The Latter Major Prophets – Daniel 4

King Nebuchadnezzar,
To the nations and peoples of every language, who live in all the earth:
May you prosper greatly!
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.
How great are his signs,
    how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom;
    his dominion endures from generation to generation.
I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)
I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.
“In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field.
“‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.
“‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people.’
“This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.”
Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.”
Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth, with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the wild animals, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds—Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth.
“Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’
“This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”
All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
    his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”
At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

  • Daniel 4:1-37

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Daniel 4:1-3 ‘worshipping the true God’: “Nebuchadnezzar’s praise of God in 4:1-3 and 34b-37 brackets the experience the king reiterates in the first person (vv. 4-34). He began and ended the narrative with praise; in between, he told why he converted to such worship of the true God (cf. Rom. 11:33)!”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 4:9 ‘chief of the magicians’: “Here was the title the pagans gave Daniel (cf. 5:11). Spirit. The intended meaning here and in verse 18 (as well as 5:11, 14) is correctly reflected in the translation, ‘the Spirit of the Holy God.’ Wording for the true God in the Hebrew of Joshua 24:19 is equivalent to the Aramaic here (see note on 2:4). Some believe he meant ‘a spirit of the holy gods.’ This is unlikely, since no pagan worshipers claimed purity or holiness for their deities. In fact, just the opposite was believed. And since Nebuchadnezzar was rehearsing his conversion, he could genuinely identify the true Spirit of God.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 4:10-17 ‘A tree’: “This image pictures Nebuchadnezzar after 605 B.C. (cf. 4:20-22). The creatures in verse 12 represent people under his rule (v. 22). The fall of the tree represents the coming time of God’s judgment on him (Cf. 4:23-25).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 4:13 ‘a watcher, a holy one’: “This was an angel (cf. v. 23), a servant of God, who controlled a nation’s rise or fall (cf. Dan. 10:13). Angels often have roles administering God’s judgment, as shown also in Genesis 18, Isaiah 37, and Revelation 16.”

  • MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 4:15 ‘stump’: “The basis (nucleus) of the kingdom, still in existence in verse 26 (cf. Is. 6:13), will later sprout as in nature (Job 14:7-9). The band is a guarantee that God will protect what remains intact and preserve the king’s rule (v. 26).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 4:16 ‘heart of a beast’: “Some form of the disease called lycanthropy, in which a person thinks he is an animal and lives wildly, eating grass, having thick and unkept nails along with shaggy hair, and behaving inhumanly. seven times. (cf. also 4:23, 25, 32). Probably, ‘years’ are meant, not ‘months’ which is used in verse 29. Daniel uses the same term clearly to mean ‘years’ in 7:25.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 4:27 ‘break off your sins’: “Daniel called for a recognition of sin and repentance (cf. Is. 55:7). He was not presenting a works salvation, but treating the issue of sin exactly as Jesus did with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-23. The king failed to repent at this point (v. 30).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Daniel 4:28-37 ‘Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation’: “A year later the king prides himself on his accomplishments: ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’ (v. 30). Babylon was indeed a magnificent city: excellent fortifications, beautiful buildings, and hanging gardens. Its magnificence had become proverbial in a short time and Nebuchadnezzar had been the driving force behind the rejuvenation of this old kingdom.  He had reasons to be proud, but in his pride he overstepped the boundary.
“Suddenly he hears a voice and the decree of judgment. He begins to look like an animal. He eats grass like a bull and lives outdoors. Nebuchadnezzar may well have had the disease known as boanthropy. During the time that he suffered from the disease, he was not cared for and his appearance grew wild.
“Only when he recognizes God’s sovereignty and dominion, is he restored to the throne. The king confesses that God’s rule is far greater than his. The kingdom of God is an everlasting dominion, extends over all creation, and is absolutely sovereign. Though this public acknowledgement need not be interpreted as conversion from paganism to Yahwism, at least the king is forced to acknowledge Yahweh’s sovereignty.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

Daniel 4:34-35 ‘an everlasting dominion’: “In our text we next find Nebuchadnezzar asserting the everlasting dominion of God. The God we serve not only exists but reigns. No other position would become him but that of unlimited sovereignty overall his creatures. The Lord is naturally the ruler of all, and who will pretend to rule over him? He is not to be judged by man’s finite reason, for he does great things we cannot comprehend; amazing is the impertinence of man when the creature dares to sit in judgment on the Creator. His character is not to be impugned or called into question; only the boundless arrogance of our pride would so dare to insult the thrice-holy God. The Lord’s place is on the throne, and our place is to obey; it is his to govern, ours to serve; his to do as he wills, and ours, without questioning, to make that will our constant delight. Remember then, that in the universe God is actually reigning; never let us conceive of God as being infinitely great but not exerting his greatness, infinitely able to reign but as yet a mere spectator of events. It is not so. The Lord reigns even now. Glory be to the omnipresent and invisible Lord of all!”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Daniel 4:36 ‘lost idea of sovereignty’: “We need to have restored again the lost idea of sovereignty, not as a doctrine only but as the source of a solemn religious emotion. We need to have taken from our dying hand the shadow scepter with which we fancy we rule the world. We need to feel and know that we are but dust and ashes and that God is the disposer of the destinies of men. How ashamed we Christians should be that a pagan king should teach us to fear the Majesty on high. For it was the chastened Nebuchadnezzar who said:
“‘I … lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: 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?’ (Daniel 4:34-35).
“‘At the same time,’ added the humbled king, ‘my reason returned unto me’ (4:36). The whole passage is apt to be overlooked, occurring as it does in one of the less popular books of the Bible, but is it not of great significance that humility and reason returned together? ‘Now l Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase’ (4:37). The king’s price was to him a kind of insanity which drove him at last into the fields to dwell with the beasts. While he saw himself large and God small he was insane; sanity returned only as he began to see God as all and himself as nothing.
“Such moral madness as Nebuchadnezzar suffered is now upon the nations. Men of reputed learning have long been chanting with Swinburne, ‘Glory to man in the highest,’ and the masses have picked up the chant. A strange amentia has resulted, marked by acute self-importance and delusions of moral grandeur. Men who refuse to worship the true God now worship themselves with tender devotion. A return to spiritual sanity waits for repentance and true humility. God grant that we may soon know again how small and how sinful we are.”

  • A. W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man

Daniel 4 ‘The Testimony of the King’: “In chapter 4 we witness the conversion of Nebuchadnezzar. Once again, the king dreams—and again Daniel reveals and interprets the dream. The message of the dream is that the king will be driven into madness, and he will eat grass like cattle, and live with the wild animals—but his kingdom will be returned to him when he acknowledges God, renounces sin, and shows kindness to the oppressed.
“Just as Daniel prophesied, the king went mad for seven years, eating grass in the field with the animals. His throne was preserved, but he acted like an animal. Why did God use this particular way of getting the king’s attention? Because He wanted to show what happens to human beings who reject fellowship with the living God: They become beastly and brutish.
“When the king’s reason was restored to him by the grace of God, Nebuchadnezzar issued a statement of faith—his testimony of how God had humbled him, allowed him to tumble into madness, then brought him back to sanity. He concluded:
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble (4:37).
“Who brought the great king to his senses?  God, of course. Yet God chose to use Daniel and his friends to win the heart of the greatest king of the greatest empire that the world has ever seen.
“And He wants to use you and me to do great things for Him as well.”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

My Thoughts

Several of the scholarly quotes could lead to essays on their own.  Rather than go paragraph by paragraph, a general commentary seems in order.

When there was a Cold War between the USSR and the “free world,” it made sense to refer to the president of the United States as the leader of the free world.  But I disagree with the phrase’s continued use.  While the USA may have greater numbers in military might, both personnel and military equipment (ships at sea, fighters and bombers in the air, and tanks and artillery on the ground), the United States is nothing compared to what it was forty years ago, or 70 years ago.  The leadership in the field is riddled with indecision, with politicians pulling strings from well behind the lines.  The leaders are not allowed to make the decisions.  There is no clear delineation anymore.  Other nations may have smaller forces, but these forces may be able to act autonomously and more effectively than the USA.

Besides, the “leader of the free world” as a title seems to go to people’s heads.  Only someone who spends half his day on his knees in prayer could withstand the temptation to think that he or she was really the leader of the free world.

The president is more interested in leaving a legacy.  One president builds a wall.  Another president calls for a wall to be torn down.  Another president, many of them, look to a piece of legislation, good or bad, that identifies them as a president that got something done, their legacy.  Hmmm.  Nebuchadnezzar had built many structures.  The hanging gardens of Babylon is considered one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.  But Nebuchadnezzar learned in a very real way that he was not ultimately in charge.

And there are many world leaders who think they are above the law.  Presently, Russia and China are rattling swords to intimidate small neighbors into folding under pressure.  Why some amass forces on a border here or there, others are actually firing weapons in the other’s general direction.  Of course, those nations under fire seek help from the UN.  Will World War III be near at hand?

Then on social issues and medical issues, the USA is not always the leader.  When the bulk of Europe decides, with several heads of state as the revolving spokesperson, to lose their mind and celebrate sin, the USA seems to watch for a while before joining in.  This is not grand leadership behavior.  The old saying of “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off the cliff with them?” seems to be flipped.  “Yes, I will gladly jump off the cliff.  It looks like fun!”

And speaking of unadulterated madness…

Between the Baker Commentary and the MacArthur Commentary, I agree with the former.  Boanthropy is indeed the mental disorder where you think you are a cow or ox.  Lycanthropy may refer to any animal in general, but it has come to mean mostly believing that you are a wolf, thus, werewolf.  Bringing werewolves into this discussion muddies the water a bit.  With that context in mind, boanthropy is a much cleaner delineation, focusing on the exact disorder.

In the end, Nebuchadnezzar comes to his senses.  By whose power?  Only by God’s power.  He is, as the saying goes, “bat-crap-crazy.”  He has no power unto himself to come to his senses.  And just as a Christian gains guidance from the Holy Spirit, Nebuchadnezzar starts paraphrasing Scripture that I am sure he never read nor never had read to him.  His testimony is similar to many conversion testimonies of today, but as the Baker Commentary suggests, is this a testimony of a true believer?  The Baker Commentary suggests not, but that is above my pay grade.

Yet, with Spurgeon and Tozer, when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we come to our senses.  The secular world is trying to flip that narrative by calling the insane sane, but in the end, Truth will prevail.  The world may suffer greatly in the meantime, but Truth will prevail.

And those who seek God and find Him will not only be saved, it is possible that their sanity will be restored.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. How can you appreciate your accomplishments without bragging or putting yourself down? Whom do you credit for your prosperity?
“2. What ‘tree’ of yours has been cut down to size? To what do you attribute that?
“3. How has God changed your ‘mind’ regarding his authority or power?
“4. How do you feel about God speaking via dreams in the past? How about now?
“1. How have you shown courage in declaring God’s Word to others, both the good and the bad news? Which do you shy away from? Why?
“2. What ‘stump’ signals for you what God still wants to do? How might that be fully restored by ‘Heaven’s rule’?
“3. At this time Babylon, with its hanging gardens, is a ‘great’ nation. Why does such success make change or repentance difficult? How does this relate to Jesus’ word about the rich entering the kingdom of God (see Mt 19:24)?
“4. How might you need to apply Daniel’s words to Nebuchadnezzar (v.27)? To yourself?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There are two set of questions for this chapter.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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