has to be understood in context. The part destroyed was that which represented Nebuchadnezzar the king in all his impious disregard of God: the stump left in the earth and preserved, portrays Nebuchadnezzar reduced to the level of an ordinary man, and its being bound with the band of iron and brass declares that man’s life is bound within the circle of God’s strength (the iron), and is subject to His judgment (the brass). The stump’s being reduced to the same level as the “tender grass of the field” is the symbolic reminder that “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away” (1 Pe 1:24). See also Jas 1:10-11.
Since dew is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit, the command to “let it be wet with the dew of heaven” (the moisture keeping the stump and roots alive), reminds us that the activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men is designed to lead them to a saving knowledge of Christ, and therefore into the possession of eternal life. A fact largely overlooked in Christendom today is that there can be no genuine conversion apart from the activity of the Holy Spirit.
“And let his portion be with the beasts of the field” reminds us that apart from the new birth, the physical life possessed by man is little different from that of the animals, and I emphasize physical, for it must never be forgotten that man has what no animal possesses: a spirit. The “seven times” of course are seven years, the duration of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity, a period, which as already noted, foreshadows the seven years of the Tribulation, during which men, as mad spiritually as the king was literally, will defy God, and worship the beast, thus damning their own souls.
In Nebuchadnezzar’s being given the heart of a beast (that is, the thoughts and feelings of a beast), and also the appearance of a beast, for seven years, there can be little doubt that his condition during that time pictures the inhuman character of the coming Tribulation-age world ruler. And as the purpose of that seven-year insanity was to bring Nebuchadnezzar to an acknowledgment of God, so will the judgments upon the nations in the Tribulation bring them also to a right acknowledgment of God, though for the unbelieving amongst those nations, conviction will come too late. (It must be pointed out, however, that unlike Nebuchadnezzar, the beast of the Tribulation will remain unrepentant, and will be banished to the eternal torment of the lake of fire, Re 19:20).
The fact that the stump was to be preserved, and bound with a band of iron and brass, tells us not only of the preservation of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom: it tells us also that though the whole structure of Gentile power will be swept away in the Tribulation; and millions of the earth’s inhabitants slain with the sword, famine, and disease, yet a remnant (Gentiles as well as Jews) will be preserved to enter the Millennium.
Since iron in Scripture represents strength or power; and brass, judgment, the stump’s being bound with these two metals tells us that the surviving remnant of the nations will be preserved by the strength and judgment of God.
4:24. “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the most High, which is come upon my lord the king:”
4:25. “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.”
4:26. “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.”
Since we have already discussed these verses, we will go on to verse 27.
4:27. “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.”
Daniel didn’t mince words. He spoke plainly of “thy sins” and of “thine iniquities.” He who would preach the Biblical Gospel must be equally plain, for before a man can be saved he must be made to see that he is a sinner. Nor did Daniel lack courage, for it is to be remembered that the capricious tyrant whose sinful state he so plainly declared, might very well have had him executed. All who would faithfully preach the Gospel must be possessed of that same courage.
4:28. “All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar.”
God utters no idle threats. His every word will be fulfilled.
4:29. “At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon.”
From here to verse 33 the narrative is in the third person, and I regret being unable to discern the reason, for the assertion of some that it was too humiliating for the king himself to relate, is unconvincing.
Since twelve is the Biblical number of God’s government on display, these twelve months during which He delayed the execution of the sentence, disclose the truth that He is of great patience, and desires to see men saved, as it is written, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pe 3:9).
4:30. “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 honor of my majesty?”
The Divine warning went unheeded, the passage of time apparently emboldening the king to believe that the threatened judgment wouldn’t fall, and causing him to exalt himself and act as though God didn’t exist. The same impious conduct and speech mark many today, as they will also the Tribulation-age beast emperor.
4:31. “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.”
In spite of Daniel’s plea that the king avert the threatened judgment by repentance and reformation, Nebuchadnezzar continued to walk in pride, with the result that at the end of twelve months he was strick-en. Those were twelve months in which he might have changed his ways and saved himself. His impenitence, however, made them twelve months that witnessed to the folly of rebellion against God. This is another example of the truth that twelve is the Biblical number of the display of Divine government, e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel displayed to the nations that obedience to God’s government brought blessing; and disobedience, just as surely, chastisement. The Church, “... built upon the foundation of the apostles (there were twelve of them)....” demonstrates the same truth to the nations today. (In this connection it is necessary to note that it is not the apostles themselves who are the foundation of the Church, but rather, their doctrine. Christ alone is the Foundation of the Church).
Apart from the prophetic significance of this, there is also the practical warning against the abuse of Divine grace. Having refused that grace, Nebuchadnezzar must accept judgment, and thus learn by pain what he could have learned by precept. So will it be in regard to the nations. Having refused grace, they too, will learn by the terrible Tribulation judgments that, “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?” verse 35.
4:32. “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.”
Since this is a virtual repetition of verse 25, the comments given there apply here also.
4:33. “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.”
As Heading has commented, “He became physically what he had been metaphorically in the years of his cruelty and conquests,” and as already noted, his bestial appearance and conduct simply foreshadow the character of the beast ruler of the coming Tribulation era.
4:34. “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 honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:”
4:35. “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?”
As stated already, these two verses have led many to conclude that Nebuchadnezzar was genuinely converted, but see comments on verse 9.
4:36. “At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor 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.”
4:37. “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”As has been noted already, Nebuchadnezzar is a double type: first, of the Tribulation-age beast ruler; and then, of the converted nations emerging from the terrible Tribulation judgments, to enjoy the blessings of the millennial earth. Clearly these two verses present him as the representative of the latter. They too, will extol the God of heaven.